The Sky Tonight Update: Geminids Meteor Shower, Dec. 13-14 peak

The Geminids is the king of the meteor showers. It is considered by many to be the best shower in the heavens, producing up to 120 multicolored meteors per hour at its peak. It is produced by debris left behind by an asteroid known as 3200 Phaethon, which was discovered in 1982. The shower runs annually from December 7-17.

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The Great Red Spot is Changing Shape

great red spot

Jupiter’s Great Red Spot is a swirling anticyclonic storm that was previously large enough to fit three Earths inside.  However, observations taken by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has revealed that this is changing, both in shape and size.

So why is Jupiter’s trademark feature beginning to downsize?

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Ninth Planet May Exist

 

21PLANET-master1050-v2

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.

SPLAT………. New Crater on Mars

pia17932_rayedcrater_esp_034285_1835

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

A dramatic, fresh impact crater dominates this image taken by the High
Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA’s Mars
Reconnaissance Orbiter on Nov. 19, 2013.  Researchers used HiRISE to examine
this site because the orbiter’s Context Camera had revealed a change in
appearance here between observations in July 2010 and May 2012, bracketing the
formation of the crater between those observations.(NASA)

 

 Observation Toolbox

Acquisition date: 19 November 2013 Local Mars time: 2:57 PM
Latitude (centered): 3.677° Longitude (East): 53.428°
Range to target site: 266.5 km (166.5 miles) Original image scale range: 26.7 cm/pixel (with 1 x 1 binning) so objects ~80 cm across are resolved
Map projected scale: 25 cm/pixel and North is up Map projection: Equirectangular
Emission angle: 0.5° Phase angle: 45.7°
Solar incidence angle: 46°, with the Sun about 44° above the horizon Solar longitude: 51.4°, Northern Spring
For non-map projected products:
North azimuth: 97° Sub-solar azimuth: 29.3°
For map-projected products
North azimuth: 270° Sub solar azimuth: 203.5°

 

                                                        NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

 

MAVEN: Countdown Has Begun

MAVENlaunch

  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.

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!

NEW COMPLETE VIEW FROM BEYOND SATURN

PIA17172_full_PLANETS_690w

“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.

Comet ISON is Coming!

Comet ISON is Coming!

Get ready everyone! Comet ISON is approaching the Sun, and is expected to be visible in the pre-dawn sky as early as this weekend. Check back with us for all things Comet ISON: comet updates, photography tips, and more. Don’t forget to come visit LASM to view “Vagabonds of the Solar System: Comets Past and Present” exhibition opens November 19th!

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.