A picture of the Moon

Ashley and I were walking home from the store yesterday afternoon when I happened to look up, and noticed this:

The Moon, as seen in mid-afternoon from Toronto, Canada on April 5, 2014

The Moon, as seen in mid-afternoon from Toronto, Canada on April 5, 2014

I did of course grab the camera and hit the patio in our backyard. Took a couple hundred frames on the spot. Today I stacked & sharpened the images, and got that as a result.

The photo was taken using my Canon t2i, with a Sigma 2x tele-conveter and a Sigma 70-200mm (@200mm) at f4.0 / ISO 100 / 1/640 exposure.

It’s not the first time I’ve taken photos of the Moon.

A photo of the Moon from Toronto in April 2013

A photo of the Moon from Toronto in April 2013

That one was one of the first good shots I got of our celestial neighbour through my (at the time) new telescope, with the Canon attached to it. That one is a single frame.

Of all the amazing sights in the sky on a nightly basis (and in the Moon’s case, occasionally on a daily basis) the Moon is one of my favourite objects to look at. I’m also not entirely sure why. It’s not the most challenging to photograph. It’s not the most distant by any means.

Though maybe that’s why I enjoy it: it’s accessible. Heck, people have even been there. And so perhaps I have a stronger sense of connectedness to it.

I’m also reminded of one of Tom Hanks lines from Apollo 13:


I look up at the moon and wonder, when will we be going back, and who will that be?

(Hanks is of course speaking as famed astronaut Jim Lovell)

Our neighbour in the Cosmos.

We’ll visit again soon.

Comets and Asteroids and TNOs: Oh My!

Show notes for Episode 191, March 31, 2014
Hosts: Paul, Julie, Jen
Title: Comets and asteroids and TNOs: Oh My!

Tonight’s show featured a wealth of observational projects from Messier Marathons through to lunar eclipses and lunar occultations.  The outer solar system was featured with Centaur’s with rings not to mention far flung Kuiper Belt objects spanning the gap between the Kuiper Belt and the Oort Cloud.  A new segment debuted: Observatory Astro Log, featuring brief appearances by a member of the York Observatory Team.

This week in space/astronomy history:
1. March 25, 1655: Christiaan Huygens discovers Titan, moon of Saturn. Titan is the largest moon of Saturn and is the second-largest moon in the solar system. It has a dense atmosphere where lots of interesting chemistry happens. There is evidence for it having stable bodies of liquid on its surface (liquid methane).
2. March 25 1996: Comet Hyakutake closest approach to Earth.  Bright and fast moving, this was a spectacular object easily visible without any optical aid.
3. April 1 1997: Comet Hale-Bopp’s closest approach to Sun

The Observatory Log Book, hosted by Jen Zomederis
- AstroCATS – Astronomy Telescope Show May 3rd and 4th. (Tickets)
- Observatory Calendars available for a $10 donation.  Send a request to observe@yorku.ca and we will drop one in the mail!
- PV & OPV hours change as of April.  Check out yorkobservatory.com for all the details.

News:
1. Lunar Eclipse on April 15th, the first of a tetrad of eclipses, 4 total lunar eclipses in a row all visible from North America!  For This month’s eclipse,  1:58 AM is when the partial phase of the eclipse begins with totality starting at 3:06 AM EDT.  The next 3 total eclipses are October 8 2014, April 4 2015 and September 28 2015. http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2014/27mar_tetrad/
2. Ringed asteroid: The asteroid Chariklo has two dense, narrow rings. It’s the smallest body in our solar system by far to be found with rings (the others being the gas giant planets). Chariklo is the largest of the asteroids known as Centaurs, which orbit the Sun between Jupiter and Neptune. Chariklo’s orbit is between Saturn and Uranus. The rings were discovered when the asteroid occulted a star (UCAC4 248-108672). Observations were made from 7 different observatories in South America. The rings were likely the result of an earlier collision and their configuration indicates they are either very young or that they are affected by yet-to-be-discovered small moons of the asteroid. Suggested reading ESO media release,
3. Sedna-like body discovered: 2012VP113 (nick-named Biden) is only the second object of its kind to be discovered. The first was Sedna, discovered in 2003. Both pretty far from the Sun and have highly elliptical orbits (perihelion of 76 AU for Sedna and 80 AU for 2012VP113). The solar system can be divided into 3 regions: the inner, rocky planets and asteroids (0.39 – 4.2 AU from the Sun), the gas giants (5 – 30 AU) and the Kuiper belt objects (30 – 50 AU). Sedna and “Biden” would be a part of the inner Oort cloud, the outermost grouping of objects in our solar system and the place comets come from. These objects could be the link between the Kuiper belt and the hypothesized outer Oort cloud about 10 000 AU from the Sun. There are two main models for the formation of the inner Oort cloud, as we discover more objects like Sedna and Biden, we will be able to determine which is the more likely to have happened. Suggested reading Discovery article
4. Global Astronomy Month (April is starting off with an online Messier Marathon  Check out astrowebtv.org starting from 1800 hours UT April 1 to catch all of the action, both telescopic and commentary!  Messier marathons are an exciting opportunity to see wealth of diverse non-stellar objects first found by Charles Messier over 200 years ago.  Not for the faint of heart, these marathons can result in all 110 objects being observed in one night.  It is a lot of work but a lot of fun!
5. Lunar occultations this Thursday April 3 with the Moon traversing through the Hyades star cluster.  The advancing dark limb of the Moon will occult a series of 4th and 5th magnitude stars in teh late evening (EDT).  As with all occultation measurements, accurate timing of such events can yield useful positional data on the star or the Moon and can potentially detect heretofore unknown companions.  skyandtelescope.com
6. Planet roundup for the night sky.  From the gas giants Jupiter and Saturn adorning the evening sky to the terrestrial worlds Mars (evening) and Venus (morning) there is no shortage of planets (shining with steady untwinkling light) visible to the naked eye.
7. Cosmos wrap up from last night.  Delighted to see more astronomers from history making their way into the narrative of the show.  John and William Herschel for example.  We enjoyed the discussion and description of the relationship between distance and time.  We also appreciated the tribute to Carl Sagan towards teh end and the role he played in influencing Tyson when he was just embarking onto his astronomy career.

Thanks for listening!

-YorkUniverse Team

__________

YorkUniverse is a co-production of Astronomy.FM and the York University Astronomical Observatory. For more information on us, check out the following links:

webpage: www.yorkuniverse.com

twitter: @YorkUniverse

AFM page: astronomy.fm/yorkuniverse

Observatory webpage: www.yorkobservatory.com

Observatory twitter: @YorkObservatory

The Matt, Pat, and Paul Travelling Universe Show!

Show notes for Episode 190, March 24th 2014
Hosts: Paul, Pat, Matt (Guest)
Title: The Matt, Pat and Paul Traveling universe show!

Tonight’s show will feature some local devastation (on Jupiter from comet SL9) not to mention a quick summary of the changing appearance of nearly planets (gullies on Mars, volcanoes on Venus).  However, the real excitement is way back in the past with Matt Johnson (YorkU and Perimeter Institute) as we examine in some detail the announcement of the detection of B-mode polarization and its implications for inflation in the early universe and the Big Bang cosmology.

This week in space/astronomy history:
1. Comet Shoemaker Levy 9 March 24 1993 discovery.  It was a “rubble train” at this point, the most unusual comet that either Eugene (or Carolyn) Shoemaker or David Levy had ever seen.  Tidally disrupted by Jupiter in 1992, Comet SL9 (formerly D/1993 F2) would rain rocks into the Jovian atmosphere in a spectacular manner in July 1994.
2. March 24 1975 marked the end of the Mariner 10 mission, first mission to extensively map the planet Mercury.  A lack of onboard fuel to allow teh spacecraft to orient its radio antenna towards Earth finally closed off the scientific flow from Mariner 10.
3. Mercury RD-BD unmanned Mercury flight that COULD have flown Alan Shepard into a sub-orbital flight prior to Yuri Gagarin’s flight of April 12 1961.  However, the mission remained unmanned and flew successfully.
4. Birthday shoutout to Joseph Hooton Taylor, born March 29 1941.  Nobel Prize for work on pulsars, shared with Russell Hulse in 1980.  taylor is synonymous with pulsar research and the uses pulsars (rotating neutron stars) have in testing aspects of teh theory of relativity.
5. Christian Huygens discovered the largest moon of Saturn,  Titan in March 25 1655.

Guest:  Matt Johnson (of York University and the Perimeter Institute) will discuss with the YorkUniverse Team the announcement last Monday March 17 2014 of the B-mode polarization detection and its implications for the Inflation model of the Big Bang cosmology.
Matt intro:

  • Bachelor’s in Liberal Arts (Physics specialization) at Evergreen State College, Olympia Washington USA

  • PhD Physics at UC Santa Cruz

  • Postdoc at CalTech

  • Postdoc at Perimeter Institute

  • Assistant Professor at York University and Associate Faculty Member at Perimeter

Large gravitational wave signal in the CMBR is good news!  Other existing (and planned) instruments can check if it’s real, and if so, study it in detail to gain new information about inflation. Will the B-mode polarization be found at other wavelengths?  If not, does this suggest the interpretation of gravity waves as the cause of the B mode polarization needs to be revisited or indeed discarded?  Pat is suggesting that new observations will cast doubt on the current interpretation of the B mode observations.  A $10 bet is “on” with Matt!  Stay tuned.

News:
1. Active volcanoes on Venus?  New data from ESA’s Venus Express suggests that 3 recent volcanic eruptions may have occurred.  While the notion of Venusian volcanism dates back to the Pioneer Venus days of the late 1970s, no definitive proof has yet been established.  venus is tough to observe even with orbiting spaceprobes.  Smrekar et al from JPL have measured 3 “hot spots” on the Venusian surface that they conclude are very recent.  While the article is soon to be published in Nature, the  data from Visible and Infrared Thermal Imaging Spectrometer (VIRTIS), is very suggestive of three eruptions last year.  Sulphur dioxide measurements are often cited as evidence of such eruptions but that is not considered definitive.
2. Next crew to launch to the ISS March 25, 5:17 PM EDT.  Expedition 39, despite the ongoing crisis in Ukraine seems to be business as usual with 2 Russian and 1 NASA astronaut.
3. Very few observations of the Regulus Occultation by 163 Erigone from March 19-20.  It would appear that almost the entire observation path was clouded out.  A real disappointment to the IOTA team members not to mention those of us planning to witness this once in a lifetime “disappearance’ of one of the brightest stars in the night sky.

Major Topics Discussed:

1. New gully on Mars (but probably not from water):
http://www.universetoday.com/110483/new-gully-appears-on-mars-but-its-likely-not-due-to-water/#more-110483
Images from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter show a new channel in the southern hemisphere region of Terra Siernum that appeared between November 2010 and May 2013.
The pair of images that shows material at the base of a gully broke out of an older route and eroded a new channel.
This particular feature is likely not due to water.
“Before-and-after HiRISE pairs of similar activity at other sites demonstrate that this type of activity generally occurs in winter, at temperatures so cold that carbon dioxide, rather than water, is likely to play the key role,” the agency said.
Last week, the agency also announced that MRO recovered from an unplanned computer swap that put the spacecraft into safe mode. Incidents of this nature have happened four times before, the agency noted.

2. 360-degree Milky Way panorama from Spitzer:
http://www.universetoday.com/110525/360-degrees-of-milky-way-at-your-fingertips/#more-110525
More than 2 million infrared photos taken by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope were jigsawed into a 20-gigapixel click-and-zoom mosaic.
Named GLIMPSE360 (Galactic Legacy Mid-Plane Survey Extraordinaire project), the deep infrared survey captures only about 3% of the sky, but because it focuses on the plane of the Milky Way, where stars are most highly concentrated, it shows more than half of all the galaxy’s 300 billion suns.
In this mosaic you can see jets from young stars, bubbles blown around massive stars, and emission nebulae lit up by the light from stars.
Unlike visual light, infrared light is not stopped by dust, and thus is used by astronomers to view structures in the plane of our galaxy that are obscured in the optical.
http://www.spitzer.caltech.edu/glimpse360/

 

Thanks for listening!
-YorkUniverse Team
_________
YorkUniverse is a co-production of Astronomy.FM and the York University Astronomical Observatory. For more information on us, check out the following links:
webpage: www.yorkuniverse.com
twitter: @YorkUniverse
AFM page: astronomy.fm/yorkuniverse
Observatory webpage: www.yorkobservatory.com
Observatory twitter: @YorkObservatory

Julie: York Universe’s Expansion

Show notes for Episode 189, March 17th 2014
Hosts: Paul, Julie, Hugh
Title: Julie: YorkUniverse`s Expansion!

Introducing Julie Tome: words from Julie about her background from York U to Science North to the OSC and the ROM.

This week in space/astronomy history:
1. March 16, 1750  Birth of Caroline Herschel, sister of William Herschel and astronomer in her own right. She discovered several comets including the periodic comet 35P/Herschel-Rigollet. She received many awards for her contributions to science.
2. March 13, 1781 William Herschel discovered Uranus.  Uranus came from Greek mythology and the God of the Sky (Ouranos).  Observed constantly in earlier times (eg Flamsteed catalogued Uranus in 1690 as 34 Tauri), Herschel tried naming the new planet (thought to be a comet initially) Georgium Sidus (after King George III) but following Bode’s suggestion, Uranius became the aame of choice universally from 1850.
3. Vanguard 1 launched March 17 1958 (56 years in space!).  First solar powered satellite (4th launched) and oldest satellite to still be in orbit.  Last contact in May 1964.  1.5 kg in mass, 16.5 cm diameter sphere, the primary mission was to collect geodetic data (Earth shape) and to measure atmospheric drag (eccentric orbit of 133 minutes).

News:
1. Big announcement from Harvard-Smithsonian centre for astrophysics, BICEP2 found B-mode polarization in the CMB which is a smoking gun for gravitational waves caused by the rapid inflation of the universe immediately following the big bang. The major point of it is that this is the first ever direct observation of gravitational waves: B-mode fluctuations (polarized light that swirls and curls around itself) are predicted to result from gravitational waves caused by rapid inflation of the universe, and BICEP2 (Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization) has for the first time detected those exact B-mode fluctuations. The challenge in identifying these fluctuations is that they are incredibly faint, and that your data may be skewed by E-mode fluctuations that have been distorted by gravitational lensing to look like B-mode fluctuations. The takeaway message is this: if the observations are confirmed then gravitational waves predicted by inflation have been discovered, which in turn lends immense credibility to the theory of inflation, explains why spacetime is flat and implies that our universe is in fact infinite and always will be infinite. The next question: what drove inflation? Suggested reading: Space.com article High level summary from Bad Astronomer http://bicepkeck.org/
2. New Hypergiant star 1300x Sun diameter.  The stats for the star are impressive indeed: dubbed HR 5171 A, the binary system weighs in at a combined 39 solar masses, has a radius of over 1,300 times that of our Sun, and is a million times as luminous. Located 3,600 parsecs or over 11,700 light years distant, the star is 50% larger than the famous red giant Betelgeuse. Binary star (about 10 AU apart) but surfaces only 2.9 AU!  1300 day orbital period for this contact eclipsing binary.  Amateurs and professional astronomers combined to unravel this system dating back over 60 years.
Read more: http://www.universetoday.com/110205/astronomers-identify-the-largest-yellow-hypergiant-star-known/#ixzz2wGoaPuna (Suggested Reading: Universe Today article, ESO Press Release, arXiv preprint)
3. Contest via NASA to find potentially harmful NEO. NASA and Planetary Resources (the asteroid miners!) have conspired with topcoder.com a crowd sourced algorithm development platform, to identify potentially harmful asteroids from data sets consisting of 4 images seperated by about 10 minutes each. The winning algorithm will be able to correctly identify errors and artifacts in the data and will receive $35,000 in prize money, so if you think you have what it takes then head on over to topcoder and give it a shot! (Suggested Reading: IFLS article, Contest Details)
4. Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter went into safe mode March 9 after an unexpected switch from one main computer to another. NASA scientists are working on the problem and hope to have the spacecraft back online in a few days. This happens somewhat regularly, this is the 5th time in MRO’s lifetime, the last time was November 2011. MRO is the link between Opportunity and Curiosity rovers and Earth. Mars Odyssey can handle the science operations while MRO is being repaired.
(Suggested Reading: Space.com article)  Curiosity Rover tweeted March 13 that MRO is back online. (Suggested Reading: JPL press release)
5. The IAU has released a statement against the practice of organizations letting members of the public name features on Mars (and other places) for a fee. The statement is not explicit about which organization they are criticizing but the target would appear to be Uwingu. The Uwingu team  “consists of nationally and internationally accomplished scientists, educators, NASA vets, and business people, who are passionate about astronomy, space exploration, and space education.” It uses its naming projects to raise money to fund science and education. (Suggested reading Space.com article, Uwingu web site)
6. Yutu Rover: The little jade rabbit that could survives its third lunar night, to enter its fourth lunar day! Given that it was designed to be a 3 month mission that means that as of March 14th the little Jade bunny has met its mission design requirements. Its instruments are for the most part still working, although it’s not able to maneuver its solar panels nor is it able to move around on the surface, but I’m happy to hear that it has survived! As an interesting side note, it’s always interesting to me the sense of personal and emotional attachment you end up feeling towards these little rovers as we follow along with their lonely journeys across other worlds (perhaps its the effect of watching WALL-E too many times!).
7. COSMOS episode last night: Episode 2. The big element to me last night was the discussion and explanation of Natural and Artificial Selection.  I thought this was done very well. Agreed, I also particularly liked the segment on how our eyes aren’t well adapted to life on land, we often forget that evolution is a bit of a one way street (hence, compound eyes!). We could possibly talk about Titan?
8. Arecibo observatory is back in action following a 6.4 magnitude Earthquake on January 13th this year that damaged one of the cables which moves the hanging detector around the area above the dish. I for one am glad to hear this not only because the Arecibo observatory has historically and presumably will continue to produce some great science (first evidence for neutron stars in 69, first binary pulsar in 74, first millisecond pulsar in 82, first extra solar planet in 94), but I am also glad to hear this because I think the Arecibo observatory is just one of the coolest telescopes out there. Our viewers will recognize it as the large 300m concrete dish in Puerto Rico that is used for radio astronomy and was featured in the films Goldeneye and Contact (along with many others I’m sure). The cable that was damaged was one of 18 cables that holds up the 900 ton focal platform, and interestingly this cable was already known to be a structural weak point: during the original construction of the facility one of the cables that was delivered was too short, so it was spliced together with another section of cable in order to span the appropriate distance–this structural weakpoint was exposed when the earthquake caused the cable to break.

Major Topics Discussed:

Topic: Where stars transition to Brown Dwarfs on the HR diagram
The Hertzsprung-Russell (HR) diagram Main Sequence (MS) has a lower temperature limit.  New observations by Dieterich & Henry suggest that the lower temperature limit of the MS (core hydrogen burning) appears to be around 2075K.  They examined 62 objects with spectral types M6V to L4, determining their temperatures and distances (and thus their luminosities) to plot the lower end of the MS.
When stars reach the MS they are in thermal equilibrium (hydrostatic equilibrium having been established by coire H fusion).  Brown Dwarfs however never reach such a stage as they are continually cooling.  Low mass, cool stars on the MS can be potentially very old whereas the Brown Dwarfs are relatively young.  Further, lower mass stars have lower radii whereas higher mass Brown Dwarfs have smaller radii (as they are held up by electron degeneracy rather than radiation pressure).
Suggested Reading: NOAO newsletter

Thanks for listening!
-YorkUniverse Team
__________
YorkUniverse is a co-production of Astronomy.FM and the York University Astronomical Observatory. For more information on us, check out the following links:
webpage: www.yorkuniverse.com
twitter: @YorkUniverse
AFM page: astronomy.fm/yorkuniverse
Observatory webpage: www.yorkobservatory.com
Observatory twitter: @YorkObservatory

Cosmos YES, Congress NO

Show notes for Episode 188, April 10th 2014
Hosts: Paul, Rob C, Hugh, Julie(background)
Title: Cosmos YES, Congress NO

Tonight’s show is full of people!  Starting with the birthday shout-out to Yuri Gagarin (first man in space)  we progress quickly to all the amazing women who have contributed so significantly to modern astronomy (celebrating International Women’s Day).  On the downside, we lament the cuts in the NASA budget and the impact that a world crisis can have on astronomy and space science.  On the upside, we revel in the reboot of Cosmos, commenting upon the opening episode this past week.

This week in space/astronomy history:
1. March 7th, 1962 – Launch of OSO 1 (Orbiting Solar Observatory), first astronomy satellite; main mission was to study the Sun but also to look at celestial sources of UV light, X-rays and gamma-radiation (Suggested by Jen) NASA, wiki
2. March 10th, 1977 – The rings of Uranus were discovered (Suggested by Jen) – although William Herschel apparently observed them in 1789, it is debated whether or not he could have seen them because they are so faint wiki
3. March 10th, 1814 – Spectral Analysis – first observed by Joseph von Fraunhofer (Suggested by Jen) DW, wiki
4. March 9 1934 birthday for Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, April 12, 1961.

News:
1. International Women’s Day: March 8th, 2014. Shout-out to astronomers past and present:  Jocelyn Bell Burnell (b. 1943), Annie Jump Cannon (1863-1941), Sandra Faber (b. 1944), Caroline Herschel (1750-1848), Helen Sawyer Hogg (1905-1993), Henrietta Swan Leavitt (1868-1921), Cecila Payne-Gaposchkin (1900-1979), Vera Rubin (b. 1929), Carolyn Shoemaker (b. 1929), and Jill Tarter (b. 1944).
2. Asteroids whizzed by Earth.  At distance of roughly 350 000 kilometers, placing its passage inside the orbit of the Moon (385 000 km), th 25-30 metre-wide asteroid DX110 passed the Earth on March 5th, 2014.  DX110 is bigger than the Chelyabinsk meteor (20 metres) but smaller than Tunguska (60 metres). Two other asteroids, 2014 EC and 2014 EF,  also passed even closer, but were slightly smaller at about 10 metres in diameter.  These flybys are not rare, but NASA’s JPL Near-Earth Object Program is constantly watching for these objects. (Suggested Reading: 2014 DX110 Wiki, Bad Astronomy article, NASA)
3. New NASA budget request to the White House. The 2015 NASA Budget proposal has about a 1% cut compared to the 2014 budget; but when your total budget is billions of dollars, as NASA’s is, a 1% cut is 100millions of dollars (in context, the total national budget is trillions of dollars – so NASA’s total budget is less than 0.5% of that).  Areas that may receive more money: space technology (e.g., asteroid capture), commercial spaceflight (e.g., buying launches from SpaceX), heliophysics, new Europa mission (see below).  Areas that may receive cuts: earth science, astrophysics, planetary science, and education.
MER Opportunity and LRO are not on the actual request for funding, they’re on the “wish list” so they’ll probably be gone, CASSINI, CURIOSITY (obviously) and most of the other planetary missions will stay. NASA has committed to a new discovery mission starting in FY15, not sure what it will be these are the “small” 450 million dollar missions like DAWN, GRAIL and Kepler (my favourite!) Pu-238 production will continue to be funded! Yay! This is important for missions to the outer regions of the solar system, so it’s great to see that NASA is going to keep making this. They will be funding 133 million for an asteroid redirect mission, of which details are fairly limited, but 20 million will go to observing near earth objects. SOFIA got mothballed. This is bad! Education funding down by ¼, which is also bad. (Suggested Reading: NASA Fiscal Year Request Summary, Bad Astronomy article,)
Better breakdown from planetary society
Details on SOFIA
4. Ukraine-Crimea influencing astronomy? The impact of the Ukraine-Crimea conflict and a possible “sanctions showdown” with the US could imperil the ISS and indeed other NASA/DoD ;launches.  Soyuz remains the only way for people to reach the ISS and the Atlas 5 main engine is supplied by Russia.  Thus, could US space efforts be a casualty of the current eastern European crisis?
5. Europa Clipper.  One of the missions earmarked for funds in the above budget is the probe to Jupiter’s icy moon, Europa.  The launch date could be as early as the 2020s, and would see the Clipper flyby the moon many times with distance from the surface from 25 km to several thousand kilometres.  Two instruments of particular interest: an infrared spectrometer to study the icy surface, and radar to penetrate the surface ice.  It would also potentially flyby Ganymede and Callisto along the way.  Total estimated cost is about $2 billion.  Europa Clipper follows in the footsteps of Saturn’s Cassini-Huygen’s mission – although there is no mention of a lander for the Clipper.(Suggested Reading: NASA)
6. Mars rock mission. NASA Ames internal study concludes that the SpaceX Dragon capsule would have the capability to perform a sample return mission from Mars. The mission would launch from Earth in 2022, a modified Dragon capsule dubbed the Red Dragon (How cool is that?) would perform a soft landing on the martian surface, collect a sample (possibly a drilled sample!), load it up into a Mars Ascent Vehicle which would ascend out of Mars and come straight back to Earth, landing in a High Earth Orbit where it would be picked up by a second Dragon capsule and delivered safely back to Earth. NASA estimates that the Red Dragon could land up to two metric tonnes of useful payload on Mars (i.e. the equivalent of two Curiosity rovers). (Suggested reading: Space.com article)
In more SpaceX news, next week they’re launching again this time with landing legs. Still landing in the ocean but it’s all progress on the road to reusable rockets.
(Suggested reading: UniverseToday article)
7. Yutu lives! (Sort of)  The YUTU Rover (Jade Rabbit) survived its encounter with the dreaded lunar night and was able to move its instruments around even if the rover itself didn’t move. As we suspected it was an issue with the rover being able to position its solar panels correctly. At night the rover hunkers down around its warm radioactive core to keep sensitive equipment and electronics safe from the harsh environment of the lunar night, however with the disabled mechanical equipment they aren’t able to fold down the sensitive pieces of equipment on the rover’s mast. All this aside, the rover was able to wake up 48 hours behind schedule and while it’s not currently moving it is still able to take panoramic and infrared images and the ground penetrating radar is still functioning normally. They should be just coming out of their third lunar night in the next few days, hopefully everything is still in good shape!
(Suggested reading: UniverseToday article)
8. Using bonded molecules to determine exoplanet atmospheric pressure. Never ceases to amaze me what we can learn just from looking at stuff! They measure the broadening of the 1.06um absorption line corresponding to vibrating and rotating O2-O2 dimers, basically two O2s that are covalently bonded together. The theory goes that as the atmospheric pressure increases you get significantly greater broadening effects from these O2-O2 dimers than you would from a simple O2 monomer. By comparing the relative levels of the two you can determine the effect of atmospheric pressure on the O2, and thereby determine what the atmospheric pressure of the planet is likely to be.
(Suggested reading: UniverseToday article, ArXiV article)
9. Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos premiered this past week.  A fitting tribute to Carl Sagan’s original series and wonderfully update images and graphics, Cosmos delivered!  Apart from an overcrowded steroid Belt graphic (and an over populated Oort Cloud) there was little to be disappointed in.  For those of us who saw the original series, this promises to be both a ride down memory lane as well as a wonderful modern tribute to teh state of modern astronomy.

Thanks for listening!
-YorkUniverse Team
__________
YorkUniverse is a co-production of Astronomy.FM and the York University Astronomical Observatory. For more information on us, check out the following links:
webpage: www.yorkuniverse.com
twitter: @YorkUniverse
AFM page: astronomy.fm/yorkuniverse
Observatory webpage: www.yorkobservatory.com
Observatory twitter: @YorkObservatory

How to: film canister rocket launch

Put this into the category of ‘fun things to do in the kitchen’ (while wearing proper eye protection).

The yard might be a better place for this one though, so you don’t put any film canister dents into your ceiling. When it takes off, it does have quite a pop (but equally it is pretty light).

What you need:

- 1/2 an Alka Seltzer tablet (aka sodium bicarbonate)
- 1 film canister
- 15mL of water
- wear eye protection

What you do:

- Put 15mL of water into the film canister (fill it about 1/2 way)
- Drop in the 1/2 Alka Seltzer into the water
- Put the lid on tight and give it a quick shake
- Put the canister down, upside down

Within a few seconds, the Alka Seltzer will partially dissolve. As it does this, it will give off some CO2 gas. As the pressure mounts, the film canister will get to a point where the lid can no longer contain the amount of gas inside.

When this happens, the lid pops off to release the pressure.

Liftoff!

Liftoff!

Thanks to Mr. Newton, we understand that when the pressure is released in a downward direction, the equal and opposite force reaction occurs, propelling the film canister up.

And in this particular example, I calculated the launch speed is 5.8m/s.

How I calculated this: the GoPro was shooting at 60fps, so each frame = 0.017 seconds. Looking at the footage, the canister moved about 10cm in a single frame. Using V=d/t, moving 10cm in 0.017s works out to 588cm/s or 5.8m/s.

Simple as that.

Modifications to try:

- Change the ratio of Alka Seltzer and water.
- Use vinegar & baking soda instead of sodium bicarbonate & water.
- If your camera doesn’t shoot at 60fps, just divide 1 by however many frames it shoots per second (e.g. if it films at 24fps, each frame is 0.04 seconds: 1/24=0.04).

Of course this little rocket doesn’t entirely do justice to how real rockets launch, in terms of fuel, ignition process, etc. – but it does provide a great little demo of Newton’s third law (with a little of the second law mixed in for good measure).

Jesse and I did this one on TV last week in the second half of our weekly Beyond The Sun space segment on Sun News Network, talking about a couple real-life rocket launches:

How to: homemade impact crater

This is a fun experiment to do at home, and it’s a pretty easy one as well. Good for fun yourself, and equally great for the kids or a classroom.

The video above gives a pretty good demo, and here’s the full explanation:

It’s great to do out in the yard where a bit of mess doesn’t matter, or at least do it on a hard surface that can be easily cleaned (lots of flour/cocoa dust gets thrown around!).

What you need:

- Medium/large container, at least 5-10cm deep (large Tupperware can work)
- bag of flour
- Sprinkles
- Cocoa powder
- Marble (or a small rock, like a piece of gravel)
- always wear eye protection when doing science experiments!

What you do:

- Put a layer of flour in the container, about 3-4cm deep (or more if you’d like)
- Put a thin layer of sprinkles on top of the flour
- Use a sieve or sifter to dust a thin layer of cocoa powder on top of that
- drop the marble into what you just made, and check out the impact crater

What you made should be reasonably flat, and each ‘batch’ can be used for several impacts (use your finger to gently flatten it back out if you need to).

What you see is a representation of how the different layers of soil (represented by the flour/sprinkles/cocoa powder) become energized and ejected by a meteorite impact.

The homemade crater impact

The homemade crater impact

You can try impacting your meteorite at different angles, from different heights, and at different velocities – though be careful throwing it too hard.

It’s worth noting though that no matter how hard you throw, we just can’t duplicate the amount of energy that’s released when an actual meteorite impacts something in space (whether we’re talking about it hitting Earth, the Moon, or Mars, etc).

Jesse and I also did this one on TV not too long ago, talking about the impact spotted on the Moon at the end of February:

Planets Near and Far

Show notes for Episode 187, March 5th, 2014
Hosts: Paul, Jesse
Title: Planets Near and Far

Surprisingly, it took Paul upwards of 55 min before he mentioned the southern hemisphere. Though it was probably Jesse’s fault as he brought up the Large Magellanic Cloud.

This week in space/astronomy history:
1. March 5th, 1979 – Voyager 1 makes its closest approach to the planet Jupiter at 349 000 kilometers (roughly the Moon-Earth distance). It began photographing Jupiter in January 1979, and finished in April 1979, however most of the discoveries were made in the week centred on the closest approach. A short list of discoveries made my Voyager 1: Jovian cloud vortex and movements, Jovian lightning and Aurora, the Jovian ring system, Io’s volcanism, Ganymede’s tectonic activity, Europa’s surface features, impact craters on Callisto. Voyager 2 followed on July 9th, 1979.
2. March 6th, 2009 – The Kepler Space Telescope is launched from Cape Canaveral en route to an Earth-trailing heliocentric orbit.

News:
1. The 715 new planets of Kepler. On Wednesday February 26th, 2014, NASA released the latest from the, now defunct, Kepler Space Telescope. They have found 715 new planets around 305 different stars. About 95% of these planets are smaller than Neptune, and 100 or so are roughly Earth sized. Most interesting, four of these planets are less than 2.5x the size of Earth and orbit in their star’s habitable zone. The data presented in this new crop represents data taken from May 2009 to March 2011 and is specific to multi-planet systems. With these new planets, the total known is now over 1700. (Suggested Reading: Bad Astronomer Article. NASA Press Release, Science @ NASA article, Universe Today Article).
2. Moon occults Lambda Gemini
3. A preliminary report out regarding Astronaut Luca Parmitano’s space suit malfunction. The report indicates that Mission Control did not send the endangered Astronaut back to the airlock in a prompt enough fashion. Parmitano warned the controllers multiple times that the water accumulating in his suit was not a result of the drinking bag (the expected issue at the time). The report also indicates that drinking bags don’t leak as often as originally cited. In fact, the report says there has never been a case of a drinking bag leaking during space walk. Parmitano was sent back to the airlock 23 min after he first indicated a problem, and he was sent back alone. Further, station push for science may have made the astronauts overlook a possible leak (found in the suite on a previous space walk). (Suggested Reading: Universe Today article, Luca Parmitano Wiki, NASA termination note).
4. NASA offering free Space Systems Engineering courses. Today was the first day of a free Space Systems Engineering course offered online by NASA and the Saylor foundation. The course will run for 6 weeks and aims to give the public an understanding of the systems engineering challenges that NASA scientists and engineers do battle with every day. The course is going to culminate in a final project to design a sample return mission to Mars, the student who produces the best project will win a trip to go and see the Goddard flight centre. Anyone who is interested in how NASA projects work should sign up for the course. Today (March 5th) was the first day so you won’t be too far behind. After completion of the course, you will be able to explain the value and purpose of systems engineering, the systems engineering project life cycle, and relate the roles of systems engineers in complex space missions. You will also identify the roles and concepts of operations, requirements, and trade studies in the project lifecycle and demonstrate the ability to apply these concepts to a real NASA mission. (Suggested Reading: http://www.saylor.org/sse101/, syllabus).
5. Mapping the Large Magellanic Cloud in 3D.
distance 163000 lightyears
key rung on cosmic distance ladder
used hubble to measure actual 3D rotation of the LMC in space
all about measuring stellar motions
relatively easy to get rotation, one side of galaxy is moving away, other is moving towards
however proper motions are harder to measure, you actually have to WAIT for the stars to move measured average proper motion of 6790 over 7 years, in 22 different fields, with quasars able to measure change in position at resolution of 0.03 milliarcsecond (60 000 000 times smaller than the full moon). equivalent to watching an astronauts hair grow 5cm over the course of a year on the moon combine this with the doppler rotation to get fully 3D view
awesome because the proper motions lead to indications of interaction with SMC and MW
NOTE: Hipparcus and Gaia
(Suggested Reading: Sky and Telescope article)

Major Topics Discussed:

1. Population III stars
Population III star SMSS J031300.36-670839.3, or SM0313 for short  found using the 1.35 metre SkyMapper telescope in Australia. This object some 6,000 light years from our Sun has the lowest metal abundance yet detected. It seems to be the result of an early universe low energy 60 solar mass supernova blast that expelled the outer atmosphere of its envelop while trapping most of its synthesised heavy elements in its black hole core. The implication is that the early universe may not have been as dominated by hypernova as originally suspected.
Keller et al suggest that apart from H and He, only 4 other elements exist in this tsar (Ca, Mg, Li, C).  There is 15 million times less Fe in SMSS than in our Sun! The actual age of this star remains to be determined but is suspected to be of order 13 billion years old.
S. C. Keller et al. “A single low-energy, iron-poor supernova as the source of metals in the star SMSS J 031300.36-670839.3” Nature, 2014

Thanks for listening!
-YorkUniverse Team
__________
YorkUniverse is a co-production of Astronomy.FM and the York University Astronomical Observatory. For more information on us, check out the following links:
webpage: www.yorkuniverse.com
twitter: @YorkUniverse
AFM page: astronomy.fm/yorkuniverse
Observatory webpage: www.yorkobservatory.com
Observatory twitter: @YorkObservatory

Intuition gives way to data in exploration of the Cosmos

data-intuit

Only the most anthropocentric among us would seriously argue that Earth, as part of a solar system, is a godsend.

Especially nowadays.

For me, it always made sense intuitively that our solar system is one among many – just as our star is one among many, or indeed our planet is one among many just in our solar system.

We’ve known for a while that our Sun is one amongst, literally, billions in the Milky Way alone. Thousands of years ago though this concept was intuition, and postulation. A lot of ‘what if?’ type statements were made about our Sun, in comparison to the twinkling lights of the night.

“What if we’re just a lot closer to this one, than to others, so it looks bigger and brighter?”

“What if it’s actually not all that different from others?”

Though there was no way to confirm these ideas – even if intuitively they did make a world of sense.

Through the advent of technologies – namely telescopes, invented roughly 400 years ago – data would eventually be provided to confirm the intuition that our little Sun was in fact quite a bit like all those stars that surround us at night.

(Of course to be accurate, the Sun is also dissimilar from many stars in terms of size, temperature, age, and so on — just as Mercury and Jupiter hold some traits in common, they are of course dissimilar in others.)

The Milky Way (Credit: A. Fujii / NASA)

The Milky Way (Credit: A. Fujii / NASA)

As time marches on, we find that in our solar system there is also a diversity of worlds: planets, moons, asteroids, comets – whatever classification you choose, there’s a multitude of those other bodies out there.

Again through technology – and again, namely telescopes – we’re able to confirm ideas that intuitively made sense to people of ages past: what if those wondering stars are other worlds?

In fact the word ‘planet’ derives from the Greek ‘asteres planetai’ – wandering stars – as the paths of the planets appears separate against the backdrop of the star field in our night sky.

Around the same time that we confirm there are other worlds around our star, folks start to wonder ‘what if those stars have planets, like ours does?’

It makes sense intuitively – just as the concepts of other Suns in the galaxy and worlds in our solar system makes sense.

What’s been lacking though is the technology to confirm this intuition – since let’s be honest, intuition alone is a very lousy way to do science.

We need data to confirm the hypothesis.

The first exoplanet – or extra-solar planet, aka a planet orbiting a star other than the Sun – was discovered in 1992. That’s only 22 years ago.

And in fact that 1992 discovery was of planets orbiting a pulsar. The first discovery of an exoplanet orbiting a main-sequence star (something loosely like the Sun) was in 1995 – not even two decades ago!

So on one hand, it might have been forgivable for people to argue that our solar system is unique. There had been, after all, no data to argue otherwise.

On the other, since the mid-90′s, there have been different techniques to detect exoplanets.

Though it wasn’t until 2009 that the rock star took the stage: Kepler.

(if you want to read all about the Kepler mission, go here – those details aren’t what this article is about)

With the Kepler mission taking centre-stage in our planet-hunting endeavour, we were finally able to take the first steps in confirming something that makes sense intuitively: many (if not most) other stars have planets orbiting them, just as ours does.

Exactly how many planets each star has, exactly the nature of those planets orbits, exactly the composition of those planets – and many other details – continue to be open questions in most cases. Though it’s worthwhile to note that in some examples, perhaps a dozen, we have a pretty good understanding of the answers to those questions.

Should it be surprising that we don’t have all the answers? Of course not. We have only confirmed that these things exist in the first place in the last couple decades.

Though as Kepler data continues to be unravelled (even if Kepler’s prime mission is kaput), I expect we will continue to hear announcements like the Kepler 715 release.

There are planets out there everywhere – and lots of them.

Their makeup is as diverse as the makeup of our solar system.

But now that we have data to confirm the exoplanet intuition, we need data for next big intuition: life.

And just has happened historically, we’ll start in our own solar system with Mars.

We have been investigating Mars from afar for hundreds of years. Over the last few decades we’ve been investigating it close-up. We’ve confirmed the presence of water. We’ve confirmed a hospitable environment (at least historically).

What’s next?

It’s time to go to Mars and search directly for life.

This search will primarily be one for ancient life, though it’s not out of the question that some microbes could exist underground near a water supply today.

Once again, this is an issue where it is intuitively plausible that Mars was home to life. We know the conditions were right, so why not?

But this is a big question, and again intuition isn’t enough – we need data.

To this end, the ESA’s Mars mission slated ford 2018 will have a direct search for life as it’s goal. NASA’s next large Mars rover is set for 2020.

I do, openly, speculate that this is another case where intuition will eventually be confirmed by data (whether it’s within the next few years or not though is harder to guess – Mars is a pretty inhospitable place now, and so evidence of past life might be hard to find – if it is there at all).

Speculation aside though, data can confirm for us that Earth is simply one planet amongst hundreds of billions – if not more.

This is a reality that may take some time to sink in, but it is an undeniable truth.

Just as it is equally true that the Earth is round, that we orbit the Sun, and that the Sun is but one amongst a vast ocean of stars.

Jesse’s Excellent Arizonan Adventures!

Episode 186, February 24, 2014
Hosts: Jesse, Paul
Title: Jesse’s Excellent Arizonan Adventures!

After two weeks off, due to Ontario’s statutory holiday Family Day, the York Universe team returns. Jesse was off galavanting around the southwest United States including a trip to Meteor crater and a week at the Kitt Peak National Observatory. The Moon dominated the conversation with Yutu, a car sized object impacting (caught in real time), and of course the Moon and the planets in the night sky for your viewing pleasure. Canadian Men’s and Women’s olympic hockey teams claim gold (again), but the Australians lost in cricket…so Paul didn’t know what to think. Show notes and podcast below. Thanks for listening!

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