astronomy round-up: 3 August 2012

Mars


You’ve probably heard that Curiosity—the Mars Science Laboratory—is set to land on Mars this coming late Sunday (August 5) / early Monday (August 6) [depending on your time zone]. Will you be watching live?

It’s Friday, so here’s a list of some of the astronomy and related science stories that caught my eye this week:

  • Curiosity’s chem lab on Mars

    “The Mars Science Laboratory – Curiosity – is fitted with an array of sophisticated scientific instruments to analyze the environment on the planet, and see if it is now or ever was hospitable for life. The American Chemical Society sponsored a nicely-done video explaining how Curiosity will go about poking and prodding (and zapping!) the landscape in Gale crater, its landing site.”

  • Protecting Curiosity

    “Wow we are getting close, just 9 days and a few hours (as of this writing) away from landing Curiosity on the Martian surface. Oh it WILL land alright, the question is will the landing result in the proper amount of pieces when it’s all said and done?”

  • A trustworthy guide to black hole astronomy

    “Black holes are some of the most bizarre objects predicted by theoretical physics that actually exist in the cosmos. While many of the more exotic ideas about black holes coming from string theory and other quantum gravity models are far from testable, the existence of astrophysical black holes is uncontroversial. Even if you insist on separating out the observed black holes from the theoretical black hole properties (including everything that lies inside the event horizon, the boundary beyond which nothing can escape), we still have reason to believe they are the same thing. Black holes are real.”

  • Globsmacked

    “Globular clusters are some of the most stunning objects in the sky. Composed of hundreds of thousands of stars, over 150 of these compact beehives orbit our Milky Way galaxy alone. Some are close enough that even through a small telescope they reveal a breathtaking beauty, individual stars sparsely distributed in their outskirts becoming more cramped and crowded until they blur into a generalized smear in the middle. When you use a bigger telescope to look at them, you get wondrous beauty.”

  • Student team discovers new interstellar molecule during summer program

    “Chemists can spend entire careers in search of new molecules in space; on average, only about four or five interstellar molecules are discovered worldwide each year. Ads by Google Tear Drop Flags – Top Quality-Great Customer Service Made in USA -Fast Quotes – PacificCustomFlags.com Recently, a team of undergraduate students from four universities visiting the University of Virginia to take part in a special eight-week summer research program for minority students made one of those rare discoveries. It’s called cyanomethanimine, and is considered a precursor molecule for RNA, a key building block for the development of life on this planet – and possibly elsewhere in the universe.”

  • … and the flags *ARE* still there!

    “One of the more enduring questions about the Apollo Moon missions is seemingly simple: after 40+ years, are the flags the astronauts planted on the lunar surface still there? It’s an interesting question. Buzz Aldrin claims he saw the flag blow over when the ascent module carrying him and Neil Armstrong lifted off from the Moon – which was never confirmed (until now; hang on for that), but the fates of the flags from the other five missions have never been ascertained. In 2009 there was tantalizing evidence the flags from Apollo 17 was still standing, but the images were just barely too fuzzy to know for sure.”

  • Badlands National Park hosting first-ever Astronomy Festival next month at visitor center

    “Get your telescopes and model rockets ready. Badlands National Park has announced that it is holding its first-ever Astronomy Festival next month.”

  • On Astronomy: Meteors are stars of August skies

    “The greatest meteor shower of the year happens in August. The night of Aug. 11, the Perseid meteor shower will peak. As evening twilight ends, you will see a few meteor streaks across the sky. The shower really gets started after 11 p.m., when the radiant point, that imaginary point in the sky where the meteors all seem to be coming from, will be high in the northeastern sky. Find a spot away from outdoor lighting (away from the city is even better) and cast your gaze high in the northeastern sky. You should be able to spot one to two meteors per minute for the rest of the night.”

  • Greenland seeing unprecedented melting

    “Last week, a huge chunk of ice broke off of Greenland’s Petermann glacier, an event called a “calving”. The iceberg is now moving down the glacier’s fjord, as seen by NASA’s Terra Earth-observing satellite on July 21, 2012.”

  • Fingering the Culprit that Polluted the Solar System

    “For decades it has been thought that a shock wave from a supernova explosion triggered the formation of our Solar System. According to this theory, the shock wave also injected material from the exploding star into a cloud of dust and gas, and the newly polluted cloud collapsed to form the Sun and its surrounding planets. New work from Carnegie’s Alan Boss and Sandra Keiser provides the first fully three-dimensional (3-D) models for how this process could have happened.”

  • Look to the stars for family fun and learning

    “Have meteoric gasoline prices grounded your family’s summer vacation plans? The slow economy has forced many Kentucky families to tighten our belts, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get away. All you have to do is go outside and gaze upward. Northern Kentucky astronomy enthusiast Marsie Hall Newbold says, ‘Astronomy can take you to other worlds without leaving your own backyard or spending a penny on fuel.’”

  • Blue Moon 2012: August To Bring Two Full Moons, Astronomical Rarity

    “The month of August brings us not one, but two full moons. The first will kick off the month on Wednesday (Aug.1), and will be followed by a second on Aug. 31. Some almanacs and calendars assert that when two full moons occur within a calendar month, the second full moon is called a ‘blue moon.’”

  • VLT Sees Impressive Spiral Galaxy

    “Lying about 60 million light-years away in the constellation of Eridanus, NGC 1187 has hosted two supernova explosions since 1982. The galaxy is seen almost face-on, which gives us a good view of its spiral structure. About half a dozen prominent spiral arms can be seen, each containing large amounts of gas and dust. The bluish features in the spiral arms indicate the presence of young stars.”

  • A century of discoveries: Physicists celebrate centenary of the discovery of cosmic rays

    “A constant shower of subatomic particles rains down from space. A hundred years ago, Austrian physicist Victor Franz Hess discovered “cosmic radiation.” Among other things, the discovery laid the foundation for a whole new field of research — high-energy physics, which recently gave us the first experimental evidence for the Higgs boson. An anniversary conference will look at the past milestones of cosmic-ray research and future experiments.”

  • A Telescopic Beauty Contest

    “Physical beauty may lie in the eye of the beholder, but astronomers seem to have a different concept of beauty. Results for the 5th Interferometric Imaging Beauty Contest were announced earlier this summer and detailed in a paper posted to the arXiv yesterday. What kind of beauty contest is this, you ask? Think less swimsuit modeling and more supergiant stars for starters.”

  • ‘Cry’ of a Shredded Star Heralds a New Era for Testing Relativity

    “Last year, astronomers discovered a quiescent black hole in a distant galaxy that erupted after shredding and consuming a passing star. Now researchers have identified a distinctive X-ray signal observed in the days following the outburst that comes from matter on the verge of falling into the black hole.”



Creative Commons photo by andy z.



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