Astronomy News – It was a typically slow Friday morning for workers in the Russian industrial city of Chelyabinsk just east of the Ural Mountains. Just after 9 a.m. Russian time, the Sun was hanging just above the horizon to the southeast. The air was cold and still and the sky clear; accept for a few high clouds, and contrails from passing jets.
The quiet morning would explode with the arrival of an unexpected guest. A significant lightening of the sky toward the rising sun was the first hint something was different. Seconds later light exploded in a blinding flash that moved across the sky from right to left. The ground seemed to rumble and rotate in time with naked shadows of buildings, cars, and lampposts.
The blinding glare from the smoking object started to subside as its smoke trail broke into two parallel smokers moving across the southern sky. The sky flared twice more in blinding flashes of intense light, before the objects disappeared over the southwestern horizon.
Shockwave impacts the ground
Three to four minutes after the blinding flash came streaking across the sky, a colossal tremor hit the region shattering windows and causing car alarms to blare and humans to cry and exclaim. Incredibly, no loss of human life would result from the event, although over 1,000 people were treated for related injuries.
NASA has coined the term “superbolide”, for the dazzling bolide that resulted from the passage of a meteorite through the Earth’s atmosphere on February 15, 2013. The meteorite travelled through the atmosphere at a shallow 7 degree descending angle from east to west that passed about 12 miles (20 km) south of Chelyabinsk, Russia. The superbolide occurred when the meteorite was at an altitude of around 76,400 feet (23,300 meters) and moving at a speed of 11.6 miles per second (18.6 km/s).
Force of friction between the atmosphere and meteorite slowed and heated it. The fast movement of the meteorite through the atmosphere also compressed the air in front of it, creating the colossal tremor that shattered windows on the ground. The compression also ionized atoms and molecules, which emitted the blinding flash seen in the Russian sky, when they recombined with the electrons that were stripped from them. This energy also broke up the meteorite and ultimately caused it to explode when the increasing internal pressure exceeded the object’s internal strength.
The portion of the sky the Hubble Space Telescope is currently looking at is full of planets both big and small
Astronomy News – One of the greatest things about being an astronomer is the excitement of mystery and wonder you feel every time you discover something you never even suspected. This must have been the feeling running through the minds of astronomers looking at the data provided by the Hubble Space Telescope indicating the presence of planets around distant stars. The rush of adrenalin as they went over the data they had worked and waited for must have been truly euphoric.
What kind of planets would they find? Smaller rocky worlds like Earth, larger gas planets like Jupiter, or some unusual planet never before dreamed of. All of their hard work and dedication to the task-at-hand is about to open a door of discovery to worlds of wonder. Worlds with environments unlike anything we have experienced on Earth, where life we could never envision might have evolved. This is why astronomers spend countless days, weeks, months and ultimately lives studying the sky above our heads.
Astronomers see a sky full of planets
The small portion of the sky being studied by astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope is full of planets. Some appear to be of a similar rocky composition to our home planet while others appear to be totally inhospitable to Earth-type life. Planets like Earth are thought to be mainly composed of rocky material, which is denser and thus heavier than the materials making up gas planets. The planets being found orbiting stars in the portion of the sky being surveyed by Hubble are helping to rewrite planet formation theory and other areas of astronomical study. Astronomers are finding planets of types they were expecting to find, and a few they weren’t expecting to see.
The first planets found by the Hubble Space Telescope were large gas giants, like Jupiter and Saturn, but more recent finds have included planets similar in size and possible composition to Earth. Astronomers want to study Earth-like planets in an effort to uncover more secrets concerning the birth of our own solar system and the planet, which could give us clues to the development and evolution of Earth-like life in our universe. More recent developments even include the first direct imaging of a planet orbiting a distant star.
The truly amazing part is Hubble is only surveying a portion of the sky with around 100,000 suns and we’re finding more and more planets as astronomers continue to refine their planet finding techniques and instruments. Once we extrapolate and calculate the number of possible planets, using the available data so far gathered, we find the number of possible planets to be beyond count.
Astronomers will use the James Webb Space Telescope to journey to the beginning of space and time
During the 2013 human space odyssey, astronomers explored a portion of the night sky with the Hubble Space Telescope and exclaimed. It’s full of planets! In the years ahead during the human journey to the beginning of space and time, we expect astronomers to discover undreamed-of worlds, revolving around suns we humans can’t even conceive of. Especially once the James Webb Space Telescope comes online we should expect to visit undreamed of planets.
Best to buckle your seatbelt and prepare for the ride of your life! The human journey to the beginning of space and time is about to take off to planets beyond imagination. In the months and years ahead we expect to visit worlds with environments we would find inhospitable at best. Worlds where human survival would be doubtful and any life we found would be unusual beyond imagination.
Click this link to watch a YouTube video on weird planets in the universe.
The human journey to the beginning of space and time begins
Astronomers watch the greatest show on Earth every night
Astronomy News ( 2013-10-15) – Walk out to the darkest star viewing spot you can find at dusk and take a seat, “The greatest show on Earth is about to begin!” Lay back on your cold seat and you become lost-in-space as you stare upwards at one of the first sights to greet human consciousness onto the stage upon awakening during the distant past. Close your eyes and let your mind boldly fly off into the night sky in search of new lands of promise warmed by alien suns. Stand upon undreamed landscapes straight out of the Twilight Zone and record ideas and thoughts that could alter the course of human history and open up avenues to undreamed of events. Human beings have looked skyward in wonder and awe for thousands of years and dreamed of voyaging to the lights in the night sky. Today humans dream of traveling to the nearest star in our sky and standing on alien landscapes which will alter human beings as a race and create history unlike anything dreamed of by science fiction writers.
Will human adventures travel across outer space to distant suns in search of answers to questions pondered throughout human history? Will human beings one day journey through the universe seeking the origins of human life or a suitable planet to call home? As Mr. Roddenberry points out, space will be one of the last frontiers of humankind. At the current rate of technological growth, it could be only a matter of time before human beings have the ability to travel across interstellar space looking for non-terrestrial life and the resources humans need to survive and prosper.
Space Exploration will be far more challenging than life on earth
Traveling across the vast stretches of outer space between Earth and a nearby star system will be far more challenging and dangerous to undertake then climbing the tallest mountain or sailing an unexplored ocean. The distances in both space and time involved in such voyages will require human beings to surmount technological and social obstacles unlike any experienced during life on planet Earth. During the past century, humans have designed and engineered mechanized devices capable of launching into outer space and crossed the short stellar distance between Earth and its moon. We have started to become acquainted with life-in-space and the challenges involved in space travel. During the next fifty years, mankind will travel into the solar system and start to develop the technology required to successfully travel to nearby star systems to begin life again under an alien sun.
Does mankind presently have the technology, will power, and resources to journey to a nearby star system? The answer at this point in human history is a realistic and resounding, “No!” Using a reaction engine similar to the liquid oxygen/hydrogen main engine of the space shuttle to travel to the nearest star system, Alpha Centauri, would require over 100 years and fuel tanks too big to carry. Nuclear powered propulsion using fusion or fission requires technology and radiation shielding presently unavailable in order for human beings to survive the journey. Doctors also have questions concerning the possible medical problems associated with long-term exposure to acceleration and deep space radiation, and the drag forces involved using this form of propulsion still have to be addressed. The often dreamed of, but at this point unrealized, warp drive will probably never make it off the pages of science fiction books and into the cold of deep space. Instead, it will be replaced by an undreamed of propulsion system allowing us to travel closer to the speed of light, or circumvent the universe’s speed limit using a new idea, yet to be conceived.
If mankind made traveling to the nearest star system the top priority during the years ahead what would be needed to make the journey a success? The answer to this question continues to change as scientists and engineers study the goal more. The closest alien sun to Earth is the Red Dwarf Proxima Centauri, which on average is the short stellar distance of just 4.22 light-years (24.7 trillion miles or 29.9 km) away. Traveling at the estimated speed of Voyager 1, around 37,000 mph, it would take a spaceship over 76,000 years to complete the journey. During this length of time, human beings would have long enough to evolve significantly in the new and alien environment of deep space. Would we recognize our human ancestors after 76,000 years evolving during a trip through outer space?
Proxima Centauri also has no known planets upon which humans could begin life again under an alien sun. This Red Dwarf star is also significantly cooler than our own sun, so the habitability of any existing alien worlds would be questionable at best. Optimistic humans point out that Proxima Centauri is part of a bigger star system, containing other possible candidates which could have habitable planets. This dim star is considered by many to be part of the bigger Alpha Centauri system, which includes the binary stars Alpha Centauri A and B, just 4.4 light-years from Earth. Astronomers and scientists have their doubts about the possibility of other habitable planets in this star system at this point. Instead, they point to star systems further out in deep space, which seem to offer a better possibility of habitable planets.
The stars can’t wait
If humans move to a new home circling an alien sun, we’ll do it in stages, beginning with the exploration of the solar system. The International Space Station will be the staging point for the next phase of the exploration of the solar system. From here we can reach outward into the solar system to see what mysteries and discoveries await us just beyond the visible horizon. We’ll need time to develop the technology required for interstellar space travel and the terraforming of alien worlds. In the meantime, we’ll continue to send out envoys and ambassadors in the form of unmanned spacecraft to nearby star systems within our reach. The first of these envoys of the human race, Voyager 1, has traveled a distance of around 11 billion miles during 35 years of continuous space travel. This puts Voyager 1 still firmly within the boundaries of the known solar system, which reaches some 4.6 trillion miles into cold space and the Oort Cloud on the fringes of our system of planets. Eventually, Voyager 1 will travel beyond the boundaries of the solar system and into interstellar space, and this is when the real human journey to the beginning of space and time begins.
Click this link to watch a YouTube video on the search for earth-like planets.
Astronomy News – In the next leg of the human “Journey to the Beginning of Space and Time” we travel 11.4 million light years, give or take a few hundred thousand, to the Sculptor Galaxy NGC 253 (the Silver Coin Galaxy) to view an infrared mosaic of images taken by NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE). Part of the Sculptor group of galaxies (South Polar Group), the 7.6 magnitude Silver Coin Galaxy has infant stars in duty cocoons heating up the galaxies core and broadcasting infrared light into the universe and is the brightest member of the Sculptor group of galaxies. Young emerging stars in the infrared images shown here are concentrated in the galaxies core and along the spiral arms. The green areas are tiny dust or soot particles left after the formation of these emerging stars that have absorbed the ultraviolet light from these young stars, which makes these particles glow with infrared light the four infrared detectors on WISE can detect. The blue image on the top was taken in the short wavelengths, about 3.4 and 4.6 microns, this photo has stars of all ages scattered all over the Sculptor Galaxy.
NGC 253 is considered a starburst galaxy, and an intermediary type of spiral galaxy, with stars forming and exploding at unusually high rates in an intense star-forming period. First recorded by Caroline Herschel, the sister of astronomer William Herschel, on September 23, 1783, the Sculptor Galaxy can best be seen in the Sculptor constellation in the southern night sky in late September by stargazers using a time-machine-to-the-stars. Stargazers with good eyes and a dark sky can even view NGC 253 during this time, just be prepared to spend a little time in the search for the Silver Coin Galaxy.
Stargazers Halloween treats abound in autumn’s night sky
Winter treat for the lonely wanderer
Astronomy news (2013-10-15) – Cassiopeia the Queen is one of the first northern deep sky objects we’ll view during our “Journey to the Beginning of Space and Time”. Cassiopeia the Queen is easily recognizable in autumn’s night sky using her characteristic W or M shape form and she was one of the 48 constellations originally listed by the 2nd-century Greek astronomer Ptolemy during his observations of the night sky. Today, Cassiopeia the Queen is one of 88 constellations recognized by modern stargazers in the night sky, and the abundance of magnificent open star clusters within her arms provides viewers with a chance to see a variety of outstanding celestial objects that have been entertaining stargazers for thousands of years.
Cassiopeia the Queen is a familiar sight for modern astronomers and stargazers in the mid-northern latitudes of planet Earth and is often one of the first constellations in the northern sky beginning stargazers journey to view. Board your time-machine-to-the-stars near the end of October, or the beginning of November, and take the family on a journey through time and space to visit Cassiopeia the Queen. A visit with Cassiopeia the Queen will open a child’s mind to the possibilities of the universe, before them, and your wife will be able to tell her friends that you took her out last night.
Both astronomers and ancient navigators used Cassiopeia as a guide to finding their way
One of the best open star clusters you can view with the naked eye is 6.5 magnitude NGC 129, a large, bright, open cluster of stars 8×50 astronomical binoculars will reveal to have six to twelve brighter stars nestled within the collective glow of a field of stars too faint to resolve using binoculars. You should see about 35 celestial bodies in this region of space and time 5,200 light years distant from your position on the Earth. Look toward the north of two 9th magnitude stars, near the center of NGC 129, and you’ll find the Cepheid variable DL Cassiopeiae. DL Cassiopeiae will fluctuate between 8.6 and 9.3 magnitudes, over the course of an eight-day cycle.
The central star in Cassiopeia’s characteristic W is Gamma Cassiopeiae, a prototype for a class of irregular variable stars believed to be rapidly spinning type-B celestial bodies often fluctuating by as much as magnitude 1.5 or more, Gamma Cassiopeiae will flicker between 2.2 and 3.4 magnitudes as you watch her nightly dance and this star at maximum brightness outshines both Alpha Cassiopeiae and Beta Cassiopeiae. Astronomers believe these apparent fluctuations are due to a decretion disk around this star resulting from the rapid spinning of the star, which results in some of the star’s mass forming a decretion disk. Gamma Cassiopeiae is also a spectroscopic binary star with an orbital period of about 204 days and astronomers believe Gamma Cassiopeiae’s companion star is about the same relative mass as Sol. Part of a small group of stellar sources in the night sky that beam X-ray radiation about 10 times higher than the X-rays emitted from other type-B stars across the cosmos, Gamma Cassiopeiae exhibits both short-term and long-term cycles of x-ray emission. Stargazers should also be able to view Gamma Cassiopeiae as an optical double star, with a faint magnitude 11 companion star, about 2 arcseconds distant from Gamma Cassiopeiae.
Chinese astronomers studied Gamma Cassiopeiae
Ancient stargazers in China called Gamma Cassiopeiae Tsih, which loosely translates as “the whip”, but no references have been found in Arabic or Latin texts of Gamma Cassiopeiae being referred to using a different name. Modern stargazers refer to Gamma Cassiopeiae by a number of different designations, including 27 Cassiopeiae, HR 264, HD 5394, and others. Modern astronauts often use Gamma Cassiopeiae as a star guide because it’s a relatively bright celestial object and in previous space missions this star was used as an easily recognizable navigational reference point in the night sky.
Astronomers note two Messier objects
M103 (NGC 581) is the first of two Messier objects in Cassiopeia’s arms viewable through a six-inch time-machine-to-the-stars and should appear as about three dozen stars grouped in a triangular area 6′ across. A fairly compact open cluster, M103 will be 1 degree east of Delta Cassiopeiae, and is the left bottom star of Cassiopeia’s characteristic W shape marking her throne in the night sky. Pierre Mechain was first given credit for seeing this open cluster in the night sky in 1781. Stargazers using 8×50 binoculars will see about 25 magnitude 10 or fainter stars in their view and a string of four stars immediately to M103’s southeast, which adds to the beauty of viewing M103, significantly.
The second Messier object in Cassiopeia cataloged by Messier is M52 (NGC 7654), you can locate M52 by drawing a line from Alpha Cassiopeiae through Beta Cassiopeiae, and then extending your line an equal distance to M52. An 8-inch time-machine-to-the-stars will reveal about 75 stars in the night sky clumped in various patterns along the edge of the Milky Way that aren’t lost among the background points of light behind these stars. One of the richest open clusters in Cassiopeia’s arms and north of the celestial equator, Messier made note of M52 in his catalog in 1774. This open cluster will appear as a nebulous mass of about 100 stars in 8×50 astronomical binoculars, with a few individual stars that you can resolve a little better. Stargazers looking for a little extra should look to the north of M52 to find Harrington 12, a wide triangular looking asterism containing about a dozen 5th to 9th magnitude stars, which will appear spectacular in low-power astronomical binoculars.
The Owl spreads its wings
Journey less than 3 degrees south of Delta Cassiopeiae to find the spectacular Owl Cluster (NGC 457), a celestial object ancient stargazers could plainly see in the north night sky, the Owl Cluster’s wings will be clearly viewable using a 4-inch time-machine-to-the-stars. Stargazers can also locate Delta Cassiopeiae by using 5th magnitude Phi Cassiopeiae and 7th magnitude HD 7902, which lie to the southeast of the Owl Cluster. The Own’s eastern wing is a line of four bright stars while the western wing is composed of two pairs of stars arranged in a long rectangle. The brightest star in the Owl Cluster will shine at 8.6 magnitude and will appear a little orange in color to star gazers.
You could fly around forever and never hit a thing
Astronomy News – Considering the volume of bodies circling in the solar system one might think that collisions between bodies in the solar system is commonplace, but in fact collisions between bodies circling in the solar system are relatively uncommon. This is what makes a recent report by NASA of a possible collision of one of their spacecraft with a meteorite a highlight of sorts, or at least something relatively unusual. NASA reported a possible collision between a meteorite and part of the sensitive instrumentation on board their THEMIS-B spacecraft, which is one of the two ARTEMIS spacecraft, at 0605 UT on October 14. Apparently, the flight dynamics data collected on THEMIS-B indicated that it might have been struck by a meteorite, which likely means the meteorite made a slight change in the flight path of the spacecraft. According to NASA, everything is still a go with THEMIS-B’s insertion into Lissajous orbit, and up coming simultaneous measurements of particles and the electric and magnetic fields in two different locations, using both ARTEMIS spacecraft. This will provide astronomers with the first three-dimensional look at how energetic particle acceleration happens near the Moon’s orbit, in the solar wind, and in the distant magnetosphere.
Deep Impact approaches comet Hartley 2 and will arrive at its nearest location on November 4
Astronomy News – NASA’s EPOXI mission is currently on a journey to comet Hartley 2 and Deep Impact as this mission is more commonly referred too will arrive at its nearest spot to this icy world on November 4. NASA was using imagers on Deep Impact during the days between September 9-17 to get a view of comet Hartley 2 before the spacecraft arrives on location and the things they saw has NASA’s comet scientists shaking their heads. Apparently, comet scientists observed the characteristic increase in the release of cyanide associated with comets as they travel through the inner solar system, by a factor of five or six times during this observation period in September. What they didn’t see was the expected increase in dust emissions due to this fivefold increase in the release of cyanide, which is something new according to comet scientists, who are now busy trying to figure out what they actually saw.
Comets could hold the keys to understanding the beginnings of life on Earth
Why would the difference be so important to comet scientists as Deep Impact approaches comet Hartley 2? Scientists hate unknown parameters being suddenly thrown into their well-calculated plans and this discovery certainly could affect the mission in ways we’ll possibly never hear about. Where did the dust go? The dust obviously didn’t go anywhere and is still close to comet Hartley 2, which could affect the quality of the view observers will get of Hartley 2. This will especially be true for observers on Earth, who now that they know about this fact can certainly take this fact into consideration. Otherwise, this fact is going to skew your observations and your interpretation of what you’re actually seeing when trying to view comet Hartley 2 from Earth. Certainly, this isn’t likely to seriously affect the mission as a whole, and Deep Impact will surely get some spectacular pictures of comet Hartley 2 as it approaches and recedes from the sun.
We’ll never know if we don’t go out there and study them
The interesting thing about comets releasing significant amounts of cyanide is that cyanide is a carbon-based molecule that certainly could have been brought to Earth on comets like Hartley 2 billions of years in the past. Comets haven’t changed since this time and have been hitting the Earth and releasing cyanide since this time, which brings up interesting questions that NASA is hoping the EPOXI mission and follow up missions to other comets is going to answer in the years ahead.