Welcome to the Carnival of Space, featuring weekly highlights from Space and Astronomy blogs across the Internet. This episode includes some great articles regarding Pulsars, Asteroids, Comets, backyard Astronomy, JWST and the ISS, to name a few. If you run an Astronomy or Space related blog and would like to be a part of the Carnival of Space, drop an e-mail to email@example.com
Starting off this week’s carnival, Sarah Scoles at Breakdown: Science’s Smaller Questions discusses her work with high school students studying Pulsars, using data from the Green Bank Telescope. You can read her story at: http://www.smallerquestions.org/2011/07/searching-for-pulsars.html
NASA and the Russian Space Agency recently sparked a debate on the eventual fate of the International Space Station. While “officially” slated to operate until 2020, there may be plans to continue using the ISS through 2028. Alan Boyle at MSNBC’s Cosmic Log discusses the debate on when exactly the ISS will be sent into the Pacific Ocean.
Noted Cosmologist and ASU Professor Lawrence Krauss writes his opinions on the impending cancellation of the James Webb Space Telescope. In his op-ed piece, Krauss discusses the scientific importance of the JWST and his thoughts on the impact the cancellation will have on science in the U.S and elsewhere.
KFC at The Physics arXiv Blog discusses a scientific analysis of the famous “Drake Equation”, in which researchers conclude that despite life emerging on Earth relatively quickly, life elsewhere in the universe is likely to be rare.
Emily Lakdawalla at the Planetary Society Blog writes about the upcoming launch of the Juno mission to Jupiter. Juno’s first launch window is on August 5th at 15:34 UTC and will have until August 26th to launch.
Nicole Gugliucci at One Astronomer’s Noise shares her thoughts on her travels in South Africa, visiting the “Square Kilometer Array – South Africa” offices. Nicole provides some great insight into South Africa’s bid to host the SKA.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s highlights. If you’d like to read previous episodes, you can do so at: http://www.universetoday.com/12019/carnival-of-space
Recently there’s been quite the buzz regarding the plethora of “mobile” astronomy apps available for smartphone and tablet users.
Looking over the published lists, some of the applications are barely usable and some nothing short of amazing. I’ve distilled all the lists down to three essential apps for both the Android and Apple mobile/tablet platforms.
“The app uses Android-powered devices’ built-in compass, GPS, and clock to display an annotated Sky Map of the area it is facing. The map will adjust as the user moves the device. Sky Map enables users to identify stars and planets by pointing their devices towards these objects in the sky. Users can also determine the locations of planets and stars relative to their own current locations with the search function. Inputting the name of a planet or star will direct users towards this object. Over one thousand stars and all of the planets in our solar system are searchable and visible in the app. Users can also view and search for constellations and individual stars“.
NASA recently announced the android version of their popular “NASA App”.
From the app description, the app offers images, videos, mission information, news, NASA TV and featured content.
Some feature highlights include: Thousands of images from NASA IOTD, APOD and NASAImages.org, on demand NASA Videos from around the agency, Launch Information & Countdown clocks, Current Visible Passes for the International Space Station along with Facebook® Connect and Integrated Twitter™ client for easy sharing.
One of my favorite Android apps, aside from Google Sky Map is “Astronomy Picture of the Day”, which allows users of the app to set APOD images as their homescreen wallpaper and download the latest pictures from NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day website. Users can also read interesting facts about the images. The latest version of the app allows users to browse previous APODs, read their descriptions and set them as wallpaper!
If you are of the iPhone or iPad persuasion, you can check out Star Walk 5. At only $2.99 from the Apple app store, the software allows you to track planets, satellites, constellations in real-time, or you can enter a date and time to see what will be visible.
NASA also makes the “NASA App” mentioned above available for the iPhone/iPad platform. According to NASA’s description on the Apple app store, this app is identical to the Android version:
“The NASA App collects, customizes and delivers an extensive selection of dynamically updated information, images and videos from various online NASA sources in a convenient mobile package.“. Best of all, the NASA App is Free!
Rounding out my “short list” for the iPhone/iPad platform is the “Astronomy Picture of the Day” app. The app, developed in partnership with NASA, offers the same features as the Android version. “Astronomy Picture of the Day” allows you to browse through decades of high resolution NASA space photos hand selected by NASA astronomers. You can search through the APOD archives by date and save them to your photo roll or share with friends. You can also save APOD images as your iPhone/iPad background image.
Before we ever sent any sort of probes to Mars, Earthbound astronomers spoke of Mars going through color changes as viewed through their telescopes, and that these color changes repeated with a regular periodicity.
This observation was what got a number of science fiction writers contemplating the existence of life on Mars.I’ve not heard of the periodic change of color of Mars as viewed from Earth for years.
Does it still change colors as viewed from Earth? If not, did Mars ever change colors as viewed from Earth, or was this an astronomical variety of ‘urban legend’?
If Mars did or does change colors periodically as observed from Earth, what is the cause of this color change? Noting a potential for Earth atmospheric effects, but also noting that this phenomenon was never reported for observations of any other planet.
Great question Matthew!
The image below can shed some light on your question. Essentially, Mars experiences seasonal “storms” that have varied intensity. While Mars’ atmosphere is pretty thin compared to Earth, Titan or Venus, it’s significant enough for uneven heat distribution from the sun to cause pockets of warm rising air and cooler sinking air (the same basic mechanism for weather on Earth too!). The winds generated throw dust into the martian atmosphere, and have at times created numerous dust storms (would they be called haboobs on Mars too?) across the surface of Mars.
In the image below, The wide angle cameras of the Mars Orbiter Camera were used to study changes in martian weather and surface frost patterns. Starting in June 2001, as southern winter transitioned to spring, dust storm activity began to pick up as cold air from the south polar cap moved northward toward the warmer air at the martian equator. By early July, dust storms had popped up all over the planet. Soon, the entire planet was enshrouded in dust. While the storms largely subsided by September of 2001, the atmosphere still had significant haze at the end of 2001.
The 2001 dust storm wasn’t the only occurrence of large-scale weather on Mars. Notably, in 1971, Mars was experiencing a large scale dust storm when Mariner 9 arrived during the later portion of that year. The Mars Exploration Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, have had periodic “cleaning” events in which wind gusts actually blew the accumulated dust off of their solar panels and have, along with orbital cameras, imaged the martian equivalent of “dust devils”.
A few months back, we gave away a Celestron FirstScope Telescope to a lucky fan, Will Wilson.
Will wrote in with a few “action” pics of his telescope:
Some pics of the Celestron. I wanted to take some at night but my phone camera doesn’t perform well in the dark. So far we’ve looked at the moon, Saturn, and Titan.
We recently gave away a second Celestron Firstscope, and will be giving away an Orion SkyScanner Reflector Telescope in the next few weeks. To stay in touch with the telescope giveaways, check out the Dear Astronomer Facebook page at:
Today NASA announced that the latest in their fleet of Mars rovers, car-sized Mars Science Laboratory, dubbed ‘Curiosity’, will be landing at Gale crater. The crater spans roughly 96 miles in diameter and contains a mountain over 14,000 feet high. Named after Australian astronomer Watler F. Gale, the crater features layering in the mound, which suggests it is a remnant of an extensive sequence of deposits.
In a NASA/JPL press release NASA Administrator Charles stated: “Mars is firmly in our sights, Curiosity not only will return a wealth of important science data, but it will serve as a precursor mission for human exploration to the Red Planet.“
Curiosity’s prime mission, scheduled for one martian year will utilize the rover’s instruments to examine the landing region for signs of habitable conditions in Mars’ past.
In the same press release, Jim Green, director of the NASA’s Planetary Science Division adds, “Scientists identified Gale as their top choice to pursue the ambitious goals of this new rover mission. The site offers a visually dramatic landscape and also great potential for significant science findings.“
Over the past five years, over 100 scientists world-wide reviewed over two dozen potential landing sites. In 2008, the list was narrowed down to four potential sites and then narrowed down to Gale crater and Eberswalde crater. Using numerous images of Mars allowed NASA to better understand the safety concerns and scientific attractions of each potential landing site.
When space shuttle Atlantis touched down in Florida earlier this morning, it marked the end of the Shuttle era. Soon the magnificent “flying bricks” as they are commonly nicknamed will be museum exhibits.
I’ll be able to tell my soon-to-be-born daughter about how I used to watch the shuttle launches when I was her age – much like my father told me about seeing Apollo launches when he was a kid. Having watched the first shuttle launch (I was a little young for the Enterprise rollout), seeing the Challenger explosion on live television with the rest of my 4th grade class, the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope, construction of the ISS (Originally U.S space station Freedom), the loss of Columbia and too many other missions to list, you could say I grew up with the shuttle program – those birds are very much a part of the fabric of my life.
Being the little space dweeb that I was ( and still am?) I enjoyed launching my Estes space shuttle rocket (along with my SR-71, Saturn V and V2 models) and had just about every space-themed Lego kit known to exist. Despite the space toys and my extreme interest in space (and astronomy) as a kid, I never got a chance to go to space camp – something I’ll make sure my daughter goes to if she’s interested. My hopes are that when she’s old enough to appreciate it, there will be a form of space exploration that captivates her as much as the shuttles did during their time.
To a certain degree, I envy those a bit older than myself who were lucky to watch the lunar landings in the late 60′s and early 70′s. I write this on the 42nd anniversary of Apollo 11, when the human race first stepped on the moon. I’m sure space enthusiasts a bit older than I am were a bit dismayed about the end of Apollo and had lingering questions about whether or not the fancy new “space shuttles” would even get off the ground. Fast forward through thirty years of the shuttle program and an entirely new generation sits at the precipice, asking the very same question: “where do we go from here?”