Stories tagged astronomy

NASA is now entertaining offers for its three space shuttles – Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour – that are scheduled to be retired in 2010. The estimated $42 million price tag includes $6 million in transportation costs to fly a shuttle to atop a 747 to the nearest major airport near the purchaser. Click here for more details. One of the three will likely be put on display at the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. Where and how would you like to see the other two be repurposed?

What's bigger? Oprah or the moon?: Tonight will mark the largest, brightest moon of 2008.
What's bigger? Oprah or the moon?: Tonight will mark the largest, brightest moon of 2008.Courtesy vargas2040
Oprah's not the only thing getting bigger this month. Tonight's full moon will be the largest and brighest of 2008. It will be 30 percent brighter and 14 percent bigger than usual full moons. Come to think of it, I think Oprah this month is 30 percent bright and 14 percent bigger, too. Okay, I guess I can give up hopes of ever turning up on her show now.


Moon and planets #1
Moon and planets #1Courtesy Mark Ryan
When I was a kid I remember my dad would like to point out that the word "syzygy" was one of very few multi-syllabic words that didn't contain any of the "normal" vowels. Moon and planets #2
Moon and planets #2Courtesy Mark Ryan
The definition in an astronomical sense is when three or more celestial bodies in the same gravitational system line up in essentially a straight line. One example would be the Sun, Moon, and Earth during an eclipse. Another may be the phenomenon that was visible in the western sky just after dusk today. Moon and planets #3
Moon and planets #3Courtesy Makr Ryan
Here are four photographs I shot of the alignment of the Moon with the planets Jupiter and Venus. I don't know if the celestial alignment is technically a syzgy but the word has stuck with me and I'm still waiting to use it in a game of Scrabble.

Moon and planets #4
Moon and planets #4Courtesy Mark Ryan
PLEASE NOTE: From my vantage point the event was happening right in a flight path for the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport so aircraft kept flying through the frame. That's what all the streaks and extra lights in the photos are. The exposures were long, ranging between 6 and 15 seconds, and I used a timer so as not to shake the camera during each exposure. Timing the shutter with the aircraft was tricky but I got a few good ones.

Two of the brightest planets, Venus and Jupiter, appear very close together tonight. Tomorrow night (Dec 1) they will be joined by the crescent moon around 6 pm (CDT) to make an "unhappy face".

"This is set to be the best planetary gathering of the year, simply because it involves three of the brightest objects in the sky after the sun," said Geza Gyuk, director of astronomy at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago. National Geographic.


Nicolas "Sly dog" Copernicus: What's he thinking about? What's he looking at? The stars? Young research assistants? His future as a cyborg?
Nicolas "Sly dog" Copernicus: What's he thinking about? What's he looking at? The stars? Young research assistants? His future as a cyborg?Courtesy Regional Museum of Turun
Lost for hundreds of years, the final resting place and remains of the father of modern astronomy, Nicolas Copernicus, have been found in the Frombork Cathedral in northern Poland.

Copernicus was born in 1473 in Torun, Poland, and he was the first European to suggest that the Earth rotated on its own axis once a day, and revolved around the sun once a year. Followers of the Ptolemaic theory, which had the universe revolving around the Earth, were all, “Say what?!” And some of them were even, like, “Oh no you di’n’t” and snapped in Z-formation at him. Copernicus was all “Believe it, y’all.”

But then Master C died in 1543, and seventy-three years later a pope condemned his work as contrary to scripture, and a lot of people were all “Copernicus who?” And we all forgot exactly where he was buried.

The Bishop of Frombork, however, had the notion that DJ N.C. Astronomy might be hiding out in the tombs beneath the cathedral. A few years ago, archaeologists found a body that more or less matched Copernicus’ description (male, about 70 years old, dead), but it was only recently that geneticists were actually able to confirm the identification of the remains—DNA taken from the skeleton matched DNA taken from two strands of hair found in a book known to have belonged to Copernicus.

Debate on the issue has now centered on best way to resurrect Copernicus. German researchers, for the most part, are strongly in favor of the zombie method, while their polish counterparts argue that the strength and processing power of a cyborg frame would better suit the crumbly astronomer. French scientists are dead set on cloning a younger, sexier body for Master C. The Bishop of Frombork, meanwhile, just wants to put something nice together for the tomb.

Any thoughts?

UPDATE 11/21—I just came across this article this morning. It's mostly the same information that was in the other article I linked to, but there's a cool image of the facial reconstruction from Copernicus' skull. The final image really does look like Copernicus as an old man.

Guitarist for Queen
Studies tiny asteroids
O, Galileo!
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Sci-ku ™ -- haiku in the service of science!

You may have read about this here in the Buzz a while back, but the first public viewing for Virgin Galactic's WhiteKnightTwo aircraft will Monday. That aircraft will carry a separate craft – SpaceShipTwo – to a high altitude from where it will blast free and carry space tourists on a few laps around the Earth 62 miles up. Here are the full details.


What moon am I?: Ancient cultures had special names for each full month's full moon. Tonight's full moon is a "Buck Moon." Can you figure out what moon this one is?
What moon am I?: Ancient cultures had special names for each full month's full moon. Tonight's full moon is a "Buck Moon." Can you figure out what moon this one is?Courtesy Luc Viatour
Tonight there will be a full moon. It happens every 29.5 days, no big deal right?

But did you know each full moon through the cycle of a calendar year has a special name? Tonight’s full moon, the one for July, is called a “Buck Moon,” named after a male deer.

The special monthly names for the full moons go back to ancient cultures, who tied the full moons to hunting, weather, planting and harvesting cycles of the year. Full details can be found here.

FYI: Here is a rundown of the various names for each month’s full moon:

January – Wolf Moon

February – Snow Moon

March – Worm Moon

April – Pink Moon

May – Flower Moon

June – Strawberry Moon

July – Buck Moon

August – Sturgeon Moon

September – Harvest Moon

October – Hunter's Moon

November – Beaver Moon

December – Cold Moon


Are we next?: No. Definitely not.
Are we next?: No. Definitely not.Courtesy NASA
Y’all know what “fratricide” is? It’s when a brother kills a brother. Or when a sister kills her brother. Or when a sister and a brother kill their brother. Any combination, really, involving a brother getting iced.

Well, it has happened on Jupiter. A little brother has been torn apart by his giant siblings. And by giant, I mean many times the size of earth.

The Great Red Spot is a huge hurricane-like storm on the surface of Jupiter. The storm has been spinning for several hundred years, and has a diameter about three times that of Earth. Also, it’s red.

The spot happens to have a couple of little brothers, too, named Red Spot Jr. (or Oval Ba, if you can’t get your head around having a little brother that’s your “Jr.”) and the Little Red Spot. Or, I should say, it had a couple of little brothers. Now it has a little brother, and some spare brother chunks. You see, Great Red Spot, and Red Spot Jr. tore Little Red Spot to shreds last week.

Officials are still baffled as to the motive, but what we know is this: LRS was strolling innocently through its neighborhood of Jupiter when it was ambushed from either side by GRS and RSJ. No weapons are thought to have been involved, ironically making the crime that much more brutal—the larger storms ripped their little brother apart with their own stormy hands, and when GRS and RSJ ran off, all that was left of LRS were sad little shreds.

The proximity of the incident has complicated investigation, to say the least, but I have my own theories. Red Spot Junior, as it happens, only recently earned its title—it was not until only two years ago that it actually turned red. I think that RSJ may have been long overdue to prove itself as a true red spot. Both intimidated and protected by its larger brother, RSJ was content to allow GRS to be the planet’s muscle. Over the months, however, I guess that RSJ’s desire to prove itself intensified, or that GRS tired of doing its little brother’s dirty work. Either way, the two larger spots turned their sites towards their small brother, always the “simplest” of the three. I think it’s very likely that GRS provided cover and just watched while RSJ did the butcher’s work, but the blood doesn’t stand out on its recently acquired coloring.

The red color of the spots, although no doubt symbolic of their bloodthirsty hearts, is not entirely understood. It’s thought that the color may come from material sucked from deep in the planet as the storms get stronger. Phosphorus-containing molecules, for instance would turn red when exposed to sunlight on the planet’s surface.

Astronomers the world over are reeling from the violent act.

Researchers have used a solar eclipse to determine that Odysseus returned home from the Trojan Wars on April 16, 1178 B.C. Not bad for a character widely thought to be fictional.