astronomy round-up: 25 May 2012

Below are links to some of the stories I’ve been following this week. There were many news stories, blog posts, professional and amateur videos, and more circulating online this week about the annular eclipse this past Sunday. Though we had cloudy skies here in Portland, I was able to catch the action online at then was kicking myself the next day when I learned that the clouds had parted just long enough over at OMSI for clear viewing of the event.

annular solar eclipse through clouds 2012

Next up is the transit of Venus across the face of the sun on June 5th. If you miss it, this transit won’t come around again for another 105 years . . .

1. A rare island of serenity, thanks to the FCC

“For anyone who’s ever been bothered by the loud ring of a cellphone, or a loud-mouth on a cell phone . . . there’s an island of tranquility, if you will, in the West Virginia mountains. Here, most gadgets that transmit aren’t just unwelcome, they’re BANNED by the federal government. ? The Quiet Zone was set up to protect the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, a very large and very sensitive radio telescope listening for the faintest of signals from space.

2. Celestial tapestry is born of uncertain parentage

“New observations show that the nature of a dimmer, bluer star might provide a better fit for Sharpless 2?71?s ?birth parent? than the planetary nebula?s long-assumed central star.”

3. Solar eclipse was real-life astronomy lesson for millions

“Across the country, the solar eclipse Sunday seemed to kindle an infectious enthusiasm for astronomy.”

4. Israeli Space Telescope On ‘Clean Room’ Ice For Years; May Never See Launch

“Israel isn?t the first place one turns when thinking of astronomy from space. In a country arguably living under existential threat, the assumption is that Israelis are more likely to be scanning the skies for incoming missiles than new windows onto the nearby universe.”

5. SpaceX Falcon 9 Launch Successful, Dragon Capsule one Step Closer to ISS

“After being delayed once, SpaceX’s Dragon 9 rocket took flight and brought the Dragon capsule to orbit, with the ultimate goal of docking to the International Space Station (ISS). This mission is historic for many reasons: It will have been the first time that a commercial company sends a spacecraft to the ISS, but it also further proves that it is possible to make spaceflight cheaper and safer (it used to take the resources of the biggest nations on Earth to achieve this, and now a privately funded startup is doing it in a few years), and thus make space more accessible.”

6. Lowell Observatory launches new Pro/Am research initiative

“Flagstaff, Ariz. ? Lowell Observatory is proud to announce the Lowell Amateur Research Initiative (LARI). This program seeks to pair the ever-growing and technically sophisticated amateur astronomy community in exciting research projects with Lowell astronomers.”

7. Get ready for the transit of Venus!

“Scientists and amateur astronomers around the world are preparing to observe the rare occurrence of Venus crossing the face of the Sun on 5-6 June, an event that will not be seen again for over a hundred years.”

8. Saturn, surreally

“Take 7+ years of Saturn observations by the Cassini spacecraft, stitch a whole lot of them together into short, film-noir-like segments, and add a Beethoven soundtrack.”

9. SpaceX Dragon Update

“The SpaceX Dragon has completed the scheduled maneuvers around the International Space Station today. Not just completed but completed without any problems at all.”

10. Nomad planets seeding life throughout the universe?

“According to new calculations, planets adrift in space without a “home” solar system are abundant in the universe and scientists have proposed that these nomad planets might not only sustain life, but transport it as well.”

11. Collecting Light Part 4: Dark Skies, Bright Future

“Astronomers generally agree that several factors make Arizona good for sky-gazing. Our lack of clouds, high mountaintops and dark skies all make the state perfect for both professional and amateur astronomers. But light pollution is still a problem. Lori Allen, Deputy Director of Kitt Peak National Observatory, says any light from a source other than a distant object in the night sky can mar observations at today’s sensitive telescopes.”

12. Colliding galaxy cluster unraveled: Using radio observations, scientists have learned that the galaxy cluster Abell 2256 is brighter and more complex than expected.

“An international team of astronomers has used the Low Frequency Array (LOFAR) Telescope from ASTRON, the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy, to study the formation of the galaxy cluster Abell 2256. This cluster contains hundreds of galaxies at a distance of 800 million light-years. ?The structure we see in the radio images made with LOFAR provides us with information about the origin of this cluster,? said Reinout van Weeren from Leiden University in Rapenburg, Netherlands, and ASTRON. The research involved a large team of scientists from 26 different universities and research institutes.”

13. SETI Institute?s Jill Tarter takes issue with Stephen Hawking, MIB3, Prometheus and Battleship

“The creative minds who fill movies and TV shows with angry aliens will soon be defending their vision of these extraterrestrial antagonists at SETIcon, a public event sponsored by the SETI Institute. The Institute is known for its science-based search for radio signals that would betray the existence of intelligent beings on distant worlds. SETIcon will take place June 22 through 24 in the heart of the Silicon Valley, and will feature a celebrity banquet honoring Jill Tarter who, for the last 35 years, has led the search for extraterrestrial intelligence at the SETI Institute.”

14. Pro-Am Teamwork on the Rise: As demonstrated this week during a gathering of observers in Big Bear, California, amateur and professional astronomers are joining forces as never before.

“Astronomy is one of the few pursuits in which it’s sometimes hard to tell an amateur from a professional. Certainly anyone walking into this year’s Symposium on Telescope Science, held jointly with the American Association for Variable Star Observers, could easily mistake those gathered for a cadre of academics. But with the advent of affordable, high-quality technologies, such as CCD cameras, and the growth of large collaborations, amateurs are increasingly doing hardcore science that is indistinguishable in quality from professional work. Often they are partnering with professionals, too.”

15. NASA Funded Research Shows Existence of Reduced Carbon on Mars

“WASHINGTON — NASA-funded research on Mars meteorites that landed on Earth shows strong evidence that very large molecules containing carbon, which is a key ingredient for the building blocks of life, can originate on the Red Planet. These macromolecules are not of biological origin, but they are indicators that complex carbon chemistry has taken place on Mars.”

Creative Commons photo by Mr. Jason Hayes.

Posted in astronomy & science.

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