Have you ever heard of the exoplanet, Tau Boötis b? Well, it was discovered back in 1996 and is one of the closest exoplanets to us. Tau Boötis b is about 51-light-years away and is considered to be a “hot Jupiter” because it is a gas giant orbiting close to its parent star. Now, with the advances in techniques used to scan planetary atmospheres, something else has been discovered about Tau Boötis b: the fact that it has water vapor.
It’s a happy Valentines Day on the surface of Mars. Thanks to the Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) Mars Orbiter Camera (MOC) team we can check out a collection of heart-shaped surface features.
Back in 1960, Astronomer Frank Drake started scanning two sun-like stars with an 85-foot wide antennae in West Virginia. His goal: search for signs of life. Over the past 50 years, thanks to the advantage of significant advances in electronics, digital technology, and some help from other people, that search has really ramped up. This month, Seth Shostak of the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute in Mountain View, CA, claims it is now estimated that by 2040 enough star systems will have been scanned to have discovered alien-produced electromagnetic signals.
Besides the Sun and Moon, Venus is the brightest celestial body. It’s so bright that you can even see it during the daytime. Tomorrow morning, and the rest of the week, you can see Venus in the morning sky just before sunrise. That is, if it is a clear sky when you go out. Depending on where you are, Venus is about two fists above the horizon.
In order to test whether or not a satellite could withstand the sound blast of a launcher as it takes off and flies through the atmosphere, the scientists at the European Space Agency have developed a sound system so extreme it may be able to kill a human being if they stood in front of it.
A little while ago I blogged about the mysterious donut-like object that suddenly appeared on the surface of Mars at the base of the Opportunity rover. NASA concluded that it was only a rock and probably got there by being kicked up from one of Opportunity’s wheels while it moved from point A to point B. Well, now NASA has a lawsuit brought against them by someone that thinks the object is more than meets the eye and he wants the investigation to go further.
Happy Chinese New Year, everyone! Lets ring in the Year of the Horse.
Chinese New Year is one of those floating holidays that seems to fall on a different day each year, why is this?
Throughout history, civilizations around the world have used celestial objects to track the passage of time. People used the movements of the Sun, Moon, or stars to define a calendar for their society to live by. Today the majority of the world uses the Gregorian calendar, which is based on the orbit of the Earth around the Sun, or the Solar Year. Lunar calendars use the duration of the Moon’s orbit around the Earth, or the Lunar Month. Lunisolar calendars use a combination of both. Although most countries around the world use the standard Gregorian calendar for official government purposes, citizens of these countries often use a Lunar or Lunisolar calendar to mark important social and religious festivals.
The modern Chinese calendar is known as the Han calendar, it is Lunisolar. Like other Lunisolar calendars, the Han calendar takes into account a Solar Year as well as a Lunar month. The Han calendar uses the tropical solar year, which uses the seasons (the solstices) as the reference for the passage of a year. The Chinese calendar references the Winter Solstice specifically.
The New Year is observed on the day of the second new moon after the Winter Solstice, and occasionally on the third new moon. For the majority of us who use the Gregorian calendar this often translates to the first new moon of the new year.
Following several days of preparation, at midnight last night the festivities for Chinese New Year kicked off. It is a time of renewal, wishes of good fortune, and paying respect to friends and family. The observation of the new year actually lasts for 15 additional days, each having their own symbolic rituals and customs. One of the most well known traditions is the gift of red envelopes to friends and family. These envelopes often contain money, in amounts that correspond to lucky numbers. They are usually presented to younger people, and sometimes they are ornately decorated.
So, why Year of the Horse? The Chinese Zodiac, like the western zodiac, is separated into twelve signs. Unlike the Western Zodiac that associates each sign with a segment of the Solar Year, the Chinese Zodiac associates each sign with a single year in a twelve year cycle. Follow the link above to learn more, it gets even more complex than that! Last year according to the Han calendar was the year of the Snake, before that the year of the Dragon. Once we reach the Gregorian year 2020 the year of the Rat, the cycle will begin again.
So go forth, wish you friends and neighbors peace and happiness, and ask your family members for red envelopes filled with money! The Year of the Horse has begun.
Something will happen this month that is very rare. As January 2014 comes to a close we will experience two supermoons in one month – and not two Full supermoons but two New supermoons. But what is a supermoon and when will we ever have two in one month again?
NASA is inviting people around the world to submit their names to be etched on a microchip aboard a spacecraft headed to the asteroid Bennu in 2016. The “Messages to Bennu!” microchip will travel to the asteroid aboard NASA’s Origins-Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft. The robotic mission will spend more than two years at the 1,760-foot (500-meter)-wide asteroid. The spacecraft will collect a sample of Bennu’s surface and return it to Earth in a sample return capsule.
NASA is proposing this project as a great opportunity for people to get engaged with the mission. Those wishing to participate in “Messages to Bennu!” should submit their name online no later than 30 September, 2014 at: http://planetary.org/bennu
After a person submits their name, they will be able to download and print a certificate documenting their participation in the OSIRIS-REx mission. So, be part of humankind’s exploration of the solar system –How cool is that?
Participants who “follow” or “like” the mission on Facebook will receive updates on the location of their name in space from launch time until the asteroid samples return to Earth in 2023. Facebook fans also will be kept apprised of mission progress and late-breaking news through regular status updates.
The OSIRIS-REx mission goal is to address basic questions about the composition of the very early solar system, the source of organic materials and water that made life possible on Earth, and to better predict the orbits of asteroids that represent collision threats to the Earth. It will collect a minimum of 2 ounces (60 grams) of surface material. Once the sample return capsule deploys, the spacecraft will be placed into a long-term solar orbit around the sun, along with the microchip and every name on it.
For more information about the OSIRIS-REx mission, visit:
This photo of the Challenger crew was taken on Jan. 9, 1986, just 19 days before the Challenger disaster. Left to right: 1st Teacher-in-Space payload specialist Sharon Christa McAuliffe; payload specialist Gregory Jarvis; and astronaut Judith A. Resnik, mission specialist, Francis R. (Dick) Scobee, mission commander; Ronald E. McNair, mission specialist; Michael J. Smith, pilot; and Ellison S. Onizuka, mission specialist.
Image credit: NASA
On January 28, 1986, seven astronauts tragically died when Challenger exploded just after liftoff. It was NASA’s first in-flight disaster and it occurred not only as thousands of spectators watched from Kennedy Space Center but millions of teachers and students were also watching on live T.V. from their classrooms to see Christa McAuliffe, a civilian high school teacher from New Hampshire become NASA’s 1st teacher in space. Christa was scheduled to broadcast two live lessons from space to the nation’s school children just a few days later.
The loss of Challenger was later attributed to a failed seal on one of the space shuttle’s solid rocket boosters. It was determined that cold weather prevented a rubber O-ring from working properly. This allowed hot gas to leak and damage the shuttle’s external fuel tank and the hardware attaching the booster to the shuttle. The right solid rocket booster then separated. The fuel tank broke apart causing the orbiter to be torn apart also. The launch had been postponed two days preceding the disaster due to expected storms preceding the cold front which brought unusually cold temperatures to central Florida.
The following words were left on a handwritten note in the briefcase of Space Shuttle Commander, Dick Scobee. It is from a passage from Vision of the Future by Ben Bova.
We have whole planets to explore. We have new worlds to build. We have a solar system to roam in. And if only a tiny fraction of the human race reaches out toward space, the work they do there will totally change the lives of all the billions of humans who remain on earth, just as the strivings of a handful of colonists in the new world totally changed the lives of everyone in Europe, Asia, and Africa.
That moment 28 years ago today when the seven Challenger astronauts reached out toward space is still ingrained in our memories.