The transit of Venus — the last of this century and, for most of us, the last in our lifetimes — dominated astronomy news this week. Did you watch the transit, through a filtered telescope, with solar viewing glasses, or online? It was pretty spectacular.
I was at OMSI for the beginning of the transit and was happily surprised by the large turnout of my fellow Portlanders. Mid-afternoon on a weekday still found a couple hundred people at the museum (and a long line to buy solar viewing glasses snaking through the museum gift shop).
- ISS Transit of Venus
“In 1768, when James Cook sailed out of Plymouth harbor to observe the Transit of Venus in Tahiti, the trip was tantamount to a voyage through space. The remote island had just been “discovered” a year earlier, and by all accounts it was as strange and alien to Europeans as the stars themselves. Cook’s pinpoint navigation to Tahiti and his subsequent observations of Venus crossing the South Pacific sun in 1769 have inspired explorers for centuries. . . . One of those explorers is about to beat Cook at his own game.”
- An astronomical illumination: UI’s Scudder makes first observations of process linked to northern lights
“A University of Iowa researcher wants you to visualize a plate of spaghetti when you think of the northern lights. . . . That’s because Jack Scudder, UI professor of physics and astronomy, and his colleagues have reached a milestone in describing how the northern lights work by way of a process called ‘magnetic reconnection.'”
- 8 Baffling Astronomy Mysteries
“The Wonder of It All: The universe has been around for roughly 13.7 billion years, but it still holds many mysteries that continue to perplex astronomers to this day. Ranging from dark energy to cosmic rays to the uniqueness of our own solar system, there is no shortage of cosmic oddities.”
- Venus, a Planetary Portrait of Inner Beauty
“A Venus transit across the face of the sun is a relatively rare event — occurring in pairs with more than a century separating each pair. There have been all of 53 transits of Venus across the sun between 2000 B.C. and the last one in 2004. On Wednesday, June 6 (Tuesday, June 5 from the Western Hemisphere), Earth gets another shot at it – and the last for a good long while. But beyond this uniquely celestial oddity, why has Venus been an object worthy of ogling for hundreds of centuries?”
- We’re heading straight into a galaxy crash … in 4 billion years
“Four billion years from now, the Milky Way galaxy as we know it will cease to exist. . . . Our Milky Way is bound for a head-on collision with the similar-sized Andromeda galaxy, researchers announced on Thursday. Over time, the huge galactic smashup will create an entirely new hybrid galaxy, one likely bearing an elliptical shape rather than the Milky Way’s trademark spiral-armed disk.”
- ASU astronomers discover faintest distant galaxy
“Astronomers at Arizona State University have found an exceptionally distant galaxy, ranked among the top 10 most distant objects currently known in space. Light from the recently detected galaxy left the object about 800 million years after the beginning of the universe, when the universe was in its infancy.”
- CU-Boulder astronomer plans end-of-the-world cruise
“After fielding yet another media call about whether the world will end on Dec. 21 of this year, Douglas Duncan, director of the University of Colorado’s Fiske Planetarium, and one of his astro-colleagues hatched a plan. . . . ‘When the world doesn’t end, we should have a great party,’ Duncan remembers his colleague saying.”
- Astronomers lay bare the Milky Way’s biggest secrets
“When Lewis and Clark started exploring the West, they didn’t know much about what lay beyond St. Louis. Neither, at first, did astronomers know much about cosmic realms beyond Uranus.”
- Astronomers hope to see mysterious Arc of Venus during transit
“An armada of spacecraft and ground-based telescopes will be on the lookout for something elusive and, until recently, unexpected, when Venus transits the sun on June 5th and 6th. … Astronomers are all set to observe The Arc of Venus using 9 coronagraphs spaced around the world.”
- What is a redshift?
“Astronomers use redshifts to track the rotation of our galaxy, tease out the subtle tug of a distant planet on its parent star, and measure the expansion rate of the universe. What is a redshift? It’s often compared to the way a police officer catches you when you’re speeding. But, in the case of astronomy, these answers all come from our ability to detect miniscule changes in the color of light.”
- NASA gets two military spy telescopes for astronomy
“The secretive government agency that flies spy satellites has made a stunning gift to NASA: two exquisite telescopes as big and powerful as the Hubble Space Telescope. They’ve never left the ground and are in storage in Rochester, N.Y. … It’s an unusual technology transfer from the military-intelligence space program to the better-known civilian space agency. It could be a boost for NASA’s troubled science program, which is groaning under the budgetary weight of the James Webb Space Telescope, still at least six years from launch.”
- Giant Black Hole Kicked Out of Home Galaxy
“Astronomers have found strong evidence that a massive black hole is being ejected from its host galaxy at a speed of several million miles per hour. New observations from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory suggest that the black hole collided and merged with another black hole and received a powerful recoil kick from gravitational wave radiation.”
- Blowing bubbles in the Carina Nebula
“Giant bubbles, towering pillars and cascading clouds of dust and gas fill the star-forming nursery of the Carina Nebula seen here in a stunning new view from Herschel to launch ESA Space Science’s image of the week feature. … The Carina Nebula is some 7500 lightyears from Earth and hosts some of the most massive and luminous stars in our Galaxy, including double-star system eta Carinae, which boasts over 100 times the mass of our Sun.”
- Mars crater shows evidence for climate evolution
“ESA’s Mars Express has provided images of a remarkable crater on Mars that may show evidence that the planet underwent significant periodic fluctuations in its climate due to changes in its rotation axis.”
- How black holes change gear
“Black holes are extremely powerful and efficient engines that not only swallow up matter, but also return a lot of energy to the Universe in exchange for the mass they eat. When black holes attract mass they also trigger the release of intense X-ray radiation and power strong jets. But not all black holes do this the same way. This has long baffled astronomers. By studying two active black holes researchers at the SRON Netherlands Institute for Space Research have now gathered evidence that suggests that each black hole can change between two different regimes, like changing the gears of an engine. The team’s findings will be published in two papers in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.”
- Multi-million pound new national supercomputer to perform astronomical feats: University of Leicester chosen for state-of-the art facility to tackle mysteries of space
“The University of Leicester has been awarded funding to establish a multi-million pound national supercomputer which will make it possible to study space in unprecedented detail and provide new insights into the history of the Universe.”
- Milky Way Cupcakes: A Savior for NASA’s Non-manned Missions?
“With a possible $300 million cut to planetary science projects donating a dollar for a cookie might have the impact of a pebble striking Jupiter. But University of Central Florida students and professors who are holding the bake sale and car wash on Saturday – and nearly 20 groups of their peers throughout the country who organized similar events — hope to send a clear message to Congress.”
- Where Have All the Stars Gone?
“The thrill of gazing into a night sky packed with stars, constellations and a stretch of our Milky Way galaxy is primal and timeless — and it’s become increasingly rare. Skyglow from city lights can travel up to 200 miles, which means even in the far outskirts of a city light pollution can spoil the stars. In fact, it’s not uncommon for children to be only exposed to stars through a planetarium, said Debra Elmegreen, professor of astronomy at Vassar College.”
- Transit of Venus wows astronomers worldwide: The European Space Agency’s microsatellite Proba-2 tracked Venus as it moved across the solar disk over a period of nearly seven hours.
“Astronomers around the world looked to the sky last night and this morning to observe Venus as it passed across the face of the Sun for the last time this century. The European Space Agency’s (ESA) Sun-watching space missions also tuned in for the solar spectacular.”
- Astronomers hope transit of Venus will spark celestial curiosity
“For astronomers, Venus passing in front of the sun is not just a rare planetary spectacle — it won’t be seen for another 105 years. It’s also one of those events they hope will spark curiosity about the universe. Sul Ah Chim, a researcher at the Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute in the central South Korean city of Daejon, said he hoped people see life from a larger perspective.”
Creative Commons photo by Luke Bryant.