There seems to be no Planet X. There has been an ongoing idea of a planet outside the orbit of Pluto. Surveys by the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) turned up thousands of “new to us” stars and brown dwarfs within 500 light-years, but no Planets.
The outer solar system probably does not contain a large gas giant planet, or a small, companion star
- Kevin Luhman of the Center for Exoplanets and Habitable Worlds at Penn State University, University Park, Pa., author of a paper in the Astrophysical Journal describing the results.
The recent study, looking at WISE data found no objects Saturn sized or larger to a distance of 10,000 A.U. and no Jupiter sized or larger out to 26,000 A.U. In rough terms 1 A.U. is about 150 million km / 93 million miles.
Today Yuri Gagarin would have been 90 years old. “Yuri” was a Soviet cosmonaut and pilot and became the first human in space, completing an orbit in his Vostok spacecraft on 12 April 1961.
Gagarin was killed in a training accident (March 1968) when the jet he was piloting crashed. Gagarin’s death was (and still is) was fodder for conspiracy theorists as it apparently completely isn’t certain. Official reports indicate weather was a factor.
Today the anniversary of significant space exploration milestones is marked by a worldwide celebration named for Gagarin – Yuri’s Night.
Yuri’s Night began on 12 April 2001, 40 years after the historic and world-changing flight. One of the main goals is to increase public interest in space exploration. It also happens that the flight of STS-1, the very first Space Shuttle mission was launched on 12 April 1981.
I always have fun on Yuri’s Night, after a long, cold winter it will feel good to get out.
Yuri’s night isn’t just big, it’s HUGE! Last year something like 350 star parties were held in almost 60 countries and many-many more on-line celebrations.
Look for a celebration near you:
The image above comes from NASA, see the caption and a link to archival Gagarin video here.
Tomorrow is the premier of the updated version of the iconic television series, Cosmos. The original version is of course was hosted by Carl Sagan and aired in 1980, Cosmos: A personal journey.
The new version is hosed by Neil deGrasse Tyson. I was lucky enough to have seen the first episode and Tyson seems perfect for the role.
The 13-episode series is billed as “An epic Adventure in time, space and life”. Tyson has a line in the first episode that sums things up nicely: ”It’s time to get going again”.
One of the show’s producers is Ann Druyan, a producer known for Contact (1997) and was married to Carl Sagan from 1981 until his death in 1996.
I could not believe my eyes when I read another of the group of producers was Seth MacFarlane – yes THAT Seth MacFarlane. I’m not sure why this surprises me, although I am very pleased so see him on the team.
You can see this in FOX starting on 9 March 2014 and NatGeo on 10 March 2014. Check your local listings for times. The series premier is scheduled for 9pm Eastern 8pm Central on FOX (01:00 UTC if I did the math correctly).
Visit the official site: Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey.
There is another show coming at weeks end “Live from the Space”, more on that about mid-week.
I first saw this and thought Hubble caught a comet breaking up, turns out it isn’t it’s an asteroid! Not to mention another Hubble first. The four largest fragments are as much as 200 meters in diameter.
“This is a rock. Seeing it fall apart before our eyes is pretty amazing,” said David Jewitt of UCLA, USA, who led the astronomical forensics investigation.
Get the story at ESA’s Hubble page.
On March 3, 2014, at 6:09 a.m. EST, a NASA-funded sounding rocket launched straight into an aurora over Venetie, Alaska. The Ground-to-Rocket Electrodynamics – Electron Correlative Experiment (GREECE) sounding rocket mission, which launched from Poker Flat Research Range in Poker Flat, Alaska, will study classic curls in the aurora in the night sky.
The GREECE mission seeks to understand what combination of events sets up these auroral curls as they’re called, in the charged, heated gas – or plasma – where aurorae form. This is a piece of information, which in turn, helps paint a picture of the sun-Earth connection and how energy and particles from the sun interact with Earth’s own magnetic system, the magnetosphere.
You can get desktop versions at the NASA site or at the Wallpaper link under the banner above.
NASA’s Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) now has a comet discovery.
Officially named “C/2014 C3 (NEOWISE)”, the first comet discovery of the renewed mission came on Feb. 14 when the comet was about 143 million miles (230 million kilometers) from Earth.
The odd thing about this comet is that is in a retrograde orbit. Amy Mainzer, the mission’s principal investigator from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “This comet is a weirdo – it is in a retrograde orbit, meaning that it orbits the sun in the opposite sense from Earth and the other planets.”
Check out the story here at the WISE website.
The Mars Science Laboratory, Curiosity, took this image on sol 548 (19 Feb 2014. The rover was looking back after a days drive. We can see Junda on the left and looking to the left we can see the tracks seemingly coming from the from the background highlands.
This scene would be the envy of any sci-fi illustrator.
The rows of rocks just to the right of the fresh wheel tracks in this view are an outcrop called “Junda.” The rows form striations on the ground, a characteristic seen in some images of this area taken from orbit. A panorama made from Navcam images taken during a pause to observe Junda partway through the Sol 548.
For scale, the distance between Curiosity’s parallel wheel tracks is about 9 feet (2.7 meters). This view is looking toward the east-northeast.
Nice! This is Herschel’s look at NGC 7538 a giant cloud of hydrogen and bits of dust – a stellar nursery. The dust also shines in the far-infrared which works out great for Herschel, ESA’s far-infrared space observatory.
Have a look at the Simbad page for NGC 7538 for a different view of it (optical I think).
Be sure to pay a visit to ESA’s Star factory NGC 7538 for the particulars.
Here in the northern hemisphere low pressure systems have a counterclockwise rotation. This is a beautiful look at a storm that is well formed off the coast of California.
The storm will move onshore tomorrow and is already bringing some much needed rain to the region which has been enduring drought conditions for a long time. I saw news accounts where some of the reservoirs are at only 20 percent capacity. Since Wednesday as much as 8.5 centimeters has fallen in the Los Angeles area, less than a centimeter than the region got all of last year! The rain will help, however flooding is occurring and it has been so dry and the area afflicted with forest fires, mudslides are almost inevitable.
In the mean time, on the other side of the Pacific. The NASA-Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) Core Observatory was launched.
The Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) Core Observatory, a joint Earth-observing mission between NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) launched at 18:37 UTC Thursday, 27 February.
The spacecraft was launched from Tanegashima Space Center on Tanegashima Island in southern Japan. The GPS system aboard the spacecraft is now active and the spacecraft is being readied for communications through the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System. The GPM mission will help advance our understanding of Earth’s water and energy cycles.
I must confess I’ve never really considered this before and the way the press release is worded leaves me with the question: are these “contact binaries” actually two separate asteroids or are they just sort of stuck together by whatever (like gravitationally bound, impact fused etc)?
The NASA press release:
A collage of radar images of near-Earth asteroid 2006 DP14 was generated by NASA scientists using the 230-foot (70-meter) Deep Space Network antenna at Goldstone, Calif., on the night of Feb. 11, 2014.
Delay-Doppler radar imaging revealed that the asteroid is about 1,300 feet (400 meters) long, 660 feet (200 meters) wide, and shaped somewhat like a big peanut. The asteroid’s period of rotation is about six hours. The asteroid is of a type known as a “contact binary” because it has two large lobes on either end that appear to be in contact. Previous radar data from Goldstone and the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico has shown that at least 10 percent of near-Earth asteroids larger than about 650 feet (200 meters) have contact binary shapes like that of 2006 DP14. The data were obtained over an interval of 2.5 hours as the asteroid completed about half a revolution. The resolution is about 60 feet (19 meters) per pixel.
The data were obtained on Feb. 11 between 9:03 a.m. and 11:27 p.m. PST (12:03 a.m. to 2:27 a.m. EST on Feb. 12). At the time of the observations, the asteroid’s distance was about 2.6 million miles (4.2 million kilometers) from Earth. That is about 11 times the average distance between Earth and its moon. The asteroid’s closest approach to Earth occurred on Feb. 10, at a distance of about 1.5 million miles (2.4 million kilometers).
Radar is a powerful technique for studying an asteroid’s size, shape, rotation state, surface features and surface roughness, and for improving the calculation of asteroid orbits. Radar measurements of asteroid distances and velocities often enable computation of asteroid orbits much further into the future than if radar observations weren’t available.
NASA places a high priority on tracking asteroids and protecting our home planet from them. In fact, the United States has the most robust and productive survey and detection program for discovering near-Earth objects. To date, U.S. assets have discovered more than 98 percent of the known near-Earth objects.
In addition to the resources NASA puts into understanding asteroids, it also partners with other U.S. government agencies, university-based astronomers, and space science institutes across the country that are working to track and understand these objects better, often with grants, interagency transfers and other contracts from NASA.
NASA’s Near-Earth Object Program at NASA Headquarters, Washington, manages and funds the search, study and monitoring of asteroids and comets whose orbits periodically bring them close to Earth. JPL manages the Near-Earth Object Program Office for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.
We had a bit of an aurora last night, it was nice to see. The Boulder K index was 6 for a while.
This was all thanks to an X-class flare which was imaged by the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO). The flare took place at 12:25 UTC (24 February, 19:25 EST).
The SDO took images in different wavelengths and you can see the result. Larger versions of the image can be found at this NASA page.
And if you missed the aurora don’t worry more will happen, I saw this one by accident myself, thanks to the dog. LOL.
Here is the D ring of Saturn. Being faint and narrow it’s sometimes not noticed between the C ring and the planet, it just doesn’t stand out too well.
You can see part of the planet at the top of the picture the D ring next to it is the D ring. In about three years and things go as planned Cassini will pass between the two.
There are 12 stars in the image too.
A meteorite with about the mass of a small car impacted the moon last September and it was seen by Spanish astronomers. I don’t often mention Spanish astronomers, more the pity and bad on me. Spain has some of the best observers and astronomers as there are anywhere.
In this case on 11 September 2013, Prof. Jose M. Madiedo was operating two telescopes in the south of Spain that were searching for these impact events. At 2007 UTC he witnessed an unusually long and bright flash in Mare Nubium, an ancient lava-filled basin with a darker appearance than its surroundings.
We are hearing about this now because the scientists involved published their description of the event in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. By the way, video links are included below the fold.
The Spanish telescopes are part of the Moon Impacts Detection and Analysis System (MIDAS) system that monitors the lunar surface. This project is being undertaken by Prof. Jose Maria Madiedo, from the University of Huelva (UHU), and by Dr. Jose L. Ortiz, from the Institute of Astrophysics of Andalusia (IAA-CSIC) and continues a pioneering program that detected sporadic lunar impact flashes for the first time.
Prof. Madiedo and Dr. Ortiz think that the flash was produced by an impactor of around 400 kg with a width of between 0.6 and 1.4 meters. The rock hit Mare Nubium at about 61,000 kilometers per hour and created a new crater with a diameter of around 40 meters. The impact energy was equivalent to an explosion of roughly 15 tons of TNT, at least three times higher than the largest previously seen event observed by NASA in March last year.
“Our telescopes will continue observing the Moon as our meteor cameras monitor the Earth’s atmosphere. In this way we expect to identify clusters of rocks that could give rise to common impact events on both planetary bodies. We also want to find out where the impacting bodies come from.”
Observing impacts on the Moon gives astronomers an insight into the risk of similar (but larger) objects hitting the Earth. One of the conclusions of the Spanish team is that these one meter sized objects may strike our planet about ten times as often as scientist previously thought. Fortunately, the Earth’s atmosphere shields us from rocks as small as the one that hit Mare Nubium, but they can lead to spectacular ‘fireball’ meteors.
There are a couple of videos of the impact:
The first and shortest (my favorite of the pair) is here. Watch the timer tick off after impact.
The Gaia satellite is 1.5 million km away and is orbiting a spot in space known as L2. The spot, L2 is a Lagrange point, think of it as a gravity balance point and makes a nice parking spot. ESA has a more in depth explanation of Lagrange points..
ESA can actually keep tabs on Gaia visually. I think this is just amazing. Using the Very Large Telescope at the European Southern Observatory in Chile Gaia actually can be seen. It’s a very small satellite very far away, over a million times fainter than can be see with the human eye.
From the ESA caption:
To measure Gaia’s position in the sky, a network of small and medium telescopes are monitoring the spacecraft on a daily basis. This information is being fed into the orbit reconstruction being performed at ESA’s Space Operations Centre, yielding an accuracy of 150 m on Gaia’s position and of 2.5 mm/s on its motion.
These two images, taken about 6.5 minutes apart on 23 January, are the result of a close collaboration between ESA and the European Southern Observatory to observe Gaia.
The Hubble team have been watching hundreds of individual stars in the the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC) over the past seven years and have mapped out their movements. What they got for their “trouble” is a precise measurement of the rotation of the galaxy! This is a first too.
The answer? The LMC rotates once every 250 million years, about the same as our solar system does in the Milky Way.