It’s the last day of August, and we have our second full moon of the month. This is called a Blue Moon, as in “once in a blue moon.” A Black Moon—something I made good use of in Valhalla—is the second of two new moons in a single month.
This week, we said goodbye to Neil Armstrong, the first human being to set foot on our planet’s natural satellite, the moon. The space race—and specifically the lunar landings of the U.S.’s Apollo program—captured the imagination of pretty much the entire planet, inspired generations of new explorers, scientists and engineers, and emboldened writers and artists of all media. Neil’s “one small step” will not soon be forgotten.
And now on to some of this week’s headlines in astronomy and related sciences . . .
- ‘Extreme astronomy’ moments not to miss
“The sky is offering a few special sights this week, including Venus and the Andromeda Galaxy, the Milky Way’s closest neighbor. … Our current morning sky contains the brightest planet and largest star, for example, while the evening sky boasts the most luminous star, the most colorful star and the most distant object that can be seen with the naked eye.”
- Sugar Molecules Found Around Young Star
“Researchers working with the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) have discovered sugar molecules in the gas surrounding a young newly formed Sun-like star. This discovery is the first time that sugar has been seen in space around a Sun-like star.”
- NASA’s Dawn Prepares for Trek Toward Dwarf Planet
“NASA’s Dawn spacecraft is on track to become the first probe to orbit and study two distant solar system destinations, to help scientists answer questions about the formation of our solar system. The spacecraft is scheduled to leave the giant asteroid Vesta on Sept. 4 PDT (Sept. 5 EDT) to start its two-and-a-half-year journey to the dwarf planet Ceres.”
- Black holes, bright galaxies emerge from dust
“Hidden behind dust in deep space are brilliant galaxies with black holes that scientists are just beginning to learn about. NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, known as WISE, has found millions of black holes and about 1,000 dust-observed galaxies with very high temperatures, which NASA is cutely calling “hot DOGs” for short. They are believed to be the brightest known galaxies.”
- Astronomers Find Double-Planet, Double-Star System
“Astronomers have published a study revealing that NASA’s exoplanet-hunting Kepler telescope has spotted two planets orbiting two suns for the first time. The find proves that circumbinary planetary systems can not only form in, but continue to withstand, the intense pressures exerted by a binary star system — until now, astronomers had only been able to identify binary star systems with one planet in orbit, a find that was confirmed in 2011 when Kepler-16b was spotted.”
- Irish Astronomer Spots Second Supernova
“An amateur astronomer has discovered his second supernova in two years – from a shed in his back garden. Dave Grennan says he had the shock of his life when he spotted the 123 million-year-old exploding star from his home in Raheny, north Dublin.”
- Astronomers Test Einstein in a New Regime Using Pair of Burnt-Out Stars
“A team of astronomers led by researchers from The University of Texas at Austin has confirmed the emission of gravitational waves from the second-strongest known source in our galaxy by studying the shrinking orbital period of a unique pair of burnt-out stars. Their observations tested Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity in a new regime. The results will be published soon in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.”
- The World’s Largest Digital Camera Will Shoot the Stars 3.2 Gigapixels at a Time
“We may be on the verge of an astronomical renaissance. Once complete, the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope hunt for dark energy and matter throughout the Southern sky from its perch atop Cerro Pachon in Chile while producing a staggering 60 petabyte public data archive. Now, we just need to figure out how to pay for it.”
- Neil Armstrong: 1930 – 2012
“The first human to set foot on another world has died. Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong was 82. There is so much that can be said about this man, from his incredible career to his notorious shying away from the spotlight. He had history thrust upon him, and performed in a way that will be an inspiration to generations of explorers.”
- Pow! ZOOM! To the Moon!
“If you need a little extra dollop of awesome in your day, then try zooming in and flying over the surface of the Moon, care of astronomer Pete Lawrence’s incredible mosaic of our nearest cosmic neighbor.”
- Author makes astronomy accessible to the visually and hearing impaired
“A long-time astronomy buff, city resident Noreen Grice remembers the reaction she got from blind students who saw a planetarium show when she worked for the Boston Museum of Science decades go — they hated it. … From that moment in Boston, Grice has been on a mission to make astronomy accessible to everyone including the hearing and visually impaired, those with mobile impairments and neurological disorders. She went on to write five tactile books — all touchable — about astronomy for the visually impaired. Her book “Touch the Universe” was the first book in braille ever on Amazon.com.”
- Sun Has “Eureka!” Moment
“At the onset of a series of coronal mass ejections (CMEs) on August 20, 2012, this bulbous CME certainly resembled a light bulb. It has the thin outer edge and a bright, glowing core at its center. CMEs are often bulbous, but it has been years since we’ve seen one with the elements (pun intended) of a light bulb.”
- OAD Shoots for the Stars
“The International Astronomical Union’s (IAU) Office of Astronomy for Development (OAD) programme is announcing a number of exciting new partnerships that will assist with the IAU’s decadal strategic plan, aimed at realising the societal benefits of astronomy. These landmark decisions involve establishing two new coordinating centres that use astronomy as a tool for development in the East and South East Asian regions, as well as launching an array of exciting programmes and events with different institutions across the world.”
- UN launches ‘Heritage of Astronomy’ portal
“Observatories in Britain, France and the United States, a pharaonic temple in Egypt, a 3,000-year-old pillar in China and a 1920s tower in Berlin have been inscribed on a UN-backed heritage list for astronomy. … The Portal to the Heritage of Astronomy (http://www2.astronomicalheritage.net/) aims to give astronomical sites the same place in public awareness as UNESCO’s World Heritage List does for places of historical importance.”
- Astronomers Observe Type 1a Supernova Progenitor System
“For the first time, astronomers have observed a Type 1a supernova progenitor system, according to a report in the journal Science. Previous evidence pointed to the merger of two white dwarf stars as the originators of other Type 1a supernovae. However, this new study led by Ben Dilday, a postdoctoral researcher in physics at UC Santa Barbara and at Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network (LCOGT), begs to differ.”
- Which telescopes could lose out in astronomy’s big budget crunch?
“Federal budget pressures in the US could force the organization that runs publicly funded observatories to divest itself of six telescopes. The list points to new priorities in astronomy. … In 1995, the prospect of flat federal science budgets prompted calls to privatize or close workhorses such as the Kitt Peak Observatory near Tuscon, Ariz. That would ease the squeeze on other big-ticket observatory projects in the pipeline, the argument went. Seventeen years later, telescopes at Kitt Peak, which avoided previous appointments with a broker, are again the budgetary bulls-eye.”
- Curiosity’s ChemCam laser first analyses yield beautiful results
“The rover sent back to Earth strong, clear data from a “scour” area on the martian surface. … Members of the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) Curiosity rover ChemCam team, including Los Alamos National Laboratory scientists, squeezed in a little extra target practice after zapping the first fist-sized rock that was placed in the laser’s crosshairs last weekend.”
Creative Commons photo by daspader.