Herschel Finds Our Galaxy’s Black Hole Likes Hot Meals!
In a region near the center of our Milky Way galaxy known as Sagittarius A* (Sgr A*, and yes, the * IS pronounced! - ‘Sagittarius A-Star‘) lurks a Supermassive Black Hole. Apparently this local black hole of ours is preparing for a meal of hot gas.
With a mass of about 4 million times that of our Sun, and lying around 26,000 light-years away from our Solar System, our black hole is still a few hundred times closer to us than any other galaxy with an active black hole at its center. Detailed observations made by the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Herschel Space Observatory, (you know, BEFORE it did that whole running out of liquid helium coolant thing, So Long, Herschel), show hot molecular gas which may be orbiting or falling towards our hungry black hole.
Vast amounts of dust lie in the plane of the Milky Way between here and its center. At far-infrared wavelengths it’s possible to peer through the dust allowing Herschel’s scientists the chance to study the innermost region of our Galaxy in great detail. According to ESA (Herschel Reveals The Milky Way’s Warm Heart) new research based on spectroscopic data from Herschel has resolved the innermost portion of the Milky Way, a few light-years around Sgr A*, for the first time at far-infrared wavelengths. The team of astronomers, led by Javier Goicoechea from the Centro de Astrobiología in Madrid, Spain, was able to isolate the far-infrared emission from all the interstellar components that surround Sgr A* – neutral atomic, molecular and ionized gas, as well as dust.
A big surprise found by the team was how hot the molecular gas in the innermost central region of the Galaxy gets. At least some of it is around 1000ºC, much, MUCH, hotter than typical interstellar clouds (usually only a few tens of degrees above the –273ºC of absolute zero). Some of the heating is explained by the intense ultraviolet radiation coming from a cluster of massive stars which hang out very close to the Galactic Center, but they alone aren’t enough to explain the high temperatures. In addition to this stellar radiation, Dr Goicoechea’s team hypothesize that emission from strong shocks in highly-magnetized gas in the region may be contributing to the high temperatures. Shocks such as these may be generated in gas cloud collisions, or in material flowing at high speed from stars and protostars.
‘The observations are also consistent with streamers of hot gas speeding towards Sgr A*, falling towards the very centre of the Galaxy,’ says Dr Goicoechea. ‘Our Galaxy’s black hole may be cooking its dinner right in front of Herschel’s eyes.’
To get a head-wrapping perspective on where this hot action is taking place in relation to our little neighborhood in the Orion Arm of the galaxy, check out this map of the Milky Way provided by Richard Powell. Also check out his web-site, The Atlas of The Universe, for an incredibly awesome and completely addictive interactive version of this map, as well as other equally time-devouring maps!
A Polar Hurricane
With cloud speeds clocking as fast as 330 miles per hour, and with an eye measuring a mind-blowing 1,250 miles across, the spinning vortex of Saturn’s north polar storm is both beautiful and awesome in its scope and power.
This false-color image from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft is among the first sunlit views of Saturn’s north pole captured by the craft’s imaging cameras. In 2004, when Cassini arrived in the Saturnian system, it was northern winter and the north pole was in darkness. The planet’s north pole was previously imaged under sunlight by NASA’s Voyager 2 in 1981, however the observation geometry did not allow for detailed views of the poles. As a result, it’s not known how long this newly discovered north-polar hurricane has been active.
Did he say ‘locked to the north pole’ and ‘no ocean underneath’?!! Ok, WOW!!
The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. The Cassini orbiter and its two onboard cameras were designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The imaging operations center is based at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI
So long Herschel, and thanks for all the Coolness….
According to a report yesterday, April 29, from the European Space Agency, the Herschel Space Observatory has exhausted its supply of liquid helium coolant and as such ended more than 3 years of pioneering observations of the ‘cool Universe‘. The event was not unexpected and confirmation came at the beginning of the spacecraft’s daily communication session with its ground station in Western Australia when a clear rise in temperatures was measured in all of Herschel’s instruments.
‘Herschel has offered us a new view of the hitherto hidden Universe, pointing us to a previously unseen process of star birth and galaxy formation, and allowing us to trace water through the Universe from molecular clouds to newborn stars and their planet-forming discs and belts of comets,’ said Göran Pilbratt, ESA’s Herschel Project Scientist.
Though the mission will not be making any more observations, discoveries from Herschel’s rich archives are expected to continue. ‘Herschel has improved our understanding of how new stars and planets form, but has also raised many new questions,’ said Paul Goldsmith, NASA Herschel project scientist at JPL. ‘Astronomers will be following up on Herschel’s discoveries with ground-based and future space-based observatories for years to come.’
For more information check out:
Or my March 5th post – Herschel: Running On Empty
For a showcase of Herschel images visit OSHI (Online Showcase of Herschel Images)
Compact Payload Test Range at the European Space Agency’s (ESA) space research and technology center (ESTEC). In this zone of silence metal walls form a ‘Faraday cage’ to block all external signals, isolating the facility from TV and radio broadcasts, aircraft and ship radars, and even mobile calls. EPICALLY AWESOME!!
Also EPICALLY AWESOME…
…This past weekend I was given an EPIC surprise when …things I LOVE! was nominated for the The Epically Awesome Award of Epic Awesomeness! And how AWESOME is that?! Well, I’m about to tell ya……
The award, as EPIC as it is in its own right, was made even more AWESOMELY EPICALLY AWESOME because it was presented to me by the AWESOME and brilliantly EPIC photographer, and all-around AWESOME sweetheart, Charlie from the EPIC Charles Schnyder Photography. Thank you VERY much Charlie, and anyone who isn’t familiar with Charlie’s work should definitely head over and check out some of his AWESOME photography in EPIC posts such as Budapest, Potpourri of Zürich, and his most recent Pillow Fight Day Zürich 2013 – which looks like an EPICALLY AWESOME lot of fun!
Now, as with any award, The Epically Awesome Award of Epic Awesomeness does come with rules – and also as with any award I will EPICALLY ignore them. According to Charlie I’m suppose to write 10 AWESOME facts about myself, and also pass the award along to 10 AWESOMELY EPIC blogs….hmmm…
…I’m thinking people want to read 10 AWESOME things about me nearly as much as I want to ‘LIKE’ shit on facebook, which is not at all! So instead, I’ll present 10 things which I think to be AWESOMELY EPIC!
1- APOLLO EPIC!!!!
Today being April 11 (my AWESOME nephew’s birthday!), no post on EPIC AWESOMENESS would be complete if failing to mention Apollo 13. Launched April 11, 1970 Apollo 13, the 7th manned mission of the TRULY EPIC Apollo Program and the third intended lunar landing, was commanded by James A. Lovell, with Jack Swigert as Command Module pilot and Fred W. Haise as Lunar Module pilot. The mission’s lunar landing was aborted after an oxygen tank exploded crippling the service module upon which the Command Module depended. Despite limited power, loss of cabin heat, shortage of potable water, and the critical need to jury-rig the carbon dioxide removal system, the crew EPICALLY returned safely to Earth on April 17.
2 – STELLAR AWESOME!!!
3 – STELLAR-ENVY EPIC!!!
Proving that size doesn’t matter, our own sun fights back with this EPIC March 21, 2013 M-Class eruption unleashed from Active Region 11692. AND! Our sun has EPICALLY AWESOMELY dramatic back-ground music, and VY Canis Majoris does not!
4- MORE STELLAR EPICNESS!!!
That’s right, I said MORE STELLAR EPICNESS! On yesterday, April 10th, The European Southern Observatory’s (ESO) Very Large Telescope in northern Chile announced that it’s captured what it calls ‘most detailed picture ever taken‘ of the glowing green planetary nebula IC 1295. AWESOME? Without doubt! The image shows the nebula surrounding a dim and dying star located about 3300 light-years away in the constellation of Scutum, and give us an AWESOME glimpse as to what will eventually happen with our own sun. As stars the size of our Sun make the final transition into retirement their atmospheres are blown away into space. For a few tens of thousands of years they are surrounded by spectacular, colorful glowing clouds of ionized gas. EPIC! And thanks to my AWESOME friend, Mark A, in Arizona for bringing this EPICNESS to my attention!
5 – EPIC NERD AWESOMENESS!!!
The ‘ESTEC Shake’ on an actual electrodynamic shaker which is normally used to test spacecraft. Filmed at the EPIC, and aforementioned, European Space Agency’s (ESA) technical center, ESTEC, in Noordwijk, the AWESOME Netherlands. Nerdy as fuck? Absolutely. AWESOME? No Doubt!
6 – EPIC UAVSAR!!!
On Mar 17, 2013, NASA’s EPIC Uninhabited Aerial Vehicle Synthetic Aperture Radar (UAVSAR) acquired synthetic aperture radar data over the Napo River in Ecuador and Peru. The image colors indicate a likelihood of flooding beneath the forest canopy, which is difficult to determine using traditional optical sensors. The image is a 8.7-mile-wide by 5.6-mile-long segment of an image measuring more than 124 miles long. Data from UAVSAR helps scientists assess the effectiveness of using synthetic aperture radar data to study the flooding dynamics of rivers around the world. AWESOME? Hell, YES!!
7 – AWESOME CHANDRA!!!
From EPICALLY AWESOME NASA and its EPIC Chandra X-ray Observatory this video shows a fast moving jet of particles produced by a rapidly rotating neutron star. EPIC! The star of this AWESOME show is the Vela pulsar, a neutron star formed when a massive star collapsed. The Vela pulsar is about 1,000 light years from Earth, spans about 12 miles in diameter, and makes over 11 complete rotations every second. EPIC? Hell, YES!
8 – EPIC SPACE POOP!!!
The AWESOMELY EPIC International Space Station (ISS) commander and Canadian Space Agency (CSA) astronaut EPIC Chris Hadfield giving an AWESOME explanation of how toilets work in space. EPICALLY ewww (TMI!), but AWESOMELY funny.
9 – AWESOMELY EPIC ALMA!!!
10 – EPIC JOHNSON STYLE!!!
Never to be out-geeked by those guys and gals at the European Space Agency, NASA’s Johnson Space Center turns up the nerd-meter with this EPICALLY AWESOME Gangnam Style parody. Forget K-Pop! We got J-Pop! EPIC!!!
Well, there you have it – 10 EPICALLY AWESOME things I LOVE, and you have to admit they’re much more AWESOME than me telling you 10 facts about myself such as my irrational dislike of cumquats. And to conclude this post, and because it’s grown to EPIC oh-for-fuck’s-sake massiveness already, I’ll now give my shout-outs to 10 TRULY EPICALLY AWESOME fellow bloggers, in no particular orer –
1 – The AWESOMELY and quite EPIC White Lady In The Hood
2 – The EPICALLY AWESOMELY FUNNY Wrong Hands
3 – The AWESOMELY (INSANELY!) EPIC A Window Into The Woods
4 – The EPIC and massively AWESOME Colline’s Blog
5 – The AWESOME EPICALLY MEGA-EPIC Werner Priller
6 – The EPIC and-not-to-mention AWESOME Science Springs
7 – The AWESOMELY EPICALLY EPIC My Beautiful Things
8 – The EPICALLY (squared!) EPIC Silent Astronomer
9 – The AWESOME EPICALLY AWESOME The Future Is Papier Mache
10 – The EPIC and certainly AWESOME Mathematical Mischief
As always, I mention these fellow bloggers simply because they deserve mention, and my mentioning in no way obligates them to accept or pay it forward. And I may even, at some point, get around to mentioning to them that they have been mentioned. Maybe You, however, SHOULD check out their EPIC AWESOMENESS ASAP!!
Once again, EPIC thanks to the AWESOMELY AWESOME CHARLIE!!
(Oh, crap! Do I now have to go back and link all of this!? AND TAG TOO?!!! TOO FREAKING EPIC!)
As a reminder The Sagan Series is the work of Canadian science promoter and time-lapse photographer Reid Gower. In the 10 part video series Gower uses bits of narration from Sagan’s TV series, Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, edited over jaw-dropping cinematography.
To accompany today’s episode here are some (hopefully!) interesting bits of Sagan Trivia!
* Sagan never said the phrase ‘billions and billions’ on Cosmos: A Personal Voyage. The closest he came was in his book Cosmos where he wrote the phrase ‘billions upon billions’, (chap 1, page 3). He did, however, frequently use the word ‘billions’ delivered with a high emphasis on the ‘b’ in order to distinguish it from the word ‘millions’ in the mind of his viewers.
* In honor of Sagan the term ‘Sagan’s number‘ is used to humorously represent the number of stars in the observable universe. This number is reasonably well defined, since we know what a star is, and we know what the observable universe is, but its value is not known with exact certainty. It’s safe to say it’s A LOT!
* The Martian landing site of the unmanned NASA Mars Pathfinder spacecraft was renamed the Carl Sagan Memorial Station on July 5, 1997. Interestingly, an episode of the TV series Star Trek: Enterprise entitled ‘Terra Prime‘, featured a quick shot of the Pathfinder rover, Sojourner, alongside a historical marker at station. The marker displays a quote from Sagan - ‘Whatever the reason you’re on Mars, I’m glad you’re there, and I wish I was with you.‘ Also interestingly, Sagan’s son, writer Nick Sagan, wrote several episodes for the Star Trek franchise, and one of Sagan’s students, Professor of Astronomy at Cornell University Steve Squyres, was a principle member of the team that landed the Spirit Rover and Opportunity Rover successfully on Mars.
Also in this series:
…and I thought I over-did it with that Everest-sized plate of nachos yesterday — apparently NOT!
This mind-blowing video animation of a black hole waking up for a light snack, featured April 2, 2013 by the European Space Agency (ESA), shows my indulgence in refried beans, guacamole, and melted cheese served over crisp tortilla chips has nothing on the appetite of a black hole!
Astronomers watched as this black hole, in the galaxy NGC 4845 — 47 million light-years away — woke up from a decades-long slumber to feed on a rogue low-mass object – either a brown dwarf or a giant planet – which strayed a bit too close. According to scientists a similar feeding event on a gas cloud will soon happen at the supermassive black hole at the center of our own Milky Way Galaxy.
The discovery in NGC 4845 was made by ESA’s Integral space observatory, with follow-up observations from ESA’s XMM-Newton, NASA’s Swift satellite, and Japan’s MAXI X-ray monitor on the International Space Station.
Astronomers using Integral to study a different galaxy noticed a strong, hard X-ray flare coming from another location in the same wide field-of-view. Using XMM-Newton the origin was confirmed as NGC 4845 — a galaxy never before detected at high energies. Along with Swift and MAXI, the emission was traced from its maximum in January 2011 when the galaxy brightened by a factor of a thousand before subsiding over the course of the year.
‘The observation was completely unexpected, from a galaxy that has been quiet for at least 20–30 years,‘ says Marek Nikolajuk, research associate in the Division of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University of Bialystok, Poland, and lead author of the paper in Astronomy & Astrophysics.
Analyzing the characteristics of the flare, astronomers determined the emission came from a halo of material around the galaxy’s central black hole as it tore apart and fed on an object of 14 to 30 Jupiter masses. The mass of Jupiter is 1.9 x 1027 kg….
…to wrap your head around that un-head-wrapable number, think that it would take 318 times Earth’s mass to equal Jupiter’s. Jupiter is 2.5 times more massive than all of the other planets in our Solar System COMBINED. Jupiter is actually so massive that if it gained much more mass it would shrink. Now completely brain-screw yourself by trying to conceive that this object is of 14 to 30 Jupiter masses. (I swear my plate of nachos was not NEARLY this massive. 1 to 2 Jupiter masses, tops!) This size range corresponds to brown dwarfs which are substellar objects not massive enough to fuse hydrogen in their core and ignite as stars. However, the authors note that it could have had an even lower mass, just a few times that of Jupiter, placing it in the range of gas-giant planets (and the average mass of a plate of Texas nachos, with jalapenos of course).
As for the black hole at the center of NGC 4845 itself – it’s estimated to have a mass of about 300,000 times that of our own Sun (1.99 × 1030 kg). And it apparently likes to play with its food — the way the emission brightened and decayed shows there was a delay of 2 to 3 months between the object being disrupted and the heating of the debris in the vicinity of the black hole. (By comparison, I devoured the entire plate of nachos in less than 30 minutes. Suck on that, black hole!)
‘This is the first time where we have seen the disruption of a substellar object by a black hole,’ adds paper co-author Roland Walter of the Observatory of Geneva, Switzerland. ‘We estimate that only its external layers were eaten by the black hole, amounting to about 10% of the object’s total mass, and that a denser core has been left orbiting the black hole.’
And what of this year’s expected event of the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way dining on a giant gas cloud? While there are no brown dwarfs or planets on the menu, there is apparently — spaghetti!
Herschel To Finish Observing Soon
The European Space Agency’s (ESA) Herschel Space Observatory is expected to soon exhaust its supply of liquid helium coolant after spending more than three very exciting years studying the cool Universe. Launched in May of 2009, with a main mirror 3.5 m across, Herschel is the largest, most powerful infrared telescope ever flown in space and was named after the astronomer William Herschel who discovered the existence of infrared radiation while studying the Sun in 1800.
Herschel’s mission, the first to cover the entire wavelength range from the far-infrared to submillimetre, made it possible to study previously invisible cool regions of gas and dust in the cosmos, and provided new insights into the origin and evolution of stars and galaxies. In order to make such sensitive far-infrared observations, the detectors of the three science instruments, two cameras/imaging spectrometers and a very high-resolution spectrometer, must be cooled to an extremely frigid –271°C, close to absolute zero, and as such, sit atop a tank filled with superfluid liquid helium, inside a giant thermos flask known as a cryostat.
Part of the Multi-tiered Extragalactic Survey (HerMES) Key Project, studying the evolution of galaxies in the distant, ancient Universe, this Herschel image, taken in the Lockman Hole region of space, shows thousands of galaxies packing themselves closely together, forming large clusters of galaxies by the force of their mutual gravity. Indications are that these galaxies are busy crashing into one another, forming large quantities of stars as a result of these violent encounters. Each dot is an entire galaxy containing billions of stars.
Herschel has made extraordinary discoveries across a wide range of topics, from starburst galaxies in the distant Universe to newly forming planetary systems orbiting nearby young stars. However, as all good things must come to an end, engineers believe that nearly all of Herschel’s liquid helium, more than 2,000 liters at launch, has now gone.
“It is no surprise that this will happen, and when it does we will see the temperatures of all the instruments rise by several degrees within just a few hours,” says Micha Schmidt, the Herschel Mission Operations Manager at ESA’s European Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany.
Once the detectors start to warm from their ultra-frigid state, they will stop working. The end, when it happens, will be sudden. The science observing program was carefully planned to take full advantage of the lifetime of the mission, and all of the highest-priority observations have already been completed. Herschel is also performing numerous other observations specifically chosen to exploit every last drop of its helium.
“We will finish observing soon, but Herschel data will enable a vast amount of exciting science to be done for many years to come,” says Göran Pilbratt, ESA’s Herschel Project Scientist at ESA’s European Space Research and Technology Centre in Noordwijk, the Netherlands. “In fact, the peak of scientific productivity is still ahead of us, and the task now is to make the treasure trove of Herschel data as valuable as possible for now and for the future.”
Herschel will continue communicating with its ground stations for some time after the helium is exhausted. Finally, in early May, it will be propelled into its long-term stable parking orbit around the Sun.
The Rosette Nebula, a stellar nursery about 5,000 light-years from Earth in the Monoceros constellation. This image is a three-color composite showing infrared wavelengths of 70 microns (blue), 160 microns (green), and 250 microns (red). In this image from Herschel the bright smudges are dusty cocoons containing massive embryonic stars, which will grow to 10 times the mass of our Sun. The small spots near the center of the image are lower mass stellar embryos. The Rosette Nebula itself, and its massive cluster of stars, is located to the right of the picture.
Because Herschel can obtain data at a wide range of infrared light and reveal a more complete picture of star birth than ever seen before scientists discovered that galaxies do not always need to collide with each other in order to drive vigorous star birth, overturning a long-held assumption and painting a more complete picture of how galaxies evolve. These results were based on Herschel’s observations of two patches of sky, each about one-third the size of the full moon. In this artist’s conception, a galaxy accretes mass from rapid, narrow streams of cold gas. These filaments provide the galaxy with continuous flows of raw material to feed its star-forming.
In this, the most detailed image of the Andromeda Galaxy ever taken at infrared wavelengths, two ESA observatories combine forces to show the galaxy in an entirely new light. Herschel shows us rings of star formation, while ESA’s X-ray space observatory, XMM-Newton, shows us dying stars shining X-rays into space. This image of our nearest large spiral galaxy neighbor clearly shows that more stars are on their way. Infrared and X-ray images convey information impossible to collect from the ground because these wavelengths are absorbed by Earth’s atmosphere.
All images credited to the European Space Agency.
For more Herschel images visit OSHI – Online Showcase of Herschel Images.
To know that we know what we know, and to know that we do not know what we do not know, that is true knowledge. ~ Nicolaus Copernicus
Born Feb 19, 1473 – Died May 24, 1543, Nicolaus Copernicus was a Renaissance mathematician and astronomer who’s heliocentric theory first proposed a mathematical model of the solar system with the sun at its center as opposed to the Earth. Copernicus along with Galileo Gallilee and Johannes Kepler are generally considered the fathers of modern astronomy. The publications, in 1543, of Copernicus’s De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres), along with Andreas Vesalius‘s De humani corporis fabrica (On the Fabric of the Human body) is often cited as marking the beginning of the Scientific Revolution.
The above image, brought to us by the very cool folks at Armagh Observatory in Northern Ireland, is an up-to-date map of our inner solar system. The map displays the orbits of the 4 terrestrial planets in our system, with the Earth’s orbit being highlighted in bright blue — because we think it’s kinda special.
In this image, the small green points mark the location of asteroids which do not approach close to the Earth right now. (This is subject to change.) The yellow objects are Earth approaching asteroids which are called Amors. Amors have orbits which come close to the Earth without actually crossing the Earth’s orbit. Their orbits are, however, close enough that they could potentially be perturbed by the influence of the planets. (There are over 300 known objects on such orbits.)
And the red boxes? These mark the location of the Apollo and Aten asteroids. These asteroids DO cross the Earth’s orbit and are the most directly identifiable astronomical threat for the near future. Keep in mind, this is a current map — updated daily. It shows the estimated position of thousands of known asteroids. Astronomers at Armagh remind us, however, that even conservative estimates would suggest that for every asteroid on a Earth-approaching orbit there are hundreds more which have yet to be discovered. It’s estimated that there are perhaps 100,000 to 1,000,000 undiscovered asteroids on similar Earth crossing orbits.
If NASA never deflects
#2012DA14 and it hits Earth one day, we’ll confirm that humans possess a lethal absence of foresight. - Tweeted by Neil deGrasse Tyson, Feb 15, 2013.
And, to help us wash the not entirely uncool taste of asteroid from our mouths, and for anyone who missed this, here’s the first ever space-to-earth musical collaboration! Featuring Canadian Space Agency astronaut, and Expedition 34 flight engineer, Chris Hadfield, Barenaked Ladies, and Canada’s Wexford Gleeks choir, the song is titled I.S.S. (Is Somebody Singing), and is VERY cool! Chris Hadfield, who will become Expedition 35′s commander next month, is quickly becoming a big-time hero in my eyes. If you’re not following him on twitter you’re missing some of the most incredible Earth-from-Space images EVER! Do we really need much more proof than this to know that the Canadians are SO much cooler than us Americans?!
This short animation, titled Stardust, is the work of Dutch designer/director Mischa Rozema. Utilizing an amazing combination of actual images from space exploration as well as CGI modeling, Rozema stunningly blends art and science is his moving tribute to loss, space exploration, and the Voyager 1 probe. The film is Rozema’s nod to Dutch graphic designer Arjan Groot, who died of cancer at age 39 in July of 2011, as well as his reminder that, as said by the late Carl Sagan, we are made of stardust. Rozema is the creative director of the Dutch hybrid film production company –PostPanic.
The film’s story centers on the thought that in the grand scheme of the universe nothing is ever wasted, and there is great comfort to be found in us all essentially being stardust. Voyager, and its Golden Record, represents the memories of our loved ones and our lives which, in this sense, will never disappear.
Rozema says of the film, ‘I wanted to show the universe as a beautiful but also destructive place. It’s somewhere we all have to find our place within. As a director, making Stardust was a very personal experience but it’s not intended to be a personal film and I would want people to attach their own meanings to the film so that they can also find comfort based on their own histories and lives.’
A PostPanic Production
Written & directed by Mischa Rozema
Produced by Jules Tervoort
VFX Supervisor: Ivor Goldberg
Associate VFX Supervisor: Chris Staves
Senior digital artists: Matthijs Joor, Jeroen Aerts
Digital artists: Marti Pujol, Silke Finger, Mariusz Kolodziejczak, Dieuwer Feldbrugge, Cara To, Jurriën Boogert
Camera & edit: Mischa Rozema
Production: Ania Markham, Annejes van Liempd
Audio by Pivot Audio , Guy Amitai
Featuring “Helio” by Ruben Samama
Copyright 2013 Post Panic BV, All rights reserved
– For more information on the Voyager probe please check out my Dec 9, 2012 post Voyager 1 and The Magnetic Highway.
I first became aware of this stunning image in a Jan 25 post on EarthSky by Deborah Byrd titled Underwater Fish Tornado Off Baja California. The photograph is the work of photographer and marine biologist Octavio Aburto, captured at the Cabo Pulmo National Park in Mexico, in the course of studying the courtship behavior of a species of Jack fish. Mr Aburto’s photograph, aptly titled David and Goliath, captures his friend David Castro’s miniscule size in comparison to the gigantic school. For more of Octavio Aburto’s brilliant marine photography visit his website, which can be found here. Also, check out the video below to learn more about the making of David and Goliath.
WOW! And on the subject of ‘WOW’…..there’s this…
My favorite astronomy image of the week was taken by astro-photographer Luis Argerich of Buenos Aires, Argentina. This image titled, Airglow Above Buenos Aires was featured as Earth Science Picture of the Day for Jan 26. The image is a 360-degree stereographic projection showing the entire night sky near Mr Argerich’s location about 60 miles from Buenos Aires. Airglow is a weak light emission stemming from the chemical reactions involving oxygen, nitrogen, sodium and ozone (chemiluminescence) at altitudes between about 50 to 60 miles above the Earth’s surface. According to Mr Argerich, the green color bands, which are obvious to the camera, were not visible to the naked eye and seem to converge because of perspective. In addition to this awesome image, Mr Argerich was also featured this week as Jan 24′s Astronomy Picture of the Day for his photograph called ISS and the Summer Milky Way, featuring starry clouds and nebulae along the southern hemisphere’s summer Milky Way arc above the horizon, and the orbiting International Space Station tracing a long streak through a single, 5 minute, star-tracking exposure. Be sure to visit Luis Argerich’s site for more of his amazingly beautiful work!
Inside the blogosphere this week there was much to think about, smile about, and out-and-out laugh about. For a brilliant, and hilarious, look at what your brain is doing while you’re at work check out Canadian cartoonist, John Atkinson’s Jan 23rd post on Wrong Hands titled Occupational Preoccupation. While there be sure to check out some of John’s galleries, but be warned, his work is very, VERY, addictive!
Also falling into the category of Things I Love one of my favorite blog writers, White Lady in the Hood, also know as Chica Blanca, treated us this week to a post titled The River Rats. Managing to combine humor and reflectiveness, Chica, has a knack of not only drawing the reader in, but also eerily making us feel as if we are there taking part in the story she’s sharing with us. Her writing is good, very good, but it’s her ability to connect with her readers which shines most brightly. Chica’s an elusive poster, she won’t flood your inbox, but if you enjoy a good read and are anything like me, when you do find one of her posts in your mailbox you’ll be heading right over.
If you haven’t had your mind exercised and excited lately, you might want to pay a visit to Wired Cosmos and check out Jason Carr’s Jan 23 article, Sending Odors and Tastes as an Email Attachment, to read about some of the uses, and potential misuses, of the technology of electronic noses and tongues. Wired Cosmos is a fascinating journal of science, technology, and futurism, and by fascinating I mean mind-blowing. A couple other of Jason’s articles I’ve particularly enjoyed include his Nine Must-Read Dystopian Novels, (Considering I’ve only read 4 of the 9, I’ve some catching up to do! How many have you read?), and his recent emerging technology article Future Computing: Meet the Flexible Paper Computer. Ok, I SO want one of those!
My favorite song of this past week was posted by Xandi from World Music in a post titled, Music from Argentina – Alerta Pachuca, and features the song Nunca Dejes de Bailar (Never Stop Dancing). Alerta Pachuca, formed in 2008, is a Latin fusion group composed of 7 multi-instrumentalists from Buenos Aires. I hope you enjoy!!
Here’s hoping everyone a great week. Keep looking up!!
This image from The European Space Agency’s (ESA) Herschel Space Observatory reveals multiple arcs around Betelgeuse, the nearest red supergiant star to Earth. The star, and its arc-shaped shields, could collide with an intriguing dusty ‘wall’ in about 5000 years. Betelgeuse, in the constellation Orion the Hunter, can easily be seen with the naked eye in the northern hemisphere winter night sky as the orange–red star above and to the left of Orion’s famous three-star belt.
Betelgeuse, also known as Alpha Orionis, is roughly 1,000 times the diameter of our Sun, and shines 100, 000 times more brightly. However, before us humans begin to feel ‘star-envy’ we should understand that Betelgeuse, having already swelled into a red super-giant and having shed a significant fraction of its outer layers, is likely on its way to one hellava supernova explosion! This far-infrared view from Herschel shows how the star’s winds are crashing against the surrounding interstellar medium, creating a bow shock as the star moves through space at speeds of around 30 km/s. To state in human terms — Betelgeuse is having a hissy-fit, a huge hissy-fit!
Being about 640 light-years away, Betelgeuse isn’t exactly in our stellar backyard but it is among the nearest stars to our Sun doomed to go the supernova route. When it will explode is really anyone’s guess. Given that it takes six centuries for its light to reach us, it might already have done so. The best estimate scientists give is that it will likely blow apart sometime in the next 100,000 years – a blink of the eye by cosmic standards. When it does happen Betelgeuse will erupt as a so-called Type II supernova. As its outer layers head spaceward at about five percent of the speed of light, its spent core will rapidly implode to become, most likely, a neutron star some 20 kilometers across. A neutron star, which is effectively a solid ball of nuclear matter, is so dense that a thimbleful (a thimbleful!) of its contents would outweigh the entire human population. Yes, even despite our addiction to, and indulgence in, junk food.
From the Earth, the exploding Betelgeuse will get nearly as bright as the full Moon and be visible for two or three months even in daylight. Type II supernovae pose no threat to planets that are hundreds of light-years away because their deadly radiation spreads out equally in all directions and eventually becomes too thin to be of concern. From our safe vantage-point, this will be one awesome show!
On Wednesday, January 16, NASA published this animation of the Orion spacecraft’s upcoming (2017) Exploration Mission-1. Did it excite me? Just a bit, a great bit! Exploration Mission-1 will be the first integrated flight test with both the Orion spacecraft and NASA’s new Space Launch System.
In other Orion related news the European Space Agency (ESA) announced this week that, in a collaborative effort, it will be supplying a driving force to the Orion spacecraft in the form of its Automated Transfer Vehicles (ATVs). The ATV-derived service module will provide propulsion, power, thermal control, as well as supplying water and gas to the astronauts in the habitable module.
”ATV has proven itself on three flawless missions to the Space Station and this agreement is further confirmation that Europe is building advanced, dependable spacecraft,” said Nico Dettmann, Head of ATV’s production program. This collaboration between ESA and NASA continues the spirit of international cooperation that forms the foundation of the ISS.
This awe-inspiring image of spiral galaxy NGC 1309 was by far my favorite astronomy image of the week! Brought to us by the Hubble Legacy Archive, the ESA, NASA, and with processing by Martin Pugh, this stunning galaxy, which lies 100 million light-years away in the constellation of the River (Eridanus), spans about 30,000 light-years making it about one third the size of our own Milky Way galaxy. <– Click link for a jaw-dropping artist’s illustration of what some distant astronomers might likely see if peering back at us from across the expanse! I don’t want to sound all boastful or anything, but WOW, we have one awesome galaxy!!
In the blogosphere this week, I first and foremost have to sincerely thank the brilliant photographer, writer, artist, and all-around Renaissance-dude, J.E. Lattimer, for his very kind mention of Things I Love in his January 14th post, Blog of the Year 2012. The nod is very much appreciated, and many congrats to J.E. on his award. I first mentioned J.E. back in March of last year in my post titled …things I LOVED! Week March 12th through March 18th. Since that time Mr Lattimer has expanded to 3 blogs: Fictional Machines, Arcane Arrangements, and Mysteries of the Wasteland. Check them out, prepare to be amazed!
This week, for me at least, seemed to be dominated by images and the photographers who take them. 3 photographers in particular completely blew me away. Not only am I impressed with their images, but also in how they fully demonstrate how the resulting images, no matter how good the equipment, depend entirely on the artist behind the camera.
In his January 15 post titled Bavarian Forest National Park – Lusen Mt, one of my very favorite astro-photographers, Werner Priller, documents through words and A-MAZ-ING photographs a night spent camping out in -17C temperature just a stone’s throw from the Czech border. This is an incredible effort on the part of a photographer who makes a life’s work out of incredible efforts; the forest, the frozen summit cross (WOW!!), Warner’s camp site, the wolves (!!), all under such a beautiful starry night as to make Van Gogh blush! I don’t think I have to mention again to check out this post …you’re probably already there.
Another photographer I’ve mentioned before, the elusive George Weaver of She Kept a Parrot, this week stole my heart right out of my chest (she has a way of doing that!) with her January 16 post titled The Star Wars Cowboy. Ms Weaver is, by far, one of the best story-tellers I’ve ever come across. Though her stunningly honest photography, and her equally honest words, she takes us on a journey which always feels familiar because she is, in fact, reminding us of who we are. And we are human. Thank you George.
Speaking of humans, the 3rd photographer to catch my attention this past week is Richard Guest of The Future Is Paper Mâché. Since May of 2012 Richard has been walking up to complete strangers in the streets and alleys of London, asking if he could take their picture, and the results are entirely interesting! This week, amongst others, I found absolutely intriguing Mr Guest’s January 13th post titled Street Portrait #48 (Pierce), and his January 16th entry Street Portrait #50 (Peter). While you’re there checking out Richard’s street photography be sure to also check out some of his collaborations with other artists, including the above mentioned J.E. Lattimer (Nineteen Eighty-Four).
In closing this week I leave you with an earworm from The Misfits, I Turned Into A Martian, a little shout out to Curiosity who’s about to start drilling up the Martian surface!! Yep, we’re cooking rocks on another planet, and how freaking cool is that!!
Have a GREAT week, and Dare Mighty Things!!
Eight years ago, January 14, 2005, the European Space Agency’s Huygens probe plunged through a thick, mysterious, and planet-like atmosphere and landed, a bit roughly it seems, on the surface of Saturn’s largest moon –Titan. Huygens’ descent and landing gave mankind a glimpse of a world never before experience, not even by telescope, and yesterday marked the anniversary of this touchdown on the most remote alien surface ever visited by a landing probe.
The animation, showing the last part of the probe’s 2.5 hour descent through Titan’s athmosphere, was created by the European Space Agency (ESA) using data recorded by Huygen’s instruments and taking into account Titan’s atmospheric conditions, Sun and wind direction, the behavior of the parachute (with some artistic interpretation on the movement of the ropes after touchdown), and the dynamics of the landing itself. A photograph of the landing site returned from the probe is shown at the 1:25 mark in the video. Seen for the first time ever by human eyes, through the Huygens’ camera, the view is of ‘sand’ and ‘rocks’. The sand is composed of hydrocarbon aerosol particulates that have settled out of the atmosphere and the rocks are made of water ice.
Results published in October of last year revealed that on first contact with Titan’s surface the probe dug a hole 4.72 inches deep, then bounced and slid 10 to 15 inches across a flat surface. The probe then wobbled five times before coming to a standstill about 10 seconds after touchdown. A ‘fluffy’ dust-like material, most likely organic aerosols that are known to drizzle out of the Titan atmosphere, was thrown up around the probe following impact.
Titan is a cold world enclosed by a thick, hazy atmosphere impenetrable by telescopes and cameras. Having an equatorial radius of 1,600 miles, it is second only to Jupiter‘s moon, Ganymede, as to largest moons in our solar system. Titan is not only bigger than our own Moon, its also bigger than the planet Mercury. (To understand the size of Titan consider that it is only 62 miles in diameter lesser than Ganymede, and Ganymede is so large, roughly 3/4 the size of Mars, that according to NASA were it orbiting the Sun instead of orbiting Jupiter it would be easily classified as a planet.) The temperature at Titan’s surface is about -289 degrees Fahrenheit. Titan is of great interest to scientists because it’s the only moon in our solar system known to have clouds and a planet-like atmosphere. Titan’s atmospheric pressure is about 60 percent greater than the Earth’s, or roughly the same pressure found at the bottom of a swimming pool. The chemical composition of Titan’s atmosphere suggests to scientists that it may consist of compounds similar to those present in the primordial days of the Earth’s atmosphere. Titan’s atmosphere is mostly nitrogen, like Earth’s, but may contain much higher percentages of smog-like chemicals such as methane and ethane. The smog may be so thick that it actually rains ‘gasoline-like’ liquids. The organic nature of some of the chemicals found in Titan’s atmosphere might indicate that this very COOL moon could harbor some form of life.
The Huygens Probe was named after Christiaan Huygens, a Dutch astronomer, mathematician, and physicist who discovered Titan in 1655. Huygens, the probe (not the astronomer!), hitched a 6.7 year interplanetary-cruise to Titan along with the NASA Cassini orbiter. On October 15, 1997, the Cassini-Huygens spacecraft was launched from Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral in Florida on a Titan IV-B/Centaur launch vehicle. As tall as a 22-story building, the Titan/Centaur rocket lifted off perfectly with the 13,200-pound Cassini-Huygens spacecraft on board. Navigation to Saturn, and specifically to Titan, was a very complicated process coordinated by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (NASA, JPL). Since it was such a massive spacecraft no existing launch vehicle could have sent the craft directly to Saturn, so a technique called ‘gravity assist‘ (or fly-bys) was used. Gravity assist maneuvers work because of the mutual gravitational pull between a moving planet and a spacecraft. The planet pulls on the spacecraft as it is flying past, but the spacecraft’s own mass also pulls on the planet. This permits an exchange of energy. Mission designers planned multiple flybys of Venus, Earth, and Jupiter, using each planet’s gravity to boost Cassini’s sun-relative speed and send the spacecraft out to Saturn.
For most of the nearly 7 year journey the probe remained dormant, conserving power, except for bi-annual health checks. Because the distance from Earth is too great to provide signals and commands, this meant the programming of the probe had to be precise and work automatically so that valuable data can be communicated back to the Cassini orbiter for transmission back to Earth. A final health check was performed on December 25, 2004 prior to the probe’s separation from the orbiter. Huygens was then detached to coast in space for 22 days en-route to Titan on its own with no systems active except for its wake-up timer. Remaining on the Cassini orbiter was the probe support equipment (PSE), including the electronics necessary to track the probe and to recover the data gathered during its descent. Then, just 45 minutes before reaching the atmosphere of Titan, timers woke up the Huygens probe, and its main mission phase, a parachute descent through a hazy alien atmosphere to touchdown on the largest expanse of un-before seen terrain left in the Solar System, was ready to begin.
Huygens’ batteries and resources were sized for a mission duration of 153 minutes — a maximum descent time of 2.5 hours, plus at least 3 additional minutes (and possibly a half hour or more) on Titan’s surface. Early in the descent phase the probe’s radio link was activated allowing Cassini to ‘listen’ to the probe for the next 3 hours which included the descent phase and the first thirty minutes after touchdown. Soon after the end of this three-hour communication window, Cassini’s high-gain antenna (HGA) was turned away from Titan and towards Earth. Cassini remains in orbit around Saturn and will continue operations until 2017. The Cassini–Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, ESA and The Italian Space Agency.
1 year — 2012
10 images — And yes! It WAS difficult to whittle it down to ONLY 10. My goal was to include not only the year’s most stunningly impressive astronomy images, or my opinion of such, but also to include Earth from space, celestial events, exciting milestones in space travel and exploration, humanity in space, and a glimpse of humanity’s future in space. (I am aware that it’s impossible to tell the entire story of a year in space in only 10 images, I am aware of the images I’ve omitted. And yes…it was painful to decide on, and include, only 10!)
1 video — Because I just couldn’t help it, and because the message presented is perhaps the most personally inspiring message of 2012.
5 days — Spent compiling, agonizing over selections (I LOVED it!), and writing.
87 links — But please don’t try to count them! Enjoy as many as you have time and interest to. (I only counted them once and that number could be completely wrong.)
74 tags — I needed coffee after tagging…
Images are presented in the order of occurrence and not based on preference. Clicking on an image title will present a larger view, in most cases, and clicking on image credit links will present additional information on the folks who brought them to us!
Earth From Space: A Southern Summer Bloom – On January 13, 2012 the European Space Agency released this Envisat image of a phytoplankton bloom swirling a figure 8 in the South Atlantic Ocean about 600 km east of the Falkland Islands. During summer in the southern hemisphere the ocean becomes rich in minerals from the mixing of surface waters with deeper waters. Phytoplankton depend on these minerals making blooms like this common during warm months. Blooms may cover hundreds of square kilometers and are easily visible in satellite images. Different types and quantities of phytoplankton exhibit different colors, such as the blues and greens seen here. These microscopic organisms are the base of the marine food chain, and play a huge role in the removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and the production of oxygen in the oceans. A bloom may last several weeks, but the life span of any individual phytoplankton is rarely more than a few days. By helping to regulate the carbon cycle, phytoplankton are important to the global climate system, and get enough of them together and they create incredibly stunning satellite images! – Image credit: ESA
The Helix Nebula – On Jan 19, 2012, the European Southern Observatory released this unusual view of the Helix Nebula (NGC 7293), a planetary nebula located 650 light-years away, in the constellation of Aquarius. Planetary nebulae are the remains of stars that once looked a lot like our sun. In visible light the Helix’s fine details are normally obscured by dust, but captured by ESO’s Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy (VISTA) we can peer through the dust to see radiating filaments of cooler gas in the rings as well as a faint halo of thinly spread gas extending at least four light-years from the core of the dying star. – Image credit: ESO/VISTA/J. Emerson – Acknowledgment: Cambridge Astronomical Survey Unit
SpaceX Dragon Berthed to International Space Station – On May 25, 2012, with rays of sunshine and Earth’s thin blue atmosphere serving as a backdrop, the SpaceX Dragon commercial cargo craft is berthed to the Earth-facing side of the ISS’s Harmony node becoming the first commercial craft to accomplish this type of space operation. After a series of system tests, and a successful fly-under of the ISS, the Dragon capsule was cleared by NASA to approach the station. Dragon performed a series of intricate test maneuvers required to demonstrate the maneuvering and abort capability of the craft prior to approaching and moving into a 65-foot berthing box where it was grappled by NASA astronaut Don Pettit using the station’s Canadarm robotic arm. On May 31, after successfully completing its mission, Dragon splashed down in the Pacific Ocean. Previously only four governments, the United States, Russia, Japan and the European Space Agency, had achieved this challenging technical feat. SpaceX then completed its first official resupply mission in October 2012. – Image credit: NASA
Venus Transits The Sun - On June 5, 2012, Hinode captured this amazing view of the transit of Venus just as the planet was fully entering The Sun’s disk. The ring seen around the planet is caused by Venus’s thick atmosphere scattering and bending the sunlight coming through the other side. If you missed this year’s Venus Transit, no worries, you might can catch it again — in about 100 years. Transits of Venus are very rare among predictable celestial events and occur in pairs, eight years apart, which are themselves separated by more than a century. The last transit of Venus took place June 8, 2004 and the next pair of transits will occur in December 2117 and December 2125. Hinode is a joint mission between NASA and the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency to study the connections of the sun’s surface magnetism primarily in and around sunspots. – Image credit: JAXA/NASA/Lockheed Martin (Lead U.S. investigator for the Solar Optical Telescope.)
Curiosity Snaps Picture of Its Shadow - On the evening of August 5th PDT (morning of August 6th EDT), 2012, after a nearly 8 month journey, and 7 Minutes of Terror, a rover named Curiosity successfully landed on the surface of Mars. This is one of the first images taken by Curiosity and transmitted back to a very excited and celebratory team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The camera’s clear dust cover is still in place in this view, and dust can be seen around its edge, along with three cover fasteners. The rover’s shadow is visible in the foreground. Launched November 26, 2011 aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V-541, the Mars Science Laboratory has since set out on its long term robotic exploration of the red planet, its environment and its habitability. – Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Sunita Williams on Spacewalk – On September 5, 2012 NASA astronaut Sunita Williams, Expedition 32 flight engineer, sends a wave to team mate Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Aki Hoshide during a 6 hour, 28 minute spacewalk, the mission’s third session of extravehicular activity (EVA). 47 year old Astronaut Williams, who also served as Commander of Expedition 33, holds the record for the longest space flight time among female space travelers, she also holds the record for number of spacewalks for a female, as well as most spacewalk time for a female. She is also proof that when looking for positive female role-models for our daughters, all we need do is look up. – Image credit: NASA
The Pencil Nebula - On September 12, 2012 the European Southern Observatory’s La Silla Observatory, located in the outskirts of the Chilean Atacama Desert, presented us with this image produced by the Wide Field Imager on the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope. This peculiar cloud of glowing gas is part of a huge ring of wreckage left over after a supernova explosion which took place about 11,000 years ago. This oddly shaped cloud, also known as NGC 2736, is a small part of a vast supernova remnant in the southern constellation of Vela. The colors seen here represent different elements: oxygen is blue, and hydrogen red. Also mixed in are elements like iron, nitrogen, and carbon. All the essential elements for life as we know it were created in stellar explosions like this one. As it’s been pointed out by Carl Sagan, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and others, we are, indeed, ‘star stuff’. – Image credit: ESO
Hubble Goes Deep, eXtremely deep – On September 25, 2012 astronomers presented a new, improved portrait of mankind’s deepest-ever view of the universe. Called the eXtreme Deep Field, or XDF, the photo was assembled by combining 10 years of NASA Hubble Space Telescope photographs taken of a patch of sky at the center of the original Hubble Ultra Deep Field. The XDF is a small fraction of the angular diameter of the full moon. What did the first galaxies look like? To help answer this question, Hubble presents this deepest image of the universe ever taken in visible light. Pictured above, the XDF shows a sampling of some of the oldest galaxies ever seen, galaxies that formed 13 billion years ago when the universe was only a few percent of its present age. The XDF contains about 5,500 galaxies even within its smaller field of view. The faintest galaxies are one ten-billionth the brightness of what the human eye can see. This view was taken with Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) and the infrared channel of its Wide Field Camera 3 (WFPC3). Astronomers the world over will likely study the XDF for years to come to better understand how stars and galaxies formed in the early universe. The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency. – Image credit: NASA /ESA; G. Illingworth, D. Magee, and P. Oesch /University of California, Santa Cruz; R. Bouwens / Leiden University/The HUDF09 Team
Double Prominence Eruptions – On Nov 16, 2012 the Sun erupted with two prominence eruptions, one after the other over a four-hour period. This image, beautifully illustrating the action, was captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) in the 304 Angstrom wavelength of extreme ultraviolet light. The red-glowing looped material is plasma, a hot gas made of electrically charged hydrogen and helium. The prominence plasma flows along a tangled, twisted structure of magnetic fields generated by the sun’s internal dynamo. Solar prominences (known as a filament when viewed against the solar disk) are anchored to the Sun’s surface in the photosphere, and extend outwards into the Sun’s hot outer atmosphere, called the corona. The corona extends more than a million kilometers from the Sun’s surface with temperatures reaching two million degrees and is where solar winds originate. A prominence forms over timescales of about a day, and stable prominences can persist in the corona for several months, looping hundreds of thousands of miles into space. – Image credit: NASA/SDO (Solar Dynamics Observatory)
Orion Spacecraft – On December 18, 2012 NASA, in its ‘Image of The Day’, featured this photograph of technicians as they prepare to fit a special fixture around an Orion capsule inside the high bay of the Operations & Checkout Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Construction on the first space-bound Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) began at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, Louisiana, in September 2011. Engineering advances by NASA and its industry partners show exciting progress toward Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1), promising that in two years human space exploration will make its biggest leap in more than four decades. The uncrewed EFT-1 mission, launching from Kennedy Space Center in 2014, will test the re-entry performance of the Orion capsule, which, according to NASA, is the most advanced spacecraft ever designed and which will carry astronauts farther into space than ever before, sustain astronauts during space travel, and provide safe re-entry from deep space and emergency abort capability.
‘These recent milestones are laying the foundation for our first flight test of Orion in 2014,’ said Dan Dumbacher, deputy associate administrator for exploration systems development at NASA Headquarters in Washington. ‘The work being done to prepare for the flight test is really a nationwide effort and we have a dedicated team committed to our goal of expanding the frontier of space.’
Orion will be launched by NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS), a heavy-lift rocket boasting an entirely new capability for human exploration beyond low Earth orbit. Flexible for launching spacecraft for crew and cargo missions, SLS promises to enable new exploration missions and expand human presence across the solar system. – Image credit: NASA
2013 – ?
I’m looking forward to an equally amazing, stunning, mind-bending, and inspiring year in 2013. I hope everyone has a GREAT NEW YEAR!
For this stunning image, taken during its 174th orbit around the gas giant and while the spacecraft was in Saturn’s shadow, Cassini’s cameras are purposely turned towards both the planet as well as the Sun giving us this beautifully back-lit view of Saturn and its rings. In addition to its visual splendor this very-high-phase viewing geometry allows scientists to study ring and atmosphere phenomena not easily seen at a lower phase. This view looks toward the non-illuminated side of the rings from about 19 degrees below the ring plane.
Also nicely captured in the image are two of Saturn’s 53 known moons; Tethys, and one of my personal favorite of ALL moons, second only to our Moon, Enceladus! Both moons can be spotted on the left side of the planet, below the rings. Enceladus is closer to the rings; Tethys is below and to the left.
Images taken using infrared, red and violet spectral filters were combined to create this enhanced-color view. The images were obtained with the Cassini spacecraft wide-angle camera on Oct. 17, 2012 at a distance of approximately 500,000 miles from Saturn. Image scale at Saturn is about 30 miles per pixel. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
For more information about the Cassini-Huygens mission visit http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov.
Astronomers using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope photographed this quite festive nearby planetary nebula called NGC 5189. Planetary nebulae represent the final brief stage in the life of a medium-sized star like our sun. While consuming the last of the fuel in its core, the dying star expels a large portion of its outer envelope. This material then becomes heated by the radiation from the stellar remnant and radiates, producing glowing clouds of gas that can show complex structures, as the ejection of mass from the star is uneven in both time and direction. This amazingly beautiful complexity is seen here in the bluish lobes of NGC 5189.
This awesome, in the true sense of the word, image was taken with Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 on October 8, 2012, in filters tuned to the specific colors of fluorescing sulfur, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms. Broad filters in the visible and near-infrared were used to capture the star colors.
For more detailed information about NGC 5189, as well as a video, visit NASA.
In the spirit of the holidays it should NOT go without mention that both Cassini as well as Hubble are the combined efforts of international space agencies working together towards a better understanding of not only the reaches of our solar system, the universe and its origin, but also life immediately surrounding us. The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Italian Space Agency. The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA, the European Space Agency, as well as a diverse group of hundreds of scientists, engineers, and technicians around the world.
Also in the spirit of international cooperation and space advancement this morning witnessed a flawless launch of Soyuz TMA-07M from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan to the ISS at 7:12 a.m. EST. Expedition 34‘s crew; NASA astronaut Tom Marshburn, Canadian Space Agency astronaut Chris Hadfield, and Russian cosmonaut Roman Romanenko are now safely in orbit and will dock with the station’s Rassvet module at 9:12 a.m. Friday, Dec. 21. Congratulations to everyone involved in this mission, and a great big Thank You to Johnson Space Center for keeping those of us on this side of the planet, and who woke early to witness the event, informed via live coverage on NASA TV. Live coverage of Friday morning’s docking begins at 7:30 a.m. And I KNOW where I’ll be at that time!
Expedition 34 Flight Engineer Chris Hadfield of the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), top, NASA Flight Engineer Tom Marshburn and Soyuz Commander Roman Romanenko wave farewell from the bottom of the Soyuz rocket at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Baikonur, Kazakhstan, Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2012. Their Soyuz TMA-07M rocket launched at 7:12 a.m. EST. Image Credit: NASA/Carla Cioffi
Get out and enjoy tonight’s Blue Moon, enjoy your 3 day weekend, and Happy Labor Day!
The above image of a Perseid meteor was captured on August 13, 2011 by NASA astronaut Ron Garan while aboard the International Space Station. From his perspective, orbiting at an altitude of 380 kilometers, Garan captures the Perseid meteors streaking below. Fortunately for those of us here on Earth, one doesn’t need to be in orbit to fully enjoy the Perseid meteor shower and this weekend offers the perfect opportunity to do so.
The Perseid meteor shower , which has been observed for about 2000 years, occurs annually in late July and early August as the Earth passes through the dusty particle stream remains of the comet Swift-Tuttle. The particles, traveling at tens of thousands of miles an hour, are small bits of interplanetary rock and debris vaporizing high in Earth’s upper atmosphere and igniting 30 to 80 miles above the ground. The meteor shower appears to radiate out of the constellation Perseus, giving us the name: Perseid meteor shower.
This event is best viewed in dark skies, roughly 40 miles from the light pollution of big cities. Also, meteor showers are best viewed without telescopes or binoculars as your eyes provide a larger field of view. If this is not cool enough on its own, this year’s Perseid meteor shower will be assisted by a waning crescent Moon..and for some added awe Jupiter, Venus, and the Moon will be gathering just as The Perseid reaches it’s peak. The video below provides tips on where and when to view, as well as information on getting involved through NASA’s Citizen Science!
Enjoy! And remember: alcohol interferes with the eye’s dark adaption as well as visual perception…but I’m sure a Shiner Bock or two won’t hurt too much!!
The above image is an artist’s conception illustration of a storm of comets taking place in the Eta Corvi planetary system. Eta Corvi, in the constellation of Corvus, is a white-yellow main sequence dwarf star located about 59.4 light years from our own Sun and visible to the naked eye in the northern sky.
Evidence for this comet storm came last year from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, whose infrared detectors picked up indications that comets were recently torn to shreds after colliding with a rocky body. Spitzer detected the infrared glow of a band of dust three times as far from Eta Corvi as Earth is from the sun. Scientists at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory analyzed the spectrum of light from this glow and found that it contains signatures of water ice, organics, and rock -the key ingredients of comets. In the artist’s conception above a giant comet is shown crashing into a rocky planet with the resulting impact flinging ice and carbon rich dust into space, while also smashing water and organics into the surface of the planet. Eta Corvi is indicated to the left, with more comets streaming toward it. The Spitzer observations suggest this rocky planet, whose existence has yet to be confirmed though other methods, to be located within Eta Corvi’s habitable zone.
These observations from Spritzer is the first for such a comet storm seen around another star. Eta Corvi, at about one billion years old, is about the right age to experience a hail of comets similar to the Late Heavy Bombardment in our own solar system which took place in a period spanning 4.3 and 3.8 billion years ago, and which was triggered by the migrating positions of Jupiter and Saturn. The resulting incoming comets bombarded our inner planets and scarred our moon. Some astrobiologists believe these comets carried water and organics to Earth with life here emerging suggestively soon after the Late Heavy Bombardment ended.
References and Related Reading:
NASA’s Spitzer Detects Comet Storm In Nearby Solar System – October, 2011
Spitzer Sees Rain of Comets Around Nearby Star – July, 2012
Comets May Be Creating Oceans on Alien Planet – October, 2011
This video is a segment of Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson’s March 26 talk on Cosmic Quandaries in St. Petersburg, Florida. Though the entire talk is well over an hour long, I found this particular segment, featuring Tyson delivering some incredibly interesting thoughts on the nature of the universe and our place within it, to be both engaging and exciting. I recently finished reading Dr. Tyson’s Space Chronicles in which he goes into greater detail on some of the subjects mentioned in this video, as well as his views on NASA, the future of space travel, and America’s role in that future…all subjects I find very interesting. If you enjoy the video, I highly recommend Space Chronicles.
credit: NASA, ESA, NOAA, SDO, SOHO, STEREO, GOES, helioviewer.org, JHelioviewer and virtuallinda.com
If you’ve been hanging out anywhere near a calendar, a Gregorian calendar that is, then you’re well aware that 2012 is a Leap Year, and that today, February 29, is a Leap Day. Not wanting to miss the opportunity to post on Leap Day, knowing that this would be my only shot for another 4 years to do so, I woke early to begin my research.
Since Leap Day is an Astronomical event I decided to first go right to an expert in this field, the amazingly clever and brilliant Phil Plait over at Bad Astronomy. Plait begins his explanation of Leap Year by telling us that we have two basic units of time: the day and the year. He explains that of the measurements we use daily, these are the only two based on concrete physical events: the time it takes for the Earth to spin once on its axis, and the time it takes to go around the Sun. Okay Phil, so far I’m with you. He then goes into detail concerning the mathematics involved. It’s at this point my eyes roll back into my head, my brain goes into overload, and I retreat to the kitchen for another cup of coffee. Math is not fun, especially for those of us who do not get it. I’m convinced it’s not even fun for those who DO get it. They only say it’s fun to further piss off and frustrate those of us who don’t get it. I base my evidence of this from having dated a physicist who would occasionally talk in his sleep concerning such matters. However, if you’re into math, or want to be completely amused while being schooled in all things Astronomical, I strongly suggest a visit to Bad Astronomy.
Not being one to allow something silly such as math to deter me of my enjoyment of weird things, I continued my research into to this bissextile event. One weird thing I learned is that there is actually a Leap Year Cocktail, no kidding. It was invented at London’s Savoy Hotel and contains 2 ounces gin, ½ ounce Grand Marnier, ½ ounce sweet vermouth, and ½ ounce fresh lemon juice. Not being a gin fan, I’m thinking this would probably be tasty if one were to substitute the gin with vodka, and it’s definitely giving me ideas for my later Leap Night festivities. I should point out that if you’re born on Leap Day and 2012 is the year you become of legal drinking age…no Leap Year Cocktail for you! Well, not until after midnight. Sorry, but most states do not consider you ‘legal’ until March 1st. However, since you were born on Leap Day, which is known as a ‘Leapster’, I’m sure you’re use to being unfairly discriminated against by only receiving birthday gifts once every 4 years. You’ll learn to appreciate this whole ‘only having a birthday once every 4 years’ as you get older and realize that birthdays are about as welcome as visits from distant relatives….in which case, once every 4 years is plenty. Also, having to wait till midnight for a drink is not nearly as bad as if you were in jail on this day. Really?! An extra day?!
Another fun fact about Leap Day is that it’s the one day when it’s, traditionally, socially acceptable for a woman to pop the question to a man. While this is somewhat outdated and may be considered a bit sexist, to anyone anal enough to think it so, it IS still fun. I only offer this as a heads-up to any single guys out there. If Joan at the office has been giving you the eye lately, maybe today is the day to call out sick. *cough, cough*
A not-so-fun Leap Day fact, on this particular Leap Day, 56 countries are recognizing today as Rare Disease Day. Are these diseases so rare they only require one day of research every 4 years? I’ll leave you to write your own witty response to this not-so-fun fact….
However you enjoy your Leap Day, remember the count down starts again tomorrow…and according to Phil Plait, you remember Phil, Mr Math from Bad Astronomy, we have 1461 days till we get another one. This is, of course, unless we get wiped out by the Scary-Freaking-Asteroid later this year. This, however, is a theory, I’m certain, Phil does not subscribe to.