October 20, 2017

30.9.9:Messenger; A 1st Look at the 3rd Pass.

NASA’s Messenger spacecraft skimmed the barren surface of the solar systems’ inner most world Tuesday evening, revealing more of its unmapped surface. Messenger zipped 141 miles above the surface of Mercury and was occulted briefly before resuming telemetry broadcasting back to Earth. The image above was taken with the Narrow Angle Camera (NAC) looking over the northern horizon at a distance of 10,100 miles and is just one of the first in what is sure to be a flood of pics released today. Tomorrow, October 1st, principal investigators will release findings of the 3rd flyby at a briefing at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory at 5PM. And don’t forget those wide field searches for any lurking “Mercurial Moons” over the next few days as Messenger recedes…now that would be news!

28.9.9: Messenger’s 3rd Flyby of the Planet Mercury.

The drama in the inner solar system continues… late tomorrow on September 29th, NASA’s Messenger space probe will do its third and final swing by of the planet Mercury. At closest approach, Messenger will be less than 142 miles above the surface and provide more stunning images of the inner world. Wide field UV spectroscopy scans should begin later today, and this gravity assist will be the final pass for eventual orbital insertion around Mercury in 2011. About 90% of Mercury has been mapped, although Messenger is only the second spacecraft to examine Mercury up close after Mariner 10 in 1974…did you know that Mariner 10 created a brief buzz of excitement when it appeared to have discovered a “moon” of Mercury? The anomalous UV radiation was later accounted for by the star 31 Crateris, but it serves as a reminder that we don’t know everything about this tiny world. I also mention this because in the days after its pass, Messenger will conduct a wide angle satellite search as it calibrates its cameras… such a discovery would be just plain cool! Messenger has been busying itself by conducting a survey for any hypothetical “Vulcanoids” interior to Mercury’s orbit, and will conduct measurements with its Laser Altimeter tomorrow during its closest pass. Mercury is currently low in the dawn sky, rising about an hour before the Sun. A very cool time-line is provided for those who want to follow the action!


23.9.9 CoRoT-7b: A Rare Earth.

The “Super-Earths” are getting smaller. Recently, the ESA announced that an exoplanet discovered on February 3rd of this year by the CoRoT (Convection Rotation and planetary Transit) satellite is one of the lightest yet… at about five Earth masses, this transiting exoplanet is about twice the diameter of the Earth. But don’t pack your bags just yet; CoRoT-7b as its designated, also zips around its host star every 20.4 hours at a distance 23 times closer than Mercury! This bakes the rocky world with temps in excess of 2000 degrees Celsius. The parent star itself is slighter cooler and younger than our Sun. Follow up measurements by HARPS, the ground based High Accuracy Radial velocity planet Searcher spectrograph at the La Silla Observatory in Chile helped tease out the radial speed and yielded an unexpected bonus; another Earth-like world, CoRoT-7c, which orbits at a relatively sedate 3 days and 17 hours and is 8 times the mass of the Earth. Such bizzare systems may become the norm in the coming years, as exoplanet detection technology becomes more sensitive. The CoRoT-7 system is located about 500 light years away in the plane of the Milky Way galaxy in the constellation Monoceros.



31.08.09: An Edge on Saturn.

A rather odd event is transpiring in the Saturnian system, one that only happens a couple of times in our lifetime; its rings are vanishing. Not really, of course; we are merely passing through the super-fine ring plane as viewed from the Earth. The exact date of the “crossing” as viewed from Earth is Friday, September 4th, when the 20 meter thick rings will be exactly edge on and vanish from all but the largest telescopes. Just a few weeks ago, Saturn passed equinox, when the rings were edge on to the Sun and hence, not illuminated across their 100,000+ km expanse. This happens every 14 to 15 years during the planet’s 29.7 year orbit.

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Review: Moon Landing: the 40th Anniversary Pop-Up!



Pop-up books are one of the great guilty pleasures of life. Designed for kids, it is often adults that can be found fascinated with them after bedtime. Nothing illustrates ideas and concepts better in a graphical format. And they’re just plain fun, to boot!

Think you know everything about the Apollo missions? Leave it to a simple pop-up book to teach us otherwise…. [Read more...]

Review: Almost Astronauts by Tanya Lee Stone.

Chances are you’ve never heard of the “Mercury 13.” OK, we all know about the Mercury 7 via movies such as the Right Stuff and an endless stream of Discovery channel documentaries, but there also exists another little known but fascinating tale of the early American manned space program; the contributions of women. Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream, by Tanya Lee Stone, follows the saga of 13 women who under went the candidate selection process to become astronauts. As this month is the anniversary of cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova’s flight in 1963, this book adds an enlightening chapter to the story of women in space.

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October 2008: News & Notes.

(Newsflash- NASA announced recently that STS-125, the final servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope, will be delayed indefinitely due to a failure of the telescopes’ main control unit. Engineers are looking at options to restart a backup unit. That also scrubs Astroguyz’s mission to cover the launch live! click here for more info!)

First Image of an Exo-Planet: Astronomers utilizing the Gemini North telescope have produced what may be the first image ever of an exo-planet. The three person team from the University of Toronto used the adaptive optics of the enormous telescope to image the object in the glare of 1RXS J160929.1-210524, about 500 light years distant. [Read more...]

Astro-Event of the Week, September 9th-15th, 2008: Mercury Reaches Greatest Elongation.

Mercury is an elusive world.

Legend has it that Nicholas Copernicus himself never spotted the fleeting world. This week, Mercury reaches greatest elongation, and provides us with a chance to top one of the greats. [Read more...]

Astro event of the Week, August 12-18, 2008: See a Triple Conjunction!

Alas, poor North America! We miss out of both this months’ eclipses! But I give you as an Astro consolation of sorts; a rare triple planetary conjunction!

On the evening of August, 15th, the planets Mercury, Venus, and Saturn will span an area of less than 2 degrees, a nice binocular view. [Read more...]

Astro Event of the Week: 24-30 June, 2008

Early morning risers next Monday are in for a treat; a rare occultation of the star cluster, the Pleiades, by the Moon.

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A Voyage to the Inner-Most Planet

The Solar System has just become a little more known. This year our view of Mercury, the closest planet to the Sun, has changed as the Messenger spacecraft completes its first flyby of the little known world. Late in the afternoon last week, I braved the January cold to peer west. There, in the dusk twilight, was a single shining point below the crescent Moon.

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In Search of Planet Vulcan:The Ghost in Newton’s Clockwork Universe by Richard Baum and William Sheehan

   There aren’t many good books on the history of observational astronomy out there.  The public perception of the lone astronomer standing vigil at the eyepiece is rapidly vanishing into the past.

   In Search of Planet Vulcan reads like a good mystery novel.  [Read more...]