Mysterious Ultra Luminous X-Ray Sources Keep Space Scientists Guessing

Space scientists have debated the nature and origin of high energy ultra-luminous x-ray sources for years  

This image from Swift's X-Ray Telescope captures both of the known ULXs in M31. The first, dubbed CXOM31 J004253.1+411422, was discovered with NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory on Dec. 17, 2009, and appears to be a stellar-mass black hole. The other, named XMMU J004243.6+412519, was discovered just last month, on Jan. 15, by the European Space Agency's XMM-Newton spacecraft. Credit: NASA/Swift/Stefan Immler
This image from Swift’s X-Ray Space Telescope captures both of the known ULXs in M31. The first, dubbed CXOM31 J004253.1+411422, was discovered with NASA’s Chandra X-ray Space Observatory on Dec. 17, 2009, and appears to be a stellar-mass black hole. The other, named XMMU J004243.6+412519, was discovered just last month, on Jan. 15, by the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton spacecraft. Credit: NASA/Swift/Stefan Immler

Space news (Oct. 28, 2014) –

Space scientists have been looking at celestial objects called ultraluminous x-ray sources (ULXs) for years in search of answers to the mystery surrounding their nature and origin. Celestial bodies radiating enormous amounts of high-energy x-rays, astronomers have been studying three nearby ULXs changing thoughts and present theory on these energetic characters.  

Space scientists using the Chandra X-ray Observatory, Hubble Space Telescope, Swift Gamma-ray Burst Explorer and XMM-Newton Space Observatory have been studying two ULXs discovered in Andromeda galaxy (M31). The first is called CXOM31 and was discovered in 2009 using the Chandra X-ray Space Observatory. The second, XMMU, was discovered on Jan. 15, 2014 by the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton spacecraft.   

The locations of two M31 ULXs are shown on this optical image of our galactic neighbor. M31 lies 2.5 million light-years away in the constellation Andromeda and is the nearest large spiral galaxy to our own. Under a clear, dark sky, it can be seen as a misty patch with the naked eye. Credit: NASA/Swift; background: Bill Schoening, Vanessa Harvey/REU program/NOAO/AURA/NSF
The locations of two M31 ULXs are shown on this optical image of our galactic neighbor. M31 lies 2.5 million light-years away in the constellation Andromeda and is the nearest large spiral galaxy to our own. Under a clear, dark sky, it can be seen as a misty patch with the naked eye. Credit: NASA/Swift; background: Bill Schoening, Vanessa Harvey/REU program/NOAO/AURA/NSF

Space scientists believe both ULXs they observe in Andromeda are binary star systems with a black hole rapidly accreting (consuming) material from its neighbor at a rate near the theoretical Eddington limit (the maximum accretion rate of a black hole).  

“There are four black hole binaries within our own galaxy that have been observed accreting at these extreme rates,” said Matthew Middleton, an astronomer at the Anton Pannekoek Astronomical Institute in Amsterdam. “Gas and dust in our own galaxy interfere with our ability to probe how matter flows into ULXs, so our best glimpse of these processes comes from sources located out of the plane of our galaxy, such as those in M31.”  

“As gas spirals toward a black hole, it becomes compressed and heated, eventually reaching temperatures where it emits X-rays. As the rate of matter ingested by the black hole increases, so does the X-ray brightness of the gas. At some point, the X-ray emission becomes so intense that it pushes back on the inflowing gas, theoretically capping any further increase in the black hole’s accretion rate. Astronomers refer to this as the Eddington limit, after Sir Arthur Eddington, the British astrophysicist who first recognized a similar cutoff to the maximum luminosity of a star.”  

“Black-hole binaries in our galaxy that show accretion at the Eddington limit also exhibit powerful radio-emitting jets that move near the speed of light,” Middleton said. “Although astronomers know little about the physical nature of these jets, detecting them at all would confirm that the ULX is accreting at the limit and identify it as a stellar mass black hole.”  

High-energy X-rays streaming from a rare and mighty pulsar (magenta), the brightest found to date, can be seen in this new image combining multi-wavelength data from three telescopes. The bulk of a galaxy called Messier 82 (M82), or the
High-energy X-rays streaming from a rare and mighty pulsar (magenta), the brightest found to date, can be seen in this new image combining multi-wavelength data from three telescopes. The bulk of a galaxy called Messier 82 (M82), or the “Cigar galaxy,” is seen in visible-light data captured by the National Optical Astronomy Observatory’s 2.1-meter telescope at Kitt Peak in Arizona. Starlight is white, and lanes of dust appear brown. Low-energy X-ray data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Space Observatory are colored blue, and higher-energy X-ray data from NuSTAR are pink.

Space scientists operating NASA’s Nuclear Array (NuSTAR) have also found the brightest ULX on record near the center of galaxy Messier 82 (M82) 12 million light-years away. Called M82 X-2, they believe this particular object is actually a dead pulsating star called a pulsar, rather than a binary star system with a black hole accreting material from its neighbor.  

“Astronomers have found a pulsating, dead star beaming with the energy of about 10 million suns. This is the brightest pulsar – a dense stellar remnant left over from a supernova explosion – ever recorded. The discovery was made with NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR.”  

“You might think of this pulsar as the ‘Mighty Mouse’ of stellar remnants,” said Fiona Harrison, the NuSTAR principal investigator at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California. “It has all the power of a black hole, but with much less mass.”  

This ULX being something other than a binary star system with an accreting black hole is surprising to astronomers. They’ll have to rethink present theories on the nature and origin of these mysterious celestial objects.   

“The pulsar appears to be eating the equivalent of a black hole diet,” said Harrison. “This result will help us understand how black holes gorge and grow so quickly, which is an important event in the formation of galaxies and structures in the universe.”  

“ULXs are generally thought to be black holes feeding off companion stars — a process called accretion. They also are suspected to be the long-sought-after “medium-sized” black holes – missing links between smaller, stellar-size black holes and the gargantuan ones that dominate the hearts of most galaxies. But research into the true nature of ULXs continues toward more definitive answers.”  

“We took it for granted that the powerful ULXs must be massive black holes,” said lead study author Matteo Bachetti, of the University of Toulouse in France. “When we first saw the pulsations in the data, we thought they must be from another source.”  

“Having a diverse array of telescopes in space means that they can help each other out,” said Paul Hertz, director of NASA’s astrophysics division in Washington. “When one telescope makes a discovery, others with complementary capabilities can be called in to investigate it at different wavelengths.”  

What’s next?

Space scientists will now use NASA’s complete array of astronomical equipment and spacecraft to look at how this dead star is able to radiate x-rays so intensely. Plans are for NuSTAR, the Swift Gamma-ray Burst Explorer, and Chandra X-ray Space Observatory to have a look at the weird behavior of M82 X-2.  

They’ll also start looking at other ULXs to see if they can find anymore that are pulsars, rather than a binary star system with an accreting black hole. This research could open a window of discovery on the true nature and origin of these energetic and enigmatic celestial objects.  

Visit here for more information about NuSTAR.

Visit here to learn more about the Chandra X-ray Observatory.

Look here for more information concerning the Swift Gamma-ray Burst Explorer.

Visit here for more on the XMM-Newton Observatory.

You can find more information on the Hubble Space Telescope here.

You can find more information on all NASA missions here.

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Planetary Space Scientists Use Hubble Space Telescope to Map Temperature and Water Vapor on “Hot Jupiter” Class Exoplanet

Data shows gravitationally locked exoplanet with extreme temperature variations between day and night 

This is a temperature map of the
This is a temperature map of the “hot Jupiter” class exoplanet WASP 43b. The white-colored region on the daytime side is 2,800 degrees Fahrenheit. The nighttime side temperatures drop to under 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Image Credit: NASA

Space news (October 25, 2014) –

NASA planetary space scientists using data provided by the Hubble Space Telescope recently released the first detailed global map of atmosphere temperatures and water vapor distributions on a “hot Jupiter” class exoplanet. Initially detected in 2011, WASP-43b as this exoplanet is called, is the world where daytime temperatures reach 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit, and then plunge to below 1,000 degrees at night.

“These measurements have opened the door for new kinds of ways to compare the properties of different types of planets,” said team leader Jacob Bean of the University of Chicago.

“Our observations are the first of their kind in terms of providing a two-dimensional map on the longitude and altitude of the planet’s thermal structure that can be used to constrain atmospheric circulation and dynamical models for hot exoplanets,” said team member Kevin Stevenson of the University of Chicago.

Planetary space scientists were able to detect three complete orbits of WASP-43b, during a four-day period. They were able to successfully combine spectroscopy and study of the rotation of the exoplanet to create the first detailed global map of atmosphere temperatures and water vapor distributions on a “hot Jupiter” class exoplanet.

WASP-43b is 260 light-years away in the direction of the constellation Sextans, which is too distant to be imaged directly by instruments. Planetary space scientists were first able to detect this “hot Jupiter” class exoplanet by observing the lessening of the sunlight as it passed in front of its parent star.

Approximately the same volume as Jupiter, WASP-43b is approximately twice as dense and is so close to its parent star it completes an orbit in just 19 hours. This exoplanet is also gravitationally locked, which means one side is perpetually in the dark, while the other side is constantly bombarded by sunlight.

There are no planets in our solar system exhibiting the extreme environments existing on WASP-43b. This makes it a unique laboratory for the study of the formation and evolution of “hot Jupiter” class exoplanets and planets in general.

“The planet is so hot that all the water in its atmosphere is vaporized, rather than condensed into icy clouds like on Jupiter,” said team member Laura Kreidberg of the University of Chicago.

“The amount of water in the giant planets of our solar system is poorly known because water that has precipitated out of the upper atmospheres of cool gas giant planets like Jupiter is locked away as ice. But so-called “hot Jupiters,” gas giants that have high surface temperatures because they orbit very close to their stars, water is a vapor that can be readily traced.”

“Water is thought to play an important role in the formation of giant planets, since comet-like bodies bombard young planets, delivering most of the water and other molecules that we can observe,” said Jonathan Fortney, a member of the team from the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Next for scientists?

Planetary space scientists will now try to figure out how abundant different elements are in the composition of WASP-43b, and similar exoplanets, in order to help understand how they’re formed. The team also plans to collect data on the abundance of water on different classes of exoplanets in the future.

You can read more about NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and the hunt for exoplanets here.

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Astronauts in Orbiting Spacecraft Need to Constantly Monitor Their Body Mass

Astronaut Bill Arthur sets up the SLAMMD during Expedition 12
Astronaut Bill Arthur sets up the SLAMMD during Expedition 12 Image Credit: NASA

Astronauts in orbit need to be able to monitor their body mass to stay healthy and strong 

The SLAMMD is visible here during Expedition 19
The SLAMMD is visible here during Expedition 19 Image Credit: NASA

Space news (astronaut health: protecting astronauts in space; SLAMMD) – the International Space Station –

Traveling in an orbiting spacecraft is hazardous to human health and can lead to bone and muscle mass loss in astronauts during extended missions on the International Space Station. The loss of a significant amount of body mass can have severe consequences all astronauts need to take into serious consider during long stays in space.

The concept of the difference between a body’s mass and weight is something NASA and all astronauts in orbiting spacecraft need to take into serious consideration. Weight is the downward force exerted by a mass as a result of gravity.  Mass is the amount of matter contained within an object. On a regular schedule, astronauts in the International Space Station will conduct a body mass measurement, using a Space Linear Mass Measurement Device (SLAMMD). This is a device operating on the principles of Newton’s Second Law of Motion (F = ma) that measures an astronauts’ mass while in orbit to an accuracy of 0.5 pounds.

The SLAMMD was initially installed during Expedition 11 and has since this time been used consistently by astronauts on the International Space Station to measure their body mass. Essentially, it works using two springs located in a drawer, which is attached to the astronaut being measured. The SLAMMD is designed to always apply a constant force no matter how far the springs are stretched. It measures the average acceleration of an astronauts’ mass, which is used along with the equation F = ma to calculate the mass of the astronaut.

Astronaut Frank De Winne measures his body mass using the SLAMMD during Expedition 20
Astronaut Frank De Winne measures his body mass using the SLAMMD during Expedition 20

The average acceleration of an astronauts’ mass is precisely measured by an optical device which detects the trajectory of the SLAMMD guide arm. A microcontroller collects the displacement versus time data and provides the precise timing required.

You can find more information on NASA and the health issues astronauts deal with while in orbit here.

For more information on the International Space Station visit.

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Learn how you can take part in the hunt for asteroids coming close to Earth

Calculating Orbits of Asteroids in the Main Asteroid Belt

The International Astronomical Search Campaign

The International Astronomical Search Campaign is looking for astronomy leaders of tomorrow
The International Astronomical Search Campaign is looking for astronomy leaders of tomorrow

Space news (astronomy leaders of tomorrow: The International Astronomical Search Campaign)

An asteroid is a piece of solid rock with an irregular body ranging in size between 500 meters and hundreds of kilometers. The majority of these bodies can be found in the main asteroid belt, a region of space between Mars and Jupiter. Pieces of rocky material left over from the formation of the solar system over 4.6 billion years ago, NASA scientists estimate there are as many as 40,000 asteroids contained within this main asteroid belt, with a combined mass less than the Moon. Confirming the identity and calculating the orbit of the asteroids contained within this belt is part of the space mission of NASA’s Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE).

The IASC plans and campaigns are expected to drive the human journey to the beginning of space and time forward
The IASC plans and campaigns are expected to drive the human journey to the beginning of space and time forward

The International Astronomical Search Campaign (IASC) is an educational outreach program created to allow high school and college students around the country to participate in identifying and calculating the orbit of every rocky body within the main asteroid belt. Originally created and developed by Patrick Miller of Hardin-Simmons University in the state of Texas, this program has helped tens of thousands of students in 250 schools and 25 countries on five continents learn more about astronomy.

Students can help determine the identify and orbit of asteroids in the main asteroid belt
Students can help determine the identity and orbit of asteroids in the main asteroid belt

Students participating in the program download images taken of an asteroid within the main asteroid belt in the last few hours by telescopes (24 and 32 inches) located in the Astronomical Institute in Illinois. Students must determine the identity and calculate the three-dimensional orbit of an asteroid using Astrometrica, a software package users need to download directly from the IASC website, within a three-day window.

The telescopes take three images of an asteroid at six-minute intervals,  which means it would have moved around five pixels in relation to distant background stars in each image. Astrometrica highlights objects in each image fitting these criteria by putting a red circle around them.

In order to determine an object is an asteroid, students must sort through objects that have moved in the images, and ones that are static. They do this by taking a look at the fit of the point spread function, the signal-to-noise ratio, and any change in the size of an object in the images. If an object has moved in a relatively straight line, stayed about the same size, has a signal-to-noise ratio greater than five, and is approximately round in shape, then it’s probably an asteroid.

Join the human journey to the beginning of space and time today!

A typical International Astronomical Search Campaign lasts about 45 days, during which new asteroids are often discovered, identified, and their orbits determined. This is your chance to become an astronomy leader of tomorrow, by participating in the International Astronomical Search Campaign, and WISE’s mission to identify and calculate the orbit of every rocky body in the main asteroid belt.

You can find more information and news on the space mission of NASA’s WISE spacecraft here.

You can find more on the current campaigns of the International Astronomical Search Campaign here.

Schools desiring to take part in the International Astronomical Search Campaign contact the IASC Director, Dr. J. Patrick Miller by email at:
iascsearch@hsutx.edu.

Read about Rosetta preparing to make history

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Space Exploration Takes Time

It took five decades to develop and ultimately launch the Hubble Space Telescope 

Artists conception of possible successor to the Hubble Space Telescope
Artists conception of possible successor to the Hubble Space Telescope Image Credit NASA

Future space telescopes (Oct. 15, 2014) –

Traveling and exploring space is an adventure unlike anything experienced by travelers during thousands of years of life on Earth. A space journey requires careful planning, patience, and determination far beyond any adventure ever undertaken by people traveling over land or water. Exploring space for possible new worlds orbiting distant stars takes a space telescope requiring decades to develop and ultimately launch into space.

For example, the space telescope most people associate with hunting for new worlds, the Hubble Space Telescope, took five decades to design, engineer and finally launch into space. In the same fashion, the James Webb Space Telescope is expected to make the leap into space in 2018, almost 24 years after work first started on the idea. In fact, NASA engineers and scientists believe it will take so long to actually build a true successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, they have already started work on a replacement.

Dubbed the Advanced Telescope Large-Aperture Space Telescope (ATLAST), the successor to the first planet hunter incorporates improved technology first pioneered by the Hubble and James Webb Space Telescopes. Studying the ultraviolet, visible and near-infrared universe, ATLAST is designed to be a long-term space observatory for the next phase of the human journey to the beginning of space and time. Engineers and scientists are currently taking a look at the costs and scientific and technical requirements of constructing a replacement planet hunter sometime within the next twenty or thirty years.

Team of NASA scientists and engineers studying the feasibility and costs of building ATLAST
Team of NASA scientists and engineers studying the feasibility and costs of building ATLAST Images Credit NASA

“Conceptually, ATLAST would leverage the technological advances pioneered by the Webb telescope, such as deployable, large segmented mirror arrays,” said Mark Clampin, ATLAST study scientist and Webb’s project scientist.

“We will be leveraging a lot of heritage from the Webb telescope and then developing new technologies over the next few years for the primary mirror assembly, wavefront sensing and control, and ultra-stable structures to achieve this wavefront error stability,” Clampin said.

“One of the killer apps currently planned for ATLAST is the ability to detect signatures of life in the atmospheres of Earth-like planets in the solar neighborhood,” Clampin said.“While other observatories will image larger exoplanets, they would not have ATLAST’s advanced ability to identify chemicals that may indicate the presence of life in these far-flung, Earth-size worlds.”

ATLAST will reside in the same Sun-Earth L2 orbit the James Webb Space Telescope will occupy once it’s launched around 2018. Carrying a state-of-the-art star shade designed to help reduce the light from an Earth-sized planet’s home star, ATLAST should detect worlds that could be a new cradle for the human race to begin life again.

ATLAST also has a large main mirror capable of studying star and galaxy birth in high definition. It would be able to provide detailed images of stars in galaxies over 10 million light-years away and regions of space where new stars are being created over 100 parsecs in size anywhere in the visible universe. This mirror would be quite a bit larger than the largest segmented mirror NASA has ever launched into space, the one on the Hubble Space Telescope.

NASA identified a need to begin development of a replacement for Hubble and James Webb Space Telescope in a recent document outlining its vision for astrophysics during the next three decades titled “Enduring Quests, Daring Visions“.

“While people expect Hubble and Webb to operate for many years, we are looking ahead to the telescope and instrument requirements needed to answer the questions posed in NASA’s 30-year vision,” said Harley Thronson, the Goddard senior scientist for Advanced Concepts in Astrophysics and ATLAST study scientist.

“ATLAST would achieve critically important science goals not possible with ground-based observatories or with any other planned space missions,” added Thronson. “Now is the time to plan for the future.”

“One of the pertinent attributes about ATLAST is that it’s being designed to be modular and serviceable, following the Hubble Space Telescope model,” observed Julie Crooke, one of the Goddard study leads. “Mission planners would design the observatory so that it could be serviced to upgrade instrumentation — a potential capability that depends on available budget and science requirements. Serviceability has been one of the great paradigms in mission architecture that separates the Hubble Space Telescope from all of the other space missions to date,” Crooke said.

You can find more information on ATLAST here.

For more information on the James Webb Space Telescope visit here.

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Rosetta Spacecraft Set to Deploy Lander to Surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko

The Rosetta spacecraft uses its 11 scientific instruments to study the surface of comet  67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko
The Rosetta spacecraft uses its 11 scientific instruments to study the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko Credits: NASA

After a decade traveling through the solar system, Rosetta is preparing to write history 

This image taken by Rosetta shows the primary landing site of Philae
This image taken by Rosetta shows the primary landing site of Philae. Credits: ESA/Rosetta

The image above shows the primary landing site of Philae, Rosetta’s lander, which is expected to make a soft landing on comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko at Site J, or backup Site C, on Nov. 12, 2014. Image credit: ESA/Rosetta

Between Mars and Jupiter (Oct. 11, 2014) –

After two weeks of analysis of possible trajectories the flight dynamics and operations teams of the European Space Agency (ESA) is preparing to make the first soft landing of a robot on a comet on Nov. 12, 2014. Expectations are for Rosetta to release Philae at around 08:35 UTC (12:35 a.m PST; 9:35 a.m. Central European Time), if Site J is the target, at a height of 14 miles (22.5 kilometers) above the center of the comet.

Philae will release from Rosetta on Nov. 12 and hopefully make a soft landing on comet  67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko
Philae will release from Rosetta on Nov. 12 and hopefully, make a soft landing on comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko Image credit: ESA

If all goes as expected, Philae should make a soft landing about seven hours later, around 7:35 a.m. PST. Here on Earth, mission specialists will get the confirmation of a successful landing 28 minutes and 20 seconds later, due to the time it takes the signal to travel between Rosetta and the Earth. This means we should get word on whether Philae made a successful landing around 16:00 UTC (8 a.m PST; 5 p.m CET).

Should the decision be made to try for backup Site C, instead of Site J, the lander will be released at 13:04 UTC (5:04 a.m. PST; 2:04 p.m. CET) at a distance of about 7.8 miles (12.5 kilometers) from the center of the comet?

In the backup scenario, Philae should land about four hours after release, which means the confirmation signal should arrive at Earth somewhere around 17:30 UTC (9:30 a.m. PST; 6:30 p.m CET). All times are estimates subject to uncertainties of minutes.

The Rosetta team will make a final decision on the landing site on October 14, 2014, after they review the lander to see if it’s ready for launch, and take a look at the high-resolution images of the landing sites they’ll take between now and Nov. 12.

During the week including Oct. 14, the ESA is planning on having a contest to determine the best name for the landing site selected. This is your chance to stamp your name on Rosetta and its mission. Check the Rosetta mission website to sign up for the competition and check out the rules.

A joint space mission spearheaded by the European Space Agency, but with help from NASA and friends, the Rosetta Space Mission is expected to enlighten us about the origins of comets and possibly life on Earth. Comets are time capsules containing material left over from the time when the solar system and Earth were being formed. Scientists will study the gas, dust, and structure of the interior of the comet to unlock secrets about the past, evolution and possible future of Earth and the solar system. They also hope to shine a light on the origins of Earth’s water and how life came to exist on one out of the way little planet in the middle of nowhere.

After Philae has landed, it will begin to study the comet up close using 10 scientific instruments. Rosetta will continue to study the comet and its composition and structure over the next year and a bit as they travel together around the sun and then back to the outer solar system.

Hundreds of year from now, when future archaeoastronomers discover Philae sitting on the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, will it create the energy and wonder created by its namesake – the Rosetta Stone – discovered in 1799 by French soldier Pierre-Francois Bouchard near the town of Rosetta in Egypt.

Philae will be sitting

Will scientists hundreds of years in the future argue over the true origin and meaning of the device they discover on a lonely comet circling the sun? Will it create widespread public interest in determining how, why and when it came to rest on a piece of the original building blocks of the solar system? Time will tell the story sometime in the future. A story that could inspire others to delve deeper into the mystery of the solar system and life on Earth.

You can find additional information on the current status of the Rosetta mission here.

Read about the ghostly glow of streaking Orionids

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Read about something unusual discovered during a future mission to Earth

The Ghostly Glow of Streaking Orionids’

Watch after each streaking meteorite for a ghostly glow rising from its path
Watch after each streaking meteorite for a ghostly glow rising from its path

Watch for a ghostly glow rising from the corpse of streaking meteorites once they pass

October, 2014 should be a great month for viewing this phenomenon
October 2014 should be a great month for viewing this phenomenon

Space news – October (2014) –

This Halloween modern sky watchers in both hemispheres have the opportunity to witness a ghostly celestial phenomenon viewed by ancient astronomers for generations, the ghostly afterglow of streaking meteorites of the Orionid meteorite shower. For a few nights centered on October 21, 2014, you can watch for a ghostly glow rising from the corpse of each streaking meteorite, which is pieces of Halley’s Comet burning up as they pass through Earth’s atmosphere.

E.C. Herrick is thought to have made the first modern sighting of the Orionid meteorite shower between 1839-40, but his measurements and data were imprecise. The first pinpoint study of this meteorite shower is credited to noted astronomer A.S. Herschel on October 18, 1864, when he recorded 14 meteorites appearing to originate from the constellation of Orion, but it would take a further year of study to confirm his findings.

During the 19th century, British astronomer W.F. Denning and American astronomer C.P. Olivier had a documented debate about whether the point from where the meteorites appear to originate moved from night to night. It would take until the 20th century for modern space scientists to determine using state-of-the-art photography and precise plotting of Orionids that this is in fact not true.

W.F. Denning published a report in one 1887 issue of The Observatory, in which he stated he saw 47 of 57 streaking Orionids leave a ghostly glow in their path after passing, during a viewing session lasting five nights. Denning estimated the magnitudes of streaking Orionids’ between 2nd and 4th magnitude, due to several that brightened considerably after burning up. Watch carefully on the nights centered around October 21, 2014, and you could witness this ghostly celestial phenomenon for yourself.

The best part of viewing Orionids is you don’t need technology because human eyes are perfect for the job. The Moon will be almost new this October, so just find the best spot to view the night sky you know, and lie down on a soft spot on the ground. The best time to arrive for the show is just before midnight or just prior to dusk, but any time between 12 and dawn should be fine. Viewers in the Southern Hemisphere should look towards the northeastern sky, while people in the Northern Hemisphere should look towards the southeast.

Get out there and view the cosmos

Serious sky watchers desiring to get a better idea of the exact times and dates during October 2014 to view Orionids where they live, can get a better estimate here. Just remember to check weather forecasts for the October nights you plan on viewing the night sky for Orionids and dress accordingly. If everything goes as predicted this Orionid meteorite shower could provide as many as 20 opportunities an hour to view a ghostly glow rising from the corpse of a streaking meteorite.

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