June 3, 2020

January 2009: News & Notes.

Resuming the LHC: The Large Hadron Collider is set to resume start up tests early in the spring of 2009. This will come after its winter maintenance cycle, as well as investigation into a helium leak believed to have been caused by a faulty electrical connection during the otherwise successful September 10th startup.

No world collapsing mini-black holes are expected to be spontaneously created at the time this goes to press. Complex devices such as the LHC are one of a kind and expected to undergo a certain “teething process,” as no one has ever built one in the garage over a long weekend before…are you there, Higgs-Boson?

The Mysteries of Gamma-Ray bursts: The mysterious realm of gamma-ray bursts continues to get stranger… as reported last month, a whole class of long gamma-ray bursts seems to be missing. Now, scientists continue to puzzle over the source of short bursts. Thought to be occurring within our galaxy, as opposed to extragalactic sources, these bursts are measured in seconds at most. Until the last decade or so, it was hard to get an optical follow-up to scour the source that quickly. Enter the Internet. Amateurs now routinely help in the fight to pin down these elusive beasties via Email alerts. What, no gamma-ray Twitters?* A leading smoking gun is thought to be binary pulsar mergers. These should, in theory, produce copious amounts of gravity waves as well. Projects like LIGO are already online and on the hunt. And as for those pesky long bursts, their extragalactic hosts are turning out to be bizarre as well. Do I smell a gamma-ray burst article here at ye ole Astroguyz?

(*Editors’ Note: there is indeed a Gamma Ray Twitter!)

…And Gamma-Ray…Pulsars?: Not to be out done, NASA’s recently commissioned Fermi Gamma-Ray Satellite has begun discovering what are thought be pulsars that shine primarily in X-ray and highly energetic gamma-ray wave lengths. Long thought to exist in large numbers within our galaxy, Fermi now packs the gamma-ray resolution that the late Compton Observatory lacked in the 90′s. Fermi, or as we like to say, the orbiting observatory formerly known as GLAST, has already turned up the first pulsar discovered solely by gamma-ray emissions.

A Groundbreaking Jupiter Mission: NASA has announced plans to send a new probe to the solar systems’ largest world; Juno will be the first Jovian polar orbiter. Scheduled for launch in 2011, it should reach the gas giant 2016 after a sling-shot maneuver past Earth in 2013. This will mark the first dedicated Jupiter mission since Galileo in the 1990′s (We know, New Horizons did a quick swing by a few years back) and the first dedicated polar observer to arrive in the Jupiter system. It will also be the first time a spacecraft has utilized solar energy in the outer solar system. Hey guys, what about resurrecting the Icy Moons Explorer or the proposed Europa/Lander/Submersible? Petition, anyone?

The Hunt is on!: Calling all meteor shower buffs; NASA wants you! The big wigs are now getting into a game that we renegades have been doing for years; that of meteor shower observing. Specifically, NASA is on the hunt for suspected new shower radiants. Of special interest is a shower informally dubbed as the “September Perseids” that put on an unannounced display in 2008. Will they produce again this year? All sky cameras and amateur observers on vigil will take a special note this year.   

The Wanderings of Opportunity: The Mars rovers continue to out live all expectations, roaming the Martian landscape well past their expected lifetimes. Now scientists at JPL have set their new objective for Opportunity; a crater 11km to south east, 20 times larger than Victoria crater. This time, investigators have the orbiting HiRise observer overhead to guide their journey, which is expected to take up to two years. Even if Opportunity never summits the lip of this giant crater, the science return along the way is expected to be enormous!

Our Cantaloupe Sun: The Sun isn’t as round, or even as oblate, as previously known. Evidence from the bulkily named Reuven Ramaty High-Energy Solar Spectroscopic Imager instead suggest that that olibiquity of the Sun pulsates with the 11 year solar cycle, becoming “rounder” during the solar minima and more “squashed” during years of high activity. Although the collective fluctuation of 10.8 milli-arc seconds is miniscule, solar physicists assure us that this is enough to send noticeable ripples though the structure of the Sun.

New Boundary Explorer: A new space mission will probe the boundaries of the interstellar medium.  IBEX, the International Boundary Explorer, will monitor the interaction of the Heliopause with the interstellar medium, complementing the data be returned from the distant (and last heard from in 2003) Pioneer space craft. Launched from a Pegasus rocket suspended from the belly of a L1011 based out of the Kwajalein atoll this past October, IBEX will loop the inner solar system in a cascading polar orbit.

January Full Moon: Continuing the current cycle of the Full Moon near perigee, this months’ full Wolf Moon on the 10th is the closest and largest of the year. A shallow, penumbral eclipse is also in the offing in February…if the next Full Moon looks a shade brown, this is probably why!

Astro Blooper of the Month: This one we caught here at Astroguyz HQ during our annual Xmas movie marathon… this year’s feature was Numb3rs, Season 3 (via Netflix online). One of the mathematicians is awarded a slot on the International Space Station, and gives his girlfriend a Celestron C8 by which to “view me as I pass overhead…” The ISS is visible to the naked eye! The show’s writers missed a wonderful opportunity to explain this. Instead, he could’ve set her up with Orbitron on her laptop…it can even be set to “chirp” when the ISS is visible overhead! Larry the mathematician can be forgiven due to the fact he is a theoretician, but a show of this caliber should’ve known better!

Looking back in Astro history: Surveyor 7 soft landed on the Moon on January 10th, 1968. This was the last of the unmanned United States Surveyor series; its primary mission was to serve as a scout for the first manned landing that occurred a year later. One of major discoveries of this mission was the fact that the Sun has a “static-electric” effect on low lying moon dust at some angles causing it to become suspended in sunlight!

Astro Quote of the Month: “It’s a bullet that will just miss us.”

-Neal Degrasse Tyson, U.S. Astronomer referring to a recent NEO near-miss.



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