Archive for the ‘planets’ Tag

Otherworldly Saturn   Leave a comment

Few places capture our imagination like Saturn. With its myriad of rings and moons, it shines above us in the night sky as it travels along the ecliptic.  It’s always been inspiration for sci-fi fans too. Anyone who’s ever glanced at pulp sci-fi fiction covers might have noticed ringed planets hovering in the background as a elongated oval-shaped finned spaceship rocketed past.

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“Tommy Tomorrow,” created by Jack Schiff, George Kashdan, Bernie Breslauer, Virgil Finlay, and Howard Sherman, DC Comics

Take, for example, our friend Tommy Tomorrow. Created in 1947, he roamed the heavens in his futuristic 1988 space jet, zipping past a rather featureless Saturn-like planet, as illustrated above, while another Saturn-ish red planet with gold rings spins in the distance.

Systema Saturn

Early drawings of Saturn. From the Systema Saturnium (Fig. 67)

Early astronomers struggled to draw what they’d seen through primitive telescopes. While they seemed to understand that its appearance changed in relation to its orbit around the sun and the earth, they couldn’t always account for its rings. A quick glance tells the viewer that something’s going on with Saturn, but just exactly what, they couldn’t be sure.

As telescopes grew more sophisticated, astronomers were able to recreate more accurate  images of Saturn.

Antique Saturn

19th century Illustration of Saturn

 

And photographers capabilities grew, so did their ability to capture Saturn.

1879 Jupiter and 1885 Saturn

A composite photo of  Jupiter (1879) and Saturn (1885)

In 1973, NASA launched Pioneer 11. Its mission included photographing Saturn. While previous photos of this planet taken from the Earth resulted in blurry, yellowish images, Pioneer 11’s photos revealed tantalizing clues about its nature, as well as its moons.

Saturn Pioneer 11

NASA image, Saturn and Titan as seen by Pioneer 11

None, though, can compare to the 20-year mission of Cassini. Launched in 1997, the Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative partnership between NASA and ESA to conduct an exhaustive exploration of the ringed jewel of the solar system. The images sent back are like none other.

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NASA, Cassini-Huygens mission image of Saturn

On September 15, 2017, the Cassini mission will come to a fiery end, as it crashes into the atmosphere of Saturn, ending a glorious 13-year run. It’s been an amazing journey, and without a doubt, its legacy will continue to fascinate astronomers and ordinary folk like me. You’ve done well, Cassini!

 

 

June’s Nighttime Sky   Leave a comment

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Credit: earth sky.org

Look up, folks!

This month proves to be a bonanza for Mars and Saturn fans! Take a look in the southeast and you’ll notice the giant fishhook that is Scorpio. You can’t miss it and if you glance at the top three stars, they form a crooked line. Here’s a better example of the constellation:

scorpio

Credit: H.A. Rey, “The Stars”

Mars slips across the southern sky, so incredibly bright, you can’t miss it. If you’ve been keeping your eye on it, you’ll notice every night it’s in a different spot, competing with Scorpio’s Antares (magnitude: 1.22). Mars is a fair distance ahead of Antares, so you can’t get them confused.

Saturn isn’t in as much of a hurry as Mars, but still commands attention. During June, the ringed planet is its closest to the Earth, and, as an added bonus, has its rings nicely tipped at a 26 degree angle, showing them off nicely for you. It, too, is in Scorpio, just above it.

Scorpio also happens to be one of my favorite constellations, glimmering all summer long. When I see it rise, in earnest, in May, I know summer isn’t far behind. It glimmers and shimmers. It never rises that high, but you can’t miss it when it’s here.

In the early morning sky, you can also see Comet Pan-STARRS near the constellation Capricorn low in the souther sky. It comes into view around 4:00 am.

If you happen to have a telescope, all of these are worth seeking out. Even a strong pair of binoculars make a difference, especially with the comet.

Here’s a brief video from NASA JPL with more details regarding Mars, Saturn and Comet Pan-STARRS. Take a moment this weekend and look south – nature will reward you with its charming beauty!

 

 

World’s End   Leave a comment

SOSASTEROID-jumbo

Credit: Don Davis/NASA

Hope you didn’t make any plans to take that much-needed restful vacation to Puerto Rico from September 15-28, 2015.  And while that’s the heart of the hurricane season, this wrath-of-nature event’s going to create giant waves not as the result of intense low pressure, but the crashing of a honking huge space rock.  Yes, folks, this sucker’s got our name on it and it’s that apocalyptic nightmare we’ve been long warned about.  So if any of you were thinking about paying bills or going to college, your time’d be better spent making plans of an otherworldly sort – the kind that involves a sudden belief in religion and hoping that all of those priests, preachers and other sorts are right.

NOT!

Oh geez, here we go again.  Once again, life on Earth is going to end.  Or that’s what they’d like you to believe on the internet.

So much buzz and inquiry flew around in cyberspace that the American authority on such matters, NASA, had to release a statement that categorically denied our home planet’s days were numbered.

As things go, this latest rumor of our planet’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.  There is no asteroid, the Earth is still planning to turn and as far as vacations to Puerto Rico are concerned, it’s still hurricane season and you still might want to check the forecast before you leave.

Back in 1982, a rare alignment of all nine planets (back then, Pluto was considered one) occurred.  Our entire solar system lined up within a 95° arc, all on one side of the sun in March of that year.  This amazing event prompted horrific rumors of devastating earthquakes, shifts in gravitational forces and life as we know it’d go the way of Betamax players (also popular at the time).  And no Earth-ending force would be complete without California’s San Andreas fault sliding off the West Coast and offering the residents of Arizona the beachfront property they’d been longing for.  Of course, no one would have even given this planetary lineup a second thought had it not been for the book written by John Gribbin, Ph.D., and Stephen Plagemann, called The Jupiter Effect, published in 1974.    For some reason, nothing really happened except nighttime sky observers had a fantastic view.  Not long after, Gribbin and Plagemann published, The Jupiter Effect Reconsidered, backtracking to say the actual event occurred in 1980 and was responsible for the monumental eruption of Mt. St. Helens.  Finally, in 1999, Gribbin admitted he might have been mistaken about the whole thing.

There seems to be no end of apocalyptic predictions, it seems – humankind thrives on them.  Most of them seem to revolve around Christ coming again and bible predictions, or some deity wreaking havoc, or even a random event magically pull the plug on our planet.  To illustrate, Wikipedia has a fairly comprehensive (although by no means complete) list of popular end-of-it-all predictions.  Suffice it to say, we’re all still here.

Why is it seemingly so popular to want life to end on our planet?  Lots of reasons.  Those in power used it as a means to control less sophisticated types, while others, through limited means of scientific understanding, considered such celestial events as comets to be a omen of death.  The same goes for plagues, droughts and other extreme weather events, earthquakes, eclipses and more.  I remember as a kid hearing Pat Robertson of the 700 Club predict the world would end in 1982.  Why?  He was a big fan of the Antichrist and figured that’d be a good time as any for the devil to show up.  That, and this prediction bolstered viewers for his popular TV show.  Hey, wouldn’t you want the latest details of your demise?  Of course, if you were God’s Chosen, you’d be lifted up in The Rapture…and all of his viewers were special, natch.

Alas, as long as humans trod the earth, there will be naysayers for its future.  The Assyrians are famously known for making this oft-quoted prediction, way back in 2800 BC:

“Our Earth is degenerate in these later days; there are signs that the world is speedily coming to an end; bribery and corruption are common; children no longer obey their parents; every man wants to write a book and the end of the world is evidently approaching.”

Oh, if only it’d be true…

 

Endless Time of Space   Leave a comment

600px-Galaxy_history_revealed_by_the_Hubble_Space_Telescope_(GOODS-ERS2)

Time.  Space.  There’s an awful lot of it.  The two are a married couple, together for eternity, destined to rule everyone’s ultimate fate but perhaps their own.  What is all that out there, anyway, and how did it begin?

As I drove to work yesterday, whiteness blanketed every surface, including the river I travel along.  The snow disguised every surface, shrouding shapes.  It almost became difficult to see where the river and its banks met.  Where did one begin and the other ended.  For one reason or another, my mind drifted to the endless void of space.  You know, the one that’s situated where our planet and its eight companions hang out.

Sure, there’s loads of theories detailing how the Big Bang began it all.  But what prompted it?  And where, exactly, did that bang occur?  What was the situation, the circumstance, the one moment where conditions were correct to unleash a tide of matter and send it forth for eons?  Say, now’s a good time to create…everything…

Again, there are theories about all of this.  Tracing the creation of the universe to that Big Bang is pretty much where it stops.  My curiosity lies with What Came Before.

In my opinion, some matter had to be gathered together initially to agitate enough to explode.  What created that matter and how much was there of it to launch forth an entire universe of galaxies, novas, quasars and planets?  What created the void wherein the matter floats and drifts?  And like any explosion, the shock waves fly out until they dissipate or crash against a solid surface.  Will the shock waves act as ones that dissipate or like a string on a yo-yo, reaching a limit and then curl back?

It’s a lot to ponder as one’s listening to the band Viet Cong play “Silhouette” on the car radio, driving past a white ribbon of frozen river.

Just to perplex myself even further while I crossed over a bridge, I thought about the time it took to accomplish all of this.  No, not the kind of time-bending that Einstein and the movie “Interstellar” explored.  Just a simple answer.  You know, like 30 billion years.  Or so.  And how long did that void exists before it decided to make a universe?  What came before that?  And that?

I arrived at my destination: a small museum that I run.  Out of time, I pulled into a space and parked the car.  Slipping the key into the door and turning off the alarm, I turned my attention to the matters that awaited me at work, taking satisfaction that there were few mysteries there.  Nothing I couldn’t solve, anyway.

Posted February 19, 2015 by seleneymoon in Sci-Fi, science fiction, The Universe

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The Real Event of the Week   Leave a comment

While all eyes were on the nonevent taking place in the Hudson Valley of New York (and elsewhere), there was quite the show taking place above that taunting canopy of clouds.

That’s right, I’m talking about the flyby of Asteroid 2004 BL86.

This little world blasted past our very own Earth and if you were lucky and had the right viewing opportunities, you could see it.  I’d been hoping for a clear sky, as I’d been itching to take the new Celestron out behind the garage and see what I could see.  Alas, it wasn’t to be – clouds with a tiny sprinkling of snow dropping from them – but that hasn’t stopped my fascination with BL86.

Take a look at the NASA/JPL film I’ve enclosed with this blog, as well as this excellent link from the same source.  BL86 is a round asteroid with its own munchkin moon, which I find utterly charming.   That moon isn’t much larger than our back yard, and here it is, making a name for itself while partnering with BL86 as it graces our solar system.  True, it came within 745,000 miles/1.2 million kilometers of the Earth.  That only means it stayed far away enough to mind its own business yet close enough to give us a good flirt and a wink.

Can you imagine if you were one of the inhabitants of that tiny world?  How your view changes as the days whirr past while zipping through the solar system.  It’s almost as if it’s shouting “wheee!” as it goes on its tilted orbit around the sun, waving hello every now and again.

If you have enough patience to wait until 2027, there might be a second opportunity to see yet another asteroid, 1999 AN10, grace our planet with its near presence.  It, too, is expected to pass rather close…and raising the inevitable alarms that it has the potential to blast us out of existence.

Ah well.

Until then, keep your eyes to the skies, and always continue to be surprised!

 

Posted January 29, 2015 by seleneymoon in Nature, Planets, The Universe

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Analemma Dilemma   Leave a comment

Analemma_fishburn

Afternoon analemma photo taken in 1998-1999 by Jack Fishburn in Murray Hill, NJ.  Bell Laboratories building in foreground

Have you ever noticed in the mornings, from about mid-December to around mid-January that the sun rises the same time every day?  Even though the time of the setting sun changes, the dawn keeps breaking at 7:21 am (or whatever time your sun happens to rise, depending upon where in the world you live).  It’s as if it’s stuck, needing an extra nudge to get it moving.    Once again, from about mid-June to mid-July, the same thing happens with the sun once more.

As illustrated in the photo above, this phenomena is called an analemma.  The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it as, “a plot or graph of the position of the sun in the sky at a certain time of day (as noon) at one locale measured throughout the year that has the shape of a figure 8; also  :  a scale (as on a globe or sundial) based on such a plot that shows the sun’s position for each day of the year or that allows local mean time to be determined.”

So, if one were to take a picture of the sun at the same time every day, from exactly the same position, you’d more or less wind up with a figure 8.  It’s proof that the Earth’s axis is tilted at 23.439°.  However, the angle at which it’s seen changes wherever one is located on Earth.  The above was taken at roughly 40° north.  Here is a picture taken at Veszprem, Hungary, which is latitude 47°:

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Image Credit & CopyrightTamas Ladanyi – Analemma 2011 – taken at 9:00 am 

So at 47°, the sun’s angle’s a bit sharper.

Here’s an excellent link from the Washington Post that illustrates how the sun moves in the sky through the months.

And who can forget the moon?  Since it rises and sets, it too creates its own analemma.  However, the moon rises 51 minutes later every day, so in order to successfully photograph it, one has to take that into account.  Understanding that means the moon returns to the same position 51 minutes later, in accordance to its rising.  Still, with patience, one can create an excellent example of what the moon can do, although one has to also remember it has phases.  That creates a wonderful variety of shapes.  Here’s an example:

LunarAnalemma_richins_c72

Credit & Copyright: Rich Richins

Earth isn’t the only place where the analemma occurs.  Any planet where the sun shines also shares this perspective, although it’s teardrop shaped on Mars:

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Digital Illustration Credit & Copyright: Dennis Mammana (Skyscapes)

Why the different shape?  Here’s the explanation from NASA:

“On planet Earth, an analemma is the figure-8 loop you get when you mark the position of the Sun at the same time each day throughout the year. But similarly marking the position of the Sun in the Martian sky would produce the simpler, stretched pear shape in this digital illustration, based on the Mars Pathfinder project’s famous Presidential Panorama view from the surface. The simulation shows the late afternoon Sun that would have been seen from the Sagan Memorial Station once every 30 Martian days (sols) beginning on Pathfinder’s Sol 24 (July 29, 1997). Slightly less bright, the simulated Sun is only about two thirds the size as seen from Earth, while the Martian dust, responsible for the reddish sky of Mars, also scatters some blue light around the solar disk.”

Each planet, given its north-south axis tilt and shape of its orbit, has its own analemma shape:

  • Mercury – nearly straight line
  • Venus – ellipse
  • Mars – teardrop (as illustrated above)
  • Jupiter – ellipse
  • Saturn – figure 8, but with tight northern loop
  • Uranus – figure 8
  • Neptune – figure 8

Let me add that you don’t necessarily need a camera to record the sun’s analemma.  Think back to the movie “Cast Away” wherein Tom Hanks marks on stone where the sun travels throughout the year.  You can make note by just looking out the window and the same time each day, seeing where the sun happens to be at the same time each day.  It’s pretty cool.  Try it!

Posted January 14, 2015 by seleneymoon in Moon, Nature, Planets, Sci-Fi, science fiction, The Sun

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Best. Present. Ever.   Leave a comment

Celestron

Andrew’s wonderful Christmas present to me…

have to trumpet the best present I’ve ever longed for and received – a brand spankin’ new telescope!  And not just any telescope, my own Celestron NexStar 130SLT! I’ve always lusted after one of these, and now, I OWN ONE. Just in time to see Comet Lovejoy!  I’d like to take it outside tonight, as it’s nearest to the earth, but we’ve had some snow and I don’t know if the sky’s going to clear in time.  That, and it’s WELL below freezing tonight.  Still, that’s the optimal time to gaze at the heavens, because there won’t be any of that nasty haze interfering with the brilliance of the winter nighttime sky.

For those of you who own or have access to telescopes, the best thing about them is how it changes your perspective on what’s up there in the nighttime sky.  I had my first one at 12, but then it fell off the roof when I was trying to focus in on Comet Kohoutek.  That ended that.  Over the years I’ve belonged to astronomy clubs and peeked through fellow amateur astronomers.  Now, for the first time in years, I have one that’s powerful enough for me to zoom in on not just the planets, but Messier objects, novas, galaxies, double stars – the works!

My husband used to look up at the evening stars with his father back in his native England.  Their back garden in Launceston, Cornwall offered a terrific view, since it was near the top of a hill, without much to obscure the stars.  After life at 40.7127° N, 74.0059° W for years, I had a chance to see things at 50.6350° N, 4.3540° W.  My eyes, formerly trained to look at my favorite celestial objects at a lower latitude now had to focus somewhere else.  That only took a moment, but it also meant that I couldn’t see a few constellations I’d grown used to seeing skirting the horizon at my latitude.

It’s fair to say Andrew’s into this scope just as much as I am.  He’s a photographer and this Celestron has the capability for nighttime picture taking.  I personally can’t wait to get the thing outside and pointed upwards.  Truth be told, I don’t care where I look.  There’s sure to be something wonderful when I peer into the eyepiece, and I can’t imagine being disappointed at what I’ll see.

 

 

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