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Evidence of Massive Cosmic Blast 1,200 Years Ago – Cause Unknown

Posted by AndrewH at 7:56 AM on June 5, 2012

Mysterious and Massive Radiation Event 1200 1200 Years Ago

Japanese physicists have identified a mysterious blast of high-energy radiation that struck Planet Earth more than 1,200 years ago – some 20 times larger than normal variations. The cosmic origins of this ancient and massive radiation event, however, are still unknown.

Cosmic-ray physicists from Japan’s Nagoya University, led by Fusa Miyake, discovered the radioactive event – said to have occurred between 774 and 773 AD – based on carbon dating performed on ancient trees.

Their investigation of tree rings from that era show a 20% increase in levels of the 14C isotope over the course of a year. Those isotopes, according Nature.com, are formed “when highly energetic radiation from outer space hits atoms in the upper atmosphere, producing neutrons. These collide with nitrogen-14, which then decays to 14C.”

What happened is clear, but why it happened seems anything but. The usual suspects for this radioactive spike are supernova explosions or solar flares. According to Miyake and his team, both are unlikely culprits considering no other recorded evidence exists of such massive events.

The search for the cause behind this massive cosmic event will likely send scientists to pore through historical data to find any correlative events that might clear things up. Either way – the trees don’t lie (they can’t). Something huge happened 1,200 years ago.

Photo: Solar Flare from Big Stock Photo

Meteor Explodes Over California

Posted by Alan at 4:57 PM on April 24, 2012

While news reports have been scant, there was a major cosmic event over California and Nevada this past Sunday.  A meteor weighing approximately 70 tons rocketed across the sky at a stunning 33,500 mph and exploded in the atmosphere.  The meteor sighting was reported by residents of both states and those in California also reported the explosion, which rattled house windows across a large area of the state and also set off building and car alarms.

The meteor, which was roughly the size of a minivan, although much heavier due to the density, and traveling at such a high velocity, was estimated by the NASA Meteoroid Environment Office to have exploded with the force of roughly3.8 kilotons of TNT.

While NASA is busy mapping earth-threatening asteroids, one of this size is difficult to spot in advance.  Thankfully most asteroids in this range are likely to burn up upon entry into earth’s atmosphere, as this one did.  Some experts think that it could have possibly scattered tiny pieces of debris across the Sierra Nevada mountains, but no fragments were likely large enough to do any damage.  You can check out the video below.

Fireball Seen in Skies Over New Zealand

Posted by Alan at 10:15 AM on April 2, 2012

Eyewitness reports have been pouring in about sightings of a meteor in the skies above New Zealand.  The fireball passed over large population areas like Wellington and Christchurch giving the opportunity for anyone with a camera handy to grab shots.  The pictures have been piling up at the WeatherWatch site for the kiwi nation.  One eyewitness reported seeing an “object the size of a helicopter on fire.”  Others across the island nation have submitted reports about seeing the object, which seems to have been visible across a large portion of the country.

The meteor was likely a lone incident as the earth is not currently passing through any showers right now, although the Lyrids is coming up in about three weeks.  The meteor probably burned up in earth’s atmosphere as there are no reports of an impact.  If more information comes in I will add an update to this post.  I have also sent a message to the “Bad Astronomer” Phil Plait to see if he has additional insight.

Picture Credit: Channel 3 News via Web Pro News

 

Neil deGrasse Tyson Testifies to Congress on Behalf of NASA

Posted by Alan at 3:02 PM on March 31, 2012

Earlier this month our favorite astrophysicist, Neil deGrasse Tyson,  went before Congress to plead his case  for NASA.  In recent years the budget for NASA has been slashed mercilessly by the folks down in Washington DC, all many of whom have little to no clue about science and technology.

Tyson makes his case by pointing out the obvious ties between NASA and everyday technology, much of which has stemmed from NASA and military technology.  He eloquently talks of the lack of science education and new engineers and scientists in today’s United States and points out that many of today’s aging generation of scientists got their start and motivation during the 50′s and 60′s space race.

The full eight minute video has been posted to YouTube and can also be seen below.  If you aren’t familiar with Tyson, he is the head of the Hayden Planetarium at New York’s Museum of Natural History and is also the host of NOVA on PBS.  If you agree with his arguments then contact your local representative and make your voice heard now before it’s too late.

Space Alert: Moon, Venus, Jupiter Alignment Tonight

Posted by Alan at 11:08 AM on March 25, 2012

For the second time in a few weeks the moon, Venus, and Jupiter will come together in our night sky for a great viewing opportunity.  The alignment will be at it’s peak both tonight and tomorrow night (March 25 and 26).  If you are lucky enough to be in area that isn’t overcast then you will be treated to the crescent moon appearing between Jupiter (below the moon) and the brighter Venus (above).

If you are looking for the conjunction then plan to look west just after sunset.  Jupiter will appear about 15 degrees above the horizon with the moon just above it and Venus about 10 degrees higher than the moon.  To give you an idea of exactly how bright the two planets will be you may actually be able to see them during daylight hours.  They can be hard to spot during daylight most of the time, but thanks to their proximity to the moon, which is easily found during the day, they become much easier to locate.

For more in-depth information you can check out Phil Plait’s Bad Astronomy blog over at Discover Magazine.  You can also check out the skymap below, which is also courtesy of Phil.

Great ISS and Meteor Video

Posted by Alan at 10:53 AM on August 14, 2011

One of my favorite web sites, Universe Today, has linked up a video that really captured my imagination.  The video, captured by Bryan Stewart and posted to Vimeo, shows the International Space Station (ISS) passing overhead during the recent Perseid Meteor Shower.

The video is 1:06 in length and was filmed in Texas at 6:25am on August 10, 2011.  In addition to some great videography, it also features a soundtrack that is Carl Sagan set to music.  What more could you ask for?!

If you have never seen the ISS pass over, it’s a steady, non-blinking white light that moves fairly quickly across the sky.  Not meteor-fast, but you will only have 1-2 minutes of viewing time to follow it from one horizon to the other.

If you want to find out if/when it will be viewable in your area, I recommend the Heaven’s Above website.  You will to need to enter the coordinates of your location, but once you have it set up you can bookmark it with your coordinates and you will not need to ever enter them again.  In addition to the ISS, it also gives information on such passes as Iridium Satellites.

The video is posted below.  Enjoy.

ISS pass with perseid meteor from Bryan Stewart on Vimeo.

ISS Visible During Solar Eclipse

Posted by Andrew at 9:16 AM on January 5, 2011

In a very quick bit of non-CES news, check out this picture taken during Tuesday’s solar eclipse by photographer Thierry Legault.  It shows the International Space Station in front of the Sun as the Sun itself is partially occluded by the Moon.  Amazing.

What’s even more amazing is that Thierry  had less than one second in which to take the photo – that’s how quickly the ISS passes across the Sun.  You can read all about how the photograph was taken over at Bad Astronomy.

3 Good Sites For Skywatchers

Posted by Alan at 6:36 AM on August 21, 2010

If you love astronomy, like I do, then you are always on the lookout for cool places on the web to get information on what is going on above your head.  So, let’s take a look at three sites I frequent on an almost daily basis.

Heavens Above

Heavens Above is a great site for tracking objects.  When you first go to their site you can put in your exact location via coordinates or Google Maps.  You can then save the location and you will no longer have to do it again in the future.  You can track when objects, such as the ISS and various satellites, will pass over you location.  If you haven’t seen the ISS pass over then you really should.  It’s visible with the naked eye.  Another cool object you can get pass-over times for is Iridium satellites, which are another must-see object.

It allows you to track spacecraft leaving our solar system – namely the Voyagers, Pioneers, and New Horizon missions.  There are sky charts, current planets and comets visible, to name a few other useful items available on the site.

NOAA Auroral Activity

With solar activity on the rise and expected to continue to rise through 2012, the NOAA Auroral Activity site is something that you may want to start following now.  It gives information on the latest solar flare or CME’s and provides maps for both hemispheres showing the likelihood of aurora being visible.  As solar activity rises these auroras will become visible in more and more locations.

If you click on the link, at left, for Aurora Viewing, you find a chart that show the magnetic latitude of various major cities.  If you don’t see one that’s close by you the choose it from the drop-down list which contains hundreds of cities.  A pop-up will show the magnetic latitude of you chosen city.  You can then use this number to get a good idea of the odds of visible aurora in your area.

Space Weather

The Space Weather site is similar to the NOAA site previously mentioned.  It has more information and it’s displayed in an easier to use format, but some parts are not free.  However, the free information is more than enough for the average amateur sky watcher.  You can sign up for free email alerts of space weather phenomena.  You can also check out the latest info on solar flares, sun spots, and solar winds.  For aurora predictions they actually use the NOAA site.

If you’d like to pay a small fee ($4.95 per month) you can receive alerts for aurora, planet alignments, geomagnetic storms, asteroids, and ISS fly-bys via text message.

So there are three great sites to get started with.  There are many more great astronomy sites and free software programs available online.