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Tuesday, May 27 2008 @ 07:39 PM
Every now and then I experience one of those "man, it's cool to be alive right now" moments. I had one the first time I ever sent and received an email. I had another one when Hubble started sending back photos like this one of star-forming pillars in the Eagle Nebula. These moments are actually pretty frequent for me these days. This photo gets added to the list...
This is a photo of the Mars Phoenix lander descending to the Martian surface beneath its parachute. The photo was taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter from orbit.
George Dvorsky has wisely compiled a smattering of reactions from around the blogosphere:
"Man, we've got Mars so heavily instrumented that a surveyor in Martian orbit caught the polar lander *on its way in*." -- Bruce Sterling
"See that thing in this image that looks like a Martian vehicle descending by parachute to the surface of Mars? That's the Phoenix lander, captured in mid-drop, still glowing from entry into the atmosphere, by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. How badass awesome is it to be a human? Super badass awesome." -- Cory Doctorow
"That is exactly what you think it is: Phoenix descending to the Martian surface underneath its parachute. This incredible shot was taken by the HiRISE camera on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. You can easily see the ‘chute, the lander (still in its shell) and even the tether lines!
Think on this, and think on it carefully: you are seeing a manmade object falling gracefully and with intent to the surface of an alien world, as seen by another manmade object already circling that world, both of them acting robotically, and both of them hundreds of million of kilometers away.
Never, ever forget: we did this. This is what we can do." -- Phil Plait
"OMG!! Parachute!!! Photo!!!!!" -- Emily Lakdawalla
Tuesday, December 04 2007 @ 12:17 PM
I guess this is old news for those that follow astronomical happenings closely, but I just heard about how Comet Holmes (blogged about here) now has a coma that is larger in diameter THAN THE SUN. WTF? This comet is weird. First it suddenly brightens by more than a million times, now it's bigger than the Sun. This comet is bigger than the Sun. The mother-effing Sun.
The sun remains by far the most massive object in the solar system, with an extended influence of particles that reaches all the planets. But the comparatively tiny Comet Holmes has released so much gas and dust that its extended atmosphere, or coma, is larger than the diameter of the sun. The comparison is clear in a new image.
"It continues to expand and is now the largest single object in the solar system," according to astronomers at the University of Hawaii.
Saturday, November 10 2007 @ 05:09 PM
Has anyone checked out Comet Holmes yet? It's a clear, naked eye object in the northeast sky once it gets dark. I heard a brief description on the radio the other day about where to look and it only took me about 60 seconds to find it. Go outside after dark this week and look in the northeast sky. You'll see a bright star just above the horizon. That's Capella. Look up and to the right a bit and you'll see a triangle of stars. That's the constellation Perseus. The brightest star in Perseus is Mirfak. Holmes is very close to Mirfak. You might think it's another star, but you'll know it's the comet because it won't be a point of light, but will look smudgy. Here's a map of the general region courtesy of Starry Night Online...
Here's another great tool for finding the comet.
"Where's the tail," you may well ask, upon locating the comet. Well it turns out that Holmes is almost opposite the Sun in the sky and comet tails always point away from the Sun, so Holmes' tail is pointing away from the Earth as well. We're looking down the barrel of it, as it were (although it's not aimed at the Earth as it moves -- the tail direction is misleading and has nothing to do with the comet's direction of motion). Check out this gorgeous long-exposure photo of the comet taken on November 4th in Budapest...
Now get outside and look up! Bring a pair of binoculars fr a really grand view.
Tuesday, October 30 2007 @ 04:41 PM
Black holes are really simple things. There just aren't that many properties that a black hole can have compared to most other things in the universe. If you attempt to measure the properties of, say, me, you would list my mass (weight), height, skin color, eye color, hair color, temperature, etc. You might want to include what proportions of what elements make me up -- so much carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and so on, and perhaps you'd add things like my smug demeanor and my penchant for romantic comedies. If you try to measure the properties of a black hole, however, your list will be pretty short. Black holes have mass, spin, angular momentum and temperature (of a sort), but you can say very little else about them. There are no constituent elements to a black hole. There is no "there" there.
But because black holes are so weird from the perspective of our work-a-day lives (invoking all sorts of multi-dimensional math and relativistic time and space dilations), and because people like Neil deGrasse Tyson like to wax on about "spaghettification" and space travelers being molecularly shredded by black holes, there is a certain danger-ridden sexiness to the things. So it's no surprise that when astronomers find a particularly big black hole, they get pretty excited.
There are three main types of black holes: stellar back holes, which form when big stars explode and then collapse at the end of their lives, intermediate-mass black holes, which are many hundreds of solar masses in size and are surprisingly hard to spot and whose origins are something of a mystery, and supermassive black holes, which are millions or even billions of times more massive than a typical star. The supermassives live at the centers of most galaxies and have been around since very close to the beginning of the universe.
All of which is to say, astronomers have announced that they have discovered the largest stellar-mass black hole ever (the biggest black hole of the smallest type of black hole -- theories about microscopic primordial black holes notwithstanding). This bruiser is between 24 and 33 times the mass of our sun and resides in a nearby dwarf galaxy called IC 10 (about 2 million LY away).
The Bad Astronomer writes...
...astronomers were surprised to find the black hole was at least 24 solar masses. As far as we know, black holes in our own Galaxy are formed with much lower mass than that, and it doesn’t look like this one could have eaten enough of the other star to get this big. It really looks like it was this massive to start with.
This means that something odd is going on. A likely explanation is that the star that formed the black hole originally had fewer heavy elements (heavier than helium, that is, like carbon and manganese) than usual, so it would have had a weak solar wind. During its life, a star can lose a lot of mass through its solar wind. If this star didn’t have a strong wind, then it could have retained a lot of its original mass, forming a more massive black hole.
Wednesday, August 22 2007 @ 10:30 AM
Google has unveiled their latest attempt to solidify their status as our benevolent information overlords. They are including detailed night sky views with their free Google Earth software. Like the satellite images of the Earth, the sky shots will all be from actual sky survey photographs and will be zommable to increase the level of detail. Tres cool. NYTimes...
“You will be able to browse into the sky like never before,” said Carol Christian, an astronomer with the Space Telescope Science Institute, a nonprofit academic consortium that supports the Hubble Space Telescope.
While other programs allow users to explore the skies, they typically combine a mix of representations of stars and galaxies that are overlaid with photographs, Ms. Christian said. “These are really the images of the sky. Everything is real.”
The Sky imagery was stitched together from more than one million photographs from scientific and academic sources, including the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, the Palomar Observatory at the California Institute of Technology and the NASA-financed Hubble.
Google said that it developed the project strictly because some of its engineers were interested in it, and that it had no plans to make money from it for now.
“It’s merely about getting new kinds of information out there for the public,” said Chikai Ohazama, a Google Earth project manager.
via Boing Boing
Sunday, August 12 2007 @ 08:50 PM
Thursday, August 09 2007 @ 06:36 PM
Look up and just below the big dipper tonight a little before 10:00 pm and look for a bright, moving object streaking across the sky. According to an email I just got from the VT Astronomical Society's mailing list, that's the International Space Station. The shuttle will also cross along a similar path just before the ISS. Not sure if this is true for non-Vermont latitudes.
Monday, May 07 2007 @ 04:42 PM
NASA Science News:
"This was a truly monstrous explosion, a hundred times more energetic than a typical supernova," said Nathan Smith of the University of California at Berkeley, who led a team of astronomers from California and the University of Texas in Austin. "That means the star that exploded might have been as massive as a star can get, about 150 times that of our sun. We've never seen that before."
Wednesday, April 25 2007 @ 02:40 PM
I'm on the road tomorrow, heading down to Manchester, so no linkdump for you! Instead, please to enjoy this mini dump of astronomy-related items...
...the online journal of Vermont filmmaker, Bill Simmon. Bill uses Candleblog as a repository of pop culture ephemera, amusing anecdotes and anything else he thinks is web-worthy.
fun words to say in a vermont accent