The Sun’s activity has been very strange this past century. Solar scientists say that the Sun has produced about half as many sun spots as expected and the magnetic poles are out of synch.
Comet ISON is now officially gone, well, pretty much. The NASA Comet ISON Observing Campaign has issued a memoriam for Comet ISON.
Here is the latest view:
Karl Battams: It may be (almost) gone but comet ISON leaves a legacy of unprecedented data from numerous locations within the solar system! [Image credit: ESA, NASA, Annotations by Karl Battams]
“Reports of my demise have been greatly exaggerated!” says comet ISON. Data gathered yesterday led astronomers to the unfortunate conclusion that ISON was broken up and vaporized as it grazed the Sun. However a new look at the images show a tiny piece of the comet has survived and is continuing on its journey back into the far reaches of space. Look for ISON in the upper left corner of this picture.
What does this mean? Will it still prove to be the comet of the century? We don’t know yet. Observing comets is exciting because we never truly know what they will do. ISON may still flare up in brightness to put on one final show before exiting the Solar System or it may fizzle out and be gone forever. Stay tuned!
Tomorrow, Thursday the 28th, as we prepare for Thanksgiving (and Hanukkah) a cosmic drama is set to unfold. For months, astronomers have been observing Comet ISON approach the sun, now estimated to be less than a mile wide, wondering whether the comet will survive its close encounter and re-emerge from behind the sun to become visible to the naked eye through December. You can follow this drama on line. Between 12noon and 2.30 pm (CST) tomorrow, NASA will host a Google Hangout while all eyes on the sun will watch Comet ISON make its plunge, passing perilously close (within 730,000 miles) above the sun’s surface and accelerating to 150,000 mph. Will it survive? Break up? Evaporate? Join the Google hangout to keep track of ISON’s progress!
There is already one recent video posted of ISON coming into view of one of the extended-corona imagers from NASA’s STEREO spacecraft, seen on the STEREO website.
Discernible for most of November in binoculars, ISON is probably the most scrutinized comet ever by NASA, but from the beginning of its discovery it’s also been one of the most confusing, frustrating and unpredictable objects to observe over time. I’m still betting on ISON becoming the comet of a lifetime.
Fifteen years ago on Nov. 20, 1998, the Roscosmos (the former Russian Space Agency) launched a Proton rocket that sent the Zarya module into space. This was the first section of the International Space Station. Two weeks later on Dec. 4, the United States launched the Unity module making the 2 modules a real international space station.
The ISS is now the third brightest object in the sky after the sun and moon. If you know where and when to look you can easily see it without a telescope, and NASA’s Mission Control at the Johnson Space Center in Houston can tell you when and where. Log onto Nasa.gov to receive e-mail or text alerts a few hours before the ISS will be passing over your area. If you sign up soon you might even be able to spot it while “comet hunting” during the Thanksgiving holiday.
Last year NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory unveiled a device that would allow a spacecraft to latch itself on to passing comets and asteroids. The success of this grip-like device, and the options it opened up, led them to further develop it into a robot that could scale rocky walls. This four-legged robot called LIMUR IIB has four grippers, each with a 750 claws, and is strong enough to not only scale walls but can hold its grip while hanging upside down. Continue reading
MAVEN taking off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station
today at 1:28 p.m. ET for a 10 month journey to the Red Planet.
It will then begin orbiting Mars.
MAVEN is scheduled to launch in approximately 1 hour. If you are in Florida or South Georgia today you may be able to catch a glimpse of the liftoff. There are some thick clouds over Cape Canaveral Air Force base but the forecast is 60% favorable for launch during a two hour window. .
MAVEN, NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution spacecraft, will study the upper Martian atmosphere to find out how the air on the red planet has changed over time. This discovery may help us understand when and how long Mars might have had an environment that could have supported microbial life in its ancient past.
Great news, everyone! Astronomers world wide have confirmed that in the last day or so, ISON has increased in brightness to the point where it is visible to the naked eye. You still have to look closely, as it is still on the border of visibility. Astronomers expect the comet to brighten as it continues to approach the Sun, but no one can know for sure. Through telescopes the green color of the comet is visible.
So why is the comet green? It isn’t uncommon for comets to glow green. This is due to the presence of certain chemicals inside the comet that are released as the nucleus sublimates away into space. Most often these chemicals are cyanogen (CN) and diatomic carbon (C2). Both of these chemicals emit greenish-blue light when in a vacuum (like outer space) and exposed to large amounts of energy (which they are getting from the Sun).
Today I came across this awesome interactive website that allows you to track ISON (as well as other Solar System objects) through the sky from different points of view. I’ll be using it to see where ISON will be over the next view weeks, it also gives you key dates and info. Click the picture below to visit the site:
Unfortunately for us here in Baton Rouge, the next few days have a lot of clouds in the forecast! There will still be time to view the comet early next week once the sky clears… Between now and November 28 the comet is approaching the Sun. From Earth it will be getting closer and closer to the horizon in the early morning sky. If you can, try and view it before Thanksgiving. All you have to do is:
1. Wake up very early, around 5:00 AM!
2. Find a place with a clear view of the eastern horizon.
3. Find the constellation Virgo (outlined in the image above), it will be nearly due east.
4. Look for a faint fuzzy object
5. If you’re feeling up to it, bring the camera out and snap a picture. Click here for a past article about astrophotography tips, it is for a meteor shower, but similar rules apply.
6. While you’re out, don’t miss Saturn, Mercury, and Mars.
Astronomers are unsure of ISON’s fate after it’s close approach to the Sun (which will occur on Thanksgiving Day), it is possible that the Sun’s gravity will cause ISON’s nucleus to break apart. If ISON survives its close encounter with the Sun, it will be visible once again in the morning sky around December 6th. Cross your fingers for ISON’s safe passage around the Sun, and happy viewing!
NASA just released a panoramic image of Saturn and some of its closest moons, but it also includes the tiny, blue dot we call home – planet Earth, some 900 million miles away. Taken by the Cassini probe now orbiting Saturn, the image also captures our companion worlds Venus and Mars. The panorama was pieced together from natural-color photographs taken in July.
Each pixel in the photograph represents about 45 miles. Seven out of Saturn’s 53 known moons are visible in their planet’s seven rings. There’s Prometheus, Pandora, Janus and Epimetheus near Saturn’s slim F ring. There’s Enceladus in the bright blue E ring. There’s Tethys, a yellow bulb, and Mimas, just a crescent, wedged between rings.
Venus is located to Saturn’s upper left, which is seen as a bright, white spot. Mars, a pale red dot, is above and to the left of Venus. There are 809 stars captured by Cassini’s lens in this image. And we Earthlings are on the blue dot at Saturn’s lower right.
This cosmic portrait had been planned for months and on July 19, NASA announced that all the conditions were right for such a picture, including that on this date, Saturn completely eclipsed the sun, allowing Cassini’s sensors to image this portrait. The cosmic photo is a composite of 141 images taken over four hours, selected out of 343 images total. The photograph was then digitally enhanced to pull from the blackness Venus, Mars, Earth, Saturn’s moons, and all the stars in the frame. Most of the objects in the photograph, including Earth, were brightened by 8 times relative to Saturn; some of the stars were brightened by as much as 16 times.
This was also the first time that humans were told in advance that Earth was being put before a camera. So, in what was called NASA’s “Wave at Saturn” campaign, the Cassini’s Imaging team asked us all to turn out for the July 19 picture day to wave and smile for the camera in the cosmos.