February 23, 2020

July09: News & Notes.

- Teenage Supernova Discovery: Ah…who says you can’t engage kids in science anymore? Supernova 2008ha was recently discovered by Caroline Moore of Warwick, New York. Discovery actually occurred back in November 7th of last year, and buzz has just passed around the Internet as this is one of the weakest supernovas to be discovered. Perhaps that’s why the big guys missed it…

2008ha is about 70 million light years distant in the galaxy UGC 12682. At the age of 14, Caroline’s discovery will go down as a current record. This netted her the iOptron Young Astronomer of the Year award. At the time of discovery, she was participating in a supernova search team at the Puckett observatory and the discovery was made with a Meade 16″ reflector.

Un-Hoaxing the Mars Hoax: Ahhh…a good junk e-mail yarn never seems to truly die… the Mars Hoax is making what has become its yearly rounds around the Internet. Never mind that Mars takes almost twice as long to orbit the Sun as the Earth, and there’s not even an opposition of the Red Planet this year! In fact, good oppositions such as the one that occurred in 2003 only occur on a cycle of 16 years or so. Even then, Mars never appears larger than a full Moon, unless a rough black hole has nudged it from its orbit, in which case, we are all in very big trouble. Still, the Internet never seems to lets reality get in the way of a good hoax…what propagates this? Our obsession with search query stats? Or is it just the fact that it has become an August thing? Either way, be ready to hear this from your co-worker/grandma/spouse again this year; our advice would be to grin and bear it. Perhaps this is a chance to give them out from behind the flat screen and out under the real show; the universe!

- And the Cosmological Winner is…As more and more data sifts in, cosmology is joining the ranks of the “respectable” sciences. This year’s 2009 Gruber prize has just been announced as a three-way split; Wendy Freedman, Robert Kennicutt, and Jeremy mold will share the prize to be formally awarded on August 4th at the beginning of the International Astronomical Union’s (IAU) big bash (and they know how to party!) in Rio. Their collective feat? No less than refining the Hubble constant down to within 10%. Not bad, considering only a couple decades ago, you would see quotes in astronomy text books that said “100 km/s/Mpc, with an error of 50%”…their magic number? Drum-roll… 72! I know, 42 would have been cooler… this puts our universe at the tender young age about 14 billion years. The trio did their estimates the old fashioned way; by measuring those standard candles, Cepheid variables (800 of ‘em!) in 18 separate galaxies. Since its discovery by Edwin Hubble in 1929, the Hubble Constant has swung from a whopping 500 km/m/Mpc to as low as 50. Will this hush up the Big Bang nay-sayers that like to exploit the perceived ambiguity in the field? Probably not, but it does give us scientific types some more ammo!

-Lunar Redux?: Talk of the NASA budget has not been good as of late. Already, there is word that the planned manned presence on the Moon may be scaled back. Comments by NASA’s newly named director, Chris Scolese, have hinted at a change in NASA’s proposed manned space program and paint a picture of an administration in flux. This could be a good or bad thing; good in that more forward thinking may come about, with an emphasis on manned missions instead to Mars or an Earth crossing asteroid (Apophis in 2029, anyone?) Bad, in that it hints at back sliding into the space exploration wasteland of the late 70′s-early 80′s once again. The goal is still to re-land a man on the Moon by 2020, but let’s hope we hang around a while this time!


-One of a Kind Sundial Stolen: Have you seen me? Recently a story of a missing sundial has come to light. The place is Cal tech circa 1975; the object of desire was a one-of-kind 24-inch all-brass sundial cast by none other than telescope making legend Russell W. Porter of Stellafane fame; the suspects are, well, yet to be named. Cal tech has recently evinced interest in opening this astro-cold case… seen any unusual sundials lately in that local yard sale or thrift shop?

-A Glow in the Dark Venus: Ashen light on the night side of Venus has been an oft reported phenomena since the invention of the telescope; although spurious and fleeting in nature, the question remains; just how could it occur? After all, unlike the Earth’s Moon, Venus has no source of back-lighting, elusive Neith non-withstanding. Now, the European Space Agencies’ (ESA) Venus Express spacecraft has detected evidence of nitric oxide emissions on Venus’s turbulent night side. But not so fast; don’t be saying “I told you so” to your local skeptic/astronomer. These emissions are in the infra-red band. Using the Visible and Infra-Red Thermal Imaging Spectrometer, VIRTIS can measure multiple emission channels simultaneously.


-The Case of the Missing Dynamo: There is an enduring mystery about our nearest neighbor, the Moon; did it ever have a fluid molten core or was it always dead and cold? Now, scientists at MIT may have the answer. Studying the samples returned by geologist-astronaut Jack Schmitt from the Taurus-Littrow region, evidence has been found for a long lasting dynamo early in the Moon’s history. The samples analyzed are some of the oldest, showing no evidence of alteration during subsequent impacts. The magnetization exhibited demonstrates that the Moon had a small but distinct magnetic field, about 1/50th of Earth’s for a sustained period of time. This would lend yet more weight to the Mars-sized impactor/Theia hypothesis for lunar formation rather than the separate capture theory. What other surprises lurk in them ‘thar lunar rocks?


In Search of the Cosmic Dawn: Using computer modeling, scientists have taken a virtual snapshot of the universe in its infancy; only 500 million years after the Big Bang. This was recently completed by researchers at the Durham University Institute for Computational Cosmology in Durham, England, and models star forming galaxies coalescing out of the cooling background. Some of their big findings? The ever mysterious and elusive dark matter appears to play a big role in the formation of galaxies. The purpose of this study is to confirm or exclude further theories based on mounting observational evidence. File this under; why is there anything at all?


-Launches for July: Yay, the GOES-O and the LRO/LCROSS orbiters finally escaped the surly bonds in June! This month’s big launch off of the Space Coast is the much delayed Space Shuttle Endeavour on mission STS-127 to the ISS…will the H+ ions intercede? Will Julie Payette make Canadian Space Agency history to be the second Canuk in simultaneous low Earth orbit? Will we blog about it? Stay tuned. On July 24th , Soyuz Progress 34p is scheduled to join the party at the ISS, blasting off out of the Baikonur Cosmodrome. Other highlights include a July 1st launch of TerreStar 1 out of French Guiana and RazakSat out of Kwajelein on the 13th ; go Malaysia!(-n Space Agency?)


-Astro-Blooper of the Month: The thriller sequel to the DaVinci Code, this summers’ blockbuster Angels and Demons had one minor flaw; the nuclear air burst at the climax. At the service ceiling of even a military helicopter, the damage to Rome from “only” a 5 kiloton burst would have been extreme, to say the least, especially if it involved anti-matter and 100% annihilation. What, no blast wave, EMP pulse and radioactive fallout? The movie made it look like a minor Texas windstorm!

- This Month in Astro-History: Forty years ago this month, Apollo 11 became the first manned mission to land on the Moon. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin set foot on the lunar surface on July 20th, 1969, while Command Module pilot Michael Collins orbited high overhead. Contrary to popular myth, while the astronauts did land narrowly missing a low fuel abort, the glitch was not caused by a computer malfunction, but the fuel “sloshing” in the tank as Armstrong searched for a place to land. This was fixed on subsequent flights by the addition of internal tank baffles. Of course, the first landing on the Moon was one of the great events in our lifetimes (I was 11 months old at the time) and started the endless string of “If we can land a man on the Moon, why can’t we…(fill in the blank). So, just when are we going back for good?

Astro-Quote of the Month: The very best way to tick off an astronomer is to call him an astrologer!

- Phil Plait, astronomer and author of Bad Astronomy and Death from the Skies!

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