Comet Halley – the most famous of all comets – last visited Earth in 1986. I remember lying on my bed and staring out my bedroom window at it. But even if you were not alive then, you can still see its effects. Every year at this time the earth moves through the trail of dust, ice, and rubble that the comet left behind. These strike Earth’s atmosphere most fully around October 20-22. As it strikes our atmosphere and begins to fall to Earth, the cometary debris vaporizes, leaving bright streaks across a dark night sky known to us as meteors or shooting stars. Thus, every year at this time, as Earth passes through debris left behind by Comet Halley, we on Earth see the Orionid meteor shower.
In 2012, this shower peaks on the morning of Sunday, October 21. It should be pretty good this year as the waxing crescent moon should be set by midnight. Go have a look tonight, the comet itself will not be back until 2061.
The end of days will at least be fun to watch
The andromeda galaxy is currently about 2.5 million light years away from us. Go out tonight to see andromeda and the light hitting your eye left andromeda 2.5 million years ago, before dinosaurs were really getting going here on earth. In another 4 billion years it’ll be much much closer though- it will be right on our doorstop. Although the universe is expanding and so galaxies are rushing away from us, andromeda is speeding towards us. When it arrives, It’ll be an almighty collision.
Of course by this time the sun be entering its final stages, swelling up into a red giant stage where it will be bigger than the current orbit of Venus. Earth, and life as we know, it is doomed, but at least it’ll be fun to watch.
Two scientists who invented methods to observe and measure the behavior of tiny particles, a key step toward developing powerful quantum computers, were awarded the Nobel Prize in physics today.
Working independently, American David J. Wineland of the National Institute of Standards and Technology and Serge Haroche of France developed ways to study individual particles of matter and light without destroying them, a feat that was previously thought to be impossible because quantum particles lose their special properties when anything interacts with them.
The nice part here is that wineland is the 4the Nobel prize from this lab since 1997. In the old style of thinking national labs do applied science, and the academics do the thinking (the pure science). But this shows how outdated this model. Now, everyone does both. Congratulations David, now go and get that quantum computer working.
Venus is a strange planet in many ways.
It is upside down , so if you lived there the sun would rise in the west. It has the thickest, most poisonous atmosphere in the solar system. This leads to a runaway greenhouse effect making it the hottest planet in the solar system. So if lived on Venus the direction of sunrise would be the least of your worries. You would be more concerned about being squashed, burned by acid clouds and roasted. All this of course from a planet associated with love, beauty, and all things pretty.
New results from the Venus express satellite show why I think Venus remains beautiful. Venus may have a surprisingly cold layer that’s chillier than any part of our own planet’s atmosphere. This region may be cool enough for carbon dioxide snow or ice to form. The strangely cold region lies about 78 miles (125 kilometers) above the planet’s surface, and appears to host temperatures around minus 283 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 175 degrees Celsius). It’s sandwiched between warmer layers on both sides. “Since the temperature at some heights dips below the freezing temperature of carbon dioxide, we suspect that carbon dioxide ice might form there,” said Arnaud Mahieux of the Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomy, who is lead author of the paper reporting the results in the Journal of Geophysical Research. If there is ice or snow made of carbon dioxide there, it should be very reflective, creating especially bright spots on Venus.
This is the real beauty of science- just when you think you have something figured out, and you just maybe understand it, along comes a new result and we have to think again.