Wednesday, 28 May 2008

HiRISE is awesome.

So by now I imagine everyone has seen the absolutely incredible picture of the Phoenix lander parachuting to the surface of Mars as caught by the HiRISE orbiter. Up until now I had only seen the close up, but while investigating the HiRISE site I was immediately greeted by the much larger picture.

On the left is the closeup, click on the image or the link above to see the wide view. It is thoroughly breathtaking.

Now in the blown up picture the lander looks like it's falling into the big crater named Heimdall that dominates the view, when in truth it's actually around 20 kilometers in front of it, landing on the nice flat ground!

I highly reccomend a browse of the HiRISE site if you've not been there already, it's full of the most amazing things you'll see for a while.

I can't exactly let this post go without also showing the image of the Phoenix lander on the surface too, so here you go!

Click the image for the bigger picture, also featuring the parachute, heatshield and other associated bits.

Monday, 26 May 2008

Pheonix Lander touches down on Mars

Unfortunately that's about as much info as the Phoenix mission page gives at the moment, but it's certainly great to know that another probe has successfully made the trip to Mars.

Hopefully we'll see some images from the surface fairly soon!

Edit: Short article on the landing up at the Nasa site.

Double edit: Pictures are up, and the probe looks in good shape. The flat plains around it might seem slightly featureless at first, but remember that this is the surface of another planet - and thus, is awesome. Enthusiasm aside however, there is most certainly a lot to be learned here!

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Swift catches a Supernova in the act

In a bout of rather fantastic luck, Swift has managed to directly observe the initial x-ray flash of a supernova located in a distant galaxy . Usually by the time supernovae have been located they're already hours old, so this is one of those opportunities to get some new science done.

Bad Astronomy has a very well written page on it. Go, read, and enjoy!

Monday, 19 May 2008

Fun with Earth View

There are all sorts of applets out there that simulate astronomical viewpoints, most of which manage provide a reason to keep procrastinating that little bit longer. Having stumbled across one such thing earlier today, I thought I'd share it.

Earth View allows you to input your own data to gain views of the earth from varying distances, locations and levels of detail. The default setting has a nice night/day sim, lighting up population centres when dark so that they can be seen.


Sunday, 18 May 2008

Apod - The Origins of Gold

So gold, you see it all over the place, we make ornaments out of it, use it in expensive electrical devices, and hell, sometimes we even stick it in alcohol and drink the stuff. It's pretty and fairly valuable, but that ain't the half of it... you want awesome? Look at the circumstances surrounding its creation.

Now neutron rich elements such as gold are typically thought to be created in events such as supernovae, and usually that'd be more than cool enough, but it gets better. In our solar system the abundance of gold appears to be much higher than can be explained by conventional means, meaning that likely something else happened.

The answer it would appear, is that something along the lines of two neutron stars colliding could be responsible. In order to fully demonstrate how awesome this is I'd have to jump around making exploding noises and gesticulating lots. You're spared that for now, hopefully the mental image was enough.

Visit today's Astronomy Picture of the Day for the story.

Saturday, 17 May 2008

Devils on Mars

Though not of the sort the title may bring to mind, these are of a somewhat less fiery and more dusty variety.

Dust devils form when hot air close to ground level rises through an area of cooler low pressure air above, and are seen all over the world wherever there are flat plains and plenty of dust lying around. Considering Mars meets all the qualifications you may expect to see them there too right?


On Earth these whirling vortexes of air and dust are typically no larger than three feet in diameter, however on Mars they can be up to fifty times that, big enough even to provide a scare for the rovers currently wandering the surface of the planet.

Here (and in the above link) you can see a fantastic panorama taken from the landing site of one of the aforementioned rovers, and it quite noticeably features quite a few of our friends. I always think images such as these are particularly great as they really help to bring Mars to life, adding real dynamics to the still pictures we usually get back from our interplanetary voyagers.

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Venusian orbits

A few days ago ESA's Venus express probe completed its first two years orbiting our sister planet. Since then it has been revising and updating our knowledge of the planet, having already returned to us over 1200 Gig of data.

Among the most recent discoveries is the presence of the molecule Hydroxyl in the Venusian atmosphere. The molecule was detected by the Visible and Infrared Thermal Imaging Spectrometer about the craft at an altitude of around 100km from the planet's surface.

This is significant as it is highly reactive stuff, playing many important roles in the relative abundance of substances such as Ozone in atmospheres.

Full story on the ESA site.

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Nasa reveals all

Turns out the discovery mentioned in a previous post was that of a supernova remnant in our galaxy a mere hundred years or so old.
Radio and X-ray composite of G1.9+03

The Supernova who's official name is G1.9+03 is located right near the galactic centre at a distance from us of about 27,000 lightyears, and is the youngest supernova remnant that has ever been observed in our galaxy.

Very cool stuff. It's a rare opportunity to get some serious observations in on a remnant at such an early stage, and in a place where they can continue for a long long time.

Just noticed Phil Plait at Bad Astronomy has a fantastic rundown already up, so go there and read it!

Interesting Lectures - Part 2

So this week's lecture is part 7 of a 27 part series by Richard A. Muller, on his course entitled Physics for Future Presidents. The idea is that the whole course would give any potential president the knowledge he'd need to actually make informed decisions on the physical world and essential matters in physics that may be dealt with on a regular basis in that particular line of work.

Mandatory for all world leaders. If only eh?

In any case this part is entited Nukes, and you've guessed it - it involves some fun fun nuclear physics. Contained therein is an overview of the mechanics behind the bombs and reactors.

Everyone loves some good old fashioned particle physics, of the sort that was around back when things such as quarks were but a mere glint in a young physicists eye!

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Nasa plays it mysterious

For the moment in any case.
NASA has scheduled a media teleconference Wednesday, May 14, at 1 p.m. EDT, to announce the discovery of an object in our Galaxy astronomers have been hunting for more than 50 years.
So we'll know tomorrow!

Considering the discovery involves the Chandra observatory, it's going to be something that involves X-ray wavelength related stuff, which narrows the field down somewhat.

So black holes, supernovae, neutron and white dwarf stars, active galaxies and quasars even entire galaxy clusters could be involved, and thats just off the top of my head.

Edit: Evidently the Chandra observatory has recently been concentrating on our galactic centre, which would suggest that if this discovery is recent, it is possibly related to our rather massive black hole friend in the middle of our galaxy.

Cassini tour extended

The ten year old Cassini probe gets to live for another two years after a decision made by NASA means that the craft that has returned us some of the most fantastic pictures and comprehensive data on Saturn and its moons ever will be able to send us back the aforementioned awesomeness for a while longer.

Feel like seeing what the ringed giant and satellites looks like up close? Visiting the Cassini Huygens homepage will reveal all.

I have to say, my favourite image by far is this'un of the walnut shaped moon Iapetus. The way the light hits it really lets you to imagine that you're right there looking at it from a mere thirty thousand kilometers or so away.

Monday, 12 May 2008

Missing universe? it's ok, we've found some of it

It is well known the the majority of the universe is not composed of baryonic matter, the kind of stuff that we and everything we experience is made of composes a mere 4.6% of the total, with dark energy and dark matter making up the next 72 and 23 percent respectively. So the 'bulk' of the universe is pretty much invisible to us, plaguing cosmologists with the responsibility of finding the damn stuff.

One real problem lay in the fact that up till now, a fair amount of the baryonic matter we know should be there was in hiding. This stuff should be easier to find, but it was still missing!

Its all comes down to light, matter needs to either emit, reflect or even absorb electromagnetic radiation in one form or another in order to be directly observed, stuff that normal matter will always tend to do. Thus, with sensitive detectors and the right places to look, we should be able to locate the missing amount.

Enter ESA’s orbiting X-ray observatory XMM-Newton. A team of scientists used the detector to find the awol matter by targeting the areas around large galaxy clusters, and in doing so found the filaments of super hot gas in the space between galaxies, something that current cosmological models had predicted.


More work remains to be done in order to map the newly discovered matter, but this is the first step towards greater understanding and further mapping of cosmological distributions.

Full story on the ESA site

Sunday, 11 May 2008

Find the Mars Polar Lander

So Nasa wants your help to find the failed 1999 Mars Polar Lander.

They have a huge amount of data to sift through and so have released the imaging data collected by the HiRISE satellite to the public in order to speed things up a bit. Sounds like a good way to burn some free time to me.

As I originally saw this on Bad Astronomy it seems only right to link to the original post here.

Friday, 2 May 2008

The blog still lives

Apologies for the lack of posts over the last week or so, it's been a crazy few days. My computer suddenly decided it was going to get rid of a paper I had been writing mere days from the deadline, so some pretty hectic re-writing ensued. Fun!

In order to prevent boredom however, here's a quick piece of news on the Jules Verne freighter previously featured- It's being used to give the ISS an altitude boost
Artists impression of the boosting procedure being carried out by Jules Verne (ESA)