(Synchronous) Orbit

The Man in the Moon as he orbits the earth
The Man in the Moon as he orbits the earth.

Synchronous Orbit

The moon displays Synchronous rotation, meaning it undergoes one rotation for each orbit around the earth. The result is that from planet earth, we always see the same side of the moon. This scientific explanation may explain how over time viewers from this planet have attributed human facial characteristics to the “face” of the moon.

Update On Comet Ison

Comet ISON as it travels through space

Where It Is Now

Various astronomical publications are now reporting that Comet ISON can now b seen by backyard astronomers as it races through the sky towards its rendezvous with our nearest star, the sun. The comet is still too small to be seen with the naked eye, but amateur astronomers can find the comet by turning their telescopes towards the planet Mars and then searching for the star, Regulus.  Those who wish to know the exact hour by hour coordinates can go here.

In 2011 Comet Lovejoy put on quite a show for people in the Southern Hemisphere

A Real Sungrazer

We won’t know for sure until after Thanksgiving, if ISON will survive its trip around the sun, but if it does the close pass could turn this comet into a spectacular astronomical event. If it does ISON should remain visible to us earthlings, even those that don’t have telescopes, until the new year. Right now all indications from space observers indicate that ISON will survive its trip around the sun. Let’s hope so, for this comet could add some beautiful fireworks for the holiday season.

Comet ISON as captured by Hubble

 

The Great Meteorite Processions of February 1913 and 2013

HerschelAnd900
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.

Herschel_in_space_close_up_on_its_mirror_medium
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”.

fireballprocession
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.

Russian meteor
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

640px-Schema_Orloj_pragueorlojhzenilc
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.

Nikolaus_Kopernikus
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.

OrionGEMS_FINAL-580x578
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.

Praga_0003
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

russia2_384621c
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

meterite hole in ice
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.”

LLOri_hubble_960
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

asteroid20130204-640
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.

asteroidstreak_hst_960
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.

A Near Miss Is On Its Way

724450main_673_asteroid
Photograph of the Vesta asteroid from the Dawn spacecraft on July 24, 2011, photo from NASA

The Big Event

On Friday February 15, 2013 an asteroid, half the size of a football field is due to pass about 17, 000 miles from the surface of earth. In astronomical terms that is a “near miss”, but including to all sources, including NASA, no unusual side effects are expected from the extra-terrestrial object, which has been officially named asteroid  2012 DA14.

image_full
First NASA video released on January 28, 2013 showing an animation sequence of the close pass-by of asteroid DA14, image and video from NASA

Something Strange Going On Here

The strange thing going on here is not the so much the close passage of the asteroid, but rather NASA’s PR effort in explaining the science behind what will happen on February 15. One of those unique events is a teleconference tomorrow on Feb. 7th explaining what can be learned from the approach of this asteroid. Also of note is a second animated video that was put together by the NASA Jet Propulsion laboratory, just yesterday.  Again NASA is using visual images to downplay the presence of DA14, but in reality, these graphic depictions may be actually having the opposite effect. Stay tuned this may get interesting.