May 22, 2017

Astro-Event(s): A Solstice, a Meteor Shower and a Bizarre Transit.

The Winter Solstice… here comes the Sun!

(Credit: Art Explosion).

T’was the night before Christmas, and no doubt dreams of high tech astro-gear is dancing thru the head of many a star stricken astronomer out there. But while you’re awaiting those astro-gifts, the universe marches on. [Read more...]

25.05.11: Catching Moon Shadows.

Two each shadows on the Jovian cloud tops. (Photo by Author).

This morning, the astro-news turns towards our very own personal exploits at the eyepiece. That’s why we all blog in the end, right? To keep a sort of diary of our experience in this magnificent universe and so forth? I awoke at 5 AM EDT to begin gear load-out and setup. This is what folks who don’t have an observatory typically do; an hour or so of lugging, prepping, and aligning only to find out that clouds are rolling in or the batteries are dying, or the scope is fogging up, or a million other things that send us headed back indoors. [Read more...]

Review: Unmasking Europa by Richard Greenberg

Out from Springer Books!

Something interesting is going on underneath the icy surface of Jupiter’s Moon, Europa. This week, Astroguyz takes a look at Unmasking Europa by Richard Greenberg out from Springer Books. Dr. Greenberg is a professor of Planetary Sciences at the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona in Tucson. [Read more...]

27.04.11: Detecting “Exo-Aurorae.”

Saturian aurora seen in the infrared via the Cassini spacecraft. (Credit: NASA/JPL).

Planetary Scientists may soon have a new technique in their arsenal in the hunt for exo-solar planets. Current tried-and-true methods involve measuring tiny radial velocity shifts, catching a gravitational lensing event, or watching and measuring a tiny dip in brightness as a planet transits its host star. [Read more...]

AstroEvent: 4x Planets, 1xMoon, and a 12° FOV!

Looking eastward May 1st about 30 minutes before sunrise. (Created by the Author using Starry Night).

Where have all the planets gone? Four of the five classical naked eye planets are about to reveal themselves this week in a splendid fashion. As Venus sinks morning by morning towards the horizon, expect Jupiter, Mars and Mercury to emerge low in the dawn sky. The action culminates the weekend of April 30th-May 1st, when the waning crescent Moon approaches the grouping… use brilliant Venus as a visual “anchor” to guide your eyes to the fainter planets. On what date will you be able to spot each planet from your location? [Read more...]

AstroEvent: The Best Appearance of Mercury in 2011.

Mercury+Jupiter in the dusk. (Photo by Author).

If you’ve never seen the inner-most world of our solar system, this week is your chance. On Tuesday, March 22nd, the planet Mercury reaches a greatest elongation of 19 degrees east of the Sun.  Due to the varying angle of our ecliptic during different times of the year coupled with an eccentricity of 0.21 for Mercury’s orbit, not all apparitions of the innermost world are equal. [Read more...]

February 2011: Life in the Astro-Blogosphere.

The Moon, the ISS, & Jupiter… Van Gogh would be proud! (Photo by Author).

The shortest month of the year is upon us. The month of February brings with it some curious moon alignments, a possible shuttle launch, and some rip roarin’ good Sci-Fi;

Coming to a Sky near You: February 1st kicks off with Jupiter’s moons arranged in 1-2-3-4 visual order. The 3rd sees a good occultation of a bright star by asteroid Irmintraud for the central Florida peninsula (re: Astroguyz HQ), and the 8th sees Saturn’s moons in order. [Read more...]

AstroEvent: Catch Jupiter’s Moons in 1-2-3-4 order.

Jupiter+moons at 2200 UT February 1st. (Created by Author in Starry Night).

Recently I’d caught something at a star party that’s worth looking out for; Jupiter’s moons in 1-2-3-4 order. This event happens 3 to 4 times a month, and is always a good teaching moment to name and explain the four Galilean moons. [Read more...]

AstroEvent: A 2xJovian Moon Transit.

The view from the US East Coast around 8:30PM EST 24 Jan. (Created by Author in Starry Night).

One of the first things that Galileo noticed with his primitive telescope was the moons of Jupiter. This ‘solar system in miniature’ fascinated him, as he watched and recorded the changes in position presented by these four moons night to night. Even today, watching these changes can be a fun endeavor, and is a view available to even the smallest telescopes. This week, I challenge you to try and view a double transit of the Galilean moons. [Read more...]

2010: The Year in Science

2010 has been a tumultuous year in space and astronomical science. We’ve seen the beginning of a huge transition for manned space flight, as well as a look ahead at what astronomers would wish for if they had their say. What follows are a baker’s dozen of the biggest, weirdest, and most controversial science articles that made our astro-radar in 2010;

[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...]

AstroEvent: The Return of the SEB?

Great Red Spot+SEB as seen from Astroguyz HQ. (Photo by Author).

 

   Followers of this column know that Jupiter has appeared rather odd during this years’ 2010 apparition. Specifically, the Southern Equatorial Belt, or SEB, vanished for the first time in the 21st century. This is not a unique or singular occurrence, as it happened no less than 12 times in the 20th century. It’s not completely understood why this happens, and why only the SEB is prone to this disappearing act and never its twin Northern Equatorial Belt. Now, there’s evidence that the SEB may be returning. [Read more...]

Review: Journey Beyond Selene by Jeffery Kluger.

A classic of the early space age!

        A classic of the early space age!

     Before men landed on the Moon, we had to first crash land there successfully. This week, we dip back into the Astroguyz library to review the classic Journey Beyond Selene: Remarkable Expeditions Past Our Moon and to the Ends of the Solar System by Jeffery Kluger. We dug this gem up from our favorite Tucson haunt Bookman’s years ago. Selene tells the fascinating tale of the evolution of the unmanned space program. [Read more...]

Review: Voyager by Stephen J. Pyne.

Out July 23rd from Viking Press!

Out July 23rd from Viking Press!

 

   Ours may be an age of discovery like no other. This week, we look at Voyager: Seeking Newer Worlds in the Third Great Age of Discovery, by Stephen J. Pyne, out July 26th, 2010 from Viking Press. This fascinating work delves into the Voyager series of spacecraft missions from a unique perspective, juxtaposing it as a symbol of the third great age of exploration and drawing historical parallels and contrasts with past great expeditions of discovery. [Read more...]

19.06.10: A New Breed of Supernova?

Discovery image of SN 2005E. (Credit: SDSS/Lick Observatory).

Discovery image of SN 2005E. (Credit: SDSS/Lick Observatory).

 

   Every student of Astrophysics 101 soon learns that there are two main types of supernovae; Type 1a, which occur when a white dwarf star accretes matter from a bloated companion, passes the Chandrasekhar Limit and explodes, and Type II, when a star 8 times the mass of our Sun or larger reaches the end of its fusion burning life and promptly explodes… but are these snapshots of the final phases of stellar evolution really that neat and tidy? Recently, evidence has been mounting that there may be other sub-branches to the supernova tale, and not just the two flavors and the sub-categories that we learned in school. The first round of evidence comes from a team at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and their study of supernova 2005E. This blast occurred in the galactic halo of the galaxy NGC 1032 in the constellation Cetus, not your typical supernova breeding territory. Supernovae are usually seen in rich star forming regions, not in metal poor outer galactic suburbs. This event was a fizzle, ejecting only 300 times the mass of Jupiter into its nearby environs.

The mystery deepened as a team from Hiroshima University released their results of a study of another supernova, 2005cz. Located in the elliptical galaxy NGC 4589, this eruption was also only 20% as bright as models predict, showing that while the initial mass may have been just above what was required for a Type II supernova, it beared none of the classic hallmarks of either species of events. Both of these supernovae, along with 6 others recorded, show a high concentration of calcium in their spectra, a hint that they may not be related to either of the previously known types.

So, what’s going on? Do we need to re-write all those old astrophysical texts? It’s unlikely that a progenitor star migrated all the way to a galactic halo region in its short life span simply to explode. A possible scenario could be a pair of binary white dwarfs (or do you say dwarves?) in a tight orbit, with one stealing the helium shell of another and bursting. Spectra taken of both events seem to support this scenario… this mystery may have a tie-in with the seeming lack of “Type 1A’s in waiting” mentioned in this space in an article on a recent survey of nearby galaxies… will this hybrid style of supernova become known as “Type III” or “Type 2.5”?

Astro Event: A Very Close Dawn Conjunction.

 

Jupiter & Uranus at Appulse! (Created in Starry Night & Paint).

Jupiter & Uranus at Appulse! (Created in Starry Night & Paint).

 

 

    Tomorrow morning has something worth getting up for; one of the closest planetary conjunctions of the year. Specifically, the planets Jupiter and Uranus sit about 26’ arc minutes apart, as seen through binoculars. Both will also fit nicely in a low power telescopic field for the next week or so. Jupiter has been very much in the news as of late, as it first became suddenly “one striped” a few weeks ago and was recently smacked again by an impactor. When we first caught wind of this, our first instinct was hoax, such as the “Mars is the closest this August in 50,000 years!” email that circulates every summer. But it does indeed appear that another impactor has struck the giant world, on the same calendar date and discovered by the same observer! We’ve definitely received a lesson in Jupiters’ role as a cosmic vacuum cleaner as of late, although no true impact scar has yet to reveal itself. It’s also worth noting that the impact longitude will be on the planet’s central meridian at 4:21 EDT tomorrow the 8th as well, another reason to check out Jupiter. The impact video that circulated revealed the hit to be right at the longitude of the missing Southern Equatorial Belt. Uranus will be slightly fainter than a typical Galilean moon and display a grayish green disk. The pair rises around 3AM local and a waning crescent Moon will be nearby. Fun fact: did you know that Galileo missed the opportunity to discover another outer world, Neptune, during a close conjunction? He even drew its position change next to Jupiter in his notebook! Probably the reason that he didn’t make the intuitive leap was because no one at the time supposed that there should be any undiscovered planets!

The Astro-Word for this week is Appulse. This is another term that points back to astronomy’s hoary roots with astrology. We say an object (usually two planets or a planet and the Moon) are at appulse on their closest apparent approach. Of course, this is only line of sight from our vantage point; in reality, objects such as Jupiter and Uranus are millions of miles apart. The term appulse has sort of fallen to the wayside in favor of its synonym, conjunction, but it certainly doesn’t raise the eyebrows like another related mystical sounding term, occultation. I’m just glad that professional astronomers no longer have to subsidize their income by casting horoscopes for kings, as they did in times of yore!

Astro-Challenge: See the Galilean Moons in 1,2,3,4 Order.

The Jovian System at 3AM EDT Friday. (Created by Author in Starry Night & Paint).

The Jovian System at 3AM EDT Friday. (Created by Author in Starry Night & Paint).

 

   Astronomy is chock full of alignments, synchronizations, and oddities that happen on variable cycles. This week, I’d like to point you towards one of those gee-whiz occurrences that happens early Friday morning. On May 28th, 2010, you’ll have the opportunity to view Jupiter’s classical four Galilean Moons in one-through-four order, all positioned on one side of the planet. This would also make for an interesting “family portrait” of the set. Jupiter is in dawn skies, currently rising about 4 hours prior to the Sun. The window of time is short; the moons are only in this arrangement from 06:33 UT until 07:50 UT, and “Jupiter-rise” for folks in the US Eastern time zone only occurs at about 0:700 UT (about 3 AM EDT local). Hence, only folks positioned in the Eastern and Atlantic time zones will have a shot at catching this alignment under dark skies. [Read more...]

09.05.10: First Re-Visit of a Comet in the Works.

(Credit: NASA/JPL).

(Credit: NASA/JPL).

An artists’ impression of Stardust NExT at comet Temple 1.

  NASA engineers directed the Stardust spacecraft to fire its rockets briefly on the of 17th of February, putting it on course for a new mission; a flyby of comet Tempel 1 February 14th of next year. If that comet sounds familiar, it should be; Tempel 1 was smacked by an impactor released from the Deep Impact space probe in 2005. The pass will allow scientists to see how the impact crater has evolved, as well as mark the first mission to re-visit a comet. Launched on February 7th, 1999, Stardust also returned a first ever sample of a comet. This sample has been the subject of much scrutiny by Earth-bound scientists, including that favorite obsessive/compulsive-creating crowd-sourcing project, Stardust@home. Hey, I’m still in the top 100, last time I checked…  NASA has also rechristened the spacecraft as Stardust NExT, or the New Exploration of Tempel. Not only will next years’ passage provide close-ups of the nucleus, but expect to see high resolution images of the coma and key insight into just how these Jupiter-class family of comets formed and evolved.