Monthly Archives: March 2014

Lunar Eclipse Tetrad

Four total lunar eclipses in a row occurring at six-month intervals is a Tetrad. Lucky sky-watchers in the US are going to be treated to a tetrad of lunar eclipses starting on 15 April 2014.

As the neighbor kid says: “sweet”.


DEM L241

A supernova and a surviving companion star. Click for larger. Image credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO/F. Seward et al; Optical: NOAO/CTIO/MCELS, DSS

We are looking at a binary star system or rather what is left of a binary star system after one of the stars goes supernova. The surviving star is hidden the debris field of the supernova but it survived the explosion. I have to wonder what that star is going through, I’d be surprised if it wasn’t undergoing changes because of the explosion, I can picture siesmic waves ringing through it. We will probably never know for sure.

The image above is a composite of contributions from the Chandra X-ray Observatory and other telescopes including those in Chili and the Digitized Sky Survey.

There are desktop sizes to the image and they are wonderful! You can get them and read the details on DEM L241 here.

It’s Spring!

Today is the March Equinox. Finally! The equinox occurred at 16:57 UTC.

For me, the winter has been long and cold, March alone has been 12 oC below normal. In fact it is still cold. Maple syrup producers have hardly made a drop so far.

A cartoon depicting the angle of sunlight lighting the Earth’s surface. Image by Przemyslaw “Blueshade” Idzkiewicz.

So the March equinox heralds longer days for the northern hemisphere and shorter days for the south. On the day of the equinox the tilt of the Earth is more or less balanced as you can see in the cartoon above.


late 14c., from Old French equinoce (12c.) or directly from Medieval Latin equinoxium “equality of night (and day),” from Latin aequinoctium “the equinoxes,” from aequus “equal” (see equal (adj.)) + nox (genitive noctis) “night” (see night). The Old English translation was efnniht. Related: Equinoctial.

Online Etymology Dictionary

Most of you have no doubt noticed the date of equal and night does not necessarily occur on the equinox (today for example). The day that comes the closest to 12 hours day and night depends on your latitude. For my latitude (~45 N) that day was this past Monday.  Here is a good explanation of why.

The image below attempts to show this day length / latitude relationship, and while it isn’t down to the minute or anything, it depicts how things progress during the year. That and I liked it.

Amount of daylight through the year at different latitudes. Image: Creative Commons

 I did not see the onslaught of feats of egg balancing on the equinox this year! :mrgreen:

163 Erigone

If you happen to be up at 0605 UTC (20 March 2014) and many will, you can watch the 72 km (45 mile) wide asteroid 163 Erigone eclipse the star Regulus.

The visibility will occur for people in a narrow swath in the north eastern portion of the US and into Ontario Canada. See below:

Ground track of 163 Erigone via the Creative Commons
Ground track of 163 Erigone via the Creative Commons

Tthe vast majority of us will not be able to stand outside and see it, HOWEVER we will be able to WATCH IT LIVE AT Slooh.

Explore the Lunar North Pole

The north pole of our moon. Image Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University
The north pole of our moon. Image Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University


You have to check this out!

Scientists at NASA used the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has released the first high resolution interactive mosaic of the lunar north pole. What a bit of work, some 10,581 images went into the making of the image. You can pan and zoom down to an image resolution of two meters (six-and-a-half feet) per pixel.

Here’s the link.


Evidence of Cosmic Inflation

"The swirly B-mode pattern is a unique signature of gravitational waves because of their handedness. This is the first direct image of gravitational waves across the primordial sky," said co-leader Chao-Lin Kuo (Stanford/SLAC).  Credit: Keck, NASA, JPL, Harvard CfA
“The swirly B-mode pattern is a unique signature of gravitational waves because of their handedness. This is the first direct image of gravitational waves across the primordial sky,” said co-leader Chao-Lin Kuo (Stanford/SLAC). Credit: Keck, NASA, JPL, Harvard CfA

The Big Bang, the (not so aptly named) inflationary event that began the universe we know, has until now been theory.

The researchers took great care to be sure they were not missing something so now  I’m  trying to wrap my head around this and the implications for what is yet to come.

From NASA’s press release:

Astronomers are announcing today that they have acquired the first direct evidence that gravitational waves rippled through our infant universe during an explosive period of growth called inflation. This is the strongest confirmation yet of cosmic inflation theories, which say the universe expanded by 100 trillion trillion times, in less than the blink of an eye.
The findings were made with the help of NASA-developed detector technology on the BICEP2 telescope at the South Pole, in collaboration with the National Science Foundation.
“Operating the latest detectors in ground-based and balloon-borne experiments allows us to mature these technologies for space missions and, in the process, make discoveries about the universe,” said Paul Hertz, NASA’s Astrophysics Division director in Washington.

Read more at NASA / JPL.

24 years of Hubble

From ESA’s Space in Images this amazing Hubble image of the Monkey Head Nebula (in Orion) – the link has full-res versions of the image.

Hubble was launched on 24 April 1990, coming up on 24 years. The last servicing mission to Hubble was in 2009 which hopefully will extend the life of Hubble until 2021. I should note the expected life of Hubble after the servicing is published to be 2014 to 2021 – hopefully closer to the latter.

The James Webb Telescope is expected to launch in 2018.

About the image (from ESA):

Each year the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope releases a brand new image to celebrate its birthday. This year, the subject of its 24th celebratory snap is part of the Monkey Head Nebula, last viewed by Hubble in 2001, creating a stunning image released in 2011.

Otherwise known as NGC 2174, this cloud of gas and dust lies about 6400 light-years away in the constellation of Orion (The Hunter). Nebulas like this one are popular targets for Hubble – their colourful plumes of gas and fiery bright stars create ethereally beautiful pictures, such as the telescope’s 22nd and 23rd anniversary images of the Tarantula and Horsehead nebulas.

Continue reading

Students Looking for a Project?

Continuing on this weekend’s theme:

13 years of Cassini for a Day! This is a great opportunity for both teachers and students, espeically students. Looking for a project? You could enter this and (or) use the essay at school. Surely an entry would earn some extra credit.

Students must be in grades 5 to 12 and the entry deadline is 17 April 2014. Note: that is a US deadline, other counties may have different deadlines which are not yet listed, typically they indeed different.  The International link on the site is not yet current but it will be shortly.

Check out the Cassini Scientist for a Day website.

The contest meets U.S. National English and Science Education Standards.

Cassini Scientist for a Day is an essay contest designed to give students a taste of life as a scientist.

Students study three possible targets that the Cassini spacecraft can image during a given time set aside for education. They are to choose the one image they think will yield the best science results and explain their reasons in an essay.

The three targets are:

  1. Target 1 is Saturn’s F ring. Cassini will be taking 70 images of the F ring using the spacecraft’s Narrow Angle Camera to make a movie showing how the F ring changes as it orbits Saturn.
  2. Target 2 is Saturn’s largest moon, Titan. Cassini will be taking nine images of Titan’s north polar region using its Narrow Angle Camera. These images will be stitched together to form a mosaic.
  3. Target 3 is the planet Saturn. The Cassini spacecraft will use its Wide Angle Camera and its Narrow Angle Camera to image Saturn’s north pole, studying the hurricane at the north pole and the hexagon-shaped polar vortex.