Ryan’s Wager: September 23, 2013

Show notes for the 23rd of September 2013

Hosts: Ryan, Jesse, Paul
Title: Ryan’s Wager

Ryan may have bit off more than he can chew. He bet’s paul that…well…just listen to see.

 This week in space/astronomy history:
1. September 22, 1791 – Michael Faraday, experimentalist extraordinaire, was born (died August 25, 1867). Noted mostly for his chemistry, his notion of lines of force (EM Field) were inspirational to such physicists as Maxwell, Einstein, and Rutherford.
2. September 23, 1846 – Johann Gottfried Galle discovers Neptune. This was the first time a planet was discovered via mathematical prediction, as opposed to observation.
3. September 27, 2007 – Dawn spacecraft is launched towards the asteroid belt. Currently, Dawn is coasting towards dwarf planet Ceres; check out where Dawn is now, and see the mission status.


1. New launch window for CASSIOPE. A new satellite to be launched by the Canadian Space Agency will be observing space weather. It will be launched aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg air force base in California. CASSIOPE will carry two separate payloads: e-POP and Casscade. e-POP is to study the affects of solar storms on the upper atmosphere (PI’d by University of Calgary). Casscade is a commercial instrument doing a proof of concept for data storage technology. (Suggested Reading: ASC-CSA mission page)

2. Curiosity Corner with Ryan Marciniak. Curiosity has found there to be no detectable methane in the atmosphere of Mars, contrary to many observations made in previous years. Recently the rover has reached its first waypoint on the year long trek to Mt. Sharp. New results from the rover show that there is much less methane on the red planet than we had originally thought. The results indicate that there is no more than 1.3 parts per billion on Mars, only 1/6th of the original estimate. Methane is important because it is a biological byproduct, and a strong indicator of life. It can be produced without life, but the search for life is dealt a serious blow with the lack of methane we now have. This tells us not to focus as much on locating methane-microbial life on Mars. (Suggested Reading: Universe Today article, NASA Press Release, Science Article)

3. Orbital Sciences Corp launch its Cygnus spacecraft (cargo vehicle) on Wednesday September 18 from Wallops to rendezvous with the ISS. A data mismatch issue has postponed the rendezvous and docking until no earlier than Saturday September 28.  Otherwise, the 1300 kg resupply mission is proceeding well. (Suggested Reading: NASA Press Release)

4. Deep Impact has been declared lost!  A computer “glitch” between August 8 and 14 has resulted in the loss of this spacecraft. No communication has been possible and it is expected to have now lost all battery power. It was (arguably) on its 3rd mission. Most notable success was the impact and observation of the comet Temple collision on July 4, 2005. (Suggested Reading: NASA Press Release)

Major Topics Discussed:

1. Ghostly butterflies aligning
Planetary nebulae are created when stars similar to our Sun reach the end of their life. They often result in beautifully intricate objects in our night sky, perfect for any deep sky observer (check out the Cat’s Eye Nebula, or the Helix Nebula to see what I mean). In a recent paper, astronomers used the Hubble Space Telescope to study a very specific type of planetary nebulae, known as bipolar planetary nebulae (aka ‘ghostly butterfly’ nebulae). These nebulae sport a very stunning hourglass shape, symmetric across its axis of rotation.

In studying over 130 planetary nebulae in the Milky Way, astronomers Rees and Zijlstra (of the University of Manchester) noticed that the axes of rotation of ghostly butterflies seem to preferentially aligned in the plane of the galaxy, indicating some sort of angular momentum alignment. This was discovered using the Hubble Space Telescope along with the New Technology Telescope.

All 130 nebulae observed in the study were located in the Milky Way’s central bulge. As indicated by the researchers, ‘while any alignment at all is a surprise, to have it in the crowded central region of the galaxy is even more unexpected,’ (Zijlstra, Hubble Press Release).

Quoting Rees (Hubble Press Release): “The alignment we’re seeing for these bipolar nebulae indicates something bizarre about star systems within the central bulge. For them to line up in the way we see, the star systems that formed these nebulae would have to be rotating perpendicular to the interstellar clouds from which they formed, which is very strange.” (Suggested Reading: Hubble Press Release, arXiv preprint)

Thanks for listening!
-YorkUniverse Team
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