James Webb Telescope Update

An update on the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) from NASA being readied for launch in 2019. This is the point where, even though the launch is a year away, things really start to come together and I’m sure nervous anticipation sets in.

The Penguin and Egg

These collaborative efforts and always great. By the way, what I was able to see of the eclipse was awesome! My pictures came out awful, I need a new camera.

Back to Arp 142, this from NASA: This image of distant interacting galaxies, known collectively as Arp 142, bears an uncanny resemblance to a penguin guarding an egg. Data from NASA’s Spitzer and Hubble space telescopes have been combined to show these dramatic galaxies in light that spans the visible and infrared parts of the spectrum.

This dramatic pairing shows two galaxies that couldn’t look more different as their mutual gravitational attraction slowly drags them closer together.

The “penguin” part of the pair, NGC 2336, was probably once a relatively normal-looking spiral galaxy, flattened like a pancake with smoothly symmetric spiral arms. Rich with newly-formed hot stars, seen in visible light from Hubble as bluish filaments, its shape has now been twisted and distorted as it responds to the gravitational tugs of its neighbor. Strands of gas mixed with dust stand out as red filaments detected at longer wavelengths of infrared light seen by Spitzer.

The “egg” of the pair, NGC 2937, by contrast, is nearly featureless. The distinctly different greenish glow of starlight tells the story of a population of much older stars. The absence of glowing red dust features informs us that it has long since lost its reservoir of gas and dust from which new stars can form. While this galaxy is certainly reacting to the presence of its neighbor, its smooth distribution of stars obscures any obvious distortions of its shape.

Eventually these two galaxies will merge to form a single object, with their two populations of stars, gas and dust intermingling. This kind of merger was likely a significant step in the history of most large galaxies we see around us in the nearby universe, including our own Milky Way.

At a distance of about 23 million light-years, these two galaxies are roughly 10 times farther away than our nearest major galactic neighbor, the Andromeda galaxy. The blue streak at the top of the image is an unrelated background galaxy that is farther away than Arp 142.

Combining light from across the visible and infrared spectrums helps astronomers piece together the complex story of the life cycles of galaxies. While this image required data from both the Spitzer and Hubble telescopes to cover this range of light, NASA’s upcoming James Webb Space Telescope will be able to see all of these wavelengths of light, and with dramatically better clarity.

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and ESA (European Space Agency). NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Maryland, conducts Hubble science operations. STScI is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc., in Washington, D.C.

The Big Picture

The United States launched its first satellite on this day 60 years ago – 31 January 1958.

The Explorer 1 satellite was put into an orbit that orbited the Earth for a little more than 12-years and completing 58,000 orbits before interfacing with the atmosphere and burning up on 31 March 1970.

This film is from 1958:

Open Cluster Gaia 1

Look what Gaia found! Nice job with the image Mr. Kaiser and nice job to Gaia for pointing this out.

Image: H. Kaiser / ESA

Original caption: If you gazed at the night sky over the past few weeks, it is possible that you stumbled upon a very bright star near the Orion constellation. This is Sirius, the brightest star of the entire night sky, which is visible from almost everywhere on Earth except the northernmost regions. It is, in fact, a binary stellar system, and one of the nearest to our Sun – only eight light-years away.

Known since antiquity, this star played a key role for the keeping of time and agriculture in Ancient Egypt, as its return to the sky was linked to the annual flooding of the Nile. In Ancient Greek mythology, it represented the eye of the Canis Major constellation, the Great Dog that diligently follows Orion, the Hunter.

Dazzling stars like Sirius are both a blessing and a curse for astronomers. Their bright appearance provides plenty of light to study their properties, but also outshines other celestial sources that happen to lie in the same patch of sky.

This is why Sirius has been masked in this picture taken by amateur astronomer Harald Kaiser on 10 January from Karlsruhe, a city in the southwest of Germany.

Once the glare of Sirius is removed, an interesting object becomes visible to its left: the stellar cluster Gaia 1, first spotted last year using data from ESA’s Gaia satellite.

Gaia 1 is an open cluster – a family of stars all born at the same time and held together by gravity – and it is located some 15 000 light-years away. Its chance alignment next to nearby, bright Sirius kept it hidden to generations of astronomers that have been sweeping the heavens with their telescopes over the past four centuries. But not to the inquisitive eye of Gaia, which has been charting more than a billion stars in our Milky Way galaxy.

Mr Kaiser heard about the discovery of this cluster during a public talk on the Gaia mission and zealously waited for a clear sky to try and image it using his 30 cm-diameter telescope. After covering Sirius on the telescope sensor – creating the dark circle on the image – he succeeded at recording some of the brightest stars of the Gaia 1 cluster.

Gaia 1 is one of two previously unknown star clusters that have been discovered by counting stars from the first set of Gaia data, which was released in September 2016. Astronomers are now looking forward to Gaia’s second data release, planned for 25 April, which will provide vast possibilities for new, exciting discoveries.

More information about opportunities for amateur astronomers to follow up on Gaia observations here.

The Super Blue Blood Moon

It’s all about the name, what’s with that?

“Super” comes from the proximity of the Moon to Earth. The Moon this time around is about as close as it can be to Earth when it is full. I believe the previous full moon was about 1,000 km closer than this one.

“Blue” comes from the second definition of a Blue moon and any place I look this up the definitions seem to be in the same order. I like to call them Type 1 and Type 2:

1. The third Full Moon in an astronomical season with four Full Moons (versus the usual three).
2. The second Full Moon in a month with two Full Moons.

We will get another “Type 2” blue moon in 2018 occurring in March. The next “Type 1” blue moon happens next year in May.

and finally

“Blood” is for the color sometimes seen in an eclipsed moon.

We have all three of these things happening on Wednesday 31 January, and this is a combination we seldom get to see so have a look if you can.

Oh but can you? Below is a cartoon of when and where the viewing will be. For me, the setting moon is the time. Will I see it? Ha, my forecast is for clear and cold Wednesday morning, low temp will be somewhere around -11 C, so I would assume it will be perfect and near the horizon I might get some good color.

Image: PIRULITON (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons”