Saturn pulls ahead of Jupiter in the number of moons detected – current score: 82 to 79
Researchers recently announced the discovery of 20 new moons orbiting Saturn by using big telescopes at Hawaii’s Mauna Kea observatory equipped with very sensitive detectors. 17 of them orbit backwards, opposite the planet’s direction of rotation, and most of the new ones are about three miles in size.
The current idea about their origin is that they are the detritus left over from the breakup of a moon not long after Saturn’s formation billions of years ago.
When we think about all the energetic activity happening out there in the universe – supermassive black holes, millisecond pulsars, colliding neutron stars, exploding supernovae – it’s nice to know that in our little corner of the universe not much is happening, right?
Hold your horses, because maybe we’re just in between happenings.
Astronomers announced earlier this week that evidence has been detected that an enormous flare of ionizing radiation suddenly and explosively erupted from a source near the center of our galaxy. It was so powerful and extensive that evidence was found in gas stream 200,000 light years out in space!
Just as surprising as this discovery is, the researchers determined that it took place just 3.5 million years ago! The Chixulub impact that triggered the great dinosaur die-off occurred 62 million years earlier! Our ancestors were just going walk-about on the African continent when this explosion occurred.
So perhaps we’ve evolved in a relatively quiet period in the life of our galaxy. Remember, the evolution of the planet, solar system, galaxy and universe occurs over millions and billions of years and our studies only allow us to look at snapshots – instants in time which we try to assemble into a rational process that will allow us to reasonably predict what will happen in the future. BUT, we have a small number of ‘snapshots’ we’re trying to work with.
There are merely three days left to enter your idea for an exoplanet name International Astronomical Union U.S. has an exoplanet and the IUA naming committee is asking the American public to submit their suggestions. You can do it all online and it’s a great short project for a school to jump on!
We’re running out of time to see Jupiter and Saturn in the evening sky. The Franklin Institute’s Night Skies at the Observatory program this Tuesday night Oct. 15, will show Saturn telescopically for the last time this season.
Saturday, October 5th is the 132nd birth anniversary of rocket pioneer Robert H. Goddard. His was the first liquid-fueled rocket to prove the concept that allowed for the exploration of space as we know it today. He launched the first liquid-fueled rocket in March 1926. The maximum altitude he achieved was 1.7 miles. His technology eventually was adopted in America soon after his death in 1945.
October 5th is also the 61st anniversary of the founding of NASA. It was originally established as the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, and had 8000 employees and three laboratories. President Dwight Eisenhower signed the National Aeronautics and Space Act in August 1958 in response to the launch of Sputnik on October 4th, 1957. Congress created the National Aeronautics and Space Administration on October 1st, 1958.
Along with our seasonal weather change comes the now obvious changes in sun time. We’re down to 11 hours 36 minutes of sun above the horizon vs 15 hours on June 21. We’ll still lose another 2 hours and 15 minutes between now and December 21 with Halloween as the halfway point to Winter Solstice. This is a great time for stargazers because they can start early enough and be warm enough to see three seasons of constellations from sunset to sunrise. Jupiter and Saturn are still the showpiece items of the evening sky. On Sunday night at 8 p.m., 60 degrees up in the NorthEast, the International Space Station will be visible.
Weeks ago, an announcement about the discovery on an exoplanet where it appeared possible for an atmosphere with precipitation to exist led it to be described as an “earthlike planet,” and suggestions were made about its potential habitability.
Very little was said about its structure being far more like Jupiter mostly gas with a tiny rocky core very far below the cloud tops. That’s an important component of the composition in a description mentioning ‘habitability’ and ‘earthlike’.
This has implications for the composition of the planet and the dynamics of planetary formation in that star system. We are as yet unable to gather enough data to clearly identify something as TRULY earthlike. We can use only inference to determine mass, density, size and transmission spectroscopy to get any kind of handle on atmospheric composition.
Turning to night sky highlights this week: Jupiter and Saturn still hold court in the South/Southwest evening sky. The moon is at its new phase today so look for a thin crescent emerging from the west just after sunset tomorrow, Sunday, and Monday evenings.
The International Astronomical Union (IAU) is putting out the call on its 100th anniversary to name an exoplanet and its star.
The TV series ‘Star Trek’ premiered 53 years ago. The original series only lasted three seasons on prime time, but really hit its stride in syndication, where its popularity exploded. It also fueled fantasies for many other TV programs and films, and maybe even real life space exploration. The last day for filming was 1/8/69, six months before Apollo 11 left for the moon.
September means a shorter number of minutes of sunlight; Sunrise now at 6:34am and sunset at 7:23pm. Taking advantage of the growing opportunities for night sky viewing; A waxing crescent moon sneaks up on Saturn tonight and zips past during the day tomorrow. Saturn is just above the top star of the teapot shape of Sagittarius and Jupiter is not far above the red giant star Antares of Scorpius. The two planets straddle the southern Milky Way galaxy, a fine target for binocular observing.
After a four-week journey from earth, the Indian Space Research Organization announced its Chandrayaan 2 spacecraft successfully entered lunar orbit. Next up in about a week is a landing attempt, then a rover deployment. The chosen landing location is the moon’s South Pole region. The orbiter is expected to operate for about a year and the lander and rover will perform surface studies. The rover is about 60 pounds and solar powered. The lander and rover are expected to last at least one lunar day (two weeks) but as lunar night comes flight controllers will try to awaken the rover and lander after the two-week sleep. India hopes to complete its first crewed mission by 2022.
The Big Dipper is visible in the northwest just after dark and the main summer constellations Cygnus, Lyra, and Altair are overhead by 9:00pm. Catch three seasons of constellations in one overnight: Summer Triangle overhead at 9:30pm, Pegasus and Andromeda (w/ M31) in the east at 10:30pm, and Orion in the east at 5:00am-5:30am. The moon is next to Jupiter on the evening of the 5th and slides towards Saturn the next night.
Nuclear Physicist Gunther Korschinek and his team of researchers from Technical University of Munich sifted through half-a-ton of snow from Antarctica to find 10 atoms(!) of Iron-60 an isotope (radioactive 60 protons, 60 neutrons in the nucleus) only produced in supernova explosions. Their study of the deposit indicates the 60Fe only recently arrived (likely in the past few decades). 60Fe has been detected before in ocean sediments, on the moon and in meteorites but those deposits are a few millions years old. Shock waves from stellar explosions must carry the 60Fe through space and we happened to be in the path of the traveling shock waves.
A diminishing amount of sunlight by mid-August triggers trees to start closing down – triggering a hormone that releases a chemical message to each leaf that it is time to prepare for winter. Over the next few weeks, abscission cells form a bumpy line at the place where the leaf stem meets the branch. And slowly, but surely, the leaf is “pushed” from the tree branch. This winterization process ensures trees’ survival. In spring and summer, leaves convert sunlight into energy through photosynthesis. During that process, the trees lose so much water that when winter arrives, the trees are no longer able to get enough water to replace it.
Tardigrades, also called water bears because of their microscopic teddy or panda bear-like appearance have been known to exist in a dormant state for a decade or more. Some have even survived hitchhiked rides on rockets to orbit and survived the deadly environment of space. The Israeli lunar mission was carrying several thousand of the microscopic critters when in crash-landed on the moon in April. They have the enviable ability to put themselves into a sort of state of suspended animation called cryptobiosis. In other words, when living conditions become less than ideal, they can curl themselves up, dry themselves out and become relatively impervious to the outside world until conditions improve. Given their ability to hibernate for decades, it’s remotely possible that some of them could be collected and re-animated (rehydrated) by future lunar explorers!
Although the Perseid Meteor Shower is the year’s best shower, it will be compromised this year due to an almost full moon that will make viewing a challenge.
Muddy Run Observatory Sky and Star Festival takes place today- A great family event, from noon to 11 p.m. at Muddy Run Park in Holtwood, PA. I’ll be presenting tonight in between telescopic observing at the region’s newest observatory under very dark skies.
Viewing highlights at the Franklin Institute Night Skies at the Observatory on Tuesday include the moon, Jupiter and Saturn.
GJ 357d is one of three planets found orbiting a tiny (300,000 miles diameter) M-type star 31 light years away. This so-called “Super-earth” is about 19 million miles out from the star, orbiting every 55 days, and is massive enough to have a thick atmosphere. It could be similar to Earth and potentially inhabitable. Further out (260 light years away) another planet has been detected that is 4.6 times Earth’s size and 29 times Earth’s mass (making it close in size to Neptune). It is 1.5 million miles from its star and orbits every 19 hours, about as close as a planet can get without being swallowed by its star. Its temperature checks in at 3,100 degrees Fahrenheit! Most other planets so close to their stars are either Earth-sized or Jupiter-sized, so this one is right in the middle of that range. It probably formed farther out, then migrated inward towards the star losing atmosphere as it heated or as the star drew the atmosphere off.
The universe is primarily comprised of so-called “dark matter.” We can’t see it, but we know it exists because we can see its gravitational effect. Some physicists think dark matter is made up of weakly interacting massive particles (WIMPs), but they have yet to be detected. Here’s another possibility; a very special quark-like particle that can travel unimpeded through the universe at hypersonic speeds. One group of scientists suggest that such a particle would bore a cylinder right through you but cauterize that path as it went because at those speeds, a one square micrometer (1,000 times smaller than a millimeter!) particle would generate about 18 million degrees of heat!
Sunrise now at 6:01am and sunset at 8:12pm, we’ve already lost 49 minutes of daylight. Jupiter and Saturn are night sky highlights, and a beautiful waxing crescent moon is visible after sunset now.
Upcoming cross-quarter day on August 1 is known as LoafMass: A celebration of the first loaves of bread from the first harvests of wheat in Northern Europe. The Celts called the day Lughnasadh, recognizing the fruits of the marriage of the Sun god Lugh and the Earth goddess. Other, better-known cross-quarter days are Beltane/May Day on May 1, Samhain/Halloween on October 31, and Candlemas/Groundhog Day on February 2. All cross quarter designations were useful divisions of the calendar, making it easier to keep track of planting and harvest cycles.
We’re gathering new evidence about galactic sized mergers, including one in our Milky Way. Stars in our galaxy have been calculated to be 10 to 13 billion years old – as old as the oldest stars in the universe! They also indicate that the infant Milky Way was once impacted by a smaller galaxy that today is revealed by a distinct population of blue star scattered throughout the Milky Way. These are older, redder stars formed during the universe’s first billion years. Scattered throughout the Milky Way, the smaller galaxy’s stars have a distinctive signature that shows it formed in a different part of space where the supply materials are different. This work has to be coordinated with other studies that show the Milky Way currently merging with other galaxies.
Jupiter and Saturn dominate the cross-quarter evening sky now, straddling the Milky Way.
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