Archive for August, 2010

NASA’s Kepler Mission Discovers Two Planets Transiting the Same Star

Friday, August 27th, 2010

Source – JPL NASA August 26, 2010: NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA’s Kepler Mission Discovers Two Planets Transiting the Same Star Worlds on the Edge
The star system is oriented edge-on, as seen by Kepler, such that both planets cross in front, or transit, their star, named Kepler-9. This is the first star system found to have multiple transiting planets.

MOFFETT FIELD, Calif. — NASA’s Kepler spacecraft has discovered the first confirmed planetary system with more than one planet crossing in front of, or transiting, the same star.

The transit signatures of two distinct planets were seen in the data for the sun-like star designated Kepler-9. The planets were named Kepler-9b and 9c. The discovery incorporates seven months of observations of more than 156,000 stars as part of an ongoing search for Earth-sized planets outside our solar system. The findings will be published in Thursday’s issue of the journal Science.

Kepler’s ultra-precise camera measures tiny decreases in the stars’ brightness that occur when a planet transits them. The size of the planet can be derived from these temporary dips.

The distance of the planet from the star can be calculated by measuring the time between successive dips as the planet orbits the star. Small variations in the regularity of these dips can be used to determine the masses of planets and detect other non-transiting planets in the system.

In June, mission scientists submitted findings for peer review that identified more than 700 planet candidates in the first 43 days of Kepler data. The data included five additional candidate systems that appear to exhibit more than one transiting planet. The Kepler team recently identified a sixth target exhibiting multiple transits and accumulated enough follow-up data to confirm this multi-planet system.

“Kepler’s high quality data and round-the-clock coverage of transiting objects enable a whole host of unique measurements to be made of the parent stars and their planetary systems,” said Doug Hudgins, the Kepler program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

Scientists refined the estimates of the masses of the planets using observations from the W.M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii. The observations show Kepler-9b is the larger of the two planets, and both have masses similar to but less than Saturn. Kepler-9b lies closest to the star with an orbit of about 19 days, while Kepler-9c has an orbit of about 38 days. By observing several transits by each planet over the seven months of data, the time between successive transits could be analyzed.

“This discovery is the first clear detection of significant changes in the intervals from one planetary transit to the next, what we call transit timing variations,” said Matthew Holman, a Kepler mission scientist from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass. “This is evidence of the gravitational interaction between the two planets as seen by the Kepler spacecraft.”

In addition to the two confirmed giant planets, Kepler scientists also have identified what appears to be a third, much smaller transit signature in the observations of Kepler-9. That signature is consistent with the transits of a super-Earth-sized planet about 1.5 times the radius of Earth in a scorching, near-sun 1.6 day-orbit. Additional observations are required to determine whether this signal is indeed a planet or an astronomical phenomenon that mimics the appearance of a transit.

NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., manages Kepler’s ground system development, mission operations and science data analysis. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., managed Kepler mission development.

Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corp. in Boulder, Colo., developed the Kepler flight system and supports mission operations with the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado in Boulder. The Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore archives, hosts and distributes the Kepler science data.

NASA’s Kepler Mission Discovers Two Planets Transiting the Same Star.

FIREBALL ON JUPITER

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

Source – Space Weather News for August 23, 2010: http://spaceweather.com

On August 20th at 18:22 UT, amateur astronomer Masayuki Tachikawa of Kumamoto city, Japan, video-recorded an apparent impact on Jupiter. Click on the image to view a movie of the fireball:
This is the third time in only 13 months that amateur astronomers have detected signs of impact on Jupiter. The earlier events occured on July 19, 2009, and June 3, 2010. Jupiter is getting hit more often than conventional wisdom would suggest, leading many researchers to call for a global network of telescopes to monitor Jupiter 24/7 and measure the impact rate.

“Like the event of June 3rd, this fireball did not produce any visible debris,” notes John Rogers, director of the British Astronomical Association’s Jupiter section. “Here are some hi-resolution images taken 1-2 rotations before and 1-2 rotations after the event. As the observers commented, there was no visible mark (not in RGB, nor UV, nor methane), post-impact. Dark brown spots on the North Equatorial Belt were already there before the fireball.”

Launch your face into space and become a part of history.

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

NASA Updates Shuttle Target Launch Dates For Final Two Flights.

NASA wants to put a picture of you on one of the two remaining space shuttle missions and launch it into orbit. Launch your face into space and become a part of history.

Click here to find out how…

NASA – NASA Asks Public for Final Shuttle Missions’ Wakeup Songs

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

I know what song I’m voting for…
Click on the link below to get your vote in.

NASA – NASA Asks Public for Final Shuttle Missions’ Wakeup Songs.

How to See the Best Meteor Showers of the Year: Tools, Tips and ‘Save the Dates’

Friday, August 13th, 2010

Source – JPL NASA August 06, 2010: NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Originally posted April 21, 2010, and updated Aug. 6, 2010

There are several major meteor showers to enjoy every year at various times, with some more active than others. For example, April’s Lyrids are expected to produce about 15 meteors an hour at their peak for observers viewing in good conditions. Now, if you put the same observer in the same good conditions during a higher-rate shower like August’s Perseids or December’s Geminids, that person could witness up to 80 meteors an hour during peak activity.

Whether you’re watching from a downtown area or the dark countryside, here are some tips to help you enjoy these celestial shows of shooting stars. Those streaks of light are really caused by tiny specks of comet-stuff hitting Earth’s atmosphere at very high speed and disintegrating in flashes of light.

First a word about the moon – it is not the meteor watcher’s friend. Light reflecting off a bright moon can be just as detrimental to good meteor viewing as those bright lights of the big city. There is nothing you can do except howl at the moon, so you’ll have to put up with it or wait until the next favorable shower. However, even though the 2010 Perseids and Geminids share the night sky with the moon, they are still expected to produce more visible meteor activity than other major showers that don’t have an interfering moon.

The best thing you can do to maximize the number of meteors you’ll see is to get as far away from urban light pollution as possible and find a location with a clear, unclouded view of the night sky. If you enjoy camping, try planning a trip that coincides with dates of one of the meteor showers listed below. Once you get to your viewing location, search for the darkest patch of sky you can find, as meteors can appear anywhere overhead. The meteors will always travel in a path away from the constellation for which the shower is named. This apparent point of origin is called the “radiant.” For example, meteors during a Leonid meteor shower will appear to originate from the constellation Leo. (Note: the constellation only serves as a helpful guide in the night’s sky. The constellation is not the actual source of the meteors. For an overview of what causes meteor showers click on Meteor Showers: Shooting for Shooting Stars)

Whether viewing from your front porch or a mountaintop, be sure to dress for success. This means clothing appropriate for cold overnight temperatures, which might include mittens or gloves, and blankets. This will enable you to settle in without having to abandon the meteor-watching because your fingers are starting to turn colors.

Next, bring something comfortable on which to sit or lie down. While Mother Nature can put on a magnificent celestial display, meteor showers rarely approach anything on the scale of a July 4th fireworks show. Plan to be patient and watch for at least half an hour. A reclining chair or ground pad will make it far more comfortable to keep your gaze on the night sky.

Lastly, put away the telescope or binoculars. Using either reduces the amount of sky you can see at one time, lowering the odds that you’ll see anything but darkness. Instead, let your eyes hang loose and don’t look in any one specific spot. Relaxed eyes will quickly zone in on any movement up above, and you’ll be able to spot more meteors. Avoid looking at your cell phone or any other light. Both destroy night vision. If you have to look at something on Earth, use a red light. Some flashlights have handy interchangeable filters. If you don’t have one of those, you can always paint the clear filter with red fingernail polish.

The meteor showers listed below will provide casual meteor observers with the most bang for their buck. They are the easiest to observe and most active. All these showers are best enjoyed in the hours after midnight. Be sure to also check the “Related Links” box for additional information, and for tools to help you determine how many meteors may be visible from your part of the world.

Major Meteor Showers (2010-2011)

Delta Aquarids
Comet of Origin: unknown
Radiant: constellation Aquarius
Active: July 14-Aug. 18, 2010
Peak Activity: No definite peak, but nights surrounding July 30 were predicted to be the best
Peak Activity Meteor Count: Approximately 15 meteors per hour (Northern Hemisphere).
Time of Optimal Viewing: An hour or two before dawn. Meteor watchers in the Southern Hemisphere and in the Northern Hemisphere’s tropical latitudes enjoy the best views.
Meteor Velocity: 42 kilometers per second (26 miles per second)

Perseids
Comet of Origin: 109P/Swift-Tuttle
Radiant: constellation Perseus
Active: Perseids begin to rise early August.
Peak Activity: Aug. 12-13, 2010
Peak Activity Meteor Count: Approximately 50 meteors per hour
Time of Optimal Viewing: Crescent moon will set early in the evening, allowing for dark skies all the way up until peak viewing just before dawn
Meteor Velocity: 61 kilometers (38 miles) per second
Note: The Perseid meteor shower is one of the most consistent performers and considered by many as 2010’s best shower. The meteors they produce are among the brightest of all meteor showers.

Orionids
Comet of Origin: 1P/Halley
Radiant: Just to the north of constellation Orion’s bright star Betelgeuse
Active: Oct. 4-Nov. 14, 2010
Peak Activity: Night of Oct. 22, but the light reflecting off an almost-full moon makes 2010 a less-than-spectacular year for one of Mother Nature’s most spectacular showers.
Peak Activity Meteor Count: Approximately 15 meteors per hour, if the sky is dark
Time of Optimal Viewing: An hour or two before dawn
Meteor Velocity: 68 kilometers (42 miles) per second
Note: With the second-fastest entry velocity of the annual meteor showers, meteors from the Orionids produce yellow and green colors and have been known to produce an odd fireball from time to time.

Leonids
Comet of Origin: 55P/Tempel-Tuttle
Radiant: constellation Leo
Active: Nov. 7-28, 2010
Peak Activity: Night of Nov. 17-18, 2010
Peak Activity Meteor Count: Approximately 15 per hour
Time of Optimal Viewing: A half-full moon sets after midnight, allowing for a dark sky. Best viewing time will be just before dawn.
Meteor Velocity: 71 kilometers (44 miles) per second
Note: The Leonids have not only produced some of the best meteor showers in history, but they have sometimes achieved the status of meteor storm. During a Leonid meteor storm, many thousands of meteors per hour can shoot across the sky. Scientists believe these storms recur in cycles of about 33 years, though the reason is unknown. The last documented Leonid meteor storm occurred in 2002.

Geminids
Comet of Origin: 3200 Phaethon
Radiant: constellation Gemini
Active: Dec. 4-16, 2010
Peak Activity: Night of Dec 13-14, 2010
Peak Activity Meteor Count: Approximately 50 meteors per hour
Time of Optimal Viewing: 2 a.m.
Meteor Velocity: 35 kilometers (22 miles) per second
Note: Generally, the Geminids or August’s Perseids provide the best meteor shower show of the year. Geminids are usually considered the best opportunity for younger viewers because the show gets going around 9 or 10 p.m. Unfortunately the moon does not set until after midnight this year, making for the possibility of drooping eyelids from the pre-teen set.

Quadrantids
Comet of Origin: 2003 EH1
Radiant: constellation Quadrant Murales
Active: Dec. 28, 2010-Jan. 12, 2011
Peak Activity: Jan. 3-4, 2011
Peak Activity Meteor Count: Approximately 40 meteors per hour
Time of Optimal Viewing: 2:30 a.m. to dawn
Meteor Velocity: 41 kilometers (25.5 miles) per second
Note: The alternate name for the Quadrantids is the Bootids. Constellation Quadrant Murales is now defunct, and the meteors appear to radiate from the modern constellation Bootes. Since the show is usually only a few hours long and often obscured by winter weather, it doesn’t have the same celebrated status as the Geminids or Perseids.

Lyrids
Comet of Origin: C/1861 G1 Thatcher
Radiant: constellation Lyra
Active: April 16-25, 2011
Peak Activity: April 21-22, 2011
Peak Activity Meteor Count: 18-20 meteors per hour
Time of Optimal Viewing: 11 p.m.-dawn
Meteor Velocity: Lyrid meteors hit the atmosphere at a moderate speed of 48 kilometers (30 miles) per second. They often produce luminous dust trains observable for several seconds.
Note: Light from the waning gibbous moon will degrade viewing

Eta Aquarids
Comet of Origin: 1P Halley
Radiant: constellation Aquarius
Active: April 19-May 28, 2011
Peak Activity: Early morning May 5-7, 2011
Peak Activity Meteor Count: Approximately 20 meteors per hour
Time of Optimal Viewing: 3:30-5 a.m.
Meteor Velocity: 66 kilometers (44 miles) per second

PERSEID METEOR UPDATE:

Tuesday, August 10th, 2010

Source – Space Weather News for August 10, 2010: http://spaceweather.com

PERSEID METEOR UPDATE: Earth is entering the debris stream of comet Swift-Tuttle and this is causing the annual Perseid meteor shower. According to the International Meteor Organization, observers are now counting as many as 25 meteors Perseids per hour during the dark hours before dawn. It’s going to get even better: The shower is expected to peak on August 12th with rates as high as 100 per hour. Stay tuned for updates. [live meteor radar] [2010 meteor counts] [Bill Cooke’s Perseid Twitter Feed]

INCOMING CME:

Tuesday, August 10th, 2010

Source – Space Weather News for August 10, 2010: http://spaceweather.com

The solar eruption of August 7th might affect Earth after all. Newly-arriving data from the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) show a CME heading our way with a significant Earth-directed component. Click on the image to launch a “difference movie” of the expanding cloud:

SOHO Crononagraph 8/7/2010

The impact of this lopsided CME probably won’t trigger a major geomagnetic storm—but the SOHO data show it could be bigger than expected. High latitude sky watchers should be alert for auroras when the cloud arrives probably on August 10th.

SOLAR BLAST JUST MISSES EARTH:

Sunday, August 8th, 2010

SOHO MDI Continuum Latest Image

Source – Space Weather News for August 8, 2010: http://spaceweather.com

On August 7th (1825 UT), magnetic fields around sunspot 1093 became unstable and erupted, producing a strong M1-class solar flare. Several amateur astronomers caught the active region in mid-flare, while NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory recorded an extreme ultraviolet movie of the entire event:
The eruption hurled a coronal mass ejection (CME) into space, just missing a direct sun-Earth line. Forecasters expect the cloud to deliver no more than a glancing blow to our planet’s magnetic field when it billows by on August 9th or 10th–not be a major space weather event.
Future eruptions could turn out differently. Active region 1093 is rotating toward Earth. By the end of this weekend, we’ll be in the line of fire if its magnetic fields become unstable again.

Visit http://spaceweather.com for audio recordings and movies of this latest solar event.

SOHO MDI Continuum Latest Image

Stars Just Got Bigger

Sunday, August 8th, 2010

It was once was thought stars of this size or larger, would snuff themself when the nuclear reaction would start, or at the very least they would live a very short existence, due to the amount of fuel they could consume.

RMC 136a compared to other stars

RMC 136a compared to other stars

via ESO – eso1030 – Stars Just Got Bigger.