November 24, 2014

Astro-Vid Of the Week: New Horizons Encounter Video

An artist’s conception of New Horizons on approach to Pluto and Charon.

(Credit: Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute JHUAPL/SwRI)

We’re just one year away now from the beginning of a historic solar system encounter. In July 2015, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft will thread its way past Pluto and its retinue of moons. Launched just over eight years ago on January 19th, 2006 from Cape Canaveral, next year’s encounter phase will actually begin late this year when New Horizons switches permanently on for upcoming the Pluto-Charon encounter. [Read more...]

26.07.11: Naming P4; A Humble Proposal.

The many worlds of Pluto! (Credit: NASA/HST/SETI Institute).

By now, you’ve heard the news and read the tweets; Pluto has a fourth moon to accompany Charon, Nix, & Hydra. The discovery announcement came last week from a team of astronomers led by the SETI Institutes’ Mark Showalter utilizing the Hubble Space Telescope. The observation campaign is part of an ongoing effort to survey the environs of Pluto in anticipation of NASA’s New Horizons flyby in July of 2015. [Read more...]

11.05.11: Voyager: The Humanoids Where Here.

Decoding the disk; are you smarter than a humanoid? (Credit: NASA/JPL).

If we were to vanish from the cosmic scene tomorrow, what would be our most lasting impact? Would it be our monuments, our terrestrial relics, or our broadcasts of I Love Lucy and the Jerry Springer Show? Thankfully, researchers in the 1970’s designed a “message in a bottle” to be tossed out across the cosmic sea attached to the twin Voyager spacecraft. Launched in 1977, both spacecraft reconnoitered the outer planets before being flung on trajectories that will leave our solar system. [Read more...]

28.04.11: Can You Say “Pioneer Non-nomaly?”


Pioneer; Looking Back. (Credit: Artists conception NASA/JPL).

Every advocate of alternative physics’ favorite spacecraft anomaly has been finally laid to rest recently. In 1972 & 1973 The Pioneer 10 and 11 spacecraft were sent on trajectories past Jupiter and Saturn that would take them out of the solar system. Now at a distance of 103 and 83 A.U. moving at 11.5 km per second, these spacecraft fell silent in 2003. [Read more...]

26.04.11: New Horizons and the Hunt for KBO’s.

Artist’s Concept of New Horizons at a KBO. (Credit: Dan Durda SwRI/NASA/JPL).

A sky survey has begun this month for a very special mission. In July 2015, NASA’s New Horizons mission will whiz past the Pluto-Charon system on its way out of the solar system. Scientists will collect data on the pair for a frenzied few days…and then what? [Read more...]

23.04.11: A Plutonian Atmosphere.

New Horizons at Pluto, an Artist’s Conception. (Credit: NASA/JPL/Johns Hopkins). 

As the New Horizons spacecraft approaches the distant world, Pluto is beginning to seem more planet-like by the day. Recently a team including astrobiologist Jane Graves used time on telescopes perched atop Hawaii’s Mauna Kea complex to reveal an intriguing constituent of the Plutonian atmosphere; carbon monoxide. [Read more...]

The Discovery of Eris & its Implications.

Eris & Dysnomia as seen from Hubble. (Credit: NASA/HST/ESA M.Brown).

   As 2010 draws to a close, a quiet discovery was made recently about a fascinating solar system object. January 5th, 2011 will mark the six year anniversary of the discovery of 2003 UB313, which became provisionally known as the planet Xena and then later demoted to the dwarf planet Eris. [Read more...]

Review: Starry Night Pro 6.

Astro-candy for your desktop!

Astro-candy for your desktop!

 

   Let it never be said that you can run too many planetarium programs… this week we look at Starry Night Pro, a comprehensive desktop sky simulator. We were lucky to receive this bundled with one of our Earth Science courses in pursuit of our teaching degree with Western Governors University, and it has become a standard short-cut on our desktop. Just how does it stack up against what’s out there? [Read more...]

27.03.10- Modeling Black Holes.

Simulation of the environs of a black hole. (Credit: NASA).

Simulation of the environs of a black hole. (Credit: NASA).

 

   Researchers are calling in the big guns in the quest to understanding black holes. Specifically, scientists at the Rochester Institute of Technology are using time on some of the fastest and most powerful computers in use to model and predict the activity of super massive black holes. But these aren’t your ordinary off the shelf PCs; their laboratory New Horizons machine is a computer cluster of 85 nodes with 4 processors that is capable of passing data at a rate of 10 gigabytes per second. Try that on your family Mac book! Further grants totaling $2.9 million will enable the team to hone their theoretical models over the next 3 years on ever faster machines. “It’s a thrilling time to study black holes, ” states center director Manuela Campanelli. If predictions match observations, these models may also serve as the best proof yet of Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity…more to come!

04.02.10: Pluto Re-imaged.

The brave new face of Pluto. (Credit: NASA, ESA, M. Buie).

The brave new face of Pluto. (Credit: NASA, ESA, M. Buie).

The most controversial planet (or do you say dwarf planet, or plutoid?) got a new look today. In a press conference, NASA researchers revealed the new “face” of Pluto; a series of images spanning 270 degrees of rotation. To complete these, astronomers scoured 384 images for 4 years using no less than 20 computers. These images were acquired from the Hubble Space Telescope’s Advanced Cameras for Surveys, and span a period from 2002-03. Even under the most favorable conditions, Pluto is a tough target; at around 0.1” arc seconds in size, Pluto only covers only a few pixels even in the best cameras and telescopes. The images are in true color, and present a tan-ish to grey world that is perhaps Mars-like in appearance. This is suggestive of a broad diversity of plutonian topography, and comparisons with the 1994 images show correlations with bright surface features, but also changes that hint at seasonal variations. Specifically, Pluto appears significantly redder and shows a magnitude variation of 0.2 magnitudes, which is surprising over a short 8 year span…Pluto takes 248 years to complete one orbit. Charon, Pluto’s large moon, was a good “color test” as it stayed the same throughout both imaging cycles, lending credence to the idea that the changes throughout were real and not an artifact.

Spectroscopic analysis reveals that Pluto is a dynamic world, covered by frozen methane and fluro-hydrocarbons. In fact, it’s suggested that the world may be a twin to Triton, Neptune’s largest moon. “Certainly, the Kuiper Belt is an amazing place,” such researcher Mike Brown, who laughed at the idea that perhaps Pluto was getting redder in anger at him due to its recent demotion. Hubble’s newly installed WFC3 camera will begin imaging Pluto over a five month period starting April 2010, in anticipation of the New Horizons flyby in 2015. And all this on today, Clyde Tombaugh’s 104th birthday! Expect those astronomy text books to be changing soon…

Review:Redshift 7: The Ultimate in Astronomy Software.

Redshift

Availble from Maris technologies! (Credit: Redshift).

Desktop-based planetarium programs have really come into their own in the past few years. From their early evolution in the 1980′s with computer programs written in Basic that would show you stick figure constellations, planetarium programs are now full fledged sky simulators that allow you not only to control your telescope and plan your observing sessions more effectively, but allow you to travel through space as well as time. [Read more...]

12 Very Special Events for the Century.

The Moon posed to occult Mars & Mercury in 2056! (Credit: Stellarium).

The Moon poised to occult Mars & Mercury in 2056! (Credit: Stellarium).

“Bizarreness” is part of our business in astronomy. We always get the top billing with the “how big, how far, how bright” records, but one thing that is hard to quantify is just how unique certain events are. Here, I present you a quick list, a baker’s dozen of astronomical oddities that are worth setting your alarm clock for in the coming century in chronological order. A sort of Astroguyz to-do list for the coming century!

-January 15th 2010: The Longest Annular Eclipse Until 3043: Coming right up after the new year is what’s billed as the longest annular eclipse of the millennium. An annular eclipse occurs when the New Moon is near apogee and the Earth is near perigee, and hence the angular diameter of the Moon is too small to fully cover the Sun. This is a direct consequence of the longest totality of this past summer, in which the situation was reversed. “Annularity” lasts for a whopping 11 minutes and 8 seconds, and the entire event spans an area from the horn of Africa to China. This eclipse is part of saros series 141.

-October 8th, 2011: A possible Draconid Outburst?: The Leonids aren’t the only shower prone to storm level outbursts. The Draconids, also known as the Giacobinids, are a little known shower that peaks around Oct 8-10th of every year and generally is of little notice to all but the most avid meteor observers. It has been prone to outbursts, most notably in the years 1998, 1985, 1933, (33′ must have been a good year for meteors!) and 1946, when the ZHR peaked at 10,000! Another date worth noting is 2018, when the debris trail we’re predicted to pass through is very close to the 1946 storm trail. The Draconids hail from comet Giabobini-Zinner.

-June 6th, 2012: A Transit of Venus: The second transit of Venus for this century and pretty much the last one for anyone currently alive (unless they perfect that putting-our-brains-in-cyborgs thing) occurs on this date. This transit favors the Pacific rim, with North America getting a sunset transit and central Asia receiving a sunrise one. Most likely, the world won’t end on this date. The next transit won’t occur for another 105 years!

Ganymede: New Horizons shows its stuff during a swing by of Jupiter. (Credit; NASA/JPL).

Ganymede: New Horizons shows its stuff during a swing by of Jupiter. (Credit; NASA/JPL).

-July 14th 2015: The New Horizons Pluto Flyby: We include this as the sole mission oriented event because its the last semi-planet to be recon’d by mankind. Launched in 2006, New Horizons completed a gravitational swing-by assist of Jupiter in 2007 and is now the fastest object ever launched by mankind, and will whiz through the Pluto-Charon system on July 14th, 2015 at 14km per second. After this date, those blurry Hubble images of Pluto will be forever replaced by real pictures! What surprises await us in the denizens of the frigid outer solar system? More moons? A ring? An alien etched “Astroguyz” logo? And will the “is Pluto a Planet?” debate once again rear its ugly head?

-August 21st, 2017: A North American Eclipse: Total eclipses seem to avoid North America, Japan and Europe like the plague and hang out in places like Djibouti and Outer Mongolia. The dry spell ends in 2017, bringing an eclipse for the suburban masses. Do you live in or near Markanda, Illinois? Then you will have the distinct privilege to host two eclipses in the span of seven years, as another eclipse passes over on April 8th, 2024! expect the population of 419 to expand exponentially…(Howard Johnsons take note…)

-April 13th, 2029: The Flyby of Apophis: Will the world end on a Friday the 13th? The asteroid 99942 Apophis will indeed whiz by the Earth on such a date, within the realm of the geosynchronous satellites. Apophis carries with it the distinction of being the first, and so far the only asteroid to reach a “4” rating on the Torino scale for a short time back in 2004. Will it hit that tiny 600 meter key hole for an impact in 2036? Vegas odds are 1 in 45,000 against…viewing for the pass will favor Europe and Africa, where Apophis will appear as a swiftly moving star. Will we have the gumption by then to launch a manned mission to scope it out?

- November 19th, 2034 A Leonid Storm: I should be collecting social security just in time for this one…a meteor storm can be the event of a lifetime. The Leonids have always been a surefire bet; usually a lackluster shower of around ten meteors an hour, this stream is prone to well documented bursts in access of 1,000 ZHR every 33 years or so. The 1998 storm was still one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen! The years leading up to 2034…(i.e., 2030-2033) should merit your early AM attention around this date, as the peak “storm” may arrive a year early or late!

A tight grouping of classical planets! (Credit: Stellarium).

A tight grouping of classical planets! (Credit: Stellarium).

-September 8th 2040: A Tight Planetary Group: This evening in 2040 brings a very special view; all of the naked eye classical planets plus the waxing crescent Moon in a 9.3 degree grouping! This the tightest assemblage of these worlds visually this century!

-October 1st, 2044: An Occultation of Regulus by Venus! Naked eye occultations of planets by bright stars happen maybe a few times a century, and this is one of the best. If you find yourself in Eastern Asia or the western U.S., be sure to check this out!

-February 13th, 2056: The Moon occults Mercury & Mars at the same time. OK, now for the truly bizarre. Sure, you’ve seen the Moon occult planets and bright stars; this happens a few times a year from any given locale…but how often does the Moon occult two planets at the same time? This very event, it turns out, it rarer than a total solar eclipse during a Metallica concert… rare enough to only occur once or twice a millennium. This rarest-of-the-rare will occur over western North America in daytime afternoon skies. Venus and Jupiter will be close by.

-November 22nd 2065 Venus Occults Jupiter. Live in Panama? You just might catch a planet occulting a planet on this not so far off date. The apparent diameters of the two worlds will be 10” and 29”, respectively. The rest of the world will see a very close conjunction. For you history buffs, this is the first planet-planet occultation since 1818, also featuring Venus and Jupiter!

-August 11th, 2079: Mercury Occults Mars. This is rare, in that the worlds involved are tiny and thus generally miss each other in their apparent paths. This time the Middle East is favored to view this rare event; Mercury and Mars will be at a diameter of 5” arc seconds each and the rest of the world will again see an extremely close conjunction in the dawn skies…will we be cyber-Tweeting in our sleep by then?

-December 31st, 2099: The Aliens Invade & Become our Masters… OK, maybe they’ll be tired of the bad press they get in cheesy Sci-Fi movies and this will happen long before then…

So there you have it, twelve reasons to look up at the night sky throughout the 21st century. This list is by no means exhaustive; its just a quick pic of our faves. If your favorite, I’m-selling-my-house-and-moving-to-Panama-just-to-see-it event didn’t make the cut, drop us a line! For further astro-nerdiness, I invite you to peek at the outstanding Ultimate Almanac, as well as the wiki on planetary occultations. Its gonna be a wacky century…perhaps some budding 3-year old junior Carl Sagan out there just might live to be the first to collect them all!

Don't miss the 2012 transit of Venus! (Credit: Jan Herold under Creative Commons).

Don't miss the 2012 transit of Venus! (Credit: Jan Herold under Creative Commons).

Review: Naming Pluto.

Naming Pluto.

Naming Pluto by Ginita Jimenez (Credit:Father Films).

We here at Astroguyz are always on the lookout for an unheard of astronomical tale. Naming Pluto, a short documentary film by Ginita Jimenez of Father Films tells the intriguing story of how the ever-controversial planet Pluto was first named. It is a very human drama, and one that should be better known than it is. [Read more...]