Monday, May 16, 2011

It Is Carnival Time!!!

Welcome to the 197th Carnival of Space where bloggers far and wide come together and blog about all things space. I have the privilege of hosting this fine event this week. If you have a blog that just needs to get out and see some people then by all means send Brian Wang an e-mail Here.  Submit your blog   You can even volunteer to host the Carnival of Space. That's enough of the Housekeeping stuff Lets get to the Carnival!

First up is the far thinking blog , Crowlspace. Adam ponders aliens living within Black holes. New thinking and novels of the past point to a maybe.   So what about us? Could we travel to a black hole and live there too? It could happen but chances are we would never know about it. Tough getting the news out of a black hole...  And with all that time dilation going on in a black hole, would it be possible to buy a vacation time-share?Adam lays it all down here at the Crowlspace

Now walk this way to Next Big Future Brian Wang (our overlord here at the Carnival) has a trifecta this week with three very good articles about: a new engine that delivers the same power with less radioactive material. Click Here, to Roger Longstaff, engineer at Reaction Engines Ltd (REL), said that the company intends to test its amazing "pre-cooler" technology in June, 2011. Click Here and last but not least... NASA has selected a mission to Saturn's Moon for Discovery Program Development. The Titan Mare Explorer, or TiME, would perform the first direct inspection of an ocean environment beyond Earth by landing in, and floating on, a large methane-ethane sea on the cloudy, complex moon.  Click Here Brian's blog is always full of new on the edge the cutting edge stuff. After every read I am glad I live in these times. I can hardly wait for the Next Big thing!

Speaking of waiting,  How about the wait on the Endeavour's launch. I have more than a few friends that have been waiting to make a beeline down south and catch the last launch of Space Shuttle, Endeavour.They are on the way!  The Space Writer's Ramblings Carolyn Collins Petersen, muses on the scrubbed launch of Endeavour; next launch attempt is May 16th. And good luck to the crew as they take another exciting journey. For a great read as always follow This Link to the Space writer.

Beagle 2 art
One of my favorite blogs is the very classic and classy Vintage Space. Your host, Amy Shira Teitel  takes a look at two Mars landers that disappeared: NASA's Mars Polar Lander and the ESA's Beagle 2. Engineers were able to determine the root cause of the loss of MPL and revive the mission years later as the Phoenix lander. The fate of Beagle 2, however, remains a mystery. These two missions are a prime example of the importance of thorough testing and telemetry collection on an interplanetary spaceflight.Take a look Here I love this blog as I have grown up with the space race of the 50's-60's to the modern day hunts for other worlds. Thanks Amy for writing it.

Weird Warp takes another look trying to make heads or tales out of the elevated methane issue on Mars. Deep fractures have been found around the giant Isidis impact basin on Mars. This area called NiliFossae is of interest to scientists because telescopes on Earth measured an increase in methane in Mars’s atmosphere over this area. This could mean life or it could be geological. Some of these incisions are up to 500 m deep and probably formed at the same time as the basin formed. For the scoop go to Weird Warp

 For a great look at how they build them South African style the Urban Astronomer Last weekend saw the tenth outing of South Africa's premier Astronomy and Amateur Telescope Making expo. Allen Versfeld the Urban Astronomer was there to see the sights and chat to the regulars. Go Here for a great look at great skill.

Over at the Armagh Planetarium's Blog site Astronotes the discussion is about NASA’s Space Shuttles have become a familiar sight in their thirty years of service, but there have been other shuttle designs which never left the ground. Some were ingenious alternative concepts to the vehicle
 which is shortly to be retired, some were potential replacements and
there was even a couple of foreign competitors. take a look Here at Armagh Planetarium's blog examination of  space shuttles that never were.
Now for something completely different... Vega 0.0 takes us to the classroom as we learn a thing or two about how to gauge the brightness of minor planets, asteroids.  You know, those tumbling crazy shaped chunks of space gravel! This post explains how to calculate the absolute magnitude for asteroids and other minor bodies. sharpen your pencil and  head for Vega. Take a translator with you or use the one provided.

We all know the Crab Nebula was formed when a star blew up way back in 1054 and has been getting bigger and bigger. Chandra Blog has been keeping an eye on this explosion in the making. A new Chandra movie shows changes in the Crab from September 2010 to April 2011. The  Chandra blog can be found Here

Starry Critters is last offering of this very exciting Carnival and Starry Critters does not disappoint. You need to check out  Here what Hubble is cooking with a look at images of the Meat Hook galaxy and friends  Hubble never ceases to amaze. Starry Critters explores three new galactic images from Hubble; NGC 4214, NGC 5774, and NGC 2442, the Meathook Galaxy.

Thanks for taking a look at the carnival this week. After My Darling Daughter Meghan is wed in June things will be less crazy at the Astrocorner.
Until next time,
Keep looking Up!

Steve T

Friday, April 15, 2011

Shades of Galileo

When you have a bit of time on your hands, you start looking for stuff to do and lately Galileo has been on my mind. So let's test the new Galileo scope I just built  on Saturn! The scope was a gift from the Cincinnati Observatory Center  because I do so much out reach for any and all things astronomy. Whether it is for the COC or the Cincinnati Astronomical Society or various other agencies near the Queen City, I work hard to bring astronomy into the reach of the public. The Galileo scope, birthed out of the 2009 International Year of Astronomy, is a plastic telescope with remarkable lenses for the cost (about $25.00). I built it to the 25X power configuration. The scope is a 50 mm objective Refractor. It boasts a modest light gathering ability. I knew Saturn was still a nice target and it was then my quest started to take shape. I thought about what Galileo saw when he first turned his scope to this ringed beauty in the year of 1610. It was hardly a ringed anything. What he saw in his tiny scope was a planet that had moons on either side of it  or maybe it was three planets together. So there is my goal of sorts to see if my little scope of about the same power and light gathering could deliver a ringed planet or maybe with some luck and a wink from the sky gods the famed triple planet that Galileo saw in his first glimpse.

I did not have a 1610 mount on me at the time. Actually no one cared enough to write down or draw Galileo's first mount so no body knows what he used. I imagine it would have been simple and somewhat effective. Remember he wanted to get eyes on the sky as quick as possible. If that was sufficient for the father of modern astronomy... So  not to be under done I sloughed off the go to mount and opted for a super cheap spindly camera tripod. I would say this equaled the stick and string setup? that captured Jupiter and his four big moons and Saturn to boot.  We were ready for the night to descend and gaze upon its wonders.

This night was also a celebration of a birthday for our number two child of the family.  He and his wife brought their ever so inquisitive daughter, Holly. Now Holly walked right up to me on the deck and ask: Paw paw what is that? (pointing at the telescope) Holly is 2 years old and knows where the Moon is which I think is great. She pointed toward the Moon and said The Moon!  to which I said do you want to see the Moon in the telescope? She said yes and got up on my lap as I centered the Moon in the field of view. Oh yeah this would be the very first look through a telescope for her  how exciting well for me any way!. I said OK look and she did with both eyes into the eyepiece which as you might guess does not work too good.  So I had her cover one of her eyes and then look with the "working" eye. she did and what did she see?.... She said I see my eye! She was looking at the reflection of her eye in the eyepiece. Hey she's 2! what did you expect?We all got a good chuckle.

The sky was darkening and the stars started to creep into view now that the sun had given way. and there it was in all of its glory Saturn. I took time to bring the scope to rest upon this distant gas giant. I took care to slide the end in to focus his black beauty and WOW  there it was... Saturn but not the ringed one . I was the three planet variety and I started to try and get the scope refocussed but every time I did it the scope would sharpen to reveal three points of light just like Galileo saw 201 years ago! What makes this such a great thing in my book is the coincidence of looking through a Galileoscope to see the same exact site that Galileo saw those many nights ago. I can just imagine the awe and marveling at this wondrous thing called Saturn. And now some 400 years later the same awe and wonder comes from almost everyone that steps up to take a peak at Saturn. That's why when you show Saturn to someone for the first time, Galileo lives on through that Wow that comes out of their mouths. Definitely shades of Galileo...

Until next time,
Keep looking up!

Steve T

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Carnival of Space 189 is Now Open Come One, Come All!

The Carnival of Space is a weekly event hosted by a blogger of any and all things space. Welcome to Steve's Astro-corner. Get ready to be wowed and awed by what you see and read and in some cases by what you  hear. Today I am presenting for your pleasure, a fine assortment of blogs submitted to Brian Wang of the Next Big Future Blog . He rides herd on the dozens of space blog sites that send their blogs to the Carnival every week. If by chance, you own a blog that you wish to share with the world and in the process meet some really great people with a deep love for space "stuff" then by all means send your URL and a bit about the blog in an email to and you will be added to the editorial circulation list.  Previous episodes can be found here.  So with all that said, let's step in to the carnival and enjoy the show!
The first blog we come to is the always well written blog UniverseToday with senior editor, Nancy Atkinson submitting. This week Nancy shares the before and after shots of the terrible earthquake and Tsunami that rocked Japan last week. The post can be found Here.
(as a side note) I personally wish the people of Japan  a speedy and safe recovery from the collection of calamities that have struck this country.

After that dose of reality a little escape to the movies might be in order and  Ian O'Neill of the Discovery Space News website  has the ticket. Ian says "Despite the bad press, I really enjoyed 'Battle: Los Angeles.' It is, after all, just a movie about war, aliens and mankind's desire not to be exterminated without a fight." Check out  his movie review at Discovery

Next in our quest for all things space we have Allen Versfeld and his Blog: Urban Astronomer. Here, Allen discusses how New observations made by the Hubble Space Telescope have refined our measurements of the expansion of the universe.  These new figures strengthen the case for Dark Energy by eliminating a competing theory. Sounds like a team of scientists just got sacked! ouch that always stings when it is your research. I feel their pain. I just knew the Ether was a sure thing...

On to our next big thing and that is  Next Big Future. Brian Wang, the thinking man's Thinking Man sorts out, In space it is relatively easy to move quite large space rocks using solar sails, ion drives and other means. There are a lot of space rocks and a survey could be done to select the rocks that would have to be moved with the least amount of effort. Then once each asteroid is moved into place they would be locked into place. It could be easier to gather asteroids to make desired shapes instead of digging out a larger asteroid. Different sized asteroids could be used from 500 kg, to tons up to asteroids that are 100 to 1000 meter across. Brian is amazing! I would love to hang out with him but I am afraid my head would explode. His  thought provoking article can be found Here

On to Ian Musgrave of Astroblogger fame  Ian tackles the Super Moon issue. Is it the bringer of death and carnage or is it just another full moon that just so happens to be at Perigee? Ian sheds some light on this well written piece. Yes, I slipped a pun in there... Go Here for all things Super Moon.

Vega 0.0 Fran Sevilla of Vega 0.0 delivers big with an Introduction to the comoving coordinates in cosmology. This is number 16 in a series so you might have some catching up to do there but as always a fascinating read. This Blog is in Spanish but have no worries if you scroll down on the right side you will find the Google translator application. translate it to the language of your choice and enjoy getting your head around our ever expanding universe. Check this blog out... Here

Time to get retro and when it comes to retro space there are few better than  Amy Shira Teitel and her blog: Vintage Space. This time around Amy takes a look back  at some of NASA's "trial and error" testing methods in selecting the ultimate shape for the Mercury capsule.  This is a real trip down memory lane. These were some exciting times for space travel. Did I mention dangerous too? When I'm the test pilot the last thing I really want to hear the aerospace engineers say is: "Well...  let's try this." Read all about the trial  and tribulations of the US mercury program Here

Peter Lake of Astroswanny takes opportunity to video some of my favorite Space stuff; that being the fascinating world of cataclysmic variables. Astroswanny has been logging some telescope time on FS Aur as part of Dr Vitaly Neustroev's research project. Peter has created a great little video that shows off some of the odd behavior of this cataclysmic variable. Peter is one of those citizen scientists doing real science  on behalf of a full time scientist doing research.  Now that is something to hang your hat on Peter! Get an eyeful --->  Here

J P Skipper of Weird Sciences discusses Atlantis  and the possibility it did exist but they built their empire on some  very shaky ground. Lots of underwater mapping to look at and some leaps to make but hey that's what it takes sometimes to make that big discovery. Check out the hang out of Atlas and his kin at Weird Sciences

Steve Nerlich over at Cheap Astronomy  has a treat for your ears and mind. Steve delves into the  unravel the whole density wave spiral arm story. Take a listen  and then think about that! Pick up what Steve is putting down right Here . I really don't have a logo to post for  Steve because he is frugal or I would!

How can our universe (or the one we are in at the moment) exist at the same time as another one? Would the other universe be a mirror image of this universe or would it have the same stuff in it but the stuff act differently from what we are experiencing now?  Those are some very good questions and for the answers or some answers. Go to the venerable Sage of Warp Chris Dann and his Blog Weird Warp for the skinny.

The Space writer (Carolyn Collins Petersen)   muses on the events of 25 years ago, when observations of Comet Halley were at their peak.  It is very hard to believe that it has been that long since the Halley experience was upon us. I am that old ... Read a great story by a great writer over at The Space  Writer

For a series of videos presented by the blog: We are all in the gutter, go here, here and here
This week They've been showcasing a series of videos about the Universe made by astronomers in Portsmouth. Three have been posted here with two more to be seen at this site.

Dr. Bruce Cordell has been perusing the latest data from the Kepler mission  and finds the mission seems to suggest Earths are 'Relatively Scarce'. Are we the only ones? no Galactic pen pals? Dr. Cordell is leaning in that direction. Find out all about it at Bruce's 21st Century Waves

A simple sentence can sometimes say a whole lot. So when you read Einstein's work was crucial to virtually every aspect of modern physics, what does that make you think? To wade out into those waters is none other than the Chandra Blog I guess Chandra was super busy way up in space taking some killer x-ray images so Megan Watzke stepped in to say happy birthday to Albert Einstein. He would have been 132 on March 14th. check out this short muse Here

Lastly, I offer for your enjoyment the witty repartee of Steve's Astrocorner as he takes a look at the Sun with a filter of course and ponders the latest study going about solar cycles. You can look at the Sun talk Here

I knew if I was ever going to get "witty repartee" and my blog in the same sentence I was going to have to do it my self . With  That my friends  is the end  of Carnival 189 I hope you enjoyed it. As I leave you. I just wanted to say happy birthday to the Cincinnati Astronomical Society as they celebrate 100 years of astronomical excellence.
Until next time,
Keep looking up!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

What is Up With The Sun?

Have you noticed the Sun has been in the news a lot lately? The reason is the current cycle is finally starting to wake up and send out more flares and solar storms. I am happy about it and my solar filter is happy as well.  It finally gets to come out of the box and play! Its recent turmoil is particularly newsworthy because the Sun was very quiet for a super long time. Astronomers had a tough time explaining the extended solar minimum. New computer simulations imply that the Sun's long quiet spell resulted from changing flows of hot plasma within it.

The Sun is made of  plasma,  not liquid solid or gas. Plasma contains negative electrons and positive ions which flow freely. Flowing plasma creates magnetic fields, which lie at the core of solar activity like flares, eruptions, and sunspots. The Sun contains huge streams of plasma kind of like our Earth's ocean currents. Those plasma currents affect solar activity. 

The Sun also operates in cycles... many cycles. In one of the cycles the Sun's activity rises and falls on 11 year increments. At its most active, called solar maximum, dark sunspots are scattered on the Sun's surface and frequent eruptions, explosions you name it send billions of tons of hot plasma into space. If the plasma collides with Earth, it can disrupt communications and electrical grids and short out satellites.

During solar minimum, the Sun calms down and both sunspots and eruptions are rare. The effects on Earth, while less dramatic, are still significant.  the solar wind that blows through the solar system  weakens,  and add to that the Sun's magnetic field weakening and more cosmic rays reach us from interstellar space. This is not a good thing.
The most recent solar minimum had an unusually long number of quiet and spotless days: 780 days during 2008-2010. Can you say wow? In a typical solar minimum, the Sun goes spot-free for about 300 days, making the last minimum the longest since 1913.
The last solar minimum had two major characteristics, one being no sunspots and  the other a weak polar magnetic field.
The team studying this phenomena used computer simulations to model the Sun's behavior over 210 activity cycles spanning some 2,000 years. He specifically looked at the role of the plasma rivers that circulate from the Sun's equator to higher latitudes. These currents flow much like Earth's ocean currents: rising at the equator, streaming toward the poles, then sinking and flowing back to the equator. At a typical speed of 40 miles per hour, it takes about 11 years to make one loop.
A team of scientists discovered that the Sun's plasma rivers speed up and slow down like a malfunctioning conveyor belt. They find that a faster flow during the first half of the solar cycle, followed by a slower flow in the second half of the cycle, can lead to an extended solar minimum. The cause of the speed-up and slowdown likely involves a complicated feedback between the plasma flow and solar magnetic fields. 
This study  is trying to make sense of this wandering current of plasma flow."It's like a production line - a slowdown puts 'distance' between the end of the last solar cycle and the start of the new one," says Team member Munoz-Jaramillo.

The ultimate goal of studies like this is to predict upcoming solar maxima and minima - both their strength and timing. At the moment predicting minimums is still not a reality. The sun has an endless multiple feed back system,  so making predictions will take some time get right. Watching these plasma flows and measuring  strength of poles etc will allow science to get a better picture of when these cycles might begin and end. Until then, we are using the 11 year plan give or take a couple of years!
Until next time,

Keep looking up!

Steve T

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Dr. Jim Elliot: Discoverer, Teacher, Mentor and Friend (1943-2011)

Once in a lifetime someone crosses your path with the perfect combination of life skills, knowledge and passion. Jim Elliot was such a person. James Ludlow Elliot was born in 1943 and received his S.B. degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1965 and his Ph.D. degree from Harvard University in 1972. Before returning to MIT in 1978, he was a postdoc and faculty member in the Astronomy Department of Cornell University where as a part of a team in 1977, discovered the rings around the planet Uranus. Their team watched as Uranus appeared to blink several times passed the planet then blinked the same amount of times. At first it was a very big surprise to the group.  Their first answer was that the equipment had malfunctioned. They later (after careful analysis) realized the blinking was caused by a band of rings surrounding the planet. These rings are very dark and narrow, unlike Saturn's, which are bright. Voyager II sent back many pictures that clearly show these rings. Elliot was also part of a team that observed global warming on Triton, the largest moon of Neptune. Dr. Elliot ended his career as  Professor of Physics and Professor of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences at MIT, and Director of the George R. Wallace, Jr. Astrophysical Observatory. Elliot used the techniques of planetary astronomy, particularly stellar occultations, to probe planetary atmospheres and the physical properties of small bodies in the outer solar system and beyond. Of particular interest to him was Pluto, Triton, Kuiper Belt objects and extrasolar planets. Dr. Elliot was good at it too. He, along with Paul Schechter and others at MIT and Harvard College Observatory, have constructed a CCD camera for the Magellan telescopes at Las Campanas Observatory, Chile. Elliot also worked with colleagues at the Lowell Observatory to build a high-speed imaging photometer for occultations (HIPO) for NASA's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA). 

To list all of the accomplishments for science that Dr. Elliot has earned would take more space than I have to type.  With that said,  all those accomplishments are nothing in comparison to the way he taught and nurtured the great minds that are  planetary scientists today. I asked Dr. Heidi Hammel , world renown planetary scientist and the first undergrad student of Dr. Elliot for a bit of a window into the man that was James Elliot.  She replied: One of Jim Elliot's gifts was this: he gave young students his trust, and thereby enabled them to do things they otherwise might never have tried. In my case, after I had graduated from MIT, he considered me a fully trained astronomer, literally. That summer, he sent me off to grad school in Hawaii with a letter stating that I was supposed to do his observations at the University's 88-inch telescope. It caused all kinds of trouble - this girl coming in who was not even yet a graduate student, saying she was supposed to use the a telescope on Mauna Kea. Why, they didn't even let graduate students use the telescopes without supervision! Jim was adamant that I do it, though; he refused to come to Hawaii. Eventually we worked out a deal that a postdoc would come with me to "supervise". It was cloudy, but that didn't matter. Jim had made his point, and I was fully empowered. I've heard many of his other students tell similar stories: sent off to who knows where with his utter confidence they were up to the challenge. And so, of course, they were. 

John of Salisbury wrote once: "We are like dwarfs sitting on the shoulders of giants. We see more, and things that are more distant, than they did, not because our sight is superior or because we are taller than they, but because they raise us up, and by their great stature add to ours." Jim was one of the giants that  John mentions.  That really only scratches the surface of Jim as a Mentor.  He deeply cared about people,  his people in particular.  Dr. Michael Person of the MIT Planetary Astronomy Lab a research scientist directly under Dr. Elliot wrote in regards to Jim's caring nature: "I echo Heidi's impression of Jim as a mentor. He was certainly a great influence in my life. A true mentor in the classic sense, those of us who apprenticed under him were fortunate enough to not only learn our craft from a master, but to spend years with a man who cared as much about how his students progressed in their lives as he did in their research. As much friend as teacher and colleague, he will be sorely missed."Anyone who ever knew Jim or studied under him could echo these comments about this great man. Jim lives on in the people he has touched. His legacy is great for his techniques will be built upon as we study distant planets orbiting distant stars, or discover even more distant worlds in the far off frozen world of the Kuiper belt. Moreover, He has shown the value of empowering students to go out and take life by the horns and do the impossible. Those are truly great words to teach and live by.  Go peacefully into the night Jim. You have left this world in good hands.
Until next time,

Keep looking up!

Steve T

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Dark Matter: Interperating Data Can Be a Very Hard Task for Scientists Including Galileo And Kepler

I just finished  with Galileo's Sidereal Messenger/ Kepler's Dioptics for the umpteenth time and I marvel at the discoveries made in those first few years after the invention of the telescope. Galileo got so many things right with his observations but the genius Galileo got a slew of things wrong too. Johannes Kepler  the wunderkind that came up Kepler's three Laws of Planetary Motion, got his share of stuff wrong. Some cases in point with these two giants are...
Galileo was trying to figure out why the edge of the moons disk appeared smooth and the rest of the Moon was littered with mountains and valleys.  Galileo wrote:  To this explanation may be added another, namely, that there is round the body of the Moon, just as round the Earth, an envelope of some substance denser than the rest of the ether, which is sufficient to receive and reflect the Sun s rays, although it does not possess so much opaqueness as to be able to prevent our seeing through it—especially when it is not illuminated. That envelope, when illuminated by the Sun's rays, renders the body of the Moon apparently larger than it really is, and would be able to stop our sight from penetrating to the solid body of the Moon, if its thickness were greater; now, it is of greater thickness about the circumference of the Moon, greater, I mean, not in actual thickness, but with reference to our sight-rays, which cut it obliquely; and so it may stop our vision, especially when it is in a state of brightness, and may conceal the true circumference of the Moon on the side towards the Sun. This may be understood more clearly from the adjoining figure, in which the body of the Moon, A B c. is surrounded by an enveloping atmosphere, D E G. An eye at f penetrates to the middle parts of the Moon, as at a, through a thickness, dia, of the atmosphere; but towards the extreme parts a mass of atmosphere of greater depth, E B, shuts out its boundary from our sight. Galileo, using the data he had acquired,  was way off base with this solution. Galileo also originally and erroneously thought  Saturn was a triple system with two smaller planets on either side of the planet.
This is from the preface of Kepler's Dioptics. : For if the earth were banished from the centre of the universe, some fear lest the water should leave the orb of the earth and flow to the centre of the universe ; and yet we see that in the moon, as well as in the earth, there is a quantity of moisture occupying the sunken hollows of that globe ; and although this orb revolves actually in the ether, and outside the centres not merely of the universe, but even of our earth, yet the mass of water in the moon is not at all hindered from cleaving invariably to the orb of the moon, and tending to the centre of the body to which it belongs. So Kepler thought that the Moon had water on it lots of water. Hmmm The Moon does have water but not where he said and not how much he said.

That is the problem with RAW data. The interpretations are as varied as the Universe itself. That might be a little over the top but you definitely get my meaning. They can be varied using the same science available to any thinking human being. This is where Dark Matter /Dark energy comes in. Can it be explained by just baryonic sources such as Brown dwarfs, black holes  and the like.  Or just maybe it is non baryonic in nature?  So if it is non baryonic,  is it cold,  warm or hot  Dark matter? If it is one of those three, could the particles be neutrinos super-neutrinos or even neutralinos. or maybe weakly interacting massive particles etc. or how about theoretical partcles yet to be found? By the way it could be a combination of some or all of the above... or none of it.

It could be one of several gravity theories floating out there (paradox intended) Modified Newtonian dynamics ie  MOND, TeVes, MOG NGT and back reaction theory etc. each one might include the some quantity of Dark Matter to shore up it's point. The latest MOG theory is stand alone in nature. there are many others out there clamoring to stay off the trash pile of dis-proven theories.

I have seen mandates that call for a solution in the next two years or science will have to reevaluate the whole Dark "stuff" scene. I have seen the Ether come up  to explain some of this circa 2006? Are you kidding me?  Do I have a favorite theory? Well, yes I do but my vote hardly counts. What does count  is the hard working scientist of this age striving to make sense out of the many Terra-bites of information continuing to be gathered by oh so many sources. Two years is a short time to sort out all of this.One thing is for certain these next couple of years are sure to be exciting! For the many theories that will go by the way side just remember you are in some very good company.

Until next time

Keep looking up!

Steve T

Monday, February 21, 2011

A World Record Length For Cosmic Yardstick!!!

Continent-wide telescope extends cosmic 'yardstick' three times farther into universe

Now just looking at the title you have to giggle a little bit because three feet (yardstick) is well... three feet and hardly a world record. It is when we pull out the Cosmic Yardstick that things start to get real long  like 450 million light years long and yes folks that is a direct measurement!Using the super-sharp radio "vision" of astronomy's most precise telescope, scientists have extended a directly-measured "yardstick" three times farther into the cosmos than ever before.This has some very important implications for the hottest fields right now namely Determining the nature of Dark Energy and extrasolar planet searches. The continent-wide Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA) also is redrawing the map of our home galaxy as I type and is on the precipice of delivering big  in these two fields and more.The VLBA provides the greatest ability to see fine detail, called resolving power, of any telescope in the world. It can produce images hundreds of times more detailed than those from the Hubble Space Telescope.  This power allows astronomers to make precise cosmic measurements with far-ranging implications for research within our own Galaxy and far beyond.

Via  the NRAO: New measurements with the VLBA have placed a galaxy called NGC 6264 at a distance of 450 million light-years from Earth, with an uncertainty of no more than 9 percent. This is the farthest distance ever directly measured, surpassing a measurement of 160 million light-years to another galaxy in 2009. Previously, distances beyond our own Galaxy have been estimated through indirect methods. "Our direct, geometric measurements are independent of the assumptions and complications inherent in other techniques," said James Braatz, of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), who worked with Cheng-Yu Kuo, of the University of Virginia and NRAO. Fine-tuning the measurement of ever-greater distances is vital to determining the expansion rate of the Universe, which helps theorists narrow down possible explanations for the nature of Dark Energy. Different models of Dark Energy predict different values for the expansion rate, known as the Hubble Constant.
"Solving the Dark Energy problem requires advancing the precision of cosmic distance measurements, and we are working to refine our observations and extend our methods to more galaxies," Braatz said. Measuring more-distant galaxies is vital, because the farther a galaxy is, the more of its motion is due to the expansion of the Universe rather than to random motions.

Another ongoing project uses the VLBA to redraw the map of our own home Galaxy. Recent work has added dozens of new measurements to star-forming regions in the Milky Way, The direct VLBA measurements improve on earlier estimates by as much as a factor of two.
This improvement significantly aids in understanding the physics of the young stars and their environments. It also has changed the map of the Milky Way, indicating that our galaxy has four spiral arms, not two, as previously thought.
"Because we sit inside our galaxy, it's difficult to actually map it. These precision distance measurements are our most effective tool for learning about the structure of the Milky Way," said Mark Reid, of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.
Earlier work by Reid and his colleagues showed that the Milky Way is rotating faster than previous estimates had indicated. That measurement in turn showed our galaxy to be more massive, equaling our neighbor, the Andromeda Galaxy, in mass.
Reid's team also is observing the Andromeda Galaxy in a long-term project to determine the direction and speed of its movement through space. "The standard prediction is that the Milky Way and Andromeda will collide in a few billion years. By measuring Andromeda's actual motion, we can determine with much greater accuracy if and when that will happen," Reid said.

A long-term, sensitive search of 30 stars seeks to find the subtle gravitational tug that will reveal planets orbiting those stars. The VLBA's precision can reveal a "wobble" in the star's motion through space caused by the planet's gravity. A four-year program, started in 2007, is nearing its completion.
"This study tracks stars smaller than our Sun, seeking evidence of planets the size of Jupiter or smaller," said Geoffrey Bower, of the University of California, Berkeley. "We want to learn how common it is for these low-mass stars to have planets orbiting them at relatively large distances," he added.
The project uses the VLBA along with NRAO's Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia, the largest fully-steerable dish antenna in the world. Together, these telescopes can detect the faint radio emission from the stars to track their motion over time.
Early results have ruled out any companions the size of brown dwarfs for three of the stars, and the astronomers are analyzing their data as the observations continue.
Astronomers reported on the new measurements and ongoing projects at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Washington, D.C.
The National Radio Astronomy Observatory is a facility of the National Science Foundation, operated under cooperative agreement by Associated Universities, Inc.

So what have we got here? a possible new way to find  extrasolar planets , A much bigger Milky Way Galaxy than previously thought and narrowing down the solution to the Dark Energy problem ... Not bad VLBA not bad at all . I may have a new hero!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

On The Horizon What Is The Next Big Thing?

The decadal survey for where astrophysics and astronomy is headed for the next ten years has been here for a few months now. The dust has settled; our course is set and we are full speed ahead. 23 scientists headed by Roger Blandford, a Stanford professor put their heads together and came up with a list of needs that focus on Extra solar planet searching, researching supernovae, defining dark matter and the origin of the universe within a tight budget. Now that is quite the tall order. Blandford , notes that astronomers are watching their budget: "The program of research that we recommend will optimize the science return for future ground-based projects and space missions in a time of constrained budgets and limited resources," he says. Astrophysics on a shoestring budget. To do this,  missions for the next decade need to be multiple pronged in their data collection. This will involve some great planning and innovation for these future projects to be successful. Ten years ago little if anyone had heard of dark matter. Now the race is on to pin DM down and make it give up it's secrets.  
artist's conception

The tools needed for this decade long push come in the form of the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST), previously known as the Joint Dark Energy Mission. The new $1 billion-plus space telescope will enable researchers to study dark energy, find Earthlike exos , and survey multiple galaxies, including the Milky Way. 

The second front of exploration will be earth based and is named the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST), a massive wide-field optical scope that will also help investigate dark energy. Scientist are looking to broaden their understanding of how the first stars, galaxies and black holes formed; to unravel the physics that drive these processes, including gravity and to find the closest habitable Earth-like exoplanets so scientists can study them in greater detail.Would you believe it both top-priority telescopes are already under way.The date of operation for this wonderful scope is 2015 so far...

Ten years have gone by and we are still waiting for the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) to get off the ground (launch)The  JWST is a large, infrared-optimized space telescope, scheduled for launch in 2014/2015. JWST will find the first galaxies that formed in the early Universe, connecting the Big Bang to our own Milky Way Galaxy. JWST will peer through dusty clouds to see stars forming planetary systems, connecting the Milky Way to our own Solar System. JWST's instruments will be designed to work primarily in the infrared range of the electromagnetic spectrum, with some capability in the visible range.
The James Webb Space Telescope has a 6.5-meter primary mirror. and will be the premier observatory of the next decade, serving thousands of astronomers worldwide. It will study every phase in the history of
our Universe, ranging from the first luminous glows after the Big Bang to the formation of solar systems capable of supporting life on planets like Earth. The evolution of our own Solar System will also be in the wheelhouse of this big space scope. JWST was formerly known as the "Next Generation Space Telescope" (NGST). JWST was renamed in Sept. 2002 after a former NASA administrator, James Webb.  The next ten years will see three new telescopes. The Webb is a very big drain in the exploration column of NASA's budget. That may hinder funneling money into the other two projects  right away. 

I am excited for the next ten years tight budget or not. If history is any indicator;  the economy will rebound and budgets will increase. We have so much data to crunch right now from all of the many space telescopes and ground base scope doing research  that we have a lot to look forward to these next few years. I parallel these time to the times of Galileo. The discoveries made with the new technology of the day (the Telescope) turned the science world on its ear and out of it modern astronomy was born. We are finding so much so fast in these hi-tech days and truly it is amazing to watch and take in. It is fun to wonder what the next ten years will uncover and wonder I will.
until the next time,

Keep looking up!

Steve T

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Students (Yes Students) Discover Pulsars and More

Alexander Snider and Hannah Mabry in GBT Control Room,
Casey Thompson on-screen, during confirmation observation.
Astronomical discoveries have no loyalties to scientist with PHDs. Anyone with a mind  can  discover the grandest of things out in the universe. Never has that point been more true than with the recent discovery of a rapidly spinning pulsar (30 times a second) by three high school students from Virginia and Kentucky. This rare pulsar located in Ophiuchus and above the Milky way disk was discovered by  Alexander Snider, Casey Thompson and Hannah Mabry as they sifted through data gathered by the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope (GBT). These students are a part of the Pulsar Search Collaboratory (PSC) project, run by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) in Green Bank, WV, and West Virginia University (WVU). 
Basics of a Pulsar

From the NRAO press release:
The pulsar, which may be a rare kind of neutron star called a recycled pulsar, was discovered independently by Virginia students Alexander Snider and Casey Thompson, on January 20, and a day later by Kentucky student Hannah Mabry. "Every day, I told myself, 'I have to find a pulsar. I better find a pulsar before this class ends,'" said Mabry.When she actually made the discovery, she could barely contain her excitement. "I started screaming and jumping up and down."
Thompson was similarly expressive. "After three years of searching, I hadn't found a single thing," he said, "but when I did, I threw my hands up in the air and said, 'Yes!'." Snider said, "It actually feels really neat to be the first person to ever see something like that. It's an uplifting feeling."

As part of the PSC, the students analyze real data from NRAO's Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope (GBT) to find pulsars. The students' teachers -- Debra Edwards of Sherando High School, Leah Lorton of James River High School, and Jennifer Carter of Rowan County Senior High School -- all introduced the PSC in their classes, and interested students formed teams to continue the work.Even before the discovery, Mabry simply enjoyed the search. "It just feels like you're actually doing something," she said. "It's a good feeling."

Once the pulsar candidate was reported to NRAO, Project Director Rachel Rosen took a look and agreed with the young scientists. A followup observing session was scheduled on the GBT. Snider and Mabry traveled to West Virginia to assist in the follow-up observations, and Thompson joined online.
"Observing with the students is very exciting. It gives the students a chance to learn about radio telescopes and pulsar observing in a very hands-on way, and it is extra fun when we find a pulsar," said Rosen.Snider, on the other hand, said, "I got very, very nervous. I expected when I went there that I would just be watching other people do things, and then I actually go to sit down at the controls. I definitely didn't want to mess something up."Everything went well, and the observations confirmed that the students had found an exotic pulsar. "I learned more in the two hours in the control room than I would have in school the whole day," Mabry said.

Discoveries by High school students are growing. The PSC has netted three discoveries by high school students in recent years. In 2009, Shay Bloxton of Summersville, WV, discovered a pulsar that spins once every four seconds, and Lucas Bolyard of Clarksburg, WV, discovered a rapidly rotating radio transient, which astronomers believe is a pulsar that emits radio waves in bursts. But there are other programs out there that have students doing the discovering as well as students independently discovering new objects

In 1994, two students used images from the Leuschner Telescope in Berkeley, Calif., to record the first sighting of SN 1994I, a supernova in the Whirlpool Galaxy.  These images of SN 1994I were obtained before its discovery was reported. High school students Heather Tartara and Melody Spence requested observations of the Whirlpool Galaxy on March 29 and 31, 1994. Their request was made through the Hands-On Universe program, which allows elementary and high school students to request observations on automated telescopes. Their images captured the Whirlpool Galaxy just before and after SN 1994I began to brighten, and are some of the earliest data recorded for a supernova.The two girls wanted to take pictures of galaxy M51, or Messier 51, to try to capture a picture of the galaxy's black hole. What they ended up finding,  was the supernova.
In November 2008 Warwick Valley High School junior Caroline Moore  a freshman, was catapulted into International fame following the discovery in her backyard observatory of what has now been named Supernova 2008ha in galaxy UGC 12682. She became the youngest person in the history of astronomy to discover a supernova. This discovery earned her the 2010 Jack Horkheimer/Parker Award for exceptional service in astronomy.

I can go on  and on but the important thing here is that students are engaging science  and that my fiends is a wonderful thing. More importantly teachers are teaching hands on science be it in the class room or after school in a club setting .  The opportunities for amateur discoveries abound.  Hobby  Space is a great website listing a huge number of organizations using Students and amateurs alike to do real science.  We are talking real, hands on make a difference science. If you are a teacher,  take a look and get involved. Shaping the minds of tomorrow's scientists  is just about as noble an endeavor as one can have.

Keep looking up!

Steve T

Sunday, January 30, 2011

A Little Fun With Your New Astrological Sign

Now I know you are a little distraught over the fact you are not what you think you are when it comes to astrological signs so I have decided to set up a one time therapy session dealing with this oh so important revelation to the astrological believing public. When I got wind of this upheaval in the whole  astrological community I was shocked because all you really had to do was look at a star map and then with a few calculations figure out... Hey the Sun is not where it should be. He is visiting next door in some other signs house. Psst(whispering)  astronomers have known this for a looong time. We should have said something many hundreds of years ago and we didn't and for that the scientific community surely apologizes. What the heck happened? I was born  Wednesday on June the 8th so that would make me a Gemini well up until a few weeks ago that is. 

There were a couple of problems  for ancient astrologers  when they set up this zodiacal system. There were 13 constellations in the ecliptic...  always was.  Astrologers may have thought 12 sounded way more cooler than 13  so they decided one of these signs has got to go. I guess they thought long and hard about it  and finally tossed Ophiuchus out. So why him ? Here is my guess. Would you want your daughter to be called a snake handler? or boy for that matter? Way too much teasing going on... They knew kids were ruthless!  So that is why Ophi got the pink slip. They had their 12 houses (kind of) and all was happy except... They did not count on precession. The Sun and Earth do a dance constantly of wobbling in rotation and in orbit. Gravity is a constant relentless action between objects. the two main precession problems are axial and ecliptic precession

Axial precession is the movement of the rotational axis of an astronomical body, whereby the axis slowly traces out a cone. In the case of the Earth, this type of precession is also known as the precession of the equinoxes or precession of the equator. The Earth goes through one such complete precessional cycle in a period of approximately 26,000 years, during which the positions of stars as measured in the equatorial coordinate system will slowly change; the change is actually due to the change of the coordinates. Over this cycle the Earth's north axial pole moves from where it is now, within 1° of Polaris, in a circle around the ecliptic pole, with an angular radius of about 23.5 degrees (or approximately 23 degrees 27 arc-minutes). The shift is 1 degree in 72 years, where the angle is taken from the observer, not from the center of the circle.

Aristarchus of Samos (c. 280 BC) is the earliest known astronomer to recognize and assess the precession of the equinoxes at almost 1º per century (which is not far from the actual value for antiquity, 1.38º).The Precession (axial rotation) was later explained by Newtonian physics . Being an oblate spheroid, the Earth has a nonspherical shape, bulging outward at the equator. The gravitational tidal forces of the Moon Sun apply torque as they attempt to pull the equatorial bulge into the plane of the ecliptic. The portion of the precession due to the combined action of the Sun and the Moon is called lunisolar precession.  Astronomers knew way back then  you could not put an immovable system into a constantly moving system and not have  some problems. I guess the did not get the memo to fix their problem 2200 years ago or so another precession is ecliptical
The inclination of Earth's orbit drifts up and down. Relative to its present orbit this drift has a period of about 70,000 years. Relative to the invariable plane it has a 100,000 year period. The invariable plane represents the angular momentum of the solar system, and is approximately the orbital plane of Jupiter. To the observer the Sun now is moving through  some astrological houses for just two weeks and some for as long as three months! This concrete unmoving system is  having a tough time of it in the modern world.

So what will be the outcome? well I believe there will be two camps, one of which my darling daughter Meghan is camped out in and then the one I am finding a home in . My dear sweet Daughter was born in early September and that makes her a Virgo in her mind ... So much so that she decided to have a tattoo of Virgo stamped near her bikini line. When I told her she was not a Virgo  but a Leo she leaps at me like a lion Hmmm. Meg roared she does not care what house the sun is in she is a Virgo! I even offered to have a red X tattooed through her Virgo tattoo. She just growled at me.... Hmmm.

As for me  I started to reflect upon this transition. I was a Gemini and now I am a Taurus and then it hit me like a ton of bricks. Oh my stars I am  and have always been a Taurus . I remembered when my dad would ask me where I had been. I would tell him  and he would say that sounded like a load of Bull. or even later in life when I was giving a presentation of why we need to expand our  efforts to look for the Ether I was met by  a score of people  chanting ...Bull! OR right about now when you read this and cry Bull Hockey! Yes I am feeling quite comfortable in my new Bull digs. I think my sweet wife has known for awhile that I was  full of Bull .
Until next time,

Keep looking up!


Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Carnival Is Back In Town

 The Carnival of Space is back in town. Everything from space to spaceships are there and everything in between. All kinds of fascinating stuff await your perusal. The host this week is Brian Wang of Next Big Future. This is a spot to stretch your mind as you try to get your head around the next big thing in science Take a moment and check out some of the Blogs there. I have always loved a good carnival  You will love this one! Ready set GO! Here

Sunday, January 23, 2011

It Is Never a Dull Moment With Cataclysmic Variables

I am in the middle of getting a presentation together for Cataclysmic Variables (CV) and thought you might like a crash course in it as well. Cataclysmic variables are binary systems that consist of an normal star and a white dwarf. They are typically small. The  typical binary system is roughly the size of the Earth-Moon system - with an orbital period in the range 1-10 hrs. The companion star, a more or less normal star like our Sun, loses material onto the white dwarf by accretion. This part is kind of interesting so I will give you some background on the setup. The white dwarf  was at one time a regular schlep of a star. For few billion years or so it cooked hydrogen into helium by fusion. Sadly the star eventually ran out of hydrogen so what do you do? you start fusing helium together until you wind up with a mostly carbon rich star that has ceased fusion and is just hanging out cooling down for the next billion years. While all of this was happening the star went through the red giant phase etc. So there it sits a sun like mass squished down into the size of the earth.This makes for a very dense and more to the point, a huge gravity well. Ah but what if there was a close by companion star? A regular star in most ways except for the fact that it is in an orbit with the earlier mentioned white dwarf? This scenario has the makings for a CV

There are several types of CVs out there and all of them have different ways of doing their business. Let's break CVs down into some bite sized chunks. For starters there are two major types of CVs. One has a fusion dominated  phase. The second has an accretion disk dominated phase.

Fusion Dominated  includes 
1.Classical Novae
2.Super Soft Sources (SSS)

 Classical Novae
A classical nova occurs when material (drawn from the companion star) accretes onto the surface of a white dwarf star's surface and thus begins an unstable thermonuclear fusion reaction. Material transfer will gradually occur between novae explosions  The mass will be accreted onto the white dwarf's surface at a low rate, generating only weak X-ray emission. The nova outburst will increase the apparent brightness of the binary star system by ten thousand to a million times (an increase in stellar magnitude of 10 to 15). Can I get a Wow! there? The reason is  fairly simple  in that the slow build up of material causes the bottom layer to compress and finally is set off on the fusion path. At this point all of the material is fused at the same moment releasing a massive explosion of light /energy  They are thought to recur, though with recurrence time scales of 10,000 years, We will just have to wait and see if it happens again. No known  classical novae recurrence have been observed.

Super Soft Sources
Super Soft Sources (or SSSs) are the new kids on the block in the family of cataclysmic variables. This CV was first categorized by ROSAT observations.  SSSs are objects with temperatures of between 200,000 and 800,000 K and luminosities around 1038 ergs/s. More than 90% of their observed X-ray emission is below 0.5 keV. The leading theory is  SSSs are white dwarfs with classic hydrogen fusion occurring from material accreting onto their surfaces. This could make SSSs the progenitor for Type Ia supernovae.
In the white dwarf scenario, the observed black body radii is simply the size of the white dwarf star itself with nuclear fusion occurring on its surface. If accretion occurs onto the white dwarf surface at low rates, fusion will be sporadic and violent, just like classical novae type explosions. If accretion is at a high rate, the white dwarf will acquire a red-giant-like atmosphere. Continuous nuclear fusion on the dwarf star surface would be possible only for a narrow range of accretion rates of the order of 10-7 solar masses per year. For relatively massive white dwarfs 0.7 - 1.2 solar masses, this raises the distinct possibility that such objects could eventually exceed the Chandrasekhar limit,  making them the candidates for Type Ia supernovae. White dwarfs have a limit to how big they can be  If they get larger than 1.4 solar masses they will inevitably supernova and collapse into a neutron star. That is what the Chandrasekhar limit is. That takes care of  the fusion dominated side of CV's. Now let's take a look at accretion dominated CVs.

Accretion dominated CVs can be chopped up into three main categories. all of which are fascinating in their workings. They are:

1.Dwarf Novae
3.Intermediate Polars

Dwarf Novae

Dwarf novae (DN) outbursts are dimmer events than classical novae outbursts. Their peak absolute magnitudes are weaker by at least 100 times. DN  are known to recur with times as short as a few weeks. DN also have short durations, lasting just a few days. Interestingly, dwarf novae also can exhibit a variety of unusual behaviors. Some occasionally exhibit long outbursts known as superoutbursts


In a polar system  matter will overflow the Roche lobe of the companion star. However, the white dwarf possesses a strong magnetic field, which prevents the formation of a accretion disk. Instead, the overflowing material is directed by the magnetic field structure until it impacts on the surface of the white dwarf at its magnetic pole. Until impact, the material essentially free falls, thus reaching substantial velocities which are seen in the optical spectra. The collision generates a shock wave which is the source of hard (energetic) X-rays. Hard X-rays emitted in the direction of the white dwarf from the shock wave heat the local area around the pole enough for the pole to become a source of intense soft (less energetic) X-rays.  Polars are generally much stronger sources of soft X-rays than hard X-rays. This is probably due to uneven matter streaming. knots in the accretion flows would most likely cause energy to also be let go deep within the atmosphere of the white dwarf. This results in more soft X-ray emission. The strong magnetic field will also tidally lock the orientation of the white dwarf relative to the companion, so that orbital and rotational periods are identical.
X-ray emission from polar systems is entirely due to the accretion column and its impact, so in quiescent times when matter is not accreting onto the system, the entire system is much dimmer.

Intermediate Polars

When a Polar has a wide separation between companions or does not have an outstanding magnetic field  but still a very good one  an accretion disk can and will form. When this action is found  The moniker of Intermediate Polar is bestowed on the pair As material migrates inwards in the disk, it may eventually encounter a magnetic field strong enough to control the flow of material, at which point matter would instead stream from the inner edge of the disk along magnetic field lines onto the pole of the white dwarf. Such a system would therefore be expected to be a source of hard X-rays from the shock at the magnetic poles. Intermediate polars, either due to weaker magnetic fields or wider star separations, will not necessarily have orbital and spin rates locked. Observed systems have longer orbital periods than polars, which given that the systems have comparable masses verifies their wider separation.

Now if that wet your whistle for the wild world of variable stars then hop on over to the American Association of Variable Star Observers here and get a handle on variable stars  You could even discover one! They happen all the time

Until next time
Keep looking up!

Steve T