Tag Archives | Astronomy

2012 Perseid Meteor Shower and Friends

Photo: Perseid meteor striking the sky, Brocken Inaglory (PD)

This weekend’s upcoming meteor shower will have some added guests along for the party. In addition to the usual meteors that show up every year at this time, a few celestial bodies will be dropping by for a visit. From Physorg:

The Perseid meteor shower peaks on the nights around August 12th as Earth passes through a stream of debris from Comet Swift-Tuttle. “We expect to see meteor rates as high as a hundred per hour,” says Bill Cooke of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office. “The Perseids always put on a good show.”

Perseids can be seen any time after 10 to 11 pm. The best time to look, however, is during the dark hours immediately before dawn. Also, advises Cooke, avoid city lights if possible. Faint meteors are easily lost in the urban glare. A visit to the countryside will typically triple the number of meteors you see.

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ET Is Out There, So Get Ready

In a TED Talk, astronomer and alien hunter Seth Shostak argues that over the next generation, we will probably pick up a signal from intelligent life outside of our solar system. What would it mean? Coming into contact with a more advanced lifeform could give us a window into where humanity is headed, and give us hope that technological advancement doesn't inevitably lead to destruction:
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No Intelligent Aliens Detected on the SETI-Targeted “Earth Condition” Gliese 581 System

Yet that is. As Ian O'Neill desribes on Discovery News:
SETI astronomers have eavesdropped on an alien star system thought to contain two "habitable" worlds in the hope of hearing a radio transmission from an extraterrestrial intelligence. Sadly, there appears to be no chatty aliens living around the red dwarf star Gliese 581. In results announced last week by Australian SETI astronomers, of the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research at Curtin University in Perth, Gliese 581 was precisely targeted by Australian Long Baseline Array using three radio telescope facilities across Australia. This is the first time the technique of very long baseline interferometry (VLBI) has been used to target a specific star in the hunt for extraterrestrials, so although it didn't turn up any aliens, it is a proof of concept that may prove invaluable for future SETI projects...
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The Last Soviet Moon Lander Discovered Water on the Moon in 1976

Moon Landing MapCold War politics. Via the Technology Review's Physics arXiv Blog:
The last Soviet mission to the moon, Luna-24, returned to Earth with water-rich rocks from beneath the lunar surface. But the West ignored the result. The possibility of water on the moon has excited scientists and science fiction fans for decades. If we ever decide to maintain a human presence on the moon, clear evidence of water will be an important factor in the decision. In recent years, that evidence has begun to mount. The data comes from several sources. First there was the pioneering Clementine mission in 1994, America's first return to the moon in twenty years. Clementine looked for water by bouncing radio waves off the surface—the returns giving a strong indication that water ice must lie beneath the surface...
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Annular Solar Eclipse Brings Ring Of Fire (May 20, 2012)

Photo: sancho panza (CC)

Photo: sancho panza (CC)

This Sunday brings the first annular solar eclipse visible in the western United States in almost 18 years. Mike Wall reports for Space.com:

Skywatchers in East Asia and the western United States should circle Sunday (May 20) on their calendars. That’s when a solar eclipse will block out most of the sun, leaving a spectacular “ring of fire” shining in the sky for observers located along the eclipse’s path.

The event is what’s known as an annular solar eclipse — from the Latin “annulus,” meaning “little ring” — and its full glory should be visible from much of Asia, the Pacific region and some of western North America, weather permitting. At its peak, the eclipse will block about 94 percent of the sun’s light.

Other parts of the United States and Canada will still see a partial solar eclipse, without being treated to the ring of fire effect, though the East Coast will miss the event since the sun will have set before it begins.

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SOHO Watcher Claims NASA Cover-Up of Spaceship Spotted Near Sun (Video)

Spaceship Near SunPeter Farquhar writes on the Daily Telegraph (AU):
Either we aren't alone, or it's nigh time NASA fixed its dodgy cameras. For the third time this year, the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) has returned an image of a giant UFO hovering near, or feeding off the Sun. Maybe ... In recent years, SOHO has found an extended role as a predictor of solar weather activity, helping scientists on Earth prepare for radiation bursts sent our way by solar flares. On the SOHO homepage, fans can access all sorts of Sun-related data, including images that have been built from observations from any of the dozen or so instruments onboard SOHO, and videos ...
Here's the active SOHO observer, YouTube User rob19791:
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California Meteor Found Packed With Alien Organics

Murchison MeteoriteVia the Daily Galaxy:

A sonic boom heard in California last week had an out-of-this world origin as ”a large meteoric event” according to NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office. Scientists now estimate the blast measured in near 5 kilotons or roughly 1/3 the power of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan during World War II. Bill Cooke of the Meteoroid Environment Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, estimates the object was about the size of a minivan, weighed in at around 154,300 pounds.

“Most meteors you see in the night’s sky are the size of tiny stones or even grains of sand and their trail lasts all of a second or two,” said Don Yeomans of NASA’s Near-Earth Object Program Office at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “Fireballs you can see relatively easily in the daytime and are many times that size — anywhere from a baseball-sized object to something as big as a minivan.”

The meteor appears to be much more valuable than scientists first thought.

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Amateur Astronomers Track Spy Satellites

USA 193Jim Nash writes in Scientific American:

Earlier this year Iran’s defenseminister put the world on notice: His nation had developed the ability to “easily” watch spacewalking astronauts from the ground. The announcement was largely ignored, in part because it made the minister sound like a James Bond villain. The boast was also a bit anticlimactic, given that even amateur astronomers are already recording in detail what happens in low Earth orbit.

Both the technology involved and the techniques used to observe satellites and even the occasional astronaut perched outside the International Space Station (ISS) are improving, much to the presumed chagrin of governments looking to keep certain on orbital activity confidential.

In a development harkening back to the earliest days of desktop computing, highly skilled stargazers are hacking together optics, electronics and software to create sophisticated observatories of their own. In fact, one French astrophotographer, Emmanuel Rietsch, has begun selling software and hardware that make it possible for backyard astronomers to track and record satellites…

Read More: Scientific American

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We Can Survive Killer Asteroids — But It Won’t Be Easy

Celebrity astro-physicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson shares some advice on how to guard against pesky Near-Earth Objects (like the meteor that lit up California and Nevada last weekend), in Wired Science:
The chances that your tombstone will read “Killed by Asteroid” are about the same as they’d be for “Killed in Airplane Crash.” Solar System debris rains down on Earth in vast quantities — more than a hundred tons of it a day. Most of it vaporizes in our atmosphere, leaving stunning trails of light we call shooting stars. More hazardous are the billions, likely trillions, of leftover rocks — comets and asteroids — that wander interplanetary space in search of targets. Most asteroids are made of rock. The rest are metal, mostly iron. Some are rubble piles — gravitationally bound collections of bits and pieces. Most live between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter and will never come near Earth.
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A Universe Without Purpose

Disc CloudLawrence M. Krauss writes in the LA Times:

The illusion of purpose and design is perhaps the most pervasive illusion about nature that science has to confront on a daily basis. Everywhere we look, it appears that the world was designed so that we could flourish.

The position of the Earth around the sun, the presence of organic materials and water and a warm climate — all make life on our planet possible. Yet, with perhaps 100 billion solar systems in our galaxy alone, with ubiquitous water, carbon and hydrogen, it isn’t surprising that these conditions would arise somewhere. And as to the diversity of life on Earth — as Darwin described more than 150 years ago and experiments ever since have validated — natural selection in evolving life forms can establish both diversity and order without any governing plan.

As a cosmologist, a scientist who studies the origin and evolution of the universe, I am painfully aware that our illusions nonetheless reflect a deep human need to assume that the existence of the Earth, of life and of the universe and the laws that govern it require something more profound.

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