Showing all posts tagged: astronomy

Sydney to host the 2025 International Astronautical Congress

26 September 2022

With a number of planets, particularly Jupiter, dominating the eastern night sky of Australia at the moment, what better time to make mention that the 2025 International Astronautical Congress (IAC) will be held in the NSW capital, Sydney.

Founded in 1951, the International Astronautical Federation (IAF) is the world’s leading space advocacy body with around 460 members in 72 countries, including all leading space agencies, companies, research institutions, universities, societies, associations, institutes and museums worldwide. The Federation advances knowledge about space, supporting the development and application of space assets by promoting global cooperation.

The last time Australia hosted an IAC event was in 2017, when the International Astronautical Federation conference took place in Adelaide, South Australia.

On the subject of astronomical matters, check out If the Moon were only one pixel, by American interactive art director and designer Josh Worth. Now we can see why they call it space

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UFO sightings surge in skies above Ukraine recently

16 September 2022

Astronomers in Ukraine have observed an uptick in unidentified flying objects over the country in recent months. While it seem obvious there would be more aerial activity with a war raging in the region, scientists are adamant what they’re seeing in Ukrainian skies are not military vessels.

Ukraine astronomers have reported a slew of UFOs observed in the country’s airspace. They’ve reported their findings in a preprint paper published by Kyiv’s Main Astronomical Observatory Ukraine’s National Academy of Science. Remember, UFOs don’t necessarily mean extraterrestrial spaceships from other planets. Perhaps they are advanced military aircraft from much closer to home, like even from one of Ukraine’s (ahem) neighbors.

All the more curious given recent reports from US Navy pilots who say they’ve seen unidentified flying objects during flight operations. Are unidentified flying objects drawn to areas where military craft are operating?

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Video of a solar eclipse on Mars, Phobos occults the Sun

30 August 2022

Footage of a solar eclipse on Mars, filmed by NASA roving probe Curiosity. Eclipses on Mars are a little different to those we are treated to on Earth though, with the speed of the red planet’s “moontatoes” making the phenomenon more of a blink and you’ll miss it occasion.

Mars’ moons Phobos (“fear” in Ancient Greek) and Deimos (“dread”) circle Mars every 7.65 and 30.35 hours respectively, a relative blink compared to the 27-day orbit of Earth’s moon. They’re also a lot smaller than the Moon, and considerably more lumpy – little moontatoes, rather than the nice round disk we see shining so argently in our night sky.

It makes me think. If Pluto doesn’t make the grade as a “proper” planet, why should the so-called satellites of Mars be regarded as moons? Surely “captured objects” would be a more apt classification.

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Bits of Saturn, a Twitter account posting Cassini probe images

27 August 2022
Saturn, photo by NASA Cassini probe

Speaking of Twitter, while a number of accounts may be automated or bots, they’re not all bad. Bits of Saturn, which posts raw images of the ringed planet, taken by NASA’s Cassini probe, between 2004 and 2017, is one you should follow.

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The sound of the Perseus galaxy cluster black hole

25 August 2022

NASA have again been applying sound, or musical notes, to the data they’ve collected from objects in the universe — a process called sonification — this time a black hole located about two-hundred-and-forty million light years away in the Perseus galaxy cluster.

People have variously likened the droning sound produced by the black hole to wailing ghosts or grumbling, hungry, stomachs. Somehow I think of water draining down a plughole.

The Perseus galaxy cluster is intriguing of itself being, according to Wikipedia, one of the most massive objects in the known universe, containing thousands of galaxies immersed in a vast cloud of multimillion-degree gas. I doubt we’ll be sending our star ships too close to that cluster…

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5000 exoplanets pinpointed and given a sound signature

23 August 2022

Prior to 1992 exoplanets — being planets orbiting stars other than the Sun — were unheard of. While scientists believed they existed, thirty years ago none had been found. Today though exoplanets are the rule rather than the exception with over five thousand such bodies having been identified so far.

And with an estimated one-hundred-thousand-million stars in our galaxy, the Milky Way, it is likely many, many, more exoplanets will come to light. This nifty animation and sonification produced by NASA pinpoints the location of stars hosting exoplanets, while a pitch or chime conveys other information about the planet.

This animation and sonification tracks humanity’s discovery of the planets beyond our solar system over time. Turning NASA data into sounds allows users to hear the pace of discovery, with additional information conveyed by the notes themselves. As each exoplanet is discovered, a circle appears at its position in the sky. The size of the circle indicates the relative size of the planet’s orbit and the color indicates which planet detection method was used to discover it. The music is created by playing a note for each newly discovered world. The pitch of the note indicates the relative orbital period of the planet. Planets that take a longer time to orbit their stars are heard as lower notes, while planets that orbit more quickly are heard as higher notes.

The question now is how many exoplanets are capable of supporting life (as we know it), and is life present on any of these bodies.

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Super clear photos of Jupiter taken by the Juno probe

3 August 2022
Image of Jupiter, via NASA JunoCam

Image courtesy of NASA/Juno spacecraft.

A selection of some of the clearest photos taken so far, of Jupiter, the largest planet in the Solar System, by NASA’s Juno spacecraft. This stunning image dates from 2019. Juno has been photographing the gas giant since 2016, on a mission originally expected to last five years. NASA is hopeful however the probe will remain operational until 2025.

More of Juno’s photos can be seen here.

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Astronomers call for James Webb Space Telescope to be renamed

21 July 2022

While the images being collected by the newly operational James Webb Space Telescope have been stunning, some people are questioning whether the telescope should be named in honour of James Webb. Webb was NASA administrator from 1961 until 1968, and during his tenure he oversaw preparations for the early Apollo Moon flights.

But some astronomers and scientists are calling for NASA to rename the space telescope in light of allegations Webb persecuted LGBTQIA+ people, during, and before, his time as NASA administrator.

The telescope’s name has been criticised by many scientists amid allegations that Webb was linked to persecution of LGBTQ+ people in the 1950s and 1960s. The Lavender Scare witch-hunt resulted in the mass dismissal of gay and lesbian people from the US government service in the mid-20th century.

To date NASA has refused to yield, claiming there is no evidence supporting the allegations against Webb.

In September last year, NASA announced it would not change the telescope’s name. “We have found no evidence at this time that warrants changing the name of the James Webb space telescope,” NASA’s current administrator Bill Nelson said in a statement in September.

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First images from the James Webb Space Telescope

14 July 2022

NASA released the first images captured by the brand new James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), on Tuesday, and they did not disappoint.

The first operational JWST photo is of the SMACS 0723 galaxy cluster, which is a little over five billion light years distant. Incredible isn’t it? The cluster seems far closer. What we’re really seeing here though is a snapshot of the cluster as it appeared five billion years ago.

Check out the red streak, that looks a little like a forward-slash towards the bottom centre. According to Rebecca Allen, an astronomer at Swinburne University of Technology, this was a galaxy with many of its stars still forming. Five billion years later, it might look like our galaxy, the Milky Way, today.

SMACS 0723 galaxy cluster

Image courtesy NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Webb ERO.

This picture of the Southern Ring Nebula, also known as Eight-Burst Nebula, and Caldwell 74, depicts the death throes of a binary star. The cloud of dust, hydrogen, and ionised gas, surrounding the binary is about half a light year across.

Southern Ring Nebula

Image courtesy NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI.

The Carina Nebula, situated some 8500 light years from Earth, is the sort of image we love seeing from deep space telescopes. Brimming with colour, pearly bright stars in the foreground, and intrigue, these nebulae are akin to intricate tapestries.

Carina Nebula

Image courtesy NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI.

Hands up who’s hanging out for the next batch of JWST images…

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What next after finding the goddamn Higgs boson particle?

14 July 2022

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is being fired up again after an extensive upgrade, and expectations are high the revamped particle collider will yield further of the universe’s secrets. Australian journalist Sherryn Groch has written about what scientists hope to learn in the next round of LHC experiments, as part of the Sydney Morning Herald Explainer series of articles.

For many people the LHC is most notable for finally confirming the existence of the elusive Higgs boson, nicknamed the goddamn particle by some scientists, on account of the difficulty they had finding it. The discovery though wasn’t quite the missing piece of the puzzle physicists expected it to be, says Dr Mitesh Patel, a lead researcher at CERN, giving rise to the possibility a fifth force of nature may exist, over and above the presently accepted four.

And then there’s the Higgs boson itself: it’s much lighter than expected. “It doesn’t really make sense on its own,” Patel says. “Everything about it tells us its mass should be much heavier. So, is something keeping it low? That’s what makes us think there’s something else.”

But the plot thickens. Shortly before the LHC was deactivated for upgrade, Patel and his team were struggling to make sense of data they had gleaned from older LHC experiments. What they were seeing didn’t stack up against the tenets of the Standard Model of physics, used to account for the four forces of nature, being electromagnetism, the weak force, the strong force, and gravity, even if the Standard Model does not actually explain gravity.

In the subatomic realm, particles interact and change all the time. And, according to the standard model, those known as beauty quarks should decay as often into muons as they do into electrons. But on the CERN team’s measurements, they became electrons 15 per cent more often than the muons, suggesting something could be tipping the scales.

Scientists are hoping further LHC experiments will also tell them more about dark matter, which coupled with dark energy, makes up ninety-five percent of the universe. But gravity remains the mystery. Standard Model does not account for it, and scientists are puzzled as to why it is far weaker than the other forces of nature. But they have some mind-boggling suggestions as to why:

[Some] speculate whether dark matter is really the effects of matter in another universe – gravity leaking through a multiverse into our own. It sounds like a Marvel film but Patel says “there are decent foundations” for the theory, namely that scientists still don’t understand why gravity is so much weaker than the other three forces of nature. “So people have speculated that maybe gravity behaves differently because it’s spread out in other dimensions in addition to our own”.

It is possible insights into these puzzles may be forthcoming sooner rather than later, once the LHC is up and running again. This I am looking forward to.

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Saturn’s rings and moons silhouette woodcut by Agnes Giberne

12 July 2022
Saturn's rings, moons, illustration by Agnes Giberne

The things you find while trawling through the The Public Domain ReviewAgnes Giberne was a British novelist and science writer, who died aged 93 in 1939. As a writer her output was prolific.

Wikipedia lists one hundred and thirty books published under her name during her lifetime. On top of her writing though, Giberne was also an accomplished artist and illustrator.

The above illustration, titled “Ideal view of Saturn’s rings and satellites from the planet” is a silhouette woodcut from her book, Sun, Moon, and Stars: A Book for Beginners, which was published in 1898.

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2022 astronomy photographer of the year shortlist

7 July 2022

The 2022 astronomy photographer of the year shortlist was unveiled on Tuesday 5 July. The award, organised by the Royal Observatory Greenwich is in its thirteenth year, and the entries, as usual, never fail to amaze. Shortlisted images are on display at London’s National Maritime Museum until Sunday 7 August 2022, with the winners being announced on Thursday 15 September 2022.

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Space bubbles a Dyson sphere like solution to global warming?

15 June 2022

Dyson spheres are hypothetical mega-structures highly advanced planetary civilisations might construct around their host star to harness as much solar energy as possible to power their needs. Seen from a distance, a Dyson sphere would look like a massive shell almost completely encompassing a star.

It’d be like constructing a giant display case for the Sun. Needless to say building a Dyson sphere is no small undertaking, and would require an enormous quantity of resources, technological smarts, plus an unprecedented level of international cooperation. A single superpower could not take on an engineering feat of this scale alone, it’d be a team effort.

Dyson spheres have been in the news relatively recently. Fluctuations in the light of Tabby’s Star, located about 1,470 light-years from Earth, were puzzling astronomers, and the existence of a Dyson sphere was advanced as a possible explanation, though later ruled out.

While Dyson spheres, something late British American mathematician and physicist Freeman Dyson first wrote about in 1960, are unlikely to feature in our future anytime soon, the concept may help us combat global warming.

A team of MIT scientists have devised a solar filter of sorts, they call space bubbles. In short, a small structure made up of numerous of these space bubbles could be used to form a shield, deflecting a small, though sufficient amount of solar radiation away from the Earth.

The MIT scientists propose placing the space bubbles at the Lagrange point between the Earth and the Sun. Put simply, a Legrange point, is an area between two celestial objects, say the Earth and the Sun, where the gravity of both objects balance each other. For example if a satellite were placed at this Legrange point, it would stay put, and wouldn’t fall towards either the Earth or Sun.

Once in place, the space bubbles would act like an eclipsing body, in this case permanently blocking, or more like filtering, a small amount of the Sun’s rays reaching the Earth. While the proportion of solar radiation “blocked” would be minuscule, the MIT team say if just under two percent of “incident solar radiation” was deflected, current global warming could be fully reversed.

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In ten billion years the universe will double in size

28 May 2022

The Hubble constant expresses the rate at which the universe is expanding. The problem is though, no one has been able to nail down a precise value for the constant. That is, until now.

When the Hubble Space Telescope was launched in 1990 the universe’s expansion rate was so uncertain that its age might only be 8 billion years or as great as 20 billion years. After 30 years of meticulous work using the Hubble telescope’s extraordinary observing power, numerous teams of astronomers have narrowed the expansion rate to a precision of just over 1%. This can be used to predict that the universe will double in size in 10 billion years.

That’s mind blowing. To say the least. The already enormous cosmos will one day be twice its present size. Too bad no one here today will be around to see it. But what does it matter anyway? Well, you’d be surprised. Given some two point two million new books are published every year, one can only imagine how many more publications there’ll be in ten billion years’ time.

With a much larger universe by then, it’s comforting to know there will be space to put them somewhere…

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How the rings of Saturn were formed

23 March 2022

From BBC Earth Lab. Many millions of years ago, one of Saturn’s erstwhile moons, strayed a little too close, crossed a line, the Roche Limit, and shattered into billions of pieces, having been torn apart by the immense gravity of the Solar System’s second largest planet.

Saturn’s incredible ring system was the result of this cataclysmic event, once the remnants of the moon, some seventeen trillion tons of icy material, spread out in orbit around the planet. It would have been an incredible spectacle to witness, had anyone been around to see it all happen.

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Beware HR 6819 is a vampire star

3 March 2022

HR 6819 is a binary star about 1120 light years from Earth. So far so good, binary stars are a dime a dozen in the Milky Way. But one member of the duo — though some astronomers speculate HR 6819 may be a three star system — which is about four times the size of the Sun, is sucking material away from its smaller counterpart. Astronomers have a special name for stars like this: vampire stars.

In binary systems where two stars are close together, it’s not uncommon for one star to “suck” away the atmosphere of the other – a phenomenon sometimes called “stellar vampirism”. The researchers believe they may have observed the immediate aftermath of a stellar vampire attack in HR 6819.

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Photos of Comet Leonard

23 December 2021

Comet Leonard is making a once in eighty-thousand year flyby of the Earth, lighting up, in a way, the festive season night sky. A hunt around on Twitter will turn up a mass of fantastic images of the comet, but here are a few of my favourites.

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When galaxies collide, coming to the night sky in four billion years

4 June 2012

Several billion years hence our galaxy, the Milky Way, will collide with galactic neighbour Andromeda, and form a new entity some are calling Milkomeda. This NASA image depicts key steps in the process, and if nothing else will transform the night sky into a visual spectacle.

Not that anyone will probably be around to think about it anyway, but the night sky will have far less appeal once the merger is complete. The bright white haze (in the last frame) that will eventually take the place of the Milky Way (first frame) looks a little bland to me.

Via NASA Science.

Originally published Monday 4 June 2012.

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Colliding galaxies, an insight into Milkomeda’s formation?

12 July 2009

Eventually our galaxy will collide (or, if you prefer, merge) with the Andromeda galaxy forming a new body some are already calling Milkomeda.

But this photo of four galaxies colliding — by the way — at speeds of up to two million miles (or 3.2 million kilometres) an hour, may be indication of what to expect when Milkomeda does form.

Originally published Sunday 12 July 2009

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The chances of colliding with a star are a million to one

18 February 2009

My recent mentions of the eventual merger/collision of the Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies, giving rise to “Milkomeda”, has prompted some reader questions about the likelihood of a star from Andromeda colliding with the Sun, during the “merger”.

One thing to remember is the collision is billions of years away, should it even happen, but the chances of stars from either galaxy colliding are extremely remote given the astronomical distances between them:

As with all such collisions, it is unlikely that objects such as stars contained within each galaxy will actually collide, as galaxies are in fact very diffuse – the nearest star to the Sun is in fact almost thirty million solar diameters away from the Earth. (If the sun were scaled to the size of an American quarter, 24.26 mm (0.955 in), the next closest quarter/star would be 700 km (475 miles) away.)

Originally published Wednesday 18 February 2009.

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