Quadrantids Meteor Shower – January 3, 4

 The Quadrantids

The Quadrantids is an above average meteor shower averaging about 40 meteors per hour at its peak. It is thought to be produced by dust grains and particles left behind by an extinct comet known as 2003 EH1, first discovered in 2003.

The shower runs annually from January 1st through the 5th but it peaks this year on the night of the 3rd and morning of the 4th. Once the first quarter moon sets just after midnight it will leave the skies dark enough for a nice show. The best time and place to view this shower will be from a dark location after midnight. Meteors will radiate from the constellation Bootes, but can appear anywhere in the sky.

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Ninth Planet May Exist

 

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An artist’s impression of a possible ninth planet. It would be quite large — at least as big as Earth — with a thick atmosphere around a rocky core. CreditCalifornia Institute of Techonology

 

 Caltech scientists Konstantin Batygin and Mike Brown make the case for Planet Nine, a giant planet tracing a bizarre, highly elongated orbit in the outer solar system.

The Dark Side of the Moon…from a Million Miles Away

dark side of the moon

We’ve become accustomed to seeing the face of the moon in its tidal locked rotation around the Earth.  In fact, the dark side of the moon has become a mystery and a thing for fictional devices.  It’s not that the dark side of the moon has never been photographed or explored, but it sure looks great when see from a million miles away, crossing in front of Earth.

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ENJOY NEAR-REAL TIME PHOTOS AND VIDEOS OF EARTH

EurtheCast (pronounced ‘earthcast’), a Vancouver company, has launched aboard a Russian Progress 53 cargo ship two cameras that will continuously photograph the surface of Earth 24/7 and relay pictures in near-real time back to earth.

STS-135_final_flyaround_of_ISS_1

NASA

One of the instruments is a still camera with a five-meter resolution and takes pictures of a 40km swath as the ISS circles the globe. The other instrument is a video camera with a one-meter resolution and will take 150 videos a day. These videos will be approximately 90 seconds long and have a 4k resolution.

With your free EurtheCast account, you can have a real time alert sent to you about locations on earth you want to watch as the UrtheCast cameras capture new imagery and video of your favorite places.

urthecast

sciencefocus.com

So, stand by for some great views of our planet from a place few people have been lucky enough to enjoy.

Why is Comet ISON Green?…. and other updates

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.

isongreen

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:

isonmapapp

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.

isonnov21

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!

Pale Blue Dot

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.

Cassini at Saturn 1

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.

Cassini at Saturn 2

NEW COMPLETE VIEW FROM BEYOND SATURN

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“On July 19, 2013, in an event celebrated the world over, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft slipped into Saturn’s shadow and turned to image the planet, seven of its moons, its inner rings — and, in the background, our home planet, Earth.”(NASA)

Remember when we wrote about the Casini Spacecraft photographing the Earth from the other side of Saturn?   Well, now all the data and pixels have been put together with a lot of hard work from the project scientists and the amazing result is here:

http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/figures/PIA17172_fig1.jpg

Go look at the amazing image from across the solar system. You will be amazed…. Zoom in and look at the planets and other objects in the background.

Juno Update

NASA is back up and running, and we’ve got some pictures back from Juno! The spacecraft bound for Jupiter, made a close flyby around Earth two weeks ago to get the gravitational assist it needed to reach the outer solar system. While passing Earth, Juno snapped a picture of our home planet. It also tested some instruments to make sure they were ready to go upon arrival at Jupiter.junoearth

Click here for status update of the Juno mission.

NEWLY DISCOVERED VOLCANO SAME LEAGUE AS OLYMPUS MONS ON MARS

A perspective 3D plot of the topography of the largest single volcano on Earth, Tamu Massif.

A 3-D map of the Tamu Massif formation, which scientists now say is one huge shield volcano

Illustration courtesy IODP

 

“This finding goes against what we thought, because we found that it’s one huge volcano,” said William Sager, a geology professor at the University of Houston in Texas. Sager is lead author in a study about the find that was published this week in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Geoscience.

“It is in the same league as Olympus Mons on Mars, which had been considered to be the largest volcano in the solar system,” Sager told National Geographic.

 

Curiosity Photographs Mars’ Moons

Phobos has a large crater known as Stickney.

deimossmall

Deimos is slightly smaller than Phobos.

Mars has two moons, Phobos and Deimos. They are very different than our moon in more ways than one. Our Moon orbits Earth at an angle, while Mars’ moons orbit  about the planet’s equator. Our Moon is 3474 km across, making it nearly a quarter of Earth’s size. Phobos is about 25 km across, and Deimos is about 10 km across; comparable in size to down town Baton Rouge. Our Moon takes 27 Earth days to orbit one time, Mars’ moons orbit much faster. Phobos, the larger and closer of the two, orbits quickly, circling Mars once every eight hours. Deimos, the smaller and farther of the two, orbits slower, circling once every 30 hours. From the point of view of a person or robot on the surface of Mars, Phobos eclipses Deimos frequently. This is because the two moons orbit in nearly the same plane.

Last week this was photographed for the first time by Curiosity. The spacecraft took a series of images, a sort of timelapse, that scientists here on Earth made into a short movie. Phobos looks vastly larger than Deimos, this is merely because it is closer.