Numbers

Numbers are everywhere, photo by author
Numbers are everywhere, photo by author, Albuquerque, NM

Numbers

Nearly everyone knows that western math is based on nine digits and a zero, but if you refer to this system as Arabic numerals most  people will experience a disconnect. Here is an example from the Dan Brown bestseller, “The Lost Symbol”

 

a passage from “The Lost Symbol”  by Dan Brown

“The first is a Roman numeral,” Anderson said.

“I’m not sure. It looks like eighty-five in Arabic numbers.” (Said Professor Robert Langdon)

“Arabic?” Anderson asked. “They looked like normal numbers.”

“Our normal numbers are Arabic,” replied Langdon.

Numbers

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The On-again Off-again Comet ISON Is Fading Away

Comet ISON as captured by Trappist of ESO
Comet ISON near its brightest on Nov. 15, 2013 as captured by Trappist of ESO

Adding To the Buzz

The day after Thanksgiving, the internet was all a buzz with news of the comet’s survival, as it passed around the sun on Thanksgiving Day. This is good news for comet watchers and stargazers everywhere and as a result I could not let the day pass without throwing in my two cents worth. Even though ISON’s resurrection may only be a temporary reprieve from death in outer space, the situation has definitely given us comet watchers something to talk about.

Comets and Cats

On Turkey Day, the official skywatchers were calling Comet ISON D.O.A. Then one day later, they were using the cat analogy to salvage their scientific opinion. Most likely this descrepency was not so much due to incompetence, but rather, it may be related to the much improved view that  spacecraft such as the Hubble and SOHO can now provide. Never before has modern man received such a superb picture of a comet as it sped across the other side the sun. Nonetheless, it is a very humorous situation to hear the experts backpeddle and use the cat analogy as a defense, even though the premise that comets like cats are unpredictable….has been circulating around the blogosphere for several weeks…..ever since ISON underwent a sudden brightening in mid-November. Also, a corollary has developed;  comets like cats, can have nine lies.

The Pros Get It Wrong, Then Right

Now than a new week and a new month has started, it looks like ISON was a doomed comet….that like Icarus….it flew too close to the sun and died. Still, there is a trail of dust (that used to be ISON) moving away from the sun, but it is way too small to be observed by the human eye or even small telescopic devices. Chances that this mass will revive itself into a visible comet are close to zero. Nonetheless, it’s been a fun ride with the general public now being more aware of those faraway visitors from the outer reaches of our solar system. And scientists have gained a little better understanding as to what happens when a comet swings around the sun.

This image is NGC 6543 known as the Cat's Eye Nebula.  (X-ray: NASA/CXC/RIT/J.Kastner et al.; Optical: NASA/STScI)
This image is NGC 6543 known as the Cat’s Eye Nebula. (X-ray: NASA/CXC/RIT/J.Kastner et al.; Optical: NASA/STScI)

The Great Meteorite Processions of February 1913 and 2013

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Herschel’s Andromeda
Image Credit: ESA/Herschel/PACS & SPIRE Consortium, O. Krause, HSC, H. Linz

Explanation of the Herschel

I hope you like the above infrared image of the Andromeda Galaxy. The picture was made from the Herschel, the European Space Agency’s equivalent of our own Hubble satellite. The Herschel was put into orbit in 2009 and features very sophisticated infrared technology.

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Herschel in space, close up on its mirror, photo from ESA

The Rediscovery of an Extraordinary Century Old Astronomical Event

Recently, a great astronomical event that occurred almost a hundred years ago to the day that the Russian meteors struck, has been making the rounds of the scientific press.  Spurred on by a painting made by an amateur astronomer and art teacher in Toronto, named Gustav Hahn, the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada has recently published an article about the spectacular meteor shower that lit up the skies from western Canada to Bermuda and even Brazil.

This spectacular display of fireballs took place over a 24 hour period with the most numerous sightings occurring in eastern Canada. On February 9th 2013, NASA prophetically described the 100-year old event in this way: “Although nothing quite like the Great Meteor Procession of 1913 has been reported since, numerous bright fireballs — themselves pretty spectacular — have since been recorded, some even on video”.

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This painting by artist and amateur astronomer Gustav Hahn depicts the meteor procession of February 9, 1913, as observed near High Park in Toronto. Credit: University of Toronto Archives (A2008-0023), © Natalie McMinn

The Reconstructed Image

The above image is a digital scan of the original picture, which was a halftone, hand-painted image that is now part of the University of Toronto archives.

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Still image from Russian videos, picture from the BusinessInsider

Strange Coincidence

Strangely enough, the NASA story appeared on its Astronomy Picture of the Day site just six days before the meteor exploded above the Ural Mountains of Russia, causing a spectacular view that was widely recorded on video and rapidly disseminated around the world. All of this just goes to prove that sometimes truth can be stranger than fiction.

 

Happy Birthday To Nicolaus Copernicus

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This astronomical clock in Old Town Square in Prague was constructed in 1410, some 60 years before Nicholas Copernicus was born in nearby Poland, from Wikipedia, photo by Hzenilc

Who Was Copernicus?

Copernicus was a Polish astronomer, who revolutionized the study of astronomy, when he theorized that the sun, and not the earth, was the center of our solar system. If Nicolaus were alive today he would be 540 years old. Copernicus’ observations were quite astounding for his day and age, even though they were not published until just a few months before he died in 1543.

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Nicolaus Copernicus portrait from Town Hall in Toruń, Poland – (from 1580), image from Wikipedia – artisit unknown

The Copernicus Revolution

Copernicus first devised his revolutionary ideas in the 30 to 40 years before he died. Today, it is widely believed that the Polish scientist delayed publishing his heliocentric theory for so long to avoid undergoing the harsh criticism and ridicule that his ideas might precipitate. Strangely enough, his belief in a sun-centered solar system met with little opposition in the first few years following his death.

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This image, obtained during the late commissioning phase of the GeMS adaptive optics system, with the Gemini South AO Imager (GSAOI) on the night of December 28, 2012, reveals exquisite details in the outskirts of the Orion Nebula. Gemini Observatory/AURA

Galileo Defends Copernicus

This situation soon changed and so for at least a hundred years, Copernicus was made the scapegoat of scientific theory, especially by the church in Rome. However, it was Galileo that took the brunt of the criticism some 90 years later, when he supported Copernicus’ theory. For this, Galileo had to face charges of heresy and eventually recanted on the idea that the earth orbited around the sun.

Finally, in 1835, some 300 years after Copernicus first considered the possibility that the earth revolved around the sun, did the Roman church finally drop their censoring of Copernicus and his revolutionary ideas.

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The old astronomical clock with the newly added (1800s) calendar of Old Town Square in Prague, Czech Republic, from Wikipedia, photo by Krzysiu “Jarzyna” Szymański

Strange Happenings On Planet Earth Today

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A meteor streaked through the skies above Russia’s Chelyabinsk region , photo from UniverseToday

Central Russia Hit With Meteorites

Thanks to the popularity of dashboard cams the internet is abuzz with images and video footage of the meteor(s) that exploded high in the atmosphere near the city of Chelyabinsk, which is located in the Ural Mountains of Russia. According to news reports about a 1,000 people were treated for injuries, mostly from flying glass. Fortunately, no one was killed and none of the injuries were life-threatening.  The meteor strike occurred just hours before asteroid da14 passed close to the earth’s surface.

The Official Version

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Hole in ice caused by meteorite, from CNN

NASA asteroid expert Don Yeomans, head of the agency’s Near-Earth Object Program Office, was quoted as saying that the event in Russia was not linked to the close flyby of the large asteroid that occurred later on in the same day. Yeoman’s scientific opinion was confirmed by many other scientists including Richard Binzel of MIT, Paul Chodas of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif, Bill Cooke of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. as well as experts at the European Space Agency.

The Crackpots

Not everybody agreed with the scientific experts, including one Russian official named Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who said the explosion was the United States testing out a new nuclear device. Although the explosion had the force much greater than the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima, it lacked the severe damage because the meteor blew up many miles above the surface of the earth.

The Minority Dissenters

Not everybody believed that the meteor (or meteors) that exploded in Russia were unrelated to the asteroid flyby. For there appeared to be a small cadre of scientists that believed the meteors exploding above Russia were in some way related to the large asteroid that passed by the earth much later in the same day. On CBS, Michio Kaku, a physics professor at the City University of New York, stated that asteroids often occur in swarms or “showers” and so the meteors that passed over Russia may have some connection to the larger asteroid.

Other scientists who share similar views include Tatiana Bordovitsina, an astronomy professor at Tomsk State University in western Siberia, Curtin University asteroid expert Phil Bland of Australia and Professor Ian Crawford of Birkbeck University, who said;  “if meteorites were traveling with the asteroid, they would be several hours ahead of it.”

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LL Ori and the Orion Nebula
Image Credit: NASA, ESA, and The Hubble Heritage Team

Scientific Reality

I think that this difference in viewpoints among scientists is fascinating and that ultimately the minority view that the two events are related will prevail. History is just full of too many instances where the majority scientific opinion has been proven more, for me to think otherwise. No matter how this story turns stay in touch for the debate could be very interesting and entertaining.

Asteroid Flyby Tomorrow

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On Tomorrow February 15,2013 asteroid da14 will pass close by planet earth, image from NASA

How Close and How Big

This asteroid will pass about 17,000 miles from the surface of the earth. At it nearest point it will be closer than the moon and will travel inside the orbit of some satellites. When it does so the space rock will be nearest the South Pacific nation of Sumatra. This asteroid is estimated to be about 150 feet in diameter, which is approximately the same size as the one that hit the Siberian region of Russia in 1908. No ill effects are expected from tomorrow’s flyby.

Asteroid 2012 da14 Returns In 2020

This very same asteroid has an elliptical orbit around the sun and so it will pass by the earth again in another seven years, but it is not expected to hit the earth at this time, either. If an asteroid of this size were to strike the earth, it is estimated that the damage would be similar to the  Tunguska Event of 1908 that has already been mentioned above.

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Asteroids in the Distance
Image Credit: R. Evans & K. Stapelfeldt (JPL), WFPC2, HST, NASA

Following da14

Thanks to the internet and modern astronomical observing technology this close passby can be viewed via several different webcasts. These include our very own NASA, along with the Slooh Space Camera, Virtual Telescope Project (Italy) and Bareket Observatory (Israel). The NASA link gives amateur astronomers a chance to track the fast-moving object with a good pair of binoculars or a small telescope. The asteroid will first appear in the southern hemisphere near the Southern Cross and this point it will shine at its brightest.

Eventually, the space object will be visible in the Northern Hemisphere between the Big and Little Dippers, but by this time the high speed traveler will be much dimmer.

Fireballs, Meteors, Meteorites and Other Assorted Extra-terrestrial Phenomena

Meteor from the Leonid Shower in 2009
Meteor from the Leonid Shower in 2009 courtesy Wikipedia

Texas Daytime Fireball

Last week a rare daytime meteor was observed flashing across the Texas sky. To observers on the ground, the celestial object appeared brighter than even the sun. According to NASA, spring fireballs come from asteroids and have a tendency to peak during the months of February and late March/ early April. The article went on to say that fall meteors originate from comets. Much of this information comes from observation and specially located cameras set up by NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office. Still, much has to be learned about this natural phenomenon.

Green Fireballs In Northern  New Mexico

This winter while walking home at 8 p.m. in northern New Mexico, where I currently reside, I was fortunate to witness a meteor that dropped straight down out of the sky. As it neared the earth’s surface, the glowing object exploded into a large green-colored fireball and then abruptly disintegrated before hitting solid land. My first impression was that I had just witnessed a shooting star, which almost landed. However, a little research indicated some other cause and effect may be at work here. Other sightings by New Mexico residents, along with international data indicate that this particular event has a higher than average frequency in New Mexico. Nonetheless, I was delighted to be a witness to this unique astronomical event. Even stranger was the local radio D.J., who recounted on the air a similar observation made at a different time.

Green Fireballs and Ball Lightning

Nonetheless, the strange downward path of this lighted object raises some questions about the true nature of the nocturnal sighting. Could there be something else at work in this case. A timely article about some similar night time lights in Australia suggest that these green fireballs that drop straight down may be linked to ball lightning. Anyway, it is fun to sit around to sit around on dark winter nights and discuss the meaning of unusual astronomical sightings.

Meteorites, like this one that landed in  Niger, are meteors that survived a descent through the earth’s atmosphere. source meteorite-recon