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.

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.

 

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.

A Near Miss Is On Its Way

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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.

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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.

Update On the End of the World

Black Hole Outflows from Centaurus A
Black Hole Outflows from Centaurus A
Source: ESO/WFI (Optical); MPIfR/ESO/APEX/A.Weiss et al. (Submillimetre); NASA/CXC/CfA/R.Kraft et al. (X-ray)

End of the Mayan Calendar

On December 21 during the winter solstice the Mayan calendar comes to an end. Reaction to this long-awaited event varies greatly. Some would say so what, while others might ask what’s a solstice. Not surprisingly, the actual number of people who believe that the world will come to an end are actually pretty small.

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The Temple of the Inscriptions at Palenque, Mexico, from Wikipedia, photo by Ricraider

A Strange Encounter

It was a chance encounter in a Santa Fe coffeehouse. The 30-something year old male was planning to be in Mexico for the upcoming solstice to witness the shortest day of the year from a Mayan temple; and have a good time with other observers of the annual celestial event. The prospective traveler did not really expect the world to end, but he did seem susceptible to the New Age idea that this ancient date might usher in a new era of peace and understanding among the human population that now is believed to number around 7 billion. Also, he was reading a book called, Phobos by Steve Alten.

Steve Alten’s Mayan Trilogy Series

Steve Alten is an interesting, if not unusual writer. He is probably best known for his Meg series, a collection of four novels about a giant prehistoric shark found in the deep waters of the Pacific. Steve began his career in college sports medicine, then he decided to write a novel in his spare time. Writing the novel was easy, but selling the manuscript was more difficult. By the time he nailed down a two book deal, he had quit his sports job, gone through his life savings and was barely getting by. His more recently relesed Domain Trilogy uses the Mayan Temples for a backdrop to a fantastic sci-fi complete with time travelers and extra-terrestrial aliens. The three novels in this series are called Domain, Resurrection and Phobos: Mayan Fear.

Solar and Lunar Eclipse

A Solar eclipse from 1999, from Wikipedia, photo by Luc Viatour
A Solar eclipse from 1999, from Wikipedia, photo by Luc Viatour

Recently a small lunar eclipse was observed in the Northern Hemisphere. However, not too far in the recent past a much more pronounced solar eclipse occurred in Australia and the South Pacific. Even though these two events have occurred close to the End of the Mayan Calendar, there is no evidence that they are related. In fact, most scientists do not attribute any special significance to the End of the Mayan Calendar. It is no different from our annual Roman calendar, which ends every 12 months, except there is a much longer time frame involved with the Central American document.

The sun as seen from a NASA space probe
The sun as seen from a NASA space probe

NASA and December 21, 2012

According to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, better known as NASA, our 4 billion year old planet will not come to an end on December 21, 2012. The alignment of the planets will have a negligible effect on our planet, nor will the planet, Nibiru, crash into the third planet back from the sun. The experts say that if a tenth planet was headed our way, it would show up in the night sky as a very bright object for many weeks before impact. And furthermore, solar activity is expected to remain at its’ current normal levels for the next several years.

Ah shucks, looks like I’m going to have to do my Christmas shopping after all.

Looking At The Earth

Earthrise; Credit:  Apollo 8, NASA
Earthrise; Credit: Apollo 8, NASA

Earth day has gone and passed, but no reason I can’t revisit the holiday and take a look at all the NASA imagery that has gone down and speculate now these pictures of earth from the great beyond might have had a picture on the unique holiday. Don’t forget earth day is 40 years old and some of these pictures go back almost as far.

Bright Sun and Crescent Earth from the Space Station; Credit: STS-129 Crew, NASA
Bright Sun and Crescent Earth from the Space Station; Credit: STS-129 Crew, NASA

Here’s a recent picture of one of the space station again courtesy of NASA. This picture kind of shows how are ability to make ourselves at home, while spinning around the earth has improved. For now there are at least a few individuals manning the beautiful yet lonely outpost in the sky.

Earth from Saturn; Credit:  Cassini Imaging Team, SSI, JPL, ESA, NASA
Earth from Saturn; Credit: Cassini Imaging Team, SSI, JPL, ESA, NASA

And now a view of earth from Saturn taken from the Cassini space probe which is probably well on its way to Neptune. Our space probes may be reaching out, but the humans seem trapped here near the planets.

And finally we have a crescent earth at midnight.

A Crescent Earth At Midnight; Credit: GOES Project, GSFC, NASA

Spruce Up Your Blog With NASA Images

ISS Crew, Earth Sciences and Image Analysis Lab, JSC, NASA
Earth At Twilight credit: ISS Crew, Earth Sciences and Image Analysis Lab, JSC, NASA

 

There is a great website put up by  Robert Nemiroff (MTU) & Jerry Bonnell (UMCP) of NASA called Astronomy Picture of the Day. Everyday a fantastic picture is posted, concerning some sort of visual image from outer space. Sometimes the pictures are even taken from the ground with the naked eye. Other pictures are taken from huge telescopes, while some of the most spectacular images come from the Hubble and other spacecraft.

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Spiral Galaxy NGC 3370 as seen from the hubble spacecraft, Credit: NASA, ESA, Hubble Heritage (STScI/AURA);
Images from the NASA can sometimes be used on your blog or website as background graphics or simple images associated with text. Other pictures are copyrighted and one must contact the maker for permission. Since the pictures are all displayed by NASA, I do not see why permission would not be easily granted. Enclosed at the end of this post is a link to the image guidelines. Check out this next photo that was posted by NASA on Halloween 2006.
Adam Block, NOAO, AURA, NSF
SH2 136: A Spooky Nebula: Credit: Adam Block, NOAO, AURA, NSF
If you are interested in using NASA images on your web, here are the guidelines.