A sneak preview of the astronomy photographer of the year. Enjoy.
A sneak preview of the astronomy photographer of the year. Enjoy.
2,500 years ago, Sappho sat down on Lesbos to write his poem.
This is what he saw.
Old Faithful has nothing on his on. Yellowstone may be impressive, but it turns out that Enceladus is covered with geysers. Enceladus, one of Saturn’s many moons, has a strange fractured surface, with large ‘tiger’ stripes running the width of the planet. We’ve long suspected that here stripes are fractures in the icy crust of the moon, but never suspected they would be the source of quite so much activity.
Then, back in 2005, we saw the first geysers on Enceladus. These were vast plumes of water ice stretching far above the surface of the moon, and led to the the new train of thought that these moons could harbor a liquid pool under the surface.
Now, we’ve got enough data to show that the geysers do in fact come directly from these fractures. Turns out these must be powered from deep down inside the moon. 101 geysers were viewed in total, and they each lie along one of the main 4 stripes. Discovery of the geysers has excited astrobiologists, who see water as a crucial ingredient for alien life. Next up has to be a lander to sample the geyser plumes.
Science is great. We think we have a problem solved, all the loose ends tied up, and then up pops a new discovery. Some see this as evidence of science’s fragility. Of course those people don’t understand the scientific method. In science, nothing is sacred, nothing is sacrosanct, everything is open to new data.
The latest episode to remind us of the power of the scientific method involves the Man on the Moon – the dark region known as Procellarum that is easily visible from Earth. As one of many Lunar Maria, we automatically thought it formed the same way as the other Maria – a late giant impact broke through the surface and cause lava to flow up, which then cooled as the dark material we see. But new data obtained by NASA’s GRAIL mission reveals that the Procellarum region likely arose not from a massive asteroid strike, but from a large plume of magma deep within the moon’s interior.
Scientists have created a map of the Procellarum, and found that its border is not circular, but polygonal, composed of sharp angles. These could not have been created by a massive asteroid. Instead, it is more likely that these were produced by giant tension cracks in the moon’s crust as it cooled around an upwelling plume of hot material from the deep interior. As cracks occurred, they formed a “plumbing system” in the moon’s crust through which magma could meander to the surface.
So it turns out that we were right about the lava flow part, but at least for this Maria, we were probably wrong about how the lava came up.
Never mind Fabian Cousteau,
how about under the ocean on one of Saturn’s Moons
Have a close look at this image of Titan. That blue haze around Titan is an atmosphere and that makes Titan a very interesting prospect for searching for life. The atmosphere makes its warm enough to sustain a moon ocean- not water, but methane. Now a new cosmic concept proposes to send a submarine to Titan and search this ocean for signs of primitive life.
NASA has set a new record for data transmission to and from the moon with a 622Mbps transfer carried over laser beams. The space agency used pulsed lasers to transmit data between a ground station in white sands, New Mexico and a spacecraft 239,000 miles away during its recent Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration. The agency was also able to upload error-free data to the LADEE spacecraft — the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer currently orbiting Earth’s moon — at a rate of 20Mbps.
Earlier this year, NASA shot the Mona Lisa into space on a laser beam,
but only managed to achieve a rate of 300 bits per second in the process. The success of the LLCD — a mission outlined in September — is “the first step in our roadmap toward building the next generation of space communication capability,” according to NASA’s Badri Younes. NASA has previously relied on radio frequency communications during its missions, but says that the technology’s limitations are obvious as the demand for more data sent from and to space increases.
Laser communication will eventually allow spacecraft to beam back better images and 3D video from deep space. Although there’s no set date for the technology’s adoption during standard NASA missions, Younes says the agency is “on the right path to introduce this new capability into operational service soon.”
We’ve all seen a full moon looming large shortly after it rises, when it’s still hugging the horizon. Scientists say that large moon is an illusion, a trick your brain is playing. It’s called the moon illusion. Its causes aren’t precisely known, but the video below above offers some explanation.
By the way, a large moon seen low in the sky might also appear red or orange in color. And that color is not an illusion. It’s a true physical effect, caused by the fact that – when the moon is low in the sky – you’re seeing it through a greater thickness of Earth’s atmosphere than when it’s overhead. The atmosphere filters out the bluer wavelengths of white moonlight (which is really reflected sunlight). Meanwhile, it allows the red component of moonlight to travel straight through to your eyes. So a low moon is likely to look red or orange to you.
Or course it looks especially beautiful against our own organ mountains. Go have a look tonight or tomorrow night as it rises over the mountains while the sun sets.
A great chance to see so much tonight. Look west at sunset to see the lazy crescent moon, lying on its back. You simply can’t miss Jupiter nearby because it’s the brightest starlike object in the evening sky – brighter than any star. Now look to the left – see three stars in a line that make up Orions’s belt. Between the moon and Orion you’ll see a set of stars in a V shape. They make up the face and horns of Taurus the bull. The brightest star of that V is Aldebaran- the eye of the bull – a star in the twilight of its life. Now the hardest part. Look right of the moon and Jupiter and you see a small fuzzy blob called Pleiadas, one of the few constellations where the stars are actually close to each other in space. The Pleiades star cluster is composed of hundreds of stars that were born out of the same vast cloud of gas and dust in space. The Pleiades stars are still moving together through the galaxy. If you have binoculars, use them to get a better view of the Pleiades cluster. It won’t be much longer before Pleiades drops out of the evening sky.
A wonderful opportunity to recognize celestial objects far and near.
The most expensive part of space travel is having to bring all our fuel with us. This means we have to launch everything from Earth. Imagine there was no such thing as a gas station, instead we would all have to drive to the oil field in our own fuel tankers and collect all the car fuel required for the rest of our life! Clearly we need gas stations in space, and the Moon might be able to play that role.
To this end, Australian researchers have developed a substance that looks and behaves like soil from the moon’s surface and can be mixed with polymers to create ‘lunar concrete’, a finding that may help advance plans to construct safe landing pads and mines on the moon. Valuable rare earth minerals, hydrogen, oxygen, platinum and the non-radioactive nuclear fusion fuel Helium-3 (He-3) are abundant on the moon. NASA and other space agencies have shown interest in lunar mining but the US is yet to ratify a 1984 treaty that would strictly regulate moon resource extraction.
However, even if moon mining was allowed, lunar conditions are so different to Earthly conditions that new machinery may have to be invented to develop resources found there. Furthermore, the cost of transporting materials made on Earth would be prohibitive, forcing scientists to come up with ways to build certain equipment using material only found on the moon’s surface. So the long journey to the outer reaches of the solar system goes via the moon, but it starts with recreating the moon on Earth.
Did you see the moon last night! Northern spring is a great time to look at the moon as you easily see the phenomena of earthshine. The bright crescent of the moon is reflected sunlight. But the dark part of the moon, the part that should be in shadow, is very bright over the next few nights. This is lit up by light reflecting from Earth back onto the moon in a phenomena known as earthshine. It is also known as the Moon’s ashen glow or as the old Moon in the new Moon’s arms.
We’ve known about this for a long time. Leonardo da Vinci sketched the crescent Moon with earthshine as part of his Codex Leicester, written between 1506 and 1510. Recently it has taken on a new level of importance in the study of global warming. The amount of earthshine is a proxy for the amount of the earth’s reflectance, known as its albedo. And this is directly related to the amount of clouds in the atmosphere. So the scientists at big bear solar observatory have an ongoing project measuring the amount of earthshine each night.
So have a look up tonight and see if you can spot earthshine.