NASA’s InSight Mars lander keeps daily records of weather conditions at the Elysium Planitia landing site on the red planet. Last week saw daytime highs from 8 to 15 degrees Fahrenheit; lows fell to -139 degrees. Seasons are twice as long on Mars as on Earth because the Martian year is 687 days; almost double an Earth year.
Mars doesn’t have months like we have months though. Our concept is based on a lunar orbit. Mars’ moons orbit much faster – Phobos every 8 hours, Deimos every 30 hours; so well over 2,000 orbits per 30 day ‘month’ for Phobos and over 500 orbits per ‘month’ for Deimos.
InSight landed Nov. 2018 on a two-year mission to better understand the interior of Mars using both surface and drilling geophysical sensors.
Turning to night sky highlights this week: Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn have the morning sky at 6:00 a.m.; Venus has the evening at 6:00 p.m. We’re gaining 2.5 minutes of sunlight per day through March.
Stardust discovered in a meteorite that landed in Australia more than 50 years ago is up to three billion years older than our solar system. These remnants are left over from ancient stars that populated this region of the galaxy prior to the birth of our sun, some 4.5 billion years ago. These particles got swept up in planet formation and/or hitched a ride to Earth on asteroids that have been in circulation ever since. Dating was determined from an element, Neon-21, which is derivative of cosmic ray-bombarded silicon carbide. Higher proportion of Neon-21 indicates the silicon carbide was drifting in space for a very long time before being embedded in a hunk of our solar system’s detritus left over after the solar system formed. The discovery may yield new insight into star formation in the Milky Way.
Turning to the night sky – Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn are still aligned in the 6:00 am predawn sky in the east. They’re sliding closer together over the next few weeks. Venus till dominates the southwest evening sky and will be joined by a thin waxing crescent moon on Wednesday. Darker skies where you are? Tonight and tomorrow night, between 7:00 pm and 8:00 pm, try looking for the Andromeda galaxy with your binoculars halfway up above the horizon in the just north of west. It will resemble a faint smudge of softly glowing sky.
Today is Galileo’s 456th birth anniversary. His iconoclastic reputation overshadows his basic raison d’etre at the time – to make a buck. He was a struggling teacher who worked in the ‘gig economy’ of Renaissance Italy. Galileo wasn’t born to a high place in society; he wasn’t a politician, his parents were not rich and his father actually wanted his son to become a physician. He really wanted to be a mathematician. He eventually ditched medical school and became a university math instructor where he began to investigate physics of motion.
A colleague informed him of a new optic device he’d seen. After a bit of research, Galileo figured out how others were making these new optic devices and using his math skills, made a better one. He immediately saw the how this invention could get him hired by a wealthy and influential patron to whom he sold the manufacturing rights. He got a better university appointment and didn’t have to teach classes, so he could pursue his research interests.
Fast Radio Bursts, or FRBs (first detected in 2007) are intermittent, ubiquitous, low frequency, very high energy, speedy pulses of radio energy. They are considered unusual because of the power – very intense and very brief – just milliseconds – and seemingly from billions of light years away – translate as from very far off, hence very old. To date only a few dozen have been seen but their origin is a mystery.
Recently, astronomers using a Canadian radio telescope have found one with a repeating 16-day pattern and have pinpointed its point of origin in a relatively nearby spiral galaxy. First, astronomers have several possibilities they refer to for origin of phenomena like this but these FRBs don’t fit the pattern of any of the known source types. Second, they are very energetic and seem to come from outside our galaxy, sometimes from half