Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Astronomy’ Category

The Planck spacecraft has delivered quite a payload of preliminary data on the origins of our Universe, and now the European Space Agency (ESA) is letting us catch a glimpse of Planck’s bounty. Named for German physicist and Nobel laureate Max Planck, the ESA launched Planck in May 2009 from the Guiana Space Centre. The spacecraft settled into a stable orbit along Earth’s nightside in a few months later. Earth’s nightside is an ideal spot for space-bound observatories: permanently shielded from the sun, spacecraft have an unobstructed view of the visible cosmos.

At the end of last summer, Planck began its ambitious mission: a survey of the entire sky. But Planck’s mission isn’t a simple pictorial survey (we’ve done that before). Planck was launched to survey the sky for wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum that we can’t see. Microwaves and very far infrared have longer wavelengths than visible light (see figure below), and Planck is capturing those wavelengths in its survey of the visible Universe.

It took the Planck spacecraft a little over six months to complete its first microwave and very far infrared survey of the sky, and made use of instruments designed and built by both the ESA and NASA. The embedded videos below illustrated how Planck completed this survey.

The fruits of Planck’s labor are shown below, in the spacecraft’s first microwave and very far infrared image of the sky:

(more…)

Read Full Post »


A consortium of astronomers from universities around the world have started a project to patrol the night skies for intruders. Their targets aren’t alien spacecraft looking for a dry patch of Earth on which to set down. These scientists are mapping asteroids and other objects in Earth’s vicinity that could one day strike our planet.
(more…)

Read Full Post »

Maybe


A space capsule has landed in rural Australia, and its contents will help answer a lot of questions about asteroids and the formation of the solar system… Maybe.

The capsule in question hails from the Hayabusa spacecraft. Designed by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), Hayabusa wasn’t just built for exploratory purposes. JAXA wanted to use Hayabusa to test new technologies for sending unmanned spacecraft to planetary bodies, explore them from orbit, land on them, collect samples, and return those samples to Earth. The spacecraft’s target was 25143 Itokawa, an asteroid (hereafter referred to as ‘Itokawa’). Discovered in only 1998, Itokawa orbits the sun in a meandering path that crosses Mars’ orbit. In case you were wondering, the asteroid was named for Japanese rocket scientist Hideo Itokawa (1912-1999), the father of the Japanese space program. For such an honor, some critics are regretting that the asteroid named for Dr. Itokawa was Hayabusa’s target, considering the number of technical glitches and failures that plagued the spacecraft’s mission
(more…)

Read Full Post »

In July of 2009, something hit Jupiter, leaving behind a hole the size of the Pacific Ocean. Apparently, no one noticed except for Anthony Wesley, an amateur astronomer from Australia. Wesley runs an observatory out of his home in New South Wales. There, on 19 July 2009, he observed what he thought was a dark storm racing across one of Jupiter’s poles. It didn’t take long for him to realize that there was no dark storm. Instead, something had hit Jupiter, leaving a scar the planet’s thick upper atmosphere.

Wesley contacted NASA, and the space agency turned the Hubble Space Telescope toward our closest gas giant neighbor. They confirmed the scar in the Jovian atmosphere, and word spread that another astronomical body had collided with our solar system’s largest planet, just over 15 years after comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 broke apart and hit Jupiter.
(more…)

Read Full Post »

Tomorrow, one of NASA’s Martian rovers should set a record: the rover Opportunity will become the longest-operating craft on Mars. The previous holder, the Viking 1 Lander, operated on the Martian surface for six years and 116 days, from 20 July 1976 to 13 November 1982. Unless some horrific accident in the next few hours permanently disables Opportunity, this little engine that could will reach six years and 117 days tomorrow, with hopefully many more to come.

Opportunity looks back at where it has been.
(more…)

Read Full Post »

Oceans from Above

Two independent reports published in this week’s issue of the journal Nature report the existence of ice in a rather unexpected place: an asteroid. The asteroid in question is 24 Themis, a rather large resident of the Asteroid Belt. This discovery may leave you wondering, “Who cares?” Well, the implications of this finding have a lot to do with us, and one of the substances that was absolutely required for life to evolve and thrive on this planet: water.

Let’s start answering the “Who cares?” question by defining some fancy terms. An asteroid is a small, rocky or metallic body that orbits the sun. They’re smaller than planets and dwarf planets, but larger than the largest (boulder-sized) meteoroids. 24 Themis was discovered in 1853 and has a diameter of about 123 miles. As for the Asteroid Belt itself, this region lies between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. As the name suggests, it is a “belt” of asteroids and smaller meteoroids, all orbiting the sun. Asteroid belt residents range in size from collections of space dust to the dwarf planet Ceres.

Two teams independently looked at 24 Themis in the Asteroid Belt using NASA’s Infrared Telescope Facility atop the Mauna Kea volcano in Hawaii. The teams looked at how sunlight is reflected off of 24 Themis’ surface. Different wavelengths of light can be absorbed, reflected, or scattered based on the chemical properties of substances that the light hits. In the case of 24 Themis, both teams found that light hitting the asteroid’s surface was scattered in a pattern consistent with the presence of a very familiar chemical: water. In this case, both teams conclude that there is a thin layer of frost on the surface of 24 Themis.
(more…)

Read Full Post »

South to the Future

Today, the European Southern Observatory (ESO) announced plans to build the world’s largest telescope in northern Chile. The ESO is an intergovernmental partnership of fourteen European nations1 to build and maintain Earth-based celestial observatories. Initially founded in 1962 by just five countries, the organization currently maintains three widely successful observatories below the equator — all in Chile’s Atacama Desert.

(more…)

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »