Most of us have spent the past couple of months being completely fascinated with Curiosity, the latest and largest lander to roam the surface of Mars. NASA has been regularly posting images snapped by the multiple cameras on board the rover, but the one it snapped on October 31st may be the best so far.
Astronomer Phil Plait, who pointed this image out, dubbed it “the single greatest vacation picture ever taken” and I can’t argue one bit. After all, how would you like to send this image home to friends and family? The incredible self-portrait took some work. It’s actually a composite made up of 55 different high-resolution images taken by a camera mounted at the end of a two meter long arm (the arm was edited out to improve the image).
You can get much more detailed information by visiting Phil’s Bad Astronomy blog over at Discover Magazine. The image looks much like any desert on earth, but it’s a much starker and colder location than the images belie. You can view the full resolution at the link below the image.
Yesterday Austrian daredevil Felix Baumgartner ascended to the dizzying height of 128,100 feet (24.2 miles) above the earth in a two hour balloon ride. He then came back down in a considerably faster way by stepping out of his capsule onto a tiny platform, giving a salute, and jumping. The event broke many records, including highest jump, longest distance freefall and highest speed, as he broke the sound barrier by hitting Mach 1.24. He also shattered internet viewing records as YouTube reported over 8 million simultaneous live streams.
If you watched the event live then you probably noticed what appeared to be an almost out-of-control spin during the descent. Now new footage has appeared on Austrian TV (Baumgartner’s native country) that shows the view from the camera mounted to his helmet, and it’s a dizzying descent indeed.
Previous record holder, Colonel Joe Kittinger who jumped from 19 miles way back in 1960, was front and center at Mission Control and was the voice in Felix’s ear throughout the event. You can watch the entire 2.5 hour Odyssey condensed down to a minute and a half here. The footage from the headcam can seen below, but it’s not for the faint of heart.
If you haven’t heard, a new comet was recently spotted. Even better, it’s expected to pass ridiculously close to earth in 2013 and, if those predictions prove true, it will put on quite a show in our night sky. The new object goes by the catchy name of of C/2012 S1, but is generally being called ISON.
The projected orbit should take ISON directly towards the sun in November 2013, causing melting which will result in a very defined tail. By January 2014 it should pass 60 million kilometers from Earth, and that combination of large tail and proximity to earth could result in a night sky object approximately as bright as the moon. That would make ISON the brightest comet ever seen.
According to a NASA report, “comet researcher John Bortle has pointed out a curious similarity between the orbit of Comet ISON and that of the Great Comet of 1680. ‘Purely as speculation,’ he says, ‘perhaps the two bodies could have been one a few revolutions ago.'”
All of this is still somewhat unknown because, for one thing, the brightness will depend on the composition of materials making up the comet and how much melting actually occurs. However, the best estimates at this point are leaning towards a best-case scenario for anyone interested in the night sky.
Nearly 700 pictures were submitted to Flickr for 2012 and you can see them all in the Flickr Group Pool for the Astronomy Photographer of the Year. There’s an endless supply of background images when you include the previous year’s entrants.
The BBC is showing off some of the photographs from the competition in a narrated presentation that’s well worth a watch as well.
The photographs are on show at the Royal Observatory through to 17 February 2013.
I won’t try to write a eulogy or a tribute. I will leave that up to people who know more than me, but I did want to take a moment to post a tribute of some sort to the man who inspired a whole new generation of explorers. Without Neil Armstrong so many things we take for granted now may never have happened. He had the courage to take that “first step”, in more ways than just the obvious one.
“In space… no one can hear you scream….” Or, maybe they can. Scientists from the University of Michigan have been able to detect an oscillating signal that occurs as a star is devoured by a previously dormant supermassive black hole.
The event was documented with the Suzaku and XMM-Newton orbiting X-ray telescopes. They picked up semi-regular “blips” in the light from a galaxy located 3.9 billion light years away from the constellation known as Draco the dragon. The proper name for the “blips” is “quasiperiodic oscillations”. The scientists noted that the quasiperiodic oscillations were happening every 200 seconds, and occasionally would disappear.
The cause of the “blips” was due to a black hole eating a star that has had its gravity broken apart. In short, the star forms an accretion disk that surrounds the black hole. The scientists looked at x-rays that allowed them to see emissions coming from the disk extremely close to the black hole. This is what produces a quasiperiodic wobble. The researchers compare it to the sound of an ultra-low D-sharp note.
John Miller is an astronomy professor at the University of Michigan, and a co-author of the paper about the quasiperiodic oscillations that was recently published in Science Express. He said:
“You can think of it as hearing the star scream as it gets devoured, if you like”.
Personally, that isn’t something I want to think about. There is something inherently creepy about the concept of a star “screaming” as it is being devoured by a black hole. Imagine the sound of that ultra-low D-sharp as you watch this NASA animation of a black hole devouring a star.
An Atlas V rocket was launched on June 20, 2012, from Cape Canaveral. This makes the 50th mission for the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program, as well as the 31st Atlas launch. It was carrying classified cargo for the United States National Reconnaissance Office (NRO). The launch was described as flawless by Col. James D. Fisher, who is the director of the NRO’s Office of Space Launch.
The Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program, also called EELV, is designed to make space launch vehicles more affordable and reliable. The program is intended to replace older launch systems and reduce launch costs by at least 25%.
An Atlas V rocket can weigh between 734,850 pounds and 2,120,000 pounds. It has a maximum payload weight of 20,000 to 42,000 pounds to Low Earth Orbit. Or, it can carry 6,000 to 14,000 pounds to Geostationary Orbit. It also can carry a total of 8,750 to 28,660 pounds to a Geosynchronous Orbit.