News Briefs: Astronomy, Astophysics & Space Exploration

A well known polymath whose published works range far and wide, including (but not limited to) Archaeology, Paleontology, Astronomy, Space Propulsion systems, and Science Fiction.

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News Briefs: Astronomy, Astophysics & Space Exploration

Postby Darb » Tue Jun 08, 2004 5:06 pm

Check out this photo of the planet Venus crossing the sun's path today ...

Image

Thousands Watch Venus Pass Across Sun
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published: June 8, 2004
Filed at 4:58 p.m. ET

BOLOGNA, Italy (AP) -- In this old center of stargazing, as in much of the world, thousands watched a rare heavenly show Tuesday: the black dot of Venus inching across the blazing face of the sun.

``Ecco!'' gasped one matronly woman as the big screen at Piazza VIII Agosto showed a tiny perfect circle edge into view. ``There it is!''

When scientists first worked out the Earth's distance from the sun, the Venus eclipse was crucial. ``This sight is by far the noblest astronomy offers,'' Edmond Halley, of comet fame, declared in 1691.

Now mostly a curiosity, the celestial rarity still had excited crowds lining up to peer into telescopes from Australia to the American Midwest.

``It's a brilliant opportunity to know the mechanics of our solar system,'' said 14-year-old Shereeza Feilden at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, England.

``Spectacles such as this reinforce my belief that there is a Creator, and we are just tiny specks within this universe,'' Zulkarnain Hassan, 26, said in Malaysia, a mostly Muslim nation.

Reactions were similar from people who shared a faith-straddling religious experience to those who marveled at a universal phenomenon.

``Imagine,'' said Bologna astronomer Corrado Bartolini. ``We can't even tell when a car will reach Zamboni Gate in traffic, but we know to a fraction of a second when Venus meets the sun every 122 years.''

Venus makes two passes across the sun, eight years apart, every 122 years; the next one will be in 2012. As the sun is 30 times bigger, the planet is barely visible through special dark glasses.

Nicolo Reale, an art student in wild dreadlocks, forgave his roommate for dragging him out of bed to see Venus at the piazza. ``Stupendous,'' he said. ``It makes me think of man and woman and love.''

In Oslo, Norwegian astronomer Knut Joergen Roed Oedegaard proposed to Anne Mette Sannes on a viewing platform, and 2,000 people gathered there thundered applause when she said yes.

American experts worked at opposite ends of Greece -- on the island of Crete and at Thessaloniki -- to study the ``black drop effect,'' which shapes Venus into a teardrop as it approaches and leaves the sun.

``It's like a fine French wine for the people who know about it and enjoy it,'' said Jay Pasachoff of Williams College in Massachusetts, who watched from Thessaloniki's Aristotle University.

The eclipse seemed to have a particular significance in northern Italy, where astronomy took shape in the Middle Ages.

``Think of what this meant to people who spent their lives trying to solve these ancient mysteries,'' said Flavio Fusi Pecci, director of the observatory at the 900-year-old University of Bologna.

Dante Alighieri studied the stars here in 1287, and Nicolaus Copernicus, a Pole who came to Bologna in 1497, refuted Ptolemy's ancient belief that the sun did not move.

Then Galileo Galilei, in nearby Florence, devised a telescope to reduce the guesswork.

The German Johannes Kepler calculated Venus' path, although he died a year before the 1631 transit.

In cities from Sydney to New York, observatories set up telescopes to give the public a closer look.

Sixteen 4-year-olds from Elisabetta Simonella's Bologna kindergarten class appeared puzzled at all the fuss over a black speck on a big orange circle.

But Teodoro Bernardino, a Spanish scientist, knew what he was seeing.

These days, he said, scientists have taken astronomy into deep space, and monumental puzzles are solved out of sight. ``But it is important to build the public's interest, to share the fascination.''

The last Venus transits visible in Europe, in 1761 and 1769, brought what Fusi Pecci calls the first worldwide scientific collaboration in history.

``In all, 1,000 people from 100 observatories worked to solve this mystery -- how far the sun is from the Earth,'' he said. ``And this in spite of a seven-year war going on between France and England.''

Knowing the distance from Earth to the sun was vital to calculating size within the solar system.

Copernicus surmised the distance at less than 6 million miles. Kepler upped the figure to nearly 15 million. In fact, space exploration has found, 92,955,859 miles is closer to it.

In the United States where only people in the eastern half of the country could catch a glimpse at sunrise, about 300 New Yorkers showed up to look through a bank of telescopes in Central Park.

About 500 people lined up before sunrise to at the rooftop telescopes at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass.

``The marvel, the wonder of it,'' said Clydia Davenport of Boston, who brought her 7-year-old daughter, Sophie. ``It's interesting also that it's Venus. A beautiful woman is doing this, and we're all out here to watch, like voyeurs.''

Some cities celebrated by playing American composer John Philip Sousa's ``Transit of Venus March,'' composed after the 1882 transit.

However, not everyone caught Venus fever.

``The what?'' said Bologna delicatessen owner Romano Bonaga when asked about the event. ``I'm afraid now we think more about materialistic things. And food.''

But at a meeting of the Bologna Amateur Astronomers Association, computer programmer Andrea Berselli had a different view.

``I'm interested because this is such a rare phenomenon that says so much about who we are,'' he said. ``My parents never got to see it. My kids won't get to see it. That has to mean something.''
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Postby jweb » Tue Jun 08, 2004 6:33 pm

Man, the universe must hate the West coast. Not only do we have to watch "Live" TV with a 3+ hour delay (even when it is filmed in LA), we also don't even get to see the best astronomical events live. :evil:
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Postby Darb » Thu Jun 10, 2004 12:03 pm

Update from Mars

Opportunity's finally reached the Endurance Crater, and is ready to start a 1-way descent.

Image

Those who are interested can find more information, and images, at the main JPL site ...

http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov/home/
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Postby Darb » Tue Jun 22, 2004 3:00 pm

Manned Private Craft Reaches Space in a Milestone for Flight

Full article: http://www.nytimes.com/2004/06/22/science/space/22PLAN.html

Image

The first civilian test pilot has reached 60 miles, the very border of out space, in a privately built craft.

There are still some dicey control issues to be settled before they go for the Ansari X Prize, but it's still a landmark accomplishment.
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Postby Echus Cthulhu Mythos » Wed Jun 23, 2004 12:15 am

Very very good news!
:banana: :banana: :banana: :banana:


Another article (I have to register to view the NY Times)
http://www.space.com/missionlaunches/SS1_press_040621.html
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Postby Darb » Mon Jun 28, 2004 12:53 pm

The Cassini space probe enters the orbit of Saturn this week.

After a number of orbits and lots of photos, it's scheduled to deploy a robotic lander that will attempt to land on Titan. :thumb:

I'll post linkage as free time permits.
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Postby Darb » Tue Jun 29, 2004 1:24 pm

Latest updates on the mars rovers ...

http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/missions/mer/daily.cfm

Opportunity is working it's way down into the Endurance crater, and is currently on a 23 degree tilt ... the JPL boys are sweating profusely as they try to use the rock abraision tool without causing the rover to tip over and tumble down the crater.

To borrow one of Charlie's famous lines ... "That would be bad." :lol:

Image
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Postby Darb » Tue Jun 29, 2004 1:29 pm

Latest news on Cassini's entry into Saturn orbit:

http://www-b.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.cfm?release=2004-166

NASA TV/webcast coverage of Cassini's arrival at Saturn begins June 30, 6:30 pm Pacific time, approx 1 hr & 36 mins before it's critical 96 minute orbital entry burn.

Here's a picture of cassini's appriach timetable:

http://www.nasa.gov/images/content/61486main_soi_earth1.jpg
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Postby Aunflin » Wed Jun 30, 2004 4:21 pm

Read this in Science Daily the other day:

Scientists Find That Saturn's Rotation Is A Puzzle

On approach to Saturn, data obtained by the Cassini spacecraft are already posing a puzzling question: How long is the day on Saturn?

Cassini took readings of the day-length indicator regarded as most reliable, the rhythm of natural radio signals from the planet. The results give 10 hours, 45 minutes, 45 seconds (plus or minus 36 seconds) as the length of time it takes Saturn to complete each rotation. Here's the puzzle: That is about 6 minutes, or one percent, longer than the radio rotational period measured by the Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 spacecraft, which flew by Saturn in 1980 and 1981.

Cassini scientists are not questioning Voyager's careful measurements. And they definitely do not think the whole planet of Saturn is actually rotating that much slower than it did two decades ago. Instead, they are looking for an explanation based on some variability in how the rotation deep inside Saturn drives the radio pulse.

The radio sounds of Saturn's rotation, which are also the first sounds from Saturn studied by Cassini, are like a heartbeat and can be heard by visiting http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/videos/cassini/0604/ and http://www-pw.physics.uiowa.edu/space-audio

"The rotational modulation of radio emissions from distant astronomical objects has long been used to provide very accurate measurements of their rotation period," said Dr. Don Gurnett, principal investigator for the Cassini Radio and Plasma Wave Science instrument, University of Iowa, Iowa City. "The technique is particularly useful for the giant gas planets, such as Jupiter and Saturn, which have no surfaces and are covered by clouds that make direct visual measurements impossible."

The first hint of something strange about that type of measurement at Saturn was in 1997, when a researcher from Observatoire de Paris reported that Saturn's radio rotation period differed substantially from Voyager.

Dr. Michael D. Desch, Cassini Radio Plasma Wave Science team member, and scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., has analyzed Saturn radio data collected by Cassini from April 29, 2003, to June 10, 2004. "We all agree that the radio rotation period of Saturn is longer today than it was in during the Voyager flyby in 1980," he said.

Gurnett said, "Although Saturn's radio rotation period has clearly shifted substantially since the Voyager measurements, I don’t think any of us could conceive of any process that would cause the rotation of the entire planet to actually slow down. So it appears that there is some kind of slippage between the deep interior of the planet and the magnetic field, which controls the charged particles responsible for the radio emission." He suggests the solution may be tied to the fact that Saturn's rotational axis is nearly identical to its magnetic axis. Jupiter, with a more substantial difference between its magnetic axis and its rotational axis, shows no comparable irregularities in its radio rotation period.

"This finding is very significant. It demonstrates that the idea of a rigidly rotating magnetic field is wrong," said Dr. Alex Dessler, a senior research scientist at the University of Arizona, Tucson. In that way, the magnetic fields of gas giant planets may resemble that of the Sun. The Sun’s magnetic field does not rotate uniformly. Instead, its rotation period varies with latitude. "Saturn's magnetic field has more in common with the Sun than the Earth. The measurement can be interpreted as showing that the part of Saturn’s magnetic field that controls the radio emissions has moved to a higher latitude during the last two decades," said Dressler.

"I think we will be able to unravel the puzzle, but it's going to take some time," said Gurnett. “With Cassini in orbit around Saturn for four years or more, we will be in an excellent position to monitor long-term variations in the radio period, as well as investigate the rotational period using other techniques."

Cassini, carrying 12 scientific instruments, is just two days from its planetary rendezvous with Saturn. On June 30 it will become the first spacecraft to orbit Saturn, when it begins a four-year study of the planet, its rings and its 31 known moons. The spacecraft recently flew past Saturn’s cratered moon Phoebe, where it captured spectacular images as well as data on its mass and composition.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Cassini-Huygens mission for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington, D.C. JPL designed, developed and assembled the Cassini orbiter.

For the latest images and more information about the Cassini-Huygens mission, visit http://www.nasa.gov/cassini
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Postby Darb » Thu Jul 01, 2004 6:49 am

Cassini completed it's 96 minute long orbital entry burn, and is now in a long eliptical orbit of Saturn, aka "The Lord of the Rings". The team was so genuinely worried about losing the craft that they actually re-oriented the main antenna dish forward, so that it'd act like a dust shield. Anyway, cassini came through unscathed and is now talking happily with Earth again. A brilliant and thrilling accomplishment. :worship:

An additional series of burns will be made in the coming days/weeks to tighten the orbit further.

Ok, time for brief rant, for which I humbly apologize in advance:

[rant]

I stayed up past midnight last night, to see if any of the major news networks would carry coverage - predictably, and sadly, I didn't find any that did. :hot2: :cry: :hot2:

I find it very frustrating that so few people, and news networks, seem to take even a passing interest in such incredible events. It was back during the Apollo missions to the moon, and Jacques Cousteau's voyages to the bottom of the sea, that I first developed my interest in the sciences, and my career has been pointed in that general direction ever since ... people dont seem to care or find rapture in such things anymore. Vapid MTV music videos and computer games seem to rule the entertainment roost with kids these days. Very sad. :wall:

[/rant]

ANYWAY .... the first pictures, expected to the the best ever taken (thus far) are scheduled to be released sometime later today. :thumb:

For the latest news, straight from JPL:

http://www-b.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.cfm
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Postby Darb » Thu Jul 01, 2004 5:34 pm

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Postby Echus Cthulhu Mythos » Fri Jul 02, 2004 2:31 am

Brad_H wrote:
[rant]

I stayed up past midnight last night, to see if any of the major news networks would carry coverage - predictably, and sadly, I didn't find any that did. :hot2: :cry: :hot2:

I find it very frustrating that so few people, and news networks, seem to take even a passing interest in such incredible events. It was back during the Apollo missions to the moon, and Jacques Cousteau's voyages to the bottom of the sea, that I first developed my interest in the sciences, and my career has been pointed in that general direction ever since ... people dont seem to care or find rapture in such things anymore. Vapid MTV music videos and computer games seem to rule the entertainment roost with kids these days. Very sad. :wall:

[/rant]



Amen.

I laugh whenever the news has any science related stories as they usually way old hat and not very interesting at all. It is ironic that people, particularly youth have little interest. Yet they all have a cell phone, or a wide screen TV or whatever but they have no care about how it all works. I think that is a real shame. In 50 years I reckon China will have outstripped the US and Europe as they have countless hordes of people who are interested, they have to be in order to get any income. I think that us Western countries really need to push education really hard, f&*# nuclear weapon projects and cut military spending and put that into education and NASA.

Argh, I really have an enormous dislike for short-sightedness.

Well, that was my rant, not very coherent but oh well. :mrgreen:
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Postby Darb » Wed Jul 07, 2004 1:54 pm

Check out the animated footage of Saturn's rings !

http://www.nasa.gov/images/content/61832main_PIA06083.gif
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Postby Aunflin » Wed Jul 07, 2004 1:59 pm

Cool! :thumb:
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Postby Darb » Wed Jul 07, 2004 2:13 pm

Here's another interesting link for people ... the new Spitzer Space Telescope.

http://www.spitzer.caltech.edu/index.shtml
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Postby jweb » Wed Jul 07, 2004 2:38 pm

Wouldn't it be cool if NGC 7331 turned out to actually be a reflection of the Milky Way reflected back to us by a black hole? 8)
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Postby Aunflin » Wed Jul 07, 2004 4:27 pm

Yep. :mrgreen: However, I wonder what would exist on the other side of the black hole initiated reflection? :? More endless tracts of Universe...or merely a reflection of the other side of the Milky Way? Or....
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Postby jweb » Wed Jul 07, 2004 4:50 pm

Aunflin wrote:Yep. :mrgreen: However, I wonder what would exist on the other side of the black hole initiated reflection?

More of our universe. 8)

To clarify, I meant if the light from our galaxy was bent around a black hole, without being sucked in, and ended up back where it started. I didn't mean that it went through the black hole. That is a whole different level of "what if". :mrgreen:
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Postby Aunflin » Wed Jul 07, 2004 5:00 pm

Hehe...I knew what you were talking about...However, I have always wondered what would lie on the other side of a black hole. Would it lead to other dimensions of reality? Or total "nothingness" (or "too-much-ness" compacted into too little space) ? And what if someone figured out how to "split" a black hole in much the same as one would split an atom? What would happen then? And....
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Postby jweb » Wed Jul 07, 2004 7:50 pm

Aunflin wrote:And what if someone figured out how to "split" a black hole in much the same as one would split an atom? What would happen then?

The Elegant Universe sort of touches upon this topic of what happens to space-time when black holes occur.
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Postby KiltanneN » Wed Jul 07, 2004 8:51 pm

I read a book once - Think it may have been the Forever War... that postulated that the way to FTL was to use Black Holes in some fashion.

Essentially - if you dove straight uin to a black hole while being shielded in some fasion - you would pop out the other side of the next black hole directly in line with where you went in. Sort of acting as a wormhole I guess...

Kind of a cool idea. Of course unlikely to be right - and bloody hard to test...

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Postby Darb » Thu Jul 08, 2004 10:17 am

There has, occasionally, been some postulation about where, if anywhere, blackholes "go".

Some say they have a distant exit point known as a "white hole". Others speculate that they're analagous to the entrance into a multi-dimensional warpage structure similar to a kleine (sp) bottle ... not exactly a wormhole per se, but vaguely similar, and difficult to explain with any degree of brevity ... one rather inadequate analogy would be to a multi-dimensional sphere of swiss cheese slowly turning itself inside out from many different points. Who knows ... perhaps that metaphor might help explain the mystery of why the "universal constant" of cosmic expansion is accelerating - perhaps it's because our universe's rate of progress on turning itself inside out is accelerating in parallel with the growth of black holes.

- Oww ... now my head hurts :crazy:
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Postby Darb » Thu Jul 08, 2004 11:02 am

The latest update on "Opportunity" rover (MARS):

Latest Opportunity Update
Opportunity Tests its Mettle on Slopes of 'Endurance Crater'
Opportunity Status for sol 154-158
Release Date: 7/7/04

Sol 154 consisted of Opportunity completing activities on the target "Kettlestone," including a long Moessbauer integration, some microscopic images and placement of the arm for a little early morning alpha particle X-ray spectrometer integration to occur on the morning of Sol 155. The rover then went to sleep.

Sol 155 began with an early morning Mars Odyssey UHF relay of about 60 megabits of data, followed by a completion of the alpha particle X-ray spectrometer integration on Kettlestone. The rover then performed a calibration activity with the arm, consisiting of moving the arm into about 20 different poses and imaging each pose with the front hazard-avoidance cameras. From the stereo images and the reported position of the arm, the rover team will be able to update models and better target the instruments onto surface features in the future. Some miniature thermal emission spectrometer activity was conducted midday, and then the rover drove backwards about 1 meter (3.3 feet). The drive backwards served two purposes: first, it positioned the rover to image the most recent rock abrasion tool holes with the panoramic camera and miniature thermal emission spectrometer; secondly, it gave the team an opportunity to evaluate driving back up over the "curb" that was considered so difficult before traversing on sol 150. The drive back up over the curb went very well. Slip was estimated at around 11 percent, admirable for such a traverse.

On sol 156, due to an incorrect time conversion, the rover team failed to get the intended command load to the spacecraft at the right time. As a result, the spacecraft executed a backup set of minimal activities and returned about 80 megabits of data through Odyssey in the afternoon.

On sol 157 the rover acquired some images of the rock abrasion tool holes from previous sols. Then it drove down the hill to approach the next target. It drove beautifully and achieved its goal location. However, due to the large slopes (final rover tilt was 28.6 degrees), Opportunity ended the drive with the right rear wheel apparently slightly above the terrain (not touching anything). Even in this state the rover appears to be stable, but the team will likely take action on the next sol to get the suspension squared up (six wheels touching) before proceeding with preparations to grind with the rock abrasion tool again. On the night of sol 157 to 158 the rover gave up deep sleep in order to preserve an exceptional morning Odyssey pass.

The very early morning of sol 158, the rover woke up to chat with the Odyssey spacecraft and returned over 100 megabits of data! The rover then started the day's activities early with an attempt to image clouds around 8:30 in the morning. It then went back to sleep until about 10:30. After the morning uplink, it acquired some microscopic images of the new target area, then stowed its arm to allow a small mobility maneuver to get all six wheels squarely planted on the ground. This seemed to go as planned and reduced the total tilt of the vehicle to only 26.4 degrees, but did not appreciably change its position. This left the rover, as desired, in position to perform science investigations on the next targets of interest.



Wow - almost a 29 degree tilt ! :shock:

I've ice climbed, with pick and crampons, on tilts as high as 45 degrees, and let me assure you that even 30 degrees, which may not sound like much, is pretty darn steep ... and I didn't have Opportunity's long lag between commands preceeding each maneuver and balance adjustment I made.

That's quite a feat for a remotely controlled robot, descending into an alien crater of a different planet, with such a long communication lag. Very impressive.
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Postby Darb » Thu Jul 08, 2004 6:30 pm

Here's an interesting article on "Brown Dwarf Stars", for those who might be interested in such things.

http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/stars_galaxies/features/browndwarf.cfm

It sheds some interesting light on the final scene of the movie 2010. :)
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Postby Darb » Tue Jul 13, 2004 2:23 pm

More pictures of Saturn are finally up ... including views of the south polar region, and some nifty pics of the rings in the ultraviolet spectrum. :thumb:

http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/cassini/main/index.html
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