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Astrobiology in peril April 30, 2006

Posted by dr. gonzo in Space.
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May the fountains of Enceladus erupt forth with their icy, geysery goodness. As those of you who pay attention to space-related news know the Saturnian moon Enceladus is the newest darling to astrobiologists. (more…)

Lyrids peak tonight April 21, 2006

Posted by dr. gonzo in Space.
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Lyrid meteor shower peaks tonight. Just how many meteors can be seen is up in the air but most of the time the Lyrid shower is a trickle (10 to 15 per hour).

However, like I said it's up in the air (literally-haha), In 1982 the shower peaked at an amazing 100+ meteors per hour. Wow.

If you want to see the Lyrids best viewing is in the pre-dawn hours away from city lights. The moon won't be out yet so viewing should be optimal. They will appear to radiate from the constellation Lyra, The Harp.

Lyra is easy to find. Just look for the brightest star in the sky in the predawn hours toward the north-northeast, it's Vega. The quadrilateral pattern around Vega, also easy to spot is Lyra.

You won't need to find Lyra to see the meteors though but just in case you wanted to find it there it is, an easy spot.

If you are patient and have a small telescope this year's shower could be especially interesting. The moon itself will be passing through the cometary debris cloud that creates the shower on Earth. If you have your scope pointed at the moon after it rises you just might get to witness a special treat. As the moon passes through the cloud it raises the possiblity that, through a telescope, you will be able to see some of the debris impact the moon creating bright flashes on its surface as they explode. Neat.

Jason-2 April 21, 2006

Posted by dr. gonzo in Science, Space.
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Everybody else had been writing about Venus and the ESA's sucessful orbital insertion of its Venus Express orbiter. Anyone who wasn't is writing about LCRSS, NASA's plan to slam an impactor into a lunar crater on the moons southern polar region to analyze the ejecta for water.

So this post is just going to avoid those topics, space news is kind of slow right now anyway but you can read about them elsewhere in great depth, just try a few of the blogs in the Space Blogroll or even the ESA link in the Space Links section on the sidebar.

Instead I am going to write about Jason. Macabre deaths and murderous rampages, not really. That's not the Jason I want to talk about. (more…)

Bunk science, bunk news April 17, 2006

Posted by dr. gonzo in Space.
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Marching in from the land of idiots is a never ending procession of bunk science, quacks, and downright anti-science musings from fools.

Add to this collection the news services offered up via Google and Yahoo! Both offer quick links to countless, legitimate news stories. But in addition they are blatant purveyors of misinformation and out and out falsehoods. (more…)

Life in our solar system April 17, 2006

Posted by dr. gonzo in Space.
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This most excellent article, 8 worlds where life might exist, by Seth Shostak, Senior Astronomer at the SETI Institute, sums up the worlds in our system that may potentially harbor some form of extraterrestrial life. (more…)

Staring at the sky April 15, 2006

Posted by dr. gonzo in Space.
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Spent an hour or two last night observing Jupiter and the moon through a small reflector telescope. Very cool. Very easy to find. Jupiter's proximity to the moon made it easy to find, even in a crappy manual telescope.

Good times, always. Of course, the planet's disk made a rapid pass through the field of view, which made it difficult to keep up with because I don't have a schnazzy scope. But it is still cool. Cloud bands and variations in color were obvious and the moon, always stunning, gave up some breathtaking views near the edge of its disk.

Might be out there again with a more powerful lens trained on the Jovian system, looking for cool sights.

Asteroid Watch I April 12, 2006

Posted by dr. gonzo in Asteroids, Space.
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Currently watching JPL NEO site for information on 2004 VD17, Apophis, 2000 SG344. The following was taken directly from http://neo.jpl.nasa.gov/risk/#legend. (more…)

Kepler April 10, 2006

Posted by dr. gonzo in Space.
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Artists conception of Kepler. (Courtesy NASA).Babbling on and on about Kepler. Kepler will use the transit method to detect extrasolar planets, both terrestrial and gas giants.

Here’s a quick blurb from NASA on the transit method of planet detection:

A transit occurs each time a planet crosses the line-of-sight between the planet's parent star that it is orbiting and the observer. When this happens, the planet blocks some of the light from its star, resulting in a periodic dimming. This periodic signature is used to detect the planet and to determine its size and its orbit.


Near Earth asteroid monitoring April 7, 2006

Posted by dr. gonzo in Asteroids, Space.
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2004 VD17

This Near Earth Asteroid stands at a 1 in 1,200 chance of impact on May 4, 2102. It has slowly inched up and down since it moved up to Torino Scale 2 at the end of Februrary. (more…)

The NASA hack job on the extrasolar planet search April 4, 2006

Posted by dr. gonzo in Politics, Space.
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Are we alone? One of the grandest and most impactful questions humankind can pose. The answer, whether positive or negative, will have profound implications for humanity.

Before the early 1990s the only known planetary system in the entire universe was that of Sol, our Sun, Earth’s system.

On October 6, 1995 all that changed. The discovery of a Jupiter-mass planet orbiting the star 51 Peg ushered in a new era of astronomy. Since that day 162 other planets have been confirmed orbiting 138 different stars.

Some of the discoveries have turned planet-formation theorizing upside down. So far, we have only been able to detect mostly large gas giants, some larger than Jupiter, some so close to their star that they orbit 8 times closer than Mercury does to our own Sun.

Recently, a new class of extrasolar planets was discovered. The Super Earth. These planets are thought to exist at the upper limit of mass and size for terrestrial planets.

What’s next? (more…)

Express line to Venus April 3, 2006

Posted by dr. gonzo in Space.
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April 11 is fast approaching and the ESA is making numerous preparations for the Venus Express firing its main engine in space. (Courtesy ESA).orbital insertion of its Venus Express spacecraft. Way cool if you ask me.

The five month 400 million km journey is near an end. The spacecraft will study Venus in detail, from orbit.

From the ESA, the preparations will:

comprise a series of telecommands, engine burns and manoeuvres designed to slow the spacecraft down from a velocity of 29,000 km per hour relative to Venus, just before the first burn, to an entry velocity some 15% slower, allowing the spacecraft to be captured into orbit around the planet.

Anyway I think I am going to try Live Blogging the insertion, as the ESA is providing TV coverage and updates through its website. This orbital insertion stuff is tricky and there is, of course, no guarantee that it will be successful, heres hoping it is.

And now, the fake news March 29, 2006

Posted by dr. gonzo in Miscellaneous, Space.

“A total eclipse of the sun . . . ”

COROT and DAWN March 28, 2006

Posted by dr. gonzo in Space.
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Just a couple space notes to post.

First I must say how annoying misinformation is. War. Space. Whatever. Why must people continually be misinformed by not only the media, but those around us. Okay, on with the post.

On March 21 Astronomy Magazine, at astronomy.com, reported that the joint European Space Agency and Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales (CNES-this is the French national space agency) COROT mission was set for a June 2006 launch. The COROT spacecraft will represent the forefront of the search for extrasolar planets. (more…)

VD17, to impact or not to impact March 23, 2006

Posted by dr. gonzo in Asteroids, Space.
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The fickle nature of asteroid hunting is proven time and again, just monitor NASA’s Near Earth Object Program Web site for proof of that.Asteroid Annefrank, courtesy JPL/Stardust.

Since late February the NEO site has listed asteroid 2004 VD17 at the top of Earth impact risk list, Torino Scale 2. While it is still at the top of that list, its chance of impacting Earth has fluctated wildly over the last half month or so.

Yesterday, VD17 stood at a 1 in 1790 chance of impacting Earth. A quick look at the NEO page today shows that the chances have, once again, increased with recent observations. (more…)

Relative March 16, 2006

Posted by dr. gonzo in BlogNotes, Space.

Pieces of a comet March 16, 2006

Posted by dr. gonzo in Space.
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Comet Wild 2 from Stardust (courtesy JPL)The NASA Stardust news conference the other day was a pretty interesting watch, if you know anything about comets.

The Stardust mission to collect comet samples and return them to Earth seems to have been a grand success for NASA. Perhaps the most surprising find in the analysis of the comet particles thus far was the discovery of minerals which form in only very high temperatures.

Why is this so surprising?

Comets are the so-called “dirty snowballs” of the solar system. They exist in a realm of the solar system near Pluto, where cold temperatures (extremely cold temperatures which hover just above absolute zero in places) dominate and occassinally pass close to the Sun in their orbits. Thus, scientists were surprised to find such high temperature minerals in such a cold region of our solar system. (more…)

Stardust March 12, 2006

Posted by dr. gonzo in Space.
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A piece of Comet Wild 2 stuck in aerogel.

Monday, March 13 NASA will hold a news conference regarding the returned samples from the Stardust mission. The conference starts at 2 p.m. here in the Midwest and can be viewed on NASA TV via the Web.

The conference will focus on the results of studies concerning the first analyzed samples returned from the comet.

Stardust is the first U.S. space mission dedicated solely to the exploration of a comet. Launched on Feb. 7, 1999 the probe encountered Comet Wild 2 (pronounced “Vilt 2”) in January of 2004 and returned samples from the comet to Earth early this year.

Related Links:

NASA Stardust Web site

The physics of E.T. March 12, 2006

Posted by dr. gonzo in Space.
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This article, The Physics of Extraterrestrial Civilizations, was written a few years back by theoretical physicist Michio Kaku.

It is certainly an interesting read, even if you blindly and ignorantly believe that we are the only civilization in the universe.

Jupiter’s ‘Red Jr.’ March 10, 2006

Posted by dr. gonzo in Space.
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Jupiter, the king of planets, is a fluid and changing world, as recent observations have shown.

A powerful storm, which first developed in 2000, known as Oval BA has taken on an altered appearance recently. An appearance much more akin to a better known storm whirling in the Jovian atmosphere. Once white in color the storm has gained the familiar red hue of the Great Red Spot, a Jovian hurricane capable of swallowing more than two Earths. (more…)

2004 VD17 Update March 7, 2006

Posted by dr. gonzo in Asteroids, Space.
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Keeping tabs on Near Earth Asteroid 2004 VD17 and still and finding that its chance of Earth impact continues to inch upward.

The MSM picked up the story after New Scientist published a piece on March 1 about the increased risk of a 2004 VD17 Earth impact in 2102. (Ahem. Five days after I blogged about it.) (more…)