May 29, 2020

November 2008: News & Notes.

STS-125 Update: The final servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope is still officially on hold status, although an unofficial date of February 12th, 2009 is under current review. On October 25th, NASA engineers announced the reactivation of the main camera out of safe mode, which is certainly encouraging. The shuttle Endeavour, STS-126 headed for the International Space Station, now moves into the forward launch slot. Endeavour, formerly a backup to Atlantis, is slated to launch on November 14th.  

2008 TC3 Impact: Alas, no one seems to have been sitting out in the Sudanese desert armed with as much as a cheap cell phone camera to catch the demise of 2008 TC3. Primary visual reports came from a KLM international flight, and several satellites did indeed record the burn up. This marks the first time an object that was on a definite collision course with Earth was known about before it hit! Presumably, several of the satellites were of the classified kind, monitoring the Earth for nuclear explosions. For fun, we here at Astroguyz put together a video simulation of the 2008 TC3 encounter, using the ephermis generator in Starry Night… enjoy!

Mercury Flyby: NASA’s Messenger spacecraft completed its second course correcting flyby of the planet Mercury on October 6th, passing just 200km from its surface. Messenger has now attained a whopping speed of +140,000 miles an hour for eventual orbital insertion. And you thought your Ducati was fast!

…And the Noble Prize winner is: On October 7th, 2008, the ultimate prize in nerdom, the Nobel Prize in Physics (which is the closest thing we have to a Nobel Prize in astronomy) was awarded to Yoichiro Nambu, Makoto Kobayashi, and Toshihide Maskawa for their studies into the broken symmetry of the subatomic universe. Their collective efforts may go a long way in answering one of the basic conundrums concerning the early cosmos; if matter and antimatter were formed in equal parts, why is there anything at all? (And would an antimatter universe be offended and call us antimatter?) First posited in the early 1960′s, broken symmetry gained credence after the final, third family of quarks were observationally discovered in the 1990′s. Will the ellusive Higgs-Boson be bagged by the 2009 winner?

The Saga of Eta Carinae: As if the weird couldn’t get weirder, the largest known star may be headed toward a cataclysmic X-ray crash . Eta Carinae, a star deep in the Homunculus Nebula, is more than 100 times more massive than the Sun and 5 million times more luminous. Now, evidence is mounting in its spectra that the star may be headed for a periodic event, known as an X-ray crash, in or around January of next year. This has been observed in 5 ˝ year cycles, and the culprit is thought to be an unseen companion. Prediction of such an event will most likely vindicate those in the binary hypothesis camp. Eta Carinae is known for a history of massive outbursts, including the “Great Eruption” in the 1840′s. It is also a prime candidate for supernova-hood.

Long Range Solar Plans: The universe is indeed out to kill us. As we humans venture further out into the solar system, knowing the goings-on of the Sun will prove crucial to our survival. The Sun is capable of unleashing cell damaging havoc in the form of highly energized particles and Coronal Mass Ejections. Now, NASA has unveiled its long range plans to combat the threat; a fleet of Sun monitoring missions that will encircle our star and our planet to give scientists continuous monitoring of our space weather environment. First conceived in 2001, NASA’s Living With a Star (LWS) missions will boast a fleet of five different packages over the next decade, including the upcoming Solar Dynamics Observatory, which is almost ready to go. Complete with High Def cameras, it promises to be SOHO on ‘roids!

Galaxy Zoo Discovery: Yes, Virginia, real science is still viable by amateurs! And on the Internet, no less…Hanny van Arkel, a Dutch school teacher, spotted something mysterious while participating in the Galaxy Zoo project. What looked like a small green ghost next to a spiral galaxy is thought to be the light echo of a Quasar. Now known collectively as Hanny’s Voorwerp, this object has garnered the interest of astronomers who hope to point a refurbished Hubble (see above) at the enigmatic object. Keep your eyes out; Galaxy Zoo would also be a good place to spot supernovae, gravitational lensing, and an omnipotent deity arranging galactic megaclusters into the number 42!

Asteroid Steins Imaged: The ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft recently imaged asteroid Steins on a close flyby recently to reveal the shape of… a diamond. Of course, this oddly formed world is closer in composition to regolith, but pretty, none the less. After analysis of the data, scientists expect little known Steins to become one of the best studied of the asteroids. Rosetta will now move on to an encounter with a much larger asteroid, with the name of Lutetia.

Titan Lake Front: Property values on Titan may be rising sharply, as the Cassini has recently found compelling evidence of liquid lakes on this Saturnian moon. Don’t go packing the sunscreen, however; these lakes are composed chiefly of liquid ethane, and are bone chilling cold. One lake, dubbed Ontario Lacus, spans about 7,800 square miles. This makes Titan only the second known body in the solar system (next to the Earth!) with liquid anything on its surface! Cassini is due for another close imaging flyby of Enceladus on October 31st, about a day before this release! 

Astro-Blooper: Ah, sometimes even scientists are given to overstatement… during a recent 60 Minutes interview , a scientist connected with the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) stated rather off-handedly that teleportation maybe commercially viable in the next decade! I’d love to see the exact mechanism as to how he proposes to do this; the idea of moving a human sized object through a sci-fi style wormhole would involve the collapsing of a Jupiter sized mass! I’d love to be wrong, but don’t look for this option to be included on your cell plan anytime soon….

Full Moon: The Full Moon in November was known as the Beaver Moon . Last chance to set those traps, everyone! It was also known as the Frost Moon, for obvious reasons. This Full Moon occurs on November 13th, 2008 at 1:19 AM, EDT.

Quote: “Electrons speak for themselves.”

  • - Seth Lloyd, Quantum Mechanical Engineer.


  1. [...] Eta Carinae & the Homunculus Nebula ( Credit :HST). The Saga of Eta Carinae: As if the weird couldn’t get weirder, the largest known star may be headed toward a cataclysmic X-ray crash . » November 2008: News & Notes. [...]

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  3. [...] on to be successful scientists and cult figures commanding huge book royalties in their own right. Teleporters and Faster-Than-Light communications may be forever out of reach, but one wonders looking at the [...]

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