Category Archives: Cool Stuff

Not a Meteor


On 29 June a “bright event” was seen across several US Southeastern states at 05:29 UTC;  in fact there are more than 150 reports probably related to this event.   Early data suggests this object was not a meteor. NASA tracked the object with five cameras, the velocity was about 6.48 km/sec / 14,500 mph much too slow to be a meteor.

The image above shows that it broke up and this combined with the slow speed indicates a possible  re-entry of some type of space debris.

In a possible related event, earlier in the day at between 00:30 and 01:00 UTC an explosion was heard at my location, not just here but heard for miles. Police were apparently notified of smoke sighted in an area about 5 miles from here. If I can find out where exactly they were sent, I’m grabbing a magnet and going hunting!

The image above via NASA was taken near Rosman, North Carolina.

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Saturn’s Age Problem Solved?


There has been an ongoing discrepancy involving estimating the age of Saturn. Models that correctly predict Jupiter’s age of 4.5 billion-years-old can only get Saturn’s age to 2.5 billion-years. That’s 2 billion years off (or 2,000 million years if you prefer).

The press release from Sandia Labs is below, any press release mentioning metallic hydrogen at high pressures and helium rain has to be good!

From Sandia Labs:
Experiments at Sandia’s Z machine may help solve that problem when they verified an 80-year-old untested proposition that molecular hydrogen, normally an insulator, becomes metallic if squeezed by enough pressure. At that point, a lattice of hydrogen molecules would break up into individual hydrogen atoms, releasing free-floating electrons that could carry a current, physicists Eugene Wigner and Hilliard Huntington predicted in 1935.

“That long-ago prediction would explain Saturn’s temperature because when hydrogen metallizes and mixes with helium in a dense liquid, it can release helium rain,” said Sandia researcher Mike Desjarlais. Helium rain is an energy source that can alter the evolution of a planet.

Continue reading

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Exoplanet Wave Simulation

Following the Dark Matter Lab sim, here’s yet another simulation.

This simulation uses a NASA supercomputer to simulate a planet and debris disk around a neighbor star Beta Pictoris. We see the (exo) planetary motion drives spiral waves throughout the disk and this action increases collisions among the orbiting debris.

Astronomers Erika Nesvold (UMBC) and Marc Kuchner (NASA Goddard) essentially created a virtual Beta Pictoris in the computer and watched it evolve over millions of years. It is the first full 3-D model of a debris disk where scientists can watch the development of asymmetric features formed by planets, like warps and eccentric rings, and also track collisions among the particles at the same time.

See more at YouTube

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Black Holes – Dark Matter Lab

From NASA:
Jeremy Schnittman, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, developed a computer simulation to follow the orbits of hundreds of millions of dark matter particles, as well as the gamma rays produced when they collide, in the vicinity of a black hole. He found that some gamma rays escaped with energies far exceeding what had been previously regarded as theoretical limits.

Read the rest here.


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First Generation Stars?


We generally think of stars in populations.

Population III stars are the hypothetical first stars. These stars are extremely metal poor but massive stars.

By metals we are talking about elements heavier than hydrogen (and helium depending on which definition you read and is what I consider to be a non-metal too). All elements heavier than hydrogen are a by-product or ash from fusion in the cores of stars.

Population II stars have little metals, stars in globular clusters are made up of a good percentage of population 2 stars. Population II stars are considered to have created all other elements in the periodic table beyond hydrogen and helium. Prior to 1978 or 1979 these were the stars thought to be the oldest stars and still are the oldest observed stars.

Population I stars are considered metal rich young stars and include our own Sun and are common in the arms of the Milky Way.

Now astronomers using the W. M. Keck Observatory, ESO’s Very Large Telescope, Subaru Telescope and the Hubble Space Telescope have discovered the brightest galaxy so far and have evidence of first generation stars within.

Details at the W.M. Keck Observatory site.

Image: David Sobral

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CubeSats Bound for Mars


CubeSats have come a long way and a relatively short time and are about to go much farther – all the way to Mars.

The image shows a full-scale mock-up of the CubeSat held by mechanical engineer Joel Steinkraus and systems engineer Farah Alibay are on the team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, preparing twin MarCo (Mars Cube One) CubeSats for launch in March 2016.

The CubeSats will catch a ride on an Atlas V launch vehicle from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California when it launches with InSight, the next Mars lander.

From NASA:
The mock-up in the photo is in a configuration to show the deployed position of components that correspond to MarCO’s two solar panels and two antennas. During launch, those components will be stowed for a total vehicle size of about 14.4 inches (36.6 centimeters) by 9.5 inches (24.3 centimeters) by 4.6 inches (11.8 centimeters).

After launch, the two MarCO CubeSats and InSight will be navigated separately to Mars. The MarCO twins will fly past the planet in September 2016 just as InSight is descending through the atmosphere and landing on the surface. MarCO is a technology demonstration mission to relay communications from InSight to Earth during InSight’s descent and landing. InSight communications during that critical period will also be recorded by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter for delayed transmission to Earth.

The MarCO and InSight projects are managed for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington, by JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

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The Galaxy Behind the Ring







Einstein Rings are near the top of my coolest things in the sky and they just got even better. I knew eventually this would happen. Great work!

From ALMA:
ALMA’s Long Baseline Campaign has produced a spectacularly detailed image of a distant galaxy being gravitationally lensed, revealing star-forming regions — something that has never been seen before at this level of detail in a galaxy so remote. The resulting reconstructed image of the distant galaxy using sophisticated models of the magnifying gravitational lens, reveal fine structures within the ring that have never been seen before: several dust clouds within the galaxy, which are thought to be giant cold molecular clouds, the birthplaces of stars and planets. Note that some of the smaller structures visible here might be artifacts caused by the reconstruction method. Credit: ALMA (NRAO/ESO/NAOJ)/Mark Swinbank (Durham University)

Here’s a more detailed version.

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Pluto Time


After traveling 3 billion miles I would have guessed Pluto would be almost dark. Turns out it’s not quite as dark as I thought.

From NASA (link is below):

Just how dim is the sunlight on Pluto, some three billion miles away? While sunlight is much weaker than it is here on Earth, it isn’t as dark as you might expect. In fact, for just a moment during dawn and dusk each day, the illumination on Earth matches that of high noon on Pluto.

We call this “Pluto Time”. If you go outside at this time on a clear day, the world around you will be as dim as the surface of Pluto.

It’s always Pluto Time somewhere, and NASA wants to see your view, using a new interactive widget that provides the approximate time, based on your location. The tool also allows you to set reminders for upcoming Pluto Times.

Go out and see what Pluto Time looks like! Take a photo during your Pluto Time – preferably with a local landmark – and share it on social media with #PlutoTime. We’ll highlight some of the most interesting shots from around the world and combine your photos into a mosaic image of Pluto and its moons to be unveiled in August.

Read more. . .

So I’ve just got to try this out and you can too. Just go here. I’ll post my It’s #PlutoTime picture when I get it. The sky is supposed to be clear which it isn’t at the moment.

Thanks NASA this will be fun.

Here’s how to do it.

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