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).

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.

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

From Galileo to Gaia: January 6, 2014

Show notes for Episode 180, January 6, 2014
Hosts: Paul, Jesse, Rob C.
Title: From Galileo to Gaia

After long and restful vacation (read: too short and not enough turkey), the York Universe hosts are back to chat about the most recent and awesome space and astronomy stories. Today SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket containing a payload to Geostationary transfer orbit. Two planets move to opposite sides of our sky. And StScI released a great video of the light echoes created by RS Puppis, a Cepheid variable star. Hold onto your butts, show notes and podcast below.

Continue reading

Yutu is on it’s way to the Moon!



In a spectacular launch reminiscent of the Apollo-era missions, China successfully launched a robotic mission to the Moon.

On Sunday at 12:30pm EST (1:30am December 2, Beijing time) China’s space agency launched a modified Long March 3B rocket from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in the Sichuan province. Atop this rocket sat the Chang’e 3 lunar lander and a rover named ‘Yutu’ – which means Jade Rabbit, the pet rabbit of the Moon goddess Chang’e.

When the lander touches down in mid-December it will be the first soft landing on the Moon since the Soviet probe Luna 24 touched down on the lunar surface 37 years ago.

A live English-language webcast allowed viewers around the world to follow the launch. The broadcast was provided by China’s state-run television network CCTV.

The three-stage Long March 3B rocket was 55m (185 feet) tall when it launched, or about the height of a 15-story building.

Following separation from the rocket, Chang’e 3 successfully deployed its landing legs and solar panels.

On December 6, Chang’e 3 will fire its engines to enter lunar orbit. This will set up a December 14 landing.

Coincidentally, December 14 is the last day a human was on the moon. This was during the Apollo 17 mission in 1972.

The Yutu rover is powered primarily by solar panels; however it also has a small nuclear power source to provide heat to its instruments during the Moon’s nights – when the temperature drops to a chilling minus 170° Celsius.

Yutu is 1.5 meters tall and weighs approximately 120 kilograms.

Chang’e 3 is China’s third mission to the Moon. Chang’e 1 and Chang’e 2 were both lunar orbiting missions. They launched in 2007 and 2010 respectively.

This article by Harrison Ruess was originally posted on the Sun News Network

China's Long March 3B rocket launches from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in the Sichuan province at 1:30am Beijing time on December 2, 2013. Atop this rocket sits the robotic Chang'e 3 Moon lander and Yutu rover.

China’s Long March 3B rocket launches from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in the Sichuan province at 1:30am Beijing time on December 2, 2013. Atop this rocket sits the robotic Chang’e 3 Moon lander and Yutu rover.

China's Long March 3B rocket successful separates its second and third stages.

China’s Long March 3B rocket successful separates its second and third stages.

China's Chang'e 3 is seen moments after successfully separating from its launch rocket on December 2, 2013 Beijing time. The robotic Chang'e 3 mission is on route to a December 14 landing on the Moon.

China’s Chang’e 3 is seen moments after successfully separating from its launch rocket on December 2, 2013 Beijing time. The robotic Chang’e 3 mission is on route to a December 14 landing on the Moon.