December 12, 2017

Astro-Event: A Tax Day Return of Saturn.

Saturn in January 2004. (Photo by Author).

Not looking forward to April 15th and the U.S. deadline to file taxes? It is in trying times like these that one can look to the skies for solace and the return of our solar system’s most resplendent planet to evening skies. Yes, we’re talking about Saturn as it reaches opposition later this weekend on Sunday April 15th at 18:00 Universal Time, or 14:00 Eastern Standard Time. [Read more...]

Review: 2001: A Space Odyssey

 

 

Original Theatrical Poster.

Original Theatrical Poster.

 

  This week, we here at Astroguyz are taking a look at a science fiction cinematic oldie but goodie. Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey makes the top of nearly every science geek’s short list of movies that bother to get the science right. And like its sequel, 2010, its just plain fun to look back now that those years have come and gone and see how well reality has held up. [Read more...]

Astro-Challenge: See Saturn’s Moons in 1 to 7 Order.

Saturn's moons on July 31st. (Created by the Author in Starry Night).

Saturn's moons on July 31st. (Created by the Author in Starry Night).

 

    This week’s challenge may also give you a unique photographic opportunity. On the evening of July 31st (my birthday!) Saturn’s moons will be in 1 to 7 order. This will occur from 6:45 to 11:15 Universal Time, and favor viewers in Australia and the Far East. Later in the evening over North America, only speedy Mimas and Enceladus will be out of order… now is the time to brush up on and perhaps nab some of those hard to spot moons; in descending magnitude, difficulty, and order number (#)  they are: [Read more...]

17.04.10- The Case of the Vanishing Moon: Solved.

Since its discovery by Giovanni Cassini in 1671, Saturn’s moon Iapetus has confounded astronomers. Even early on, observers knew something curious was going on with this far off moon; Iapetus varies in brightness between +10 & +12th magnitude as it orbits the ringed planet, nearly vanishing from sight for half its orbit! Late last year, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft and the Spitzer Space Infrared Telescope fingered the culprit; a tenuous outer ring of material now known as the Phoebe Ring that is raining down material on its surface. Like our own Moon, Iapetus is tidally locked in its 79 day orbit. As a consequence, the leading edge plows through this dusty stream of debris. This also causes sunlight to warm and sublimate icy material on the leading side, which streams and re-condenses on the trailing end. This nicely explains the sharply defined and complex boundary seen between the two hemispheres. Alas, no monolith as depicted in Clarke’s original 2001 novel adaptation. .. but perhaps a fine site one day for a cosmic ski resort!

Astro-Challenge: Spotting Two-Faced Iapetus.

As the majestic planet Saturn approaches opposition on March 21st, I’d like to turn your telescopic attention to one of the most bizarre moons in the solar system; Iapetus. It was way back when in the 17th century that Italian astronomer Giovanni Cassini noted that he could only see Iapetus when it was to the west of the ringed planet, but never to the east. He correctly deduced that Iapetus must not only be tidally locked, that is, holding one face towards Saturn, but must be correspondingly dark on one hemisphere and brighter on the other. In fact, Iapetus is known to vary from magnitude +10 to magnitude +12 over its 79 day orbit, a variation of 6 times in terms of brightness. the Cassini space probe has confirmed the duality of Iapetus, showing us a dark leading hemisphere with an albedo of 5% (think fresh asphalt) and a trailing hemisphere with an albedo of about 50% (think dirty snow). The third largest of the Saturnian moons, Iapetus is a “walnut shaped” world, with a large ridge running the equator of this twisted moon. Discovered by Cassini on New Year’s Eve 2004, no satisfactory explanation for the ridge is known, but the little world must have had a tumultuous history.

[Read more...]

Review: Gardens of the Sun by Paul McAuley.

It was with great anticipation and excitement that we finally got to dig into our advanced reading copy of Gardens of the Sun by Paul McAuley, out March 23, 2010 courtesy of Pyr BooksGardens picks up where last years’ first opus, The Quiet War, left off, and fans of the series will not be disappointed. The near-future battle for the ultimate direction of humanity spans the solar system as the Three Powers Alliance of Earth struggles to consolidate its hold on the Jovian and Saturnian systems, while the decimated Outers flee into the depths of the exterior solar system. [Read more...]

Review: 2010: The Year we Make Contact.

This week, we here at Astroguyz are going retro with our review. Way back in my pre-historic high school days (like, 1984), my friend and I went to see 2010: The Year We Make Contact in our local theater. At the time, the actual year seemed unimaginably distant, a far future that we would never actually, well, live in… Well, 2010 is now here. So jJust how well does the movie stack up to reality? Of course, 2010 was the hugely successful sequel to Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, which dealt with space travel, artificial and alien intelligence, and the next step in human evolution. The concept was based loosely on the Clarke original short story The Sentinel, and the concept was that an alien intelligence played a hand in human evolution and had placed artifact(s) in the solar system that we would only discover when we were sophisticated enough to find them. Similar themes are further developed in Clarke’s outstanding Childhood’s End. In 2010, the film picks up nine years after the original mission of Discovery One, as a joint US and Soviet expedition is sent to salvage the site. The Jupiter system had yet to be reconnoitered by the Pioneer and Voyager spacecraft when 2001 was made; 2010, however, incorporated images and data that by the 80’s were known.  The first movie also departed from the book, in that the final action sequence originally revolved around Saturn and its bizarre moon, Iapetus; the book 2010 centers, like the movie, around the Jovian system; the movie leaves out, however, the side plot of the Chinese landing on Europa.

The joint crew of the Alexei Leonov dock with Discovery, which is now coated with sulfur and spinning lazily above the surface of Io. 2010 is much more politically charged than 2001; it, like Ben Bova’s Millennium and Larry Niven’s Footfall are very much a product of the end of the Cold War era and seem somewhat dated by today’s standards. It’s as if the world expected the Cold War standoff to be a natural state of affairs, ad infinitum. A cool nod to Clarke and Kubrick to this effect can be briefly seen in the flick, as both are depicted on a Time magazine news cover!

Of course, we’ve yet to reach Jupiter via manned spaceflight, or get back out of Low Earth Orbit, for that matter. We do have a continuous manned presence in space via the International Space Station, but the now defunct TWA has yet to offer commercial flights to the Moon. Of course, some things have come to pass; the average IPad now dwarfs the intelligence of HAL9000, and nearly everything is made of plastic… in fact, it’s amusing to see the scene with Dr Heywood Floyd on the beach, with what looks to be a mini Apple IIE as what was envisioned as the ultimate in computing portability…. and of course, 2010, like most science fiction, totally missed cell phones, the Internet and the rise of Twitter which was just around the corner.  (Interesting side note: pay special close attention to the video monitors in both movies; 2001 made use of flat screen projection, while 2010 saw a reversion back to CRTs!)

Of course, both flicks predicted the rise of “video-phones” which we now have via webcams… like much technology; however, this didn’t take into account the human factor. People like the perceived anonymity that phones, cars, and comment boxes such as those that grace this site provide them; most only converse via teleconferencing when only absolutely necessary.

The film climaxes with an extraordinary event; the collapse of Jupiter to form a new sun in our solar system. Of course, whatever super-advanced intelligence performed this feat didn’t do it for our benefit, although it does avert a super power confrontation. As per consultations for 2001 with Dr Carl Sagan, alien intelligence is implied, but never seen. This saves both flicks from a perceived campiness that plagues much of Sci-Fi. “I was glad to see that some of my suggestions were taken to heart,” Carl was quoted in saying upon review of 2001. While stunning, just how a relatively low mass object such as Jupiter could sustain a fusion reaction even after ignition isn’t addressed, but I doubt the Europans care as they are now suddenly the mystery aliens’ favorite sons…

Do catch 2010 if you haven’t had an opportunity to do so; it’s currently up for instant viewing on Netflix. And to see how the drama ultimately plays out, be sure to read Clarke’s two additional novels in the saga, 2061 and the somewhat anti-climatic 3001. The future is may be now, as the calendar reads 2010… any Vegas odds on when we’ll make contact?