June 6, 2020

March 2009 News & Notes.

Student exoplanet confirmed! Three students of Leiden University of the Netherlands are now the proud parents of a recently discovered exoplanet. And what a weird world it is; OGLE-Tr-L9b (OK, I know…we need better names!) orbits its fast spinning parent star in 2.5 Earth days at only 0.03 AU.

Temperatures are calculated to be a blazing 7,000C on the surface of the star, making this the hottest star with an exoplanet yet discovered. But the real story is in the discovery; the student three-some discovered the planet while learning how to construct transit search algorithms as part of a research project! (And over a late night dorm room session of pizza and beer, one likes to think).  Apparently, their professor was somewhat taken aback when he was presented with the finding…the students looked at data from the OGLE project, which photographed the entire sky twice a night from 1997-200. At the University, the planet is known modestly as ReMeFra-1 after co-discovers Remco, Meta, and Vuijsje.

Gamma Ray Burst Video.

Bright Gamma Ray Burst Wows Scientists: NASA’s Fermi Gamma-Ray Telescope continues to make breath-taking new discoveries. Now, scientists have announced the detection of a new Magnetar, only the sixth known, in the southern constellation Norma. About 30,000 light years distant, this intensely magnetized class of pulsars are also known as soft gamma-ray repeaters. These are worth noticing; in 2005 a similar magnetar even more distant briefly ionized the upper atmosphere of the Earth!

Spirits’ Bizarre Behavior: Keep a close eye on your Roomba…some intergalactic robots have been acting strange as of late. The Mars Spirit rover has been exhibiting some bizarre behavior recently… strange activities include loss of orientation and failure to access its permanent memory. Thus far, engineers at Jet Propulsion Laboratory cannot explain this errant activity, although random cosmic ray interaction could be to blame. Spirit has been commanded to re-orient with the Sun to “get a grip” on itself. The rovers are in their fifth year of operations on Mars, far beyond their 90-day warranty. Could this be the beginning of the feared Robot Rebellion?

Satellite Collision: On February 10th, 2009, a first in space exploration occurred; a collision between two satellites in orbit. The inactive Kosmos 2251 collided over the Siberian tundra with the US Iridium 33 communications satellite. Both satellites were completely destroyed, and any visual reports of debris have not been forthcoming at press time. Space Surveillance radar has detected an upswing in activity along the former path of both satellites…be assured, we here at Astroguyz HQ are tracking every overhead pass via Orbitron for any activity!

Attack of the Vulcanoids? Spock would be proud…recently, scientists at JPL took advantage of the Messenger space probes’ unique interior vantage point to search for elusive Vulcanoids. First infamously proposed by Le Verrier in the 19th century (yes, of Neptune fame!) to explain the precession of Mercury, further sightings proved to be spurious, and the Vulcan hypothesis was later done away with the advent of relativity. Still, a stable region exists very near the Sun in which tiny captured asteroids, dubbed Vulcanoids, should be possible. The region has been scanned to eliminate objects down to a size of 60 kilometers in diameter, but Messenger has a unique view (it passed a perihelion of 0.31 AU on February 9th) and is theoretically capable of sighting rocks down to 15km…will Vulcan rise again?

The Impact of Space Weather : In 1859, the largest solar storm recorded to date buffeted the Earth’s local magnetic environment. It fried a few existing telegraph lines and produced aurorae that were seen as far south as Puerto Rico. Now, a new study by the National Academy of Sciences finds that our modern technical society is more vulnerable than ever. Not only are satellites and power grids at risk, but everything that relies on them, from air traffic control and life sustaining services to communications are threatened as well. Large populated areas in the northern hemisphere would be especially vulnerable if the flare had the bad luck to occur in the depths of Northern hemisphere winter or summer, when grids are typically maxed out. As the next solar cycle amps up, this is something we should all heed; the biggest flares typically occur after the predicted maximum, which is slated for, you guessed it; around 2012.

Source of Cosmic Rays Nearby? Scientists have recently made an announcement that wasn’t front page news, but should be; data that suggests that there is a source of cosmic rays in our nearby solar neighborhood. The evidence comes from research conducted with the Advanced Thin Ionization Calorimeter (ATIC). Suspended from a balloon high over the Antarctic, the detector discovered an excess of high energy electrons in the 300-800 GeV range. High energy electrons do not generally survive transit over long galactic distances, and a source within one light year is suspected. Just what that source is could be an amazing conjecture, from a stellar black hole (yipes, and that’s the low end of the wacky spectrum!) to a “mini-pulsar” or “quasar”.  A still more exotic postulate could be extra-dimensional dark matter Kaluza-Klein particles that make their presence known only through annihilation with themselves at high energy! No one ever said that this reality isn’t extremely bizarre… how ‘bout photon torpedo residue from the last Galactic War?  ATIC doesn’t have the directional resolution to pinpoint any potential source… hopefully the Fermi Gamma Ray Space Telescope will clear things up a bit.

New High Energy Observatory: It may not look like much, but the newly commissioned Pierre Auger observatory in the foothills of the Argentinean Andes is part of the ongoing study of high energy astronomy that almost didn’t even exist 20 years ago. Begun in 2000, this cutting edge observatory consists of two types of detectors; type one are four fluorescence detectors to detect cascading bursts directly in the Earth’s atmosphere; type two are 1,600 detectors spread out over 1,200 square miles looking for high energy particle interactions in water tanks. And we’re talking high energy; like, in the order of 10 million trillion electron volts! Such a beast is thought to interact with one square kilometer of Earth atmosphere every year. Still, about 16 are striking the Earth every second! These beasts are thought to originate from highly energetic extra-galactic nuclei. A second, northern hemisphere detector is planned for construction in southeastern Colorado.

Paris Hilton on Time Dilation: Ok, we couldn’t resist this one for this months’ AstroBlooper…Paris Hilton is set to go into space. (No kidding!) She has a ticket to ride aboard Richard Branson’s’ Virgin Galactic Spacecraft, which are to begin operations this year. But apparently, she fears Relativity. “I’m very scared about it,” quipped the heiress, “what if I don’t come back? With that whole light-years thing, what if I don’t come back for 10,000 years, and everyone I know is dead? I’d be like, ‘great, I have to start all over again.’ ” This quote came to us via the Skeptics Guide to the Universe, and as they noted, it’s just plain wrong on so many levels! But never mind that her suborbital flight will not approach anywhere near what’s needed for this to happen; if we’re serious about this endeavor, we would need to accelerate Paris at about 99.999995% the speed of light  or about 186,282.9907 mph for about a year for her to come back 10,000 years from now. In the interim, she would travel about the distance of well out into the Orion Arm of the Galaxy (lets hope she doesn’t start an interstellar war) to return in 12,009 A.D.  Would the future Earth welcome her?

Launches for the Month: Welcome to a new, exciting, monthly add-on to our News & Notes section; Launch-of-the-Month replaces the Full Moon-of-the-Month, that enjoyed a full year run. This month, the highlight is the target date launch of Kepler on March 5 at 10:48 pm EST at the Cape. Kepler will search for Earth-sized exoplanets around nearby stars, which would be yet another exoplanet first. No word yet on the delayed STS-119 mission of space shuttle Discovery to the International Space Station. Orbiting Carbon Observatory RIP…

This Month in Astro-History: On March 13th we mark the discovery of Uranus in 1781 by Sir William Herschel. Initially thought to be a comet, Uranus was the first planet discovered in the telescopic era. Luckily, Herschel’s proposed name of “George” after his benefactor King George the III, didn’t stick!

Astro-quote of the Month: “In an infinite number of universes, their must be one where Mariahs’ not an idiot…”

-the Hour’s George Stephanopoulos parodying Stephen Hawking in regards to Mariah Carey’s album, E=mc2

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