New Horizons Launch

New Horizon launch on 19 January 2006. After nine years the spacecraft is nearing its primary goal – Pluto.

The spacecraft is speeding along at 14.61 km/sec (relative to the sun) that’s 9 miles per second or 32,682 miles per hour. That is something like 16 times faster than a rifle bullet and as fast as that is, the spacecraft will not get to the closest point to Pluto until 18 July 2015!

We are at the first stages of the encounter and in just days we will get some of our first looks at Plutoian system. The view will be improving slowly and by May the images will be better than the Hubble can provide.


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JUICE Gets Approval

Artist's impression of the JUICE mission. Credit: ESA/AOES

Artist’s impression of the JUICE mission. Credit: ESA/AOES

ESA has given the JUICE mission the go ahead to move to the next stage of implementation.

JUICE is the JUpiter ICy moons Explorer and will (hopefully) launch in 2022. The spacecraft will arrive at Jupiter in 2030 to study the giant planet’s atmosphere and magnetosphere, the rings, and the larger moons.

The moons to be studied are likely: Ganymede, Callisto, Europa, and Io. Io is a volcanic wonder and the other three might have internal liquid oceans and therefore could contain habitat for life.

From the ESA press release:

The scientific goals of the mission are enabled by its instrument suite. This includes cameras, spectrometers, a radar, an altimeter, radio science experiments and sensors used to monitor the plasma environment in the Jovian system. In February 2013, the SPC approved the payload that will be developed by scientific teams from 16 European countries, the USA and Japan, through corresponding national funding.
At the November 2014 meeting of the SPC, the multilateral agreement for JUICE was also approved. This agreement provides the legal framework for provision of payload equipment and ongoing mission support between funding agencies. The parties to the agreement are the European Space Agency and the funding agencies of the European countries leading the instrument developments in the JUICE mission: the Agenzia Spaziale Italiana (Italy); the Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales (France); the Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt e.V. (Germany); the Swedish National Space Board, and the United Kingdom Space Agency. Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Greece, Poland, and Switzerland participate via the PRODEX programme.

I have to say I am very pleased to hear of the approval. The would leave just Uranus and Neptune with no spacecraft visits since Voyager. Who knows, Neptune Express anybody?

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Galactic Clumping

A galactic group or "clump" in the Fornax cluster of galaxies. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

A galactic group or “clump” in the Fornax cluster of galaxies. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

I subscribed to the theory that black holes in the centers of galaxies, the supermassive ones were all surrounded by a torus and it was how the galactic plane was angled toward us that made them appear different. NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) casts a shadow doubt on this so-called unified theory of active supermassive black holes:

From the Wise site:

Active, supermassive black holes at the hearts of galaxies tend to fall into two categories: those that are hidden by dust, and those that are exposed. Data from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, have shown that galaxies with hidden supermassive black holes tend to clump together in space more than the galaxies with exposed, or unobscured, black holes.

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Closer to the Big Bang?

Those whom subscribe to the idea of cosmic inflation theory of the Big Bang are a little closer having the idea confirmed. The Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarisation — BICEP2 — experiment at the South Pole has spotted the footprints of something called primordial gravitational waves.

The “instruments” used to detect the primordial gravity waves are both huge and exquisitely precise.

Other stuff:

Apparently I didn’t miss too much not being able to see the Camelopardalis meteor shower due to rain. Oh well it goes like that sometimes.

video form ESA Eronews.

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New Crater on Mars

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter using the MARCI, the Mars Color Imager used as a weather monitoring camera took an image of a new crater on Mars. The crater, first appeared in March 2012 was caused by an air-bursting meteor. Intense pressures caused by friction with the thin Martian atmosphere caused the meteor to explode before it impacted the ground. We see that happen on Earth too. An example is the the Russian meteor last year in Chelyabinsk.


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See a Double Star!

While you are out tonight or early tomorrow morning enjoying (or at least looking for) the Camelopardalis meteor shower — you ARE going to look right? — you can see a double star too maybe even at the same time.

The stars, Mizar and Alcor are in the constellation Ursa Major (also The Big Dipper or The Plough). The picture below will help you get your bearings. In the “handle” of the “dipper” the second star is named Mizar. Mizer has a partner  called Alcor. I’ve heard stories the pair was used to as a vision test, if you could resolve the pair you had “normal” eyes. Maybe you have good eyes and can see both, I’ve not had that experience, skies were darker not so many years ago too and that had to help. Still it’s right there get your eyes dark adapted (no lights for about 15 minutes should do it) and have a look.

Note:  The Mizar and Alcor pair are much more than a pair.  Mizar is really part of a four-star system and Alcor is part of another binary system and apparently all are gravitationally bound.  A sextuple system!

Better yet if you have even a small pair of binoculars, take a look at that star and you will see the pair. Click the image to see them resolved.

Ursa Major and Mizar.  Stellarium

Ursa Major and Mizar. Stellarium

Also notice how the end two stars making the “dipper” part sort of point to the star labeled Polaris. Polaris is of course the “North Star. The meteor shower should emanate from the constellation Camelopardalis which is between Polaris and your northern horizon early on. Normally we think of stars moving from East to West, but the stars in Camelopardalis, being “below” Polaris will rotate to the East as the night goes on.

Here’s a picture to help. I would imagine if the meteor shower is anything at all you will find the radiant pretty easily if you just look north.

The radiant for the Camelopardalis meteor shower.

The radiant for the Camelopardalis meteor shower.

But what to do if is cloudy? All is not lost, turns out the forecast for me is rain, naturally. I’ll be watching on SLOOH if nothing else.

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Camelopardalis Meteor Shower

Don’t forget about this new meteor shower on Friday night. Hoping for clear skies on Friday overnight into Saturday, I’ll have a link to Slooh just in case.

Quick hints: Likely best viewed in the early Saturday morning hours and basically look north, if the shower occurs you should see it (assuming you have good skies of course).


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Making a Giant Galaxy

A galactic merger. Image credit: ESA/NASA/JPL-Caltech/UC Irvine/STScI/Keck/NRAO/SAO

A galactic merger. Image credit: ESA/NASA/JPL-Caltech/UC Irvine/STScI/Keck/NRAO/SAO

Merging two galaxies to create a new huge galaxy and making new stars in the process. Another great collaborative effort. Maybe this will be what happens to the Milky Way and Andromeda many millions of years from now.

The story from NASA (source):

Several telescopes have teamed up to discover a rare and massive merging of two galaxies that took place when the universe was just 3 billion years old (its current age is about 14 billion years). The galaxies, collectively called HXMM01, are churning out the equivalent of 2,000 suns a year.

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