Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Religiously Observing Jupiter Pays Off for Christopher Go After Unknown Object Impacts

Christopher Go is an amateur astronomer in the Philippines. He's know for taking pictures of Jupiter and observing the change in color of a spot on Jupiter called Red Spot Jr. He  alerted astronomy authorities about it. Now, he's known worldwide. That was back in February of 2006. Ten years later, on June 3, 2010, it seems his religious observation of Jupiter had paid off again when he documented the impact of a large object on Jupiter on video. The event, which he confirmed with the footage, was actually observed by his friend, Australian astronomer, Anthony Wesley.

The object that hit Jupiter was unknown, but it hit in these coordinates: Jovian latitude minus 16.1°, and central meridian longitudes CM1: 300°, CM2: 33.8° and CM3: 210.4°."The impact produced a flash that was likely the result of the object exploding in the Jovian atmosphere. It is likely an asteroid. The photo and cropped detail shown here is from a still of the video made by Go of the event.

Wesley and Go (left) are now well-known Jupiter observers. Their success proves that it pays to keep an eye on Jupiter with your telescope. If you have the equipment to take photos and video, then you can capture events that professional astronomers may be too busy to notice. Jupiter presents a nice disk where anything can happen. Cloud patterns change and you never know if another object hits it. If you watch the video, you will see a faint flash (impact) first followed by a larger one (explosion). Here is the link to the video of Christopher Go of the Jupiter-impact event. It was posted on YouTube by kurtjmac:

You can follow Christopher Go's observations of Jupiter here:

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Monday, June 21, 2010

New Cave Skylight Found on Pavonis Mons on Mars by 7th Graders

What could make the life of seventh grader more exciting and lead them more into the planetary sciences? The answer is the discovery of a cave on Mars! That's exactly what happened to 7th graders in California who were participating in the Mars Student Imaging Program at the Mars Space Flight Facility at Arizona State University. This program lets students pose a question and to use a Mars orbiter to take pictures of the surface in order to find the answer.

The students were from Evergreen Middle School in Cottonwood, California. They were able to commission a Mars Orbiting Camera to search for lava tubes in the area of Pavonis Mons, a volcano where another cave was found in 2007 by geologist Glen Cushing, who suggested that the openings (left; previously-discovered cave) were skylights or holes in lava tubes created after a part of the roof collapsed. He estimated the hole to be over 600 feet wide and nearly 400 feet deep.

The students wanted to determine the likely places lava tubes could be found on Mars. The photographs of their chosen location did indeed show tubes. The cave was a bonus that made the news. The pictures were taken by the Mars Odyssey orbiter with its Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS) instrument. Dennis Mitchell, the teacher of the students, remarked that the program is one of the "greatest educational programs ever developed."

If you happen to have access to high-resolution photos of the surface of Mars, why don't you go over them? You may likely discover something new just like what these students did. You may not have access to the Mars Odyssey, but there's the chance that you will find something that's not noticed before.

NOTE: he images on the left relate to previous discoveries. The pictures are from NASA.

So you're wondering what lies inside the Martian caves, eh? Well, for now, they are forbidden places! Nevertheless, why not let your imagination on the subject loose with this Forbidden Planet, Robby the Robot model kit! Click here or on the image to order.

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Monday, May 24, 2010

The Sound of Outer Space Comes from Saturn

Saturn, a beautiful ringed orb hanging in the darkness of space. That's how you see it in a telescope. It speaks to you of mysteries in space. Have you ever wondered what Saturn would sound like if you can hear it? The Cassini spacecraft, which was sent to this wonderful ringed planet, has captured its radio emissions from energetic auroras which has been compressed and translated by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) into sounds that we can hear and appreciate.

If you've ever wondered what space sounds like, then you can listen to the voice of Saturn. There are many other "voices" out there coming in from different levels of the electromagnetic spectrum, but Saturn's is one for the books because its sounds really does remind us of the vastness immensity of space. Note that 73 seconds of playback of the sounds of Saturn is really equivalent to 27 minutes in real time. The frequency had also been lowered to a range audible to the human ear.

Click here to listen to the eerie voice of Saturn.

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Monday, May 17, 2010

SkyXplore Begins SpaceDome Mobile Digital Planetarium Project in the Philippines

The Diliman Preparatory School in Quezon City in the Philippines has launched its SkyXplore project with the SpaceDome Mobile Digital Planetarium as the main attraction. The astronomy education program is headed by former Philippine Senator Nikki Coseteng and aims to bring astronomy closer to the Filipino student through the inflatable planetarium, creating new windows for education and opening doors to new careers in science and technology. As of this writing, only the Rizal Technological University offers degree courses in astronomy.

The planetarium will be taken to schools nationwide to promote astronomy and to educate students in the science. She will be aided by astronomy consultants like Frederick Gabriana and wife Rochelle (2nd picture from the top). Lecturers include Ramon Acevedo, resident astronomer of the Seven Suites Observatory Hotel in Antipolo City. The planetarium currently shows the sky as seen by different cultures (like the Inuit and Lakota) with the Western view taking precedence.

Astronomer Gabriana will soon by integrating Philippine constellations in the open source program used with the planetarium computer and projector. He will be using the research of Historian Dr. Dante Ambrosio of the University of the Philippines. It will be the first time that the sky as seen by indigenous peoples of the Philippines will be featured in a planetarium program. Aside from stars, planets, and constellations, the planetarium is also capable of taking the viewer on a travel through time and space. It's also for showing movies. Shown at left is Coseteng presenting the meteorite collection of the Gabrianas which was originally part of the Allen Yu space rock collection.

Nikki Coseteng launches SkyXplore -Scienceray

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Sunday, May 16, 2010

Venus Disappears behind the Moon (Metro Manila, Philippines, May 16, 2010, 7:36 PM.)

The sky was clear and the air still. Just after sunset on the 16th of May in the Philippines and elsewhere, people saw something beautiful in the sky. It was the setting crescent Moon with Venus just above the darkened part of the lunar disk. Not everyone knew it was coming, but it was really a spectacle that was hard to miss. "Beautiful!" People said, and they took photographs with their cell phones. The next day, the event was the main story featured on Yahoo!.

Yes, Venus and the Moon together was a beautiful sight. Venus is actually on the opposite side of the Sun and it's position relative to the moon the that day made for an astronomy spectacle for everyone. But after looking at the two together for a while and taking photographs, most people went on their way. Little did they know that if they had waited a bit longer, they would have witnessed Venus move closer to the Moon and wink out as it is finally fully obscured by the lunar disk in what is called, by the way, a lunar occultation.

For those who didn't realize that the Moon would cover Venus, well, it happened at 7:36 pm. If they had waited, they would have seen Venus move closer to the lunar disk's edge and slowly weaken in brightness until it gets "snuffed out" like a candle - but we all know that it's just behind the Moon!

Superstitious people have asked the significance of such an alignment of the Moon and Venus. But really, there's nothing to it from the scientific point of view. It's just one object blocking the view of another in space. But historically, the "crescent Moon and star" is a recurring symbol in the Islamic world since ancient times and the motif appears in several Islamic country flags (left).

As early as the 14th century B.C., the crescent and star symbol was already associated with the Moabites of the book of Genesis in the Bible. It was also a part of Sumerian iconography with the crescent representing the Moon god Sin, and the star representing the goddess of fertility, Ishtar.

It really pays to look at the sky sometimes even when you're not expecting anything to see or happen. You might get lucky like the hundreds of people who saw Venus and the Moon together. Luckier were the ones who waited to see Venus get covered up by the Moon and then appear again later at the other side. It would have taken a lot of patience, though!

The pictures here were taken by this writer with a cellphone camera, thus, there is slight image elongation. The photo on top shows Venus as it nears the lunar disk. The smaller one at the left shows Venus just before it hid behind the Moon.The orange blur at the top left corner is a plane that has just left the airport.

See more spectacular photos and videos of the May 16, 2010 lunar occultation of Venus over the Philippines in Erica Valdueza's The Sky Above.

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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

If You Find a Meteorite, Can You Really Claim It?

Astronomers, amateur and professionals alike, always dream of finding a meteorite. It's even more exciting if the meteorite is found just after it hits. Consider yourself very lucky if the meteorite falls somewhere near you and you get to retrieve it while it's fresh. But does finding and simply picking up a meteorite make it your own? Can you lay claim to it without anybody else contesting the legitimacy of your ownership?

The answer to both is yes... that is... if you, the one who found the meteorite, is also the owner of the land it slammed into. This means that if you found a meteorite on someone else's property, the landowner has the right to claim the object as his, never mind if it journeyed for millions of years in space before hitting dirt. While laws in different places may differ, it just shows that picking a meteorite up from the ground does not automatically make it yours.

Meteorites can fetch a lot of money, especially for specimens that cause a ruckus and are found right after impacting. These meteorites become popular and when broken in pieces, it can make a lot of money for the owner. Apart from museums and research institutions, collectors worldwide are willing to pay big for really good and popular specimens. Meteorites are like long lost treasures. But while the founder of lost treasures generally get a share of the bounty along with the owner of the land and the government, meteorites pose questions that require the services of good lawyers.

Just consider what happened at Williamsburg Square, in Lorton Virginia, USA in January 2009. A meteorite (top and left) crashed through the roof of a building and into a doctors' office. One doctor thought that a bookshelf had fallen on his partner after he heard a boom. But it turned out, a mango-sized meteorite was responsible for the explosion. It hit with such force that it embedded pieces of ceiling tiles into the floor, going through the carpet. The doctors were thankful the meteorite didn't hit any of them because it fell on a spot where they usually sit. The doctors placed the meteorite fragments in a box and sent them to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History where it was confirmed as a meteorite by scientist Cari Corrigan. She said it was likely traveling at 350kph when it hit.

You'd think that the Lorton meteorite has found it's final resting place in the Smithsonian? but no, the owner of the building it crashed into has laid claim to the space rock. The Smithsonian says it will hold on to the meteorite until ownership is resolved. It's up to history to say where the rock will end up.

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