July 24, 2014

Review: Magnificent Principia by Colin Pask

On sale now!

Thank Newton for orbital mechanics. This week, we’ll take a look at the masterpiece that started all with Magnificent Principia by Colin Pask out from Prometheus Books. Sir Isaac published his Philosphiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica on July 5th, 1687. And although every high school physics student is (or hopefully, should be) familiar with the three laws of motion that it advanced, few have ever actually read the original work. [Read more...]

Mars Curiosity: Return of the NASATweetup!

A scale model rover and its destination.

(All photos by Author unless otherwise noted).

You could just imagine our excitement. A little more than a month ago, the email appeared informing us that we had been selected to attend the NASATweetup at the Kennedy Space Center for the launch of Mars Curiosity! Long time fans of this site will remember that we first attended one of these Twitter-based events at the Johnson Space Flight Center in Houston which was the first held at the JSC, and then made a pilgrimage for the tweetup & launch of STS-132, which at the time was the last scheduled launch of space shuttle Atlantis. [Read more...]

Review: The Sun’s Heartbeat by Bob Berman.

Out from Little-Brown!

Think you know our nearest star? Think again… no other astronomical object influences our often mundane daily lives like our Sun. Think about it; the fuel in our cars, the energy in that Twinkie you had for “breakfast” (admit it) and the very power in the electrons that propel this blog can all be traced back the fusion force coming from our nearest star. As Bob Berman points out in his latest book, The Sun’s Heartbeat, and Other Stories from the Life of the Star that Powers out Planet, all Earthbound energy with the exception of nuclear fission can be traced back to our Sun. Fans of Astronomy magazine (which JUST finally joined the ranks of the digital, winning back at least one more subscriber!) will be familiar with Mr. Berman’s Dave Barry-meets-Carl Sagan style of writing from his monthly column. [Read more...]

Review: The Invisible Gorilla by Christopher Chabris & Daniel Simons.

Out now from Broadway Paperbacks!

Think you’ve got a grasp on how reality and human intuition works? Think you’re catching everything “in the moment” and that your memory works like a finely tuned HD video camera? This week’s review may have a few surprises for you. In The Invisible Gorilla, authors and psychology professors Christopher Chabris & Daniel Simons posit what is becoming all too apparent in our modern stimulus-saturated world; that the true talent of the human mind may be in its ability to filter or ignore key events going on all around us. [Read more...]

Astro-Challenge: Exploring Reiner Gamma.

Finding Reiner Gamma…note that the shot through the Astroguyz 8″ SCT is flipped and inverted!

(Credit: Wide shot by Author, closeup from Lunar Orbiter 4 in 1967/NASA).

The waning gibbous Moon may provide a good cause to do some early AM astronomy this week. Amidst the familiar features such as craters, rays, and lunar mountains are more mysterious anomalies, one of which we’d like to bring to your observing attention this week. Reiner Gamma is a curious feature located at 7.5°N 59°W on the edge of the Oceanus Procellarum. [Read more...]

31.05.11: Cosmic Distance Record Broken?

GRB 090429B as seen by Swift. (Credit: NASA/Swift/Stefan Immler).

Last week, a new possible record smasher was announced in the realm of cosmology. It seems that every few months, we get another “largest, biggest, farthest” in the world of gamma-ray bursters. This one, designated GRB 090429B was discovered by NASAs Swift satellite and recent photometric calculations place its redshift at z=9.4, which would make it about 13.14 billion light years distant. [Read more...]

29.05.11: Hubble: New Views of a Historic Star.

Thar be (a) Var! (Credit: NASA/Space Telescope Inst).

It’s hard to imagine that less than a century ago, our home galaxy was thought to be the extent of the universe. That all changed the moment that Edwin Hubble wrote his famous “Var!” remark across an image of the Andromeda Nebula, M31. The intrinsic brightness of the star dubbed V1 enabled astronomers to get the first fix on the distant smudge, and they were floored by what they had found; clearly, M31 was an island universe onto its own.

Fast forward to today. Researchers at the Hubble Space telescope institute have recently partnered with the American Association of Variable Star Observers to compile new images and a new light curve of this famous Cepheid variable star. The results were unveiled at the recent meeting of the American Astronomical Society held in Boston, Massachusetts this past week. The project was part of the Space Telescope Institute’s Hubble Heritage project.

Why study old variables? This project represents a refinement of one of the most crucial cosmic standard candles at cosmological distances. It’s also interesting to note that backyard observers have the capabilities that only a few years ago were the realm of professionals. Seriously, I’ve seen some mind-blowing backyard images of M51 and its ilk that scant years ago that even professional technology couldn’t touch. The capability is out there, man… why not put that backyard light bucket to scientific use; join the AAVSO and the quest for cosmological knowledge!

28.05.11: Spiders in SPACE (…ACE).

A Terrestrial Golden Orb Spider. (Image Credit: NASA & Danielle Anthony).

The recent final mission of the space shuttle Endeavour brought some very special residents to the International Space Station. Delivered in the cargo manifest of STS-134 was the Commercial Generic Bio-processing Apparatus Science Insert -05 containing a pair of golden orb spiders. [Read more...]

15.05.11: Gravity Probe B Scores Another One for Einstein.

One of the Gravity Probe B Spheroids…(Credit: NASA/Don Harley)

A mission decades in the making has come to fruition. Recently, scientists have announced the results of the Gravity Probe B experiment. This mission was conceived way back in 1963 and had to await the birth of entirely new technologies before even reaching orbit. [Read more...]

14.05.11: Finding NASA’s NEEMO.

“Aqua-nauts” at work on NEEMO. (Credit: NASA).

A mission to a Near-Earth Asteroid will be unlike any other that NASA has undertaken to date. Gravity will be negligible, and astronauts will have to work in an unknown environment far from Earth. To this end, NASA has begun set-up earlier this week of an exciting new project off of the Florida Keys. [Read more...]

12.05.11: New Cosmic Minerals Part II.

A view of Krotite. (Credit: university of Hawaii/American Mineralogist).

Faster than you can say carbonaceous chondrite, another new meteorite-bound mineral was recently announced from the University of Hawaii. Readers of this space will remember the recent discovery of Wassonite last month. Now, enter Krotite, a low-pressure refractory inclusion with a chemical composition of CaAl2O4. [Read more...]

07.05.11: Its International Astronomy Day!

Coming under a sky near you… (Photo by Author).

Batten down the scopes…today is a day when we celebrate all things astronomical. This year, International Astronomy Day as reckoned by the Astronomical League falls on May 7th and October 1st. This weekend is a good time to visit that local astronomy club or planetarium and see what’s happening in the night sky… and if they’re not planning an event, ask em’ why not? [Read more...]

17.04.11: HiRISE on the Hunt.

The inverted streams of the Aeolis Region. (Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona).

Pull out those 3-D glasses, its alien anaglyph time. HiRISE, NASA’s very own high flying Martian orbiter, has been returning some mind blowing pics since entering orbit in 2006. Equipped with a 0.5 meter diameter camera with the resolution usually reserved for a spy satellite, the HiRISE site now boasts an avalanche of 3-D panoramas that provide for an amazing Sunday morning perusal. (Click the image above and watch hours disappear!) [Read more...]

14.04.11: Antares: A Deep Sea Neutrino Detector.

Depiction of Antares along with a photo closeup of one of the optical detectors. 

(Credit: F.Montanet, CNRS/IN2P3 and UJF for Antares)

   A unique astrophysical observatory has taken shape on the ocean floor of the Mediterranean. ANTARES, or the Astronomy with a Neutrino Telescope and Abyss environmental RESearch project, has been fully operational since May 2008 and is in the business of detecting Cherenkov radiation flashes caused by interactions of high energy muon neutrinos with the water in the deep Mediterranean Sea. [Read more...]

13.04.11: Here Be Shuttles!

The Orbiter that started it all; Enterprise during a drop test. (All photos courtesy of NASA).

The Space Shuttle program may be winding up, but you may soon have a chance to see one of these storied orbiters, in person. Yesterday, NASA officials announced the final resting places for the three remaining orbiters in the shuttle fleet; and the big winners are:

- Atlantis will go to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida;

- Endeavour will go to the Los Angeles California Science Center;

- Discovery will go to the National Air & Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly Virgina.

And that will leave the Space Shuttle orbiter Enterprise, which never flew into space, to be transferred from the Smithsonian to the New York City Sea, Air, & Space Museum.

  

Discovery in orbit…

A mock trainer, Shuttle Orbiter Pathfinder, currently resides at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Also, hundreds of other select pieces of shuttle hardware and memorabilia will be located to other institutions throughout the nation. The announcement coincided with the 30th anniversary of the launch of STS-1 and Space Shuttle Columbia back in 1981, and the 50thanniversary of manned spaceflight with Yuri Gargin’s first epochal launch aboard Vostok 1 in 1961. During that time, the fleet has experienced highs with the launch and repair of the Hubble Space Telescope, the deployment of the Chandra and Compton observatories, and the completion of the International Space Station as well as lows with the tragic loss of the Columbia and Challenger spacecraft along with their gallant crews. As we near the end of the program, look for a personal retrospective on the Space Shuttle and these historic orbiters. (Remember, we launch a shuttle but land an orbiter!) it seems weird that we’ve been flying Space Shuttles for over half of our personal existence on this planet, and a generation has come of age knowing nothing but. Hopefully, a brave new launch vehicle will be well established and performing routine space flights by the next decadal anniversary in 2021!  

    

…Liftoff of Shuttle Atlantis!

Review: Gravity’s Ghost by Harry Collins.

Out from Chicago Press!

Think your latest scientific quest is an impossible challenge? Let me introduce you to the team at the twin Laser Interferometry Gravitational wave Observatories (LIGO) and show you what they face. This week’s review installment is Gravity’s Ghost: Scientific Discovery in the Twenty-first Century by Harry Collins and out from Chicago University Press. [Read more...]

05.04.11: Student Tool Aids Astrophysicists.

  

Spectral Energy Distribution for Epsilon Aurigae. (Credit: NASA/JPL CalTech/D. Hoard).

We love it when we can put the words “students,” and “astrophysics discoveries” in the same sentence. Recently, students from San Mateo and Hillsdale High School in partnership with NASA and San Mateo College unveiled a new educational tool for budding astrophysicists. [Read more...]

02.04.11: Stalking an Impact.

Click image to see animation…(Credit: Stefano Sposetti/Marco Iten/Geological Lunar Researches Group).

Take a look at the image above. It may not be one of the most colorful we’ve ever run, but it shows something dramatic; a possible impact on the limb of the Moon. On February 11 of this year, Stefano Sposetti and Marco Iten of Gnosca Observatory Switzerland used a Borg 125 ED refractor and a high speed video camera along with a similar setup attached to a Celestron 11 at a separate location to record the flash on the nighttime side of the then just past 1st Quarter Moon. [Read more...]