March 22, 2018

August 08 News & Notes.

Odd-Ball Pair: Astronomers have recently found a binary system that shouldn’t exist; a fast millisecond pulsar in orbit around a sun-like star. The system was first detected by a long term survey conducted by the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico. Dubbed J1903+0327,  it resides 21,000 light years away in the constellation Aquila. Spinning at 465 times a second, it takes only 95 days to orbit its companion star, slightly longer than Mercury takes to orbit our sun. Pulsars are remenants of massive supernova explosions. When first discovered in the 1960′s they were dubbed LGMs (Little Green Men), becuase scientists couldn’t account for their pulsing regularity. The idea was that they may serve as intergalactic beacons, or lighthouses. It is now known that they are formed in the collapsed core of a supernova, although that doesn’t make them any less weird!  What’s a normal star similar to our sun doing in such a messed up neighborhood? Theories abound, from the system used to belong to a densely packed globular cluster (unlikely) to the star is either an unrelated optical double or more distant companion (more likely) of what is in fact a trianary system. Astronomers are searching for a third, possibly white dwarf, companion. 

Lost in Space: Bored and have lots of bandwidth? A recent proposal has been made to enlist amateur astronomers to help search for the ill-fated Mars Polar Lander. This probe failed on decent on December 3, 1999 and added itself to the long list of failed Martain landers. This idea isn’t as wacky as it sounds. As reported at this blog, amatuers have discovered craters here on Earth and even searched for Steve Fossett’s crash site simply by pouring over images from Google Earth. Now with the HiRISE orbiter overhead, hi-resolution spy satellite quality images of Mars are available online. A warning; these images eat a whole lot of bandwidth! Attempt only with a screaming fast connection (or you’ll be just screaming!) HiRise has already imaged the Phoenix, Opportunity, and Spirit landing sites. This leads one to wonder; has an organized web-search ever been undertaken for the dozen plus crash-landers over the years? Do we sense a grass-roots Astroguyz initiative?

Sailing the Seas of the Sun: We earthlings have but one star, the sun, to study up close. Now, NASA has unveiled plans to get personnal with the sun with Solar Probe Plus. Projected for launch in 2015, its seven year mission will coincide with solar cycle 24-25, and it will do several looping passes on an elongated trajectory. At closest approach, it will reach a distance of only 7 million km, technically within the solar corona. Scientists hope to answer several puzzling questions about the sun, such as; why is the corona hotter than the photosphere? What is the origin of the solar wind? To answer these questions, Solar Probe+ will need to withstand temperatures in access of 1400 degrees celsius. And of course, it’ll be…solar powered! (Bad pun!)

Astro-Blooper of the Month: And now introducing… a new catagory. Each month, we’ll highlight an astronomical snafu presented in general culture. Yes, I know that several sights already do this. This isn’t “Astroguyz goes to the movies” or anything like that! We’ve just noticed, as of late, that several mistakes have slid by other reviewers, so we decided that their was indeed room for one more!

This months’ blooper goes to the otherwise outstanding movie Apocalypto. And no, its not the total solar eclipse sequence, which was actually quite skillfully rendered. It was is shot of the full moon that same same evening! The director could have amost been forgiven, if the actor hadn’t stated ”today, I saw the sun disapear from the sky…” that kinda dates it! A solar eclipse aways occurs on New Moon; it would take the Moon about two weeks to swing back around the Full!

Rise of the Nano-bots: A new generation of tiny micro-satellites is now flying overhead. Smallest of all is Aalborg University of Denmark’s AAUSat 2, which resembles a Borg cube (!) four inches on a side. This is slightly larger than an Ipod Nano. AAUSat 2 carries a single pixel cadmium-zinc-telluride gamma-ray detector (that’s what we want for Christmas!) sensitive to Gamma and X-rays in the 5K to 300K range. Launched into a polar orbit on April 28th of this year, AAUSat 2 is also a serving as a test platform for future technologies.

A Quark Star?: Astronomers have announced recently that they have found evidence for a quark star , a neutron star that is so dense, even the neutrons have been condensed and disintegrate into pure quarks, thereby releasing extreme amounts of energy. Denis Leahy and Rachid Ouyed of the University of Calgary examined three extremely luminous supernovae, one occurring at a distance of 240 million light years and producing over 100 times the energy of conventional supernovae. These bizarre objects are predicted to condense to a diameter of about 12 miles.

Wine: On a recent spaghetti night (Wednesday is always pasta night here at Astroguyz HQ!) We had the chance to sample an astronomically themed wine. Blue Moon (not to be confused with the beer of the same name) is a light Riesling, sweet but not over powering. It went well with ravioli in cream sauce, and would do well either with pesto or as light desert wine. Did you know that in medieval Venice, pasta was considered a desert? Check them out at: Bridgeview Blue Moon Oregon Riesling 2006 Cave Junction, Oregon Vineyards.

Full Moon of the Month: This month’s Full Moon is known as the Full Sturgeon Moon by the Algonquin Indians. It occurs on August 16th, 2008, along with a Total Lunar Eclipse visible throughout Eurasia and the African continent.

Tiny Star packs a big Punch: A small star in the constellation Lacerta recently wowed astronomers, producing the largest extra-stellar flare ever seen; and the star is only a third the mass of our sun! The 10th magnitude star, EV Lacertae, is a young red dwarf, a class generally known for their adolescent tantrums. On April 25 of this year, NASA’s Swift satellite detected the burst, which would have been visible from Earth by the naked eye had the star been well placed! EV Lac is only 16 light years distant; as a red dwarf, it’s much cooler but more active than our sun. Red dwarfs actually comprise a majority of the stellar population.

Probing the Darkness: A newly installed camera for the Case Western Reserve University’s Burrell Schmidt telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory in Tucson hopes to probe the vast depths between the galaxies. Named “orphan” or “intra-cluster light”, this faint background light is the result of galactic collisions, which rip stars from their progenitor galaxies and spreads them throughout the super cluster. This unknown attribute was first discovered in the Virgo Super cluster of galaxies, the target of the studies. The camera should “shed light” (bad pun!) on the evolution of galactic super structures. The camera itself has an extremely wide field, having a CCD detector that can measure a field of view 1.5 degrees on a side.

Jupiter’s Evolving Spots: The largest planet in the solar system is not quite looking like itself these days. A third red spot has joined the Great Red Spot, which has appeared visible to astronomers since they’ve had telescopes to view it, and Red Spot Junior, which was first observed in 2006. The three are all on the same latitude, and may even perform a merger in the coming years. With the advent of webcams, amateur astronomers are routinely generating some stunning images of the trio as they continue to monitor their evolution. Although called “red” the spots, they tend to run from brownish to salmon colored visually. Just past opposition, Jupiter is rises brightly in the east shortly after sunset.

CHIPSat: RIP? Save the Satellites: NASA has pulled the plug on yet another functioning satellite, following a disturbing trend of pulling science research in favor of manned exploration. The Cosmic Hot Interstellar Plasma Spectrometer Satellite (CHIPSat) was put in an indefinite standby mode on April 11th of this year due to lack of funds. An ultra-violet observatory, CHIPSat was designed to search for hot interstellar gas in the local solar neighborhood. The university-class instrument had faced trouble from the outset, eventually being launched in 2003. Lack of science return was sited as a prime reason for the shutdown; the gas detection was less than a success, and the satellite had instead been used to study UV emissions from the sun.

Quote of the Month: “The future is here. It’s just not widely distributed yet.” William Gibson, Sci-Writer and Cyber-punk founder.

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