Space becomes sonified in this visualization of a cluster of galaxies imaged by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope. Time flows left to right, and the frequency of sound changes from bottom to top, ranging from 30 to 1,000 hertz. Objects near the bottom of the image produce lower notes, while those near the top produce higher ones. Most of the visible specks are galaxies housing countless stars. A few individual stars shine brightly in the foreground. Stars and compact galaxies create short, clear tones, while sprawling spiral galaxies emit longer notes that change pitch. The higher density of galaxies near the center of the image – the heart of this galaxy cluster, known as RXC J0142.9+4438 – results in a swell of mid-range tones halfway through the video. Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys and Wide Field Camera 3 acquired this image on August 13, 2018.
Here’s the original Hubble image of galaxy cluster RXC J0142.9+4438, later “sonified” by Russo and Santaguida. NASA wrote: “Galaxies abound in this spectacular Hubble image; spiral arms swirl in all colors and orientations, and fuzzy ellipticals can be seen speckled across the frame as softly glowing smudges on the sky. Each visible speck of a galaxy is home to countless stars. A few stars closer to home shine brightly in the foreground, while a massive galaxy cluster nestles at the very center of the image; an immense collection of maybe thousands of galaxies, all held together by the relentless force of gravity.” Read more about this image, which is via ESA/ Hubble & NASA, RELICS.
Bottom line: Musicians and scientists turned a Hubble Space Telescope image – of galaxy cluster RXC J0142.9+4438 – into music.
That is so lovely.
It’s only just over half a minute long but is still precious!
This just in … a new super-cool composite from Curiosity on Mars. The panorama contains more than 1,000 images taken last Thanksgiving and assembled over the past few months … 1.8 billion new pixels of Martian landscape!
Yesterday (March 4, 2020) NASA released a panoramic image of the Martian surface captured by the Curiosity rover. It’s the highest-resolution panorama yet of the planet’s surface.
Composed of more than 1,000 images taken during the 2019 Thanksgiving holiday and carefully assembled over the ensuing months, the composite contains 1.8 billion pixels of Martian landscape. The rover’s Mast Camera, or Mastcam, used its telephoto lens to produce the panorama; meanwhile, it relied on its medium-angle lens to produce a lower-resolution, nearly 650-million-pixel panorama that includes the rover’s deck and robotic arm.
The panorama showcases Glen Torridon, a region on the side of Mount Sharp that Curiosity is exploring. They were taken between November 24 and December 1, 2019, when the mission team was out for the Thanksgiving holiday. NASA said:
Sitting still with few tasks to do while awaiting the team to return and provide its next commands, the rover had a rare chance to image its surroundings from the same vantage point several days in a row.
It required more than 6 1/2 hours over the four days for Curiosity to capture the individual shots. Mastcam operators programmed the complex task list, which included pointing the rover’s mast and making sure the images were in focus. To ensure consistent lighting, they confined imaging to between noon and 2 p.m. local Mars time each day.
Eleanor Imster has helped write and edit EarthSky since 1995. She was an integral part of the award-winning EarthSky radio series almost since it began until it ended in 2013. Today, as Lead Editor at EarthSky.org, she helps present the science and nature stories and photos you enjoy. She also serves as one of the voices of EarthSky on social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter and G+. She and her husband live in Tennessee and have two grown sons.
When one stops and reflects one can’t hide the scale of progress that humans have achieved. It is incredible!
It is also a struggle to take the situation so expertly spoken about by George Monbiot in yesterday’s post and square it with the achievement covered in today’s post.
I was born towards the tail end of 1944; six months before the end of WWII in Europe.
As such I was in my early twenties when NASA came to the wider attention of millions of people with their effort to put a man on the moon. It was enthralling to look up at the night sky when a moon was present and think that in time there would be a man standing on the moon’s surface.
Now that I am 75 many things have changed. But one of them has not: Staring up at the night sky and getting lost in thought. Luckily we live in a rural location without artificial light anywhere nearby and the night skies are very clear.
All of which takes me back to my days of sailing. From 1986 until 1991 I lived on a deep-water ketch, a Tradewind 33, based in Larnaca, in Cyprus. Each Spring, I would solo across to the Turkish coast, or the Greek coast, and meet up with friends, or my son and daughter, and go coastal cruising. Then in the last year I sailed for England. I well recall seeing the night sky all around me with the stars practically down the watery horizon.
But more of that some other day. Now back to the moon.
On April 15, 1970, NASA astronauts Jim Lovell, Jack Swigert and Fred Haise aboard Apollo 13 set a Guinness World Record for the highest absolute altitude attained by a crewed spacecraft at a distance of 248,655 miles from Earth. Nearly 50 years later, that unplanned record still stands as part of a mission beset by technical glitches and saved by engineering heroism.
“We didn’t slow down, unlike the others, when we got to the moon because we needed its gravity to get back, so we hold the altitude record,” Lowell told the Financial Times in 2011. “I never even thought about it. Records are only made to be broken.”
Gliding by the moon’s far side at an altitude of only 158 miles, the crew of Apollo 13 were, at the time, one of only a handful of humans to ever gaze upon this strange and relatively-unknown terrain of our closest neighbor. Because the moon is tidally locked, a phenomenon in which an orbiting body takes just as long to rotate around its own axis as it does to revolve around its partner, only one side ever faces the Earth.
Using imagery collected by its Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft, NASA has recreated views observed by Apollo 13 during the crew’s harrowing 25-minute journey around the moon’s far side.
“This video showcases visualizations in 4K resolution of many of those lunar surface views, starting with earthset and sunrise, and concluding with the time Apollo 13 reestablished radio contact with Mission Control,” the agency said in a release. “Also depicted is the path of the free return trajectory around the Moon, and a continuous view of the Moon throughout that path. All views have been sped up for timing purposes — they are not shown in ‘real-time.'”
This video uses data gathered from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft to recreate some of the stunning views of the Moon that the Apollo 13 astronauts saw on their perilous journey around the farside in 1970. These visualizations, in 4K resolution, depict many different views of the lunar surface, starting with earthset and sunrise and concluding with the time Apollo 13 reestablished radio contact with Mission Control. Also depicted is the path of the free return trajectory around the Moon, and a continuous view of the Moon throughout that path. All views have been sped up for timing purposes — they are not shown in “real-time.” Credits: Data Visualization by: Ernie Wright (USRA) Video Produced & Edited by: David Ladd (USRA) Music provided by Universal Production Music: “Visions of Grandeur” – Frederick Wiedmann
According to Lowell, despite the astronauts’ extremely close proximity, the moon was not the most awe-inspiring scene outside the spacecraft window.
“The impression I got up there wasn’t what the moon looked like so close up, but what the Earth looked like,” he said.
“The lunar flights give you a correct perception of our existence. You look back at Earth from the moon and you can put your thumb up to the window and hide the Earth behind your thumb. Everything you’ve ever known is behind your thumb, and that blue-and-white ball is orbiting a rather normal star, tucked away on the outer edge of a galaxy. You realize how insignificant we really all are. Everything you’ve ever known — all those arguments and wars — is right behind your thumb.”
Did you watch the video? It’s amazing and is literally the dark side of the moon!
Accidental ignition of damaged wire insulation inside the oxygen tank as it was being routinely stirred caused an explosion that vented the tank’s contents. Without oxygen, needed both for breathing and for generating electric power, the SM’s propulsion and life support systems could not operate. The CM’s systems had to be shut down to conserve its remaining resources for reentry, forcing the crew to transfer to the LM as a lifeboat. With the lunar landing canceled, mission controllers worked to bring the crew home alive.
Although the LM was designed to support two men on the lunar surface for two days, Mission Control in Houston improvised new procedures so it could support three men for four days. The crew experienced great hardship caused by limited power, a chilly and wet cabin and a shortage of potable water. There was a critical need to adapt the CM’s cartridges for the carbon dioxide removal system to work in the LM; the crew and mission controllers were successful in improvising a solution. The astronauts’ peril briefly renewed interest in the Apollo program; tens of millions watched the splashdown in the South Pacific Ocean by television.
An investigative review board found fault with preflight testing of the oxygen tank and the fact that Teflon was placed inside it. The board recommended changes, including minimizing the use of potentially combustible items inside the tank; this was done for Apollo 14. The story of Apollo 13 has been dramatized several times, most notably in the 1995 film Apollo 13.
Last Friday saw the thirtieth anniversary of Carl Sagan’s iconic photograph, or rather NASA’s photograph, of Planet Earth. Carl persuaded NASA to turn Voyager 1, as it left the Solar System, and take the photo. It became famous almost instantly and became known as the pale blue dot.
Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space is a 1994 book by Carl Sagan. It is the sequel to Cosmos and was inspired by the famous 1990 Pale Blue Dot photograph, for which Sagan provides a poignant description. In this book, Sagan mixes philosophy about the human place in the universe with a description of the current knowledge about the Solar System. He also details a human vision for the future.
For the 30th anniversary of one of the most iconic views from the Voyager mission, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, is publishing a new version of the image known as the “Pale Blue Dot.”
The updated image uses modern image-processing software and techniques while respecting the intent of those who planned the image. Like the original, the new color view shows Planet Earth as a single, bright blue pixel in the vastness of space. Rays of sunlight scattered within the camera optics stretch across the scene, one of which happens to have intersected dramatically with Earth.
The view was obtained on Feb. 14, 1990, just minutes before Voyager 1’s cameras were intentionally powered off to conserve power and because the probe — along with its sibling, Voyager 2 — would not make close flybys of any other objects during their lifetimes. Shutting down instruments and other systems on the two Voyager spacecraft has been a gradual and ongoing process that has helped enable their longevity.
This celebrated Voyager 1 view was part of a series of 60 images designed to produce what the mission called the “Family Portrait of the Solar System.” This sequence of camera-pointing commands returned images of six of the solar system’s planets, as well as the Sun. The Pale Blue Dot view was created using the color images Voyager took of Earth.
The popular name of this view is traced to the title of the 1994 book by Voyager imaging scientist Carl Sagan, who originated the idea of using Voyager’s cameras to image the distant Earth and played a critical role in enabling the family portrait images to be taken.
Additional information about the Pale Blue Dot image is available at:
The Voyager spacecraft were built by JPL, which continues to operate both. JPL is a division of Caltech in Pasadena. The Voyager missions are a part of the NASA Heliophysics System Observatory, sponsored by the Heliophysics Division of the Science Mission Directorate in Washington. For more information about the Voyager spacecraft, visit:
Voyager 1 is now nearly 14 billion miles from Planet Earth and still going strong. It has a plutonium battery that will last for eighty years. A one-way radio signal from Earth takes about twenty hours to reach the probe.
And now for something different but still to do with space.
“Not sure who was more excited,” she captioned the video. “Glad she remembers me after a year!”
“We call her LBD, little brown dog, she’s from the Humane Society and she couldn’t be sweeter,” Koch told Insider on a phone call with reporters from the Johnson Space Centre.
“And yes, she was very excited, I was very excited, I’m not sure who was more excited! … You know it’s just a symbol of coming back to the people and places that you love, to see your favourite animal.”
“Mud ball” meteorites – full of clays, organics and water – are unique among space rocks. And a lot of them fell in April 2019 on a small town in Costa Rica, much to the delight of scientists.
Meteorite falls on Earth are fairly common, but not all meteorites are the same. Some of them are “mud balls,” rich in clays, organic compounds and water-bearing minerals, called carbonaceous chondrites. They are of great interest to scientists, due to their unique composition, and now a bunch more prime specimens have been found, which rained down after a large fireball was seen over Aguas Zarcas, a small town in Costa Rica, on April 23, 2019.
The fireball was a meteor, or space rock, entering the Earth’s atmosphere that broke apart into hundreds of smaller pieces. When the pieces of this rock hit the ground, their name changed to meteorite. One meteorite fragment weighed about two pounds and smashed through the roof of a house, destroying the owner’s dining table. Another one crashed through the roof of a dog house, narrowly missing a sleeping dog. Close calls!
Several of the meteorites were collected and sent to Arizona State University (ASU) for study, donated by meteorite collector Michael Farmer. ASU will also be able to purchase additional meteorites from the fall, thanks to a private donor. This is the first time in 50 years that the university has had a chance to analyze such pristine samples of extraterrestrial mud balls. As Laurence Garvie, a research professor at ASU and a curator for its Center for Meteorite Studies, said:
Many carbonaceous chondrites are mud balls that are between 80 and 95 percent clay. Clays are important because water is an integral part of their structure. These had to be collected quickly and before they got rained on. Because they are mostly clay, as soon as these types of meteorites get wet, they fall apart.
Luckily, the researchers were able to collect their samples before it rained again, and they got a nice little haul, too, about 55 pounds (25 kilograms) of the precious space rocks.
Analysis of the meteorites was carried out at ASU’s campus in Tempe, Arizona. According to Garvie:
I was in the lab by 5 a.m. the next morning after picking up the samples to get them ready for the initial analyses. Classification of new meteorites can be like a race with other institutions, and I needed ASU to be first so that we’ll have the recognition of being the collection that holds and curates the type specimen material.
Air-sensitive meteorites like these are kept in special nitrogen cabinets. The nitrogen gas helps to preserve the meteorites, which can degrade easily due to their composition. As Garvie explained:
If you left this carbonaceous chondrite in the air, it would lose some of its extraterrestrial affinities. These meteorites have to be curated in a way that they can be used for current and future research, and we have that ability here at ASU.
The classification of these meteorites is part of a broader international classification effort. Garvie is also working with Karen Ziegler from the Institute of Meteoritics at the University of New Mexico. They studied the oxygen isotopes of the meteorites, to determine how similar they are to other carbonaceous chondrites.
Sandra Pizzarello, an organic chemist from ASU’s School of Molecular Sciences, is also involved in the studies, focusing on the organic content of the meteorites. These kinds of organics could have provided the material needed for life to begin on Earth.
Additional scientific analysis will follow later, but first the meteorites need to be approved, classified and named by The Meteoritical Society‘s nomenclature committee. This group of 12 scientists is responsible for approving all meteorite samples for study.
These new meteorite samples are currently on display at ASU’s Tempe campus in the Center for Meteorite Studies collection.
So, why are mud ball carbonaceous chondrite meteorites so significant?
They are thought to originate from asteroids that are leftovers from early planetesimals, planets that started to form in the early solar system billions of years ago but now no longer exist. Those planets had organic materials and water, making them places where the chemical precursors to life could have started. In the case of the asteroid that these new meteorites originated from, Garvie said:
It formed in an environment free of life, then was preserved in the cold and vacuum of space for 4.56 billion years, and then dropped in Costa Rica last week.
Carbonaceous chondrites are relatively rare among meteorites but are some of the most sought-after by researchers because they contain the best-preserved clues to the origin of the solar system. This new meteorite represents one of the most scientifically significant additions to our wonderful collection in recent years.
Because these meteorites contain so much mineral-bound water, they could also be useful in learning how water can be extracted from asteroids, a great resource for future astronauts. According to Garvie:
Having this meteorite in our lab gives us the ability, with further analysis, to ultimately develop technologies to extract water from asteroids in space.
The last time a carbonaceous chondrite meteorite fall similar to this one occurred was in 1969 near Murchison, Australia. Those meteorites were curated by another ASU professor and founding director of ASU’s Center for Meteorite Studies, Carleton Moore.
The meteorites in Aguas Zarcas have also been found to be similar in composition to asteroid Bennu, now being explored by NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. Bennu is thought to be a remnant carbonaceous chondrite planetesimal. OSIRIS-REx is carrying ASU’s Phil Christensen-designed Thermal Emissions Spectrometer (OTES) instrument, which is being used to make mineral and temperature maps of the asteroid.
Garvie and other scientists will be studying these mud ball meteorites for years to come, unlocking more secrets as to how our solar system formed and evolved, and how the ingredients of life originated and were spread throughout the solar system, including to Earth.
Bottom line: This new meteorite fall in Costa Rica has provided scientists with a great opportunity to study multiple mud ball meteorites, one of the most unusual kinds of meteorites known to exist, and one that could help answer the question of how life started on Earth.
I don’t know about you but I found this very interesting indeed. I guess I hadn’t looked at meteorites as different entities, depending on the source, before.
Must repeat that closing paragraph again: “Garvie and other scientists will be studying these mud ball meteorites for years to come, unlocking more secrets as to how our solar system formed and evolved, and how the ingredients of life originated and were spread throughout the solar system, including to Earth.”
The last in this recent series on me examining my navel!
Dear Mr. Cosmos,
Clearly, I have no idea how many letters you receive from us funny inhabitants on Planet Earth. Can’t imagine you get floods of them but then neither can I imagine that this is the first one you have ever received.
Why can I not imagine this is to be your first? Simply, because us funny folk on this incredible planet of yours have been around for quite a while. I mean that over in that country we folk call Israel there has been found evidence of “control of fire by humans nearly 790,000 years ago.”
Just realised that me saying “quite a while” and writing of “790,000 years ago” will be utterly meaningless, in terms of scale, to how you describe your past. Just as it is utterly meaningless for me to contemplate that in cosmological terms the ‘Big Bang”, generally recognised as the start of your Universe, was, give or take, some 13.8 billion years ago.
I wish I could really get an idea of what a million years feels like, let alone a billion years. Ah well!
Let me stay with this notion of stuff being meaningless.
My dear, long-time friend Dan Gomez sent me a link to an item that had been published on the Science Alert website. It was about how the NASA Hubble space telescope had recently embarked on a new mission. Or in the words of that article:
Hubble Just Revealed Thousands of Hidden Galaxies in This Jaw-Dropping Photo
By Michelle Starr, September 13th, 2018
Hubble has embarked on a new observation mission: to study the farthest reaches of the Universe, using some of the most massive objects in the Universe – galaxy clusters.
And this newly released picture shows how.
At the centre is Abell 370, a cluster of a few hundred galaxies located around 4 billion light-years from Earth. And arrayed around it, never seen before, are thousands of galaxies, out even farther in the depths of space.
The reason we can see them now is because of Abell 370. All those hundreds of galaxies, clustered so close together, and the associated dark matter, create an immense field of gravity.
When the light behind that field passes through it, the gravitational force is so strong that it bends the path of the light. This creates a magnifying effect called gravitational lensing, allowing us to see objects we usually can’t.
Abell 370 is the first of these clusters.
Here is one of those photographs,
And an explanation of what we are looking at:
In the image, you can see the galaxies in Abell 370. The brightest yellowish white ones are huge, containing hundreds of billions of stars. The bluer ones are smaller, spiral galaxies, like the Milky Way, with younger populations of stars. And the dimmer, yellower galaxies are older, with ageing star populations.
The galaxies behind Abell 370 appear as smeared lines of light. The most spectacular, to the lower left of the centre, is nicknamed the Dragon (possibly for its resemblance to a Chinese dragon), with its head to the left. It’s made up of five images of the same spiral galaxy, magnified and stretched by the gravitational lens.
Mr. Cosmos, you know a little earlier I was remarking about how it is impossible to comprehend the age of the Universe. Well, dear Sir, it’s just as impossible to comprehend your distances.
Take Abell 370 out there some 4 billion light years from Planet Earth! I really wanted to have a go at understanding that distance.
First, I looked up the distance in miles that is represented by one light-year. Answer: one light year is a tad under six trillion miles.
Just one, let alone some 4 billion of them!
Next, I looked up the distance of our very familiar Big Dipper constellation. You must have heard of it? This one!
Turns out that even this very familiar sight in our night sky ranges from 78 to 123 light years away. Average that as 100 light years and, bingo, you are looking at this familiar cluster of stars that is 590 trillion miles away!
So, dear Mr. Cosmos, that puts your Abell 370 constellation about a distance that is 10 million times more distant than our Big Dipper!
I wrote above that “I really wanted to understand that distance.” In reference to how far that Abell 370 constellation truly was. My conclusion is that I will never, ever understand that distance.
Anyone able to help?
Tomorrow, Mr. Cosmos, the closing page two of my letter to you.
The idea of writing a letter to the moon is not a new one and it came to me when listening to an item yesterday morning, Pacific Time, broadcast by the BBC on Radio 4. The item was the news that Elon Musk has announced that:
Elon Musk’s company SpaceX has unveiled the first private passenger it plans to fly around the Moon.
Japanese billionaire and online fashion tycoon Yusaku Maezawa, 42, announced: “I choose to go to the Moon.”
The mission is planned for 2023, and would be the first lunar journey by humans since 1972.
On September 18, 1977, as it headed toward the outer solar system, Voyager 1 looked back and acquired a stunning image of our Earth and moon.
You will surely remember that first image taken of the Planet Earth and your good self in the same frame.
Now here we are some 41 years later and, my, how things have changed.
But something, dear Mr. Moon, has never changed for you. That is the sight of our most beautiful planet. Plus, I would go so far as to venture that what makes our planet such a beautiful sight, one that has captivated us humans when we have gone into space and looked back at home, is the magic of our atmosphere.
It is akin to the thinness of the skin of an onion.
In fact, Mr. Moon, that layer that we earthlings call the troposphere, the layer closest to Earth’s surface varies from just 4 miles to 12 miles (7 to 20 km) thick. It contains half of our planet’s atmosphere!
Everything that sustains the life of air-breathing creatures, human and otherwise, depends on the health of this narrow layer of atmosphere above our heads. Now the thickness of that layer varies depending on the season and the temperature of the air. But let’s use an average thickness of 8 miles (say, 13 km) because I want to explore in my letter to you some comparisons.
You will also have seen from your lofty vantage point the growth of both CO2 levels in the planet’s atmosphere and the average land-ocean temperature. Forgive me quoting something at you, but:
OBSERVABLE CHANGES IN THE EARTH
SINCE THE INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION
While politicians have been busy debating the merits of climate science, the physical symptoms of climate change have become increasingly apparent: since the industrial revolution, sea level has grown by 0.9 inches, the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide has risen to unprecedented levels, average global temperatures have increased by about 1.0 degree Celsius and, to top it off, the global population has jumped by nearly 600 percent; 15 of the 16 hottest years on record occurred in the 21st century, and 2016 is likely to be the warmest year ever recorded.
Now the Industrial Revolution was all but over back in 1840 and the last 178 years have seen an explosion in the way we use energy, in all its forms. Plus we have to accept that back then the global population was around 1 billion persons. It is now over 7 billion.
Between 1900 and 2000, the increase in world population was three times greater than during the entire previous history of humanity—an increase from 1.5 to 6.1 billion in just 100 years.
So on to my comparisons.
The radius of our beautiful planet is about 3,959 miles (6,371 km). The average thickness of the troposphere is 8 miles (13 km).
Thus the ratio of thickness of our liveable atmosphere to the radius of the planet is 8 divided by 3,959. That is a figure of 0.002! Our atmosphere is 1/1000th of the size of the radius of our planet.
Hang on that figure for a moment.
In the last 178 years humanity has transformed our consumption of energy and especially carbon-based fuels. H. sapiens has been around for 315,000 years.
Thus the ratio of these present ‘modern’ times (the last 178 years) to the arrival of us back then (315,000 years ago) is 178 divided by 315,000. That is a (rounded) figure of 0.0006. Our modern times are just 1/10,000th of the time that so-called modern man has been on this planet.
So, dear Mr. Moon, you must despair that in so short a number of years, proportionally ten times smaller than the ratio of the troposphere to the radius of our planet, we funny creatures have done so much damage to what we all depend on to stay alive – clean air!
Or maybe, my dear companion of the night sky, because you are celebrating your 4.1 billionth year of existence, what we humans are doing is all a bit of a yawn.
This old Brit living in Oregon.
My dear friends (and I’m now speaking to you dear reader, not the moon!) when you reflect on the fragility of our atmosphere, well the layer we depend on for life, you realise without doubt that each and every one of us must make this pledge.
“I promise to do everything possible to reduce my own personal CO2 output and to ensure that both to my near friends and my political representatives I make it clear that we must turn back – and turn back now!”
Or, as George Monbiot writes in closing a recent essay (that I am republishing tomorrow): “Defending the planet means changing the world.”
Welcome to August, a month defined by loud cicadas, pool parties, humidity and children fretting about an impending return to school. When it comes to celestial happenings, however, there is no larger star this month that our own moon. From a partial lunar eclipse to the first coast-to-coast solar eclipse in almost a century, the moon will be the cause of most eyeballs drifting towards the heavens over the next several weeks.
Below is a small sampling of some of the night and day celestial events to look forward to this month. Wishing you all clear skies!
The rise of the full Sturgeon Moon (Aug. 7)
August’s full moon, nicknamed the Sturgeon Moon, will rise for the U.S. Eastern Seaboard on the evening of Aug. 7 at 8:05 p.m.
The Sturgeon Moon gets its name from the species of fish native to both Europe and the Americas that is easily caught this time of year. Other nicknames include the Corn Moon, Fruit Moon and Grain Moon. In countries experiencing winter, such as New Zealand, native Māori called this full moon “Here-turi-kōkā” or “the scorching effect of fire is seen on the knees of man.” This reference is to warm fires that glow during the Southern Hemisphere’s coldest month.
Partial lunar eclipse (Aug. 7 & 8)
As a kind of consolation prize for missing out on this month’s total solar eclipse over North America, those living on the continents of Africa, Asia and Australia will bear witness to a partial lunar eclipse. Spectators in Europe will catch the tail end of the eclipse as the moon rises around 7:10 p.m. on Aug. 7.
This phenomenon occurs between two to four times a year when the moon passes through a portion of the Earth’s shadow. Because the shadow cast is more than 5,700 miles wide, lunar eclipses last much longer than solar eclipses. In some instances, totality can occur for as long as 1 hour and 40 minutes. As a reference, maximum totality for the Aug. 21 solar eclipse will top out a mere 2 minutes and 42 seconds. The longest, at over 7 minutes, won’t take place until the year 2186.
This month’s partial lunar eclipse is the last of the year. Next year, total lunar eclipses will take place in January and July.
Perseid meteor shower (Aug. 12)
Regarded as one of the best celestial light shows of the year, the Perseid meteor shower occurs from July 17 to Aug. 24 and peaks on the evening of Aug. 12.
The shower, sometimes creating as many as 60 to 200 shooting stars per hour, is produced as Earth passes through debris left over from the orbit of Comet Swift-Tuttle. This 16-mile-wide periodic comet, which completes an orbit around the sun every 133 years, has been described as “the single most dangerous object known to humanity.” This is because every instance of its return to the inner solar system brings it ever closer to the Earth-moon system. Though astronomers believe the comet bears no threat for at least the next 2,000 years, future impacts cannot be ruled out.
If the comet were to hit Earth, scientists believe Swift-Tuttle would be at least 27 times more powerful than the asteroid or comet that wiped out the dinosaurs. For now, you can take in the beauty of the debris from this harbinger of doom by looking north towards the constellation Perseus. Because the moon will be three-quarters full, you’ll need to search out a nice dark sky to escape any light pollution from urban environments.
Total solar eclipses occur when the new moon moves between the Earth and the sun and casts its shadow on the planet. This shadow is comprised of two concentric cones –– the larger penumbra, which from Earth only shows the sun partially blocked, and the much smaller umbra, which blocks the sun completely. It is within this latter cone that totality will occur, giving spectators on the ground what’s considered by many to be a “once-in-a-lifetime” experience.
The Great American Eclipse will actually first start out in the Pacific (at this point, it will actually, unbelievably rise while completely eclipsed!), making landfall on the Oregon community of Lincoln Beach at 10:16:01 a.m. (PDT). From there, the moon’s shadow will continue to race across the U.S. The point of greatest eclipse, where the axis of the moon’s shadow passes nearest to the center of Earth, will take place in Hopkinsville, Kentucky and last 2 minutes and 40.1 seconds. In celebration of the event, the town has temporarily renamed itself “Eclipseville,” and expects anywhere from 55,000 to 150,000 tourists to visit in advance of Aug. 21.
The next total solar eclipse over the U.S. will take place on April 8, 2024.
New moon (Aug. 21)
Fresh after wowing the U.S. during the day with its solar theatrics, August’s new moon will give way to dark skies for the next several nights. This is the perfect opportunity to grab a blanket and head outside into the still-warm summer evenings to enjoy the heavens in all their glory. With some remnants of the Perseids still visible, it will also offer a chance to catch some of the faintest shooting stars.
Look for Earth’s shadow (All year)
Ever wonder what causes the beautiful bands of color in the eastern sky at sunset or the western sky at sunrise? The dark blue band stretching 180 degrees along the horizon is actually the Earth’s shadow emanating some 870,000 miles into space. The golden-red portion, nicknamed the “Belt of Venus,” is Earth’s upper-atmosphere illuminated by the setting or rising sun.
Now that you know about this phenomenon, choose a night or morning sometime to try and pick it out. You’ll need a western or eastern horizon that’s fairly unobstructed to get a clear view of our planet’s huge curved shadow.
Looking ahead to September
As fall beckons, the biggest event next month will be the dramatic death dive of the Cassini spacecraft into Saturn. Taking place on Sept. 15, Cassini will make discoveries about Saturn right up until its fiery conclusion, with unprecedented photos and data captured and transmitted during its final moments.
It is going to be quite a month!
Oh, and for those of you that want to know the timings of the eclipse over North America there is a useful reference site here, from which I republish the following table.
Eclipse Start & End: Local Time for US States
The eclipse will begin over the Pacific Ocean at 15:46 UTC, which corresponds to 8:46 am Pacific Time. It will reach the coast of Oregon at Lincoln City, just west of Salem, at 9:04 am local time. The eclipse will reach its maximum point here at 10:17 am.
From here, the Moon’s central shadow will move inland. The following table shows when the Moon will begin to move in front of the Sun and the moment it completely covers the Sun, as seen from some locations along the central path of the eclipse. All times are local.
I wish I understood where my fascination with the night sky came from. Not that I am anything other than an amateur gazer (of the night sky, I should hasten to add!). I have never taken the trouble to gain any real knowledge.
Yet, some of the most serene moments of my life have been when I have been alone at sea under a night sky.
OK, that’s enough wallowing for anyone!
The last week has been an important one for those that take an interest in the planets in our solar system, or to be specific, take an interest in Jupiter.
Today – April 8, 2017 – the planet Jupiter is closest to Earth for this year.
Yet yesterday was Jupiter’s opposition, when Earth flew between Jupiter and the sun, placing Jupiter opposite the sun in our sky. You’d think Jupiter was closest to Earth for 2017 yesterday as well … and yet it wasn’t. It’s closest to Earth for 2017 today, April 8, coming to within 414 million miles (666 million km).
During the month of April, Jupiter will be in opposition, meaning the planet is at its closest point to Earth. Thanks to the sun, it’s during this window that astronomers can enjoy a particularly close-up photo session that can help reveal how the planet’s atmosphere has changed over time by comparing it with previous such photos of the gas giant.
This photo of Jupiter was taken on April 3 by the Hubble Space Telescope when the enormous planet was 670 million kilometers (or about 416 million miles) from Earth. The photo shows the Great Red Spot, but it also shows something new: a weather feature called the Great Cold Spot, which is almost as large as its more well-known cousin.
“The Great Cold Spot is much more volatile than the slowly changing Great Red Spot, changing dramatically in shape and size over only a few days and weeks, but it has reappeared for as long as we have data to search for it, for over 15 years,” Tom Stallard, a planetary astronomer at the University of Leicester in the U.K. and lead author of the study, said in a statement.
The cold spot is nearly 15,000 miles by about 7,500 miles in size, and it’s dubbed the “cold” spot because it’s 200 degrees Kelvin (about 400 degrees Fahrenheit) cooler than the surrounding atmosphere.
The article included this stunning image of Jupiter.
Jaymi went on to write:
Here’s what some of the other details in the image mean:
The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope reveals the intricate, detailed beauty of Jupiter’s clouds as arranged into bands of different latitudes. These bands are produced by air flowing in different directions at various latitudes. Lighter coloured areas, called zones, are high-pressure where the atmosphere rises. Darker low-pressure regions where air falls are called belts. Constantly stormy weather occurs where these opposing east-to-west and west-to-east flows interact. The planet’s trademark, the Great Red Spot, is a long-lived storm roughly the diameter of Earth. Much smaller storms appear as white or brown-coloured ovals. Such storms can last as little as a few hours or stretch on for centuries.
The Great Red Spot is an anticyclonic storm that is so large that Earth would fit inside it. That stormy spot — which is actually shrinking, though astronomers don’t know why — gives us a great perspective for understanding just how huge Jupiter is compared to our own blue dot in the solar system.
It’s been 27 years since the Hubble Space Telescope went into orbit, and the geriatric observatory is still going strong. When the telescope recently trained its sights on the solar system’s largest planet, the results were spectacular—proof that for the stellar spectator, age is but a number.
The image above is the latest picture of Jupiter. The snapshot was taken by Hubble on April 3 with the help of the telescope’s Wide Field Camera 3, a high-res instrument that lets the telescope observe using different wavelengths. It combines light on the visible, ultraviolet, and infrared spectrum to create an image of a massive planet in constant atmospheric flux.
In a press release, the European Space Agency, which co-runs Hubble with NASA, said that Hubble was able to take advantage of the planet’s current opposition with Earth to take the close-up. At the moment, Jupiter is lined up perfectly with the sun, and Earth is lined up with both the sun and Jupiter. Think of it as a truly heavenly photographic opportunity—a chance to look at the planet head-on. Better yet, Jupiter’s position relative to the sun means that it’s brighter than at any other time of year, which lets telescopes trained on the gigantic planet see even more detail than usual.
AsThe Washington Post’s Amy B. Wang notes, there were no new discoveries in the picture per se, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to look at. As ESA explains, scientists will compare the photo to previous views of the planet to hopefully learn more about the atmosphere. And for the rest of us, there’s a strangely soothing view of Jupiter’s layered cloud bands and impressive vortices.
The gas giant is thought to have sucked up most of the space debris left over after the sun formed, grabbing dust and gas with gravity. Scientists think it has two times as much debris as all of the other bodies in the solar system combined—and all of that material swirls through cloud layers in its quickly-rotating atmosphere.
Since Jupiter doesn’t exactly have a surface, it has nothing to slow the spots and vortices that appear in its atmosphere. The most famous, the Great Red Spot, is thought to have been swirling around for more than 150 years, and even though it’s unclear which gases give it that red hue, it’s the planet’s most recognizable feature. As NASA writes, the cloudiness of Jupiter’s atmosphere makes it hard to understand what might be contributing to it. But that doesn’t decrease its allure.
Want to delve even further into the mesmerizing bands of a huge planet’s atmosphere? A high-res version of the snapshot is available online. And if you prefer seeing things live, it’s a great time to check out Jupiter through in the night sky. You can find Jupiter in the east right after the sun goes down—a massive mystery that’s brighter than any star.
Namely, that the universe came into existence some 13.82 billion years ago. The power of natural evolution that came with that event eventually brought along homo sapiens some 200,000 years ago. 200,000 is 0.0000145 of 13.82 billion.
Or to put it another way, we humans have only been a part of this universe for 1/10th of 1% of the life of said universe! (Oh, and dogs came along 100,000 years ago!)