Oct. 16th, 2008


NASA asks British Chemist to re-create the smell of Outer Space

(I hope this is allowed.)



NASA has asked a British chemist, a “Mr. Steven Pearce”, to recreate the smell of space. Apparently it is a cross between fried steak, hot metal and possibly the welding of a motorbike.


So, Mr. Pearce is creating the odour of space as a ‘perfume’. I’m not joking.


Proof that life is stranger than fiction.

Mar. 22nd, 2008


Stellar Explosion Is Most Distant Object Visible to Naked Eye

A powerful stellar explosion that has shattered the record for the most distant object visible to the naked eye was detected by NASA's Swift satellite on Wednesday. The explosion, known as a gamma-ray burst, also ranks as the most intrinsically bright object in the universe ever observed by humans.

"It's amazing — we've been waiting for a flash this bright from a gamma-ray burst ever since Swift began observing the sky three years ago, and now we've got one that is so bright that it was visible to the naked eye even though its source is half-way across the universe," said David Burrows of Penn State University, who directs the continuing operation of Swift's X-ray telescope and the analysis of the data it collects.

Gamma-ray bursts are the most luminous explosions in the universe since the Big Bang and occur when massive stars run out of nuclear fuel. The stars' cores collapse to form black holes or neutron stars and release an intense burst of high-energy gamma-rays and jets of energetic particles. The jets rip through space at nearly the speed of light, heating the surrounding interstellar gas like turbocharged cosmic blowtorches, often generating a bright afterglow.

"These optical flashes from gamma-ray bursts are the most extreme such phenomena that we know of," said Swift science team member Derek Fox, also of Penn State. "If this burst had happened in our galaxy, it would have been shining brighter than the Sun for almost a minute — sunglasses would definitely be advised."

Penn State astronomer and Swift team member Peter Meszaros said an unusual combination of circumstances may have made the burst's afterglow so exceptionally bright in the visible wavelengths of light. "When the jet that formed during the explosion of the star slammed into the surrounding gas clouds, shock waves were generated that heated the jet," he explained. "The exceptional brightness of this burst requires the jet to have just the right combination of magnetic fields and velocity, which occurs very rarely."

Astronomers don't know for sure what made the burst, dubbed GRB 080319B, so bright, but further analysis of the event is under way. The burst could possibly have been more energetic than others, or the burst's energy may have been concentrated in a jet aimed directly at Earth. The afterglow of GRB 080319B was 2.5 million times more luminous than the most luminous supernova ever recorded, making it the most intrinsically bright object ever recorded.

Astronomers have placed the star in the constellation Boötes. They have estimated it to be 7.5 billion light years away from Earth, meaning the explosion took place when the universe was less than half its current age and before Earth formed. The most distant previous object that could be seen by the naked eye is the galaxy M33, a relatively short 2.9 million light-years from Earth.

The burst was detected by Swift at 2:12 EDT on March 19 and was one of five gamma-ray bursts detected that day, the same day that famed science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke died. "Coincidentally, the passing of Arthur C. Clarke seems to have set the universe ablaze with gamma-ray bursts," said Swift science team member Judith Racusin, a Penn State graduate student.


Mar. 3rd, 2008


Photo shows avalanche on Mars

A robotic spacecraft circling Mars has snapped the first image of a series of active avalanches near the planet's north pole, scientists said Monday.

The image, taken last month, reveals at least four avalanches of fine ice and dust breaking off from a steep cliff and settling on the slope below. The cascade kicked up massive debris clouds, with some measuring more than 590 feet across.

The landslides were spied by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter during a routine tracking of seasonal changes. The probe arrived at the planet in 2006.

It is rare for scientists to catch a natural event in action on the surface of Mars. Most of the landscape that has been recorded so far has not changed much in millions of years.

The avalanches occurred near the north pole and broke part of a 2,300-foot cliff.

"We were checking for springtime changes in the carbon-dioxide frost covering a dune field and finding the avalanches was completely serendipitous," Jet Propulsion Laboratory scientist Candice Hansen said in a statement.

Scientists were unsure what set off the avalanches and whether they occur frequently or only during the spring.


Feb. 27th, 2008


Astronomy buffs have a new way to remember the 11 planets.

Those having trouble remembering the newly assigned 11 planets, including three dwarfs, are getting help from a fourth-grader. Maryn Smith, the winner of the National Geographic planetary mnemonic contest, has created a handy way to remember the planets and their order in distance from the sun.

Her award-winning phrase is: My Very Exciting Magic Carpet Just Sailed Under Nine Palace Elephants.

The 11 recognized planets are Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Ceres, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto and Eris. Ceres, Pluto and Eris are considered dwarf planets.

National Geographic Children's Books created the contest in response to the recent announcement about the planets. The Great Falls, Montana, student's mnemonic will be published in astronomer David Aguilar's next National Geographic book, "11 Planets: A New View of the Solar System." It also will be recorded into a song by Grammy-nominated singer and songwriter Lisa Loeb. Both are scheduled to be released in March.


Jan. 7th, 2008


This Day in Astronomy

On January 7, 1610, Galileo Galilei observed with his telescope what he described at the time as "three fixed stars, totally invisible by their smallness," all within a short distance of Jupiter, and lying on a straight line through it. Observations on subsequent nights showed that the positions of these "stars" relative to Jupiter were changing in a way that would have been inexplicable if they had really been fixed stars. On January 10, Galileo noted that one of them had disappeared, an observation which he attributed to its being hidden behind Jupiter. Within a few days he concluded that they were orbiting Jupiter: he had discovered three of Jupiter's four largest satellites (moons): Io, Europa, and Callisto. He discovered the fourth, Ganymede, on January 13. Galileo named the four satellites he had discovered Medicean stars, in honour of his future patron, Cosimo II de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, and Cosimo's three brothers. Later astronomers, however, renamed them Galilean satellites in honour of Galileo himself.

Galileo later published an account of his telescopic observations of the moons of Jupiter, using this observation to argue in favor of the sun-centered, Copernican theory of the universe against the dominant earth-centered Ptolemaic and Aristotelian theories. The geocentric view had been dominant since the time of Aristotle, and the controversy engendered by Galileo's opposition to this view resulted in the Catholic Church's prohibiting the advocacy of heliocentrism as potentially factual, because that theory was contrary to the literal meaning of Scripture. Galileo was eventually forced to recant his heliocentrism and spent the last years of his life under house arrest on orders of the Inquisition.


Nov. 17th, 2007


Leonid Meteor Shower Peaks This Weekend

This weekend brings us the return of the famous Leonid Meteor Shower, a meteor display that in recent years has brought great anticipation and excitement to skywatchers around the world.

While the Leonids have been spectacular in years past, this year a modest display is expected.

Solely from the standpoint of viewing circumstances, this will be a favorable year to look for these meteors, since the Moon will be at first quarter phase and will have set in the West long before the constellation Leo (from where the meteors get their name) has climbed high in the sky.

What they are

The Leonid meteors are debris shed into space by the Tempel-Tuttle comet, which swings through the inner solar system at intervals of 33.25 years.

With each visit the comet leaves behind a trail of dust in its wake. Lots of the comet's old dusty trails litter the mid-November part of Earth's orbit and the Earth glides through this debris zone every year. Occasionally we'll pass directly through an unusually concentrated dust trail, or filament, which can spark a meteor storm resulting in thousands of meteors per hour. That's what happened in 1999, 2001 and 2002, because Tempel-Tuttle had through the inner solar system in 1998.

But now, the comet – and its dense trails of dust – have all receded far beyond Earth's orbit and back into the outer regions of the solar system. So this year there there is little if any chance of heightened activity.

For more, read the article on Space.com here.

Aug. 28th, 2007


Huge Hole Found in the Universe

The universe has a huge hole in it that dwarfs anything else of its kind. The discovery caught astronomers by surprise.

The hole is nearly a billion light-years across. It is not a black hole, which is a small sphere of densely packed matter. Rather, this one is mostly devoid of stars, gas and other normal matter, and it's also strangely empty of the mysterious "dark matter" that permeates the cosmos. Other space voids have been found before, but nothing on this scale.

Astronomers don't know why the hole is there.

"Not only has no one ever found a void this big, but we never even expected to find one this size," said researcher Lawrence Rudnick of the University of Minnesota.

Rudnick's colleague Liliya R. Williams also had not anticipated this finding.

"What we've found is not normal, based on either observational studies or on computer simulations of the large-scale evolution of the universe," said Williams, also of the University of Minnesota.

For more, read here.


Total Lunar Eclipse tonight!

Tuesday morning, Aug. 28 brings us the second total lunar eclipse of 2007. Those living in the Western Hemisphere and eastern Asia will be able to partake in at least some of this sky show.

The very best viewing region for viewing this eclipse will fall across the Pacific Rim, including the West Coast of the United States and Canada, as well as Alaska, Hawaii, New Zealand and eastern Australia. All these places will be able to see the complete eclipse from start to finish.

Europeans will miss out on the entire show, as the Moon will be below the horizon during their mid and late morning hours.

For more details, check Space.com or NASA's page.