Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Astronomy News Update 4/20/11

There are a couple of astronomy news things this week that I wanted to share. It's all pretty exciting stuff.

But first, let me remind you to vote on the poll in the sidebar. Every Tuesday I give a little lesson in astronomy and I let you, the readers, decide on what I'm gonna write about. There is always room for suggestions, so please make them in any comment thread. A history of previous Astro-Lessons can be found under the Astronomy Topics heading. (Still working on getting that all updated.)

On to the News:

  • Endeavour's last flight scheduled for April 29 
NASA announced today that the Space Shuttle Endeavour's last flight will be on Friday, April 29, at 15:47 EST. A number of notable things will happen this flight: the Shuttle will deliver the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer-2 to the International Space Station; there will also be the last set of Shuttle astronaut spacewalks (4 in total); and the Commander is Mark Kelly, husband of Congresswoman Giffords, who got shot earlier this year but plans to attend the launch. More at NASA's Shuttle page and watch it live on NASA TV
  • Titan might be hiding a liquid water ocean
I already told you that Titan was one of the Top Moons of the Solar System, and that it had an entire hydrological cycle based on methane with a thick atmosphere, but now the moon is getting even more complex! According to the math, the motions of Titan's orbit and rotation indicate that their is a HUGE subsurface ocean.

There is speculation that this ocean could be yet more methane, but the recent modeling supports a water (H2O) ocean, making it the best fitting hypothesis so far. It isn't a final blow yet though, the only way to know for sure is to get there and start digging. Another explanation could be an interaction with a large comet or asteroid.
  • Pluto has a large poisonous atmosphere 
Ah, Pluto, even though not a planet anymore, the dwarf is still a favorite for astronomers to study, being the most accessible Kuiper Belt Object. Using the 15-meter James Clerk Maxwell Telescope in Hawaii, a British-based team found a strong signal of poisonous carbon monoxide gas in Pluto's atmosphere. They also discovered that rather than the thought height of 60 miles (~1,000 km), Pluto's atmosphere extends at least 1,860 miles (3,000 km), or a quarter of the way to it's largest moon Charon.

The gas would be extremely cold at about -364 F (-220 C), and the atmosphere is likely generated by solar heating. When Pluto is closer to the Sun, parts of the surface would evaporate into a gaseous atmosphere and freeze again as Pluto moved away. Pluto's last closest pass was in 1989 and it takes 248 years to complete an orbit. More on this discovery can be read on Space.com.
  • Hubble is turning 21!
If the Hubble Space Telescope was a human in the U.S., he'd be getting excited about celebrating with a couple cold ones on April 24. Unfortunately, it can't, so I propose having a beer in honor of its long and wonderful service, and wishing it many more great years. A large part of astronomy in today's popular culture is due to this scope, and the name Hubble is known around the world. On April 24, 1990, the Space Shuttle Discovery roared the HST into orbit and astronomy hasn't been the same since. In honor of this, NASA has released a new image of interacting galaxies called Arp 273, taken on 17 December 2010, with Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3). You can read more about the image (and find a higher resolution) at the Hubble website or Bad Astronomy.


Of course there are lots of other good stories out there, these are just a couple of the great ones. Other stories to check out: Sunspots spawn gigantic solar flare (with a cool video); Black forests could exist on a world with two suns; and Electromagnetic currents link Enceladus and Saturn.


20 comments:

Jay said...

I love these astronomy updates! keep it up! :D

Zombie said...

SPACE!!!!

WanderingWriter said...

Happy Birthday to the Hubble!

Grafted said...

Awesome picture, and I voted

Charles said...

nice, thats cool

Rob said...

I'll drink to the Hubble as well.

Aaron M. Gipson said...

I can't believe it's only been 21 years, it seems longer that we had that thing up there. I do remember the 70's when it and the space shuttle were to be the wave of the future that finally gets us that elusive foothold into the cosmos.

Buckaroopopcorn said...

It seems to me that if a chunk of rock can have an atmosphere it deserves to be a planet - just sayin'.

I wonder, now that Russia is price gouging, if Virgin is going to ferry astronauts into space sometime soon?

Hubble is just a wonder. It needed so many repairs it was impossible to imagine it could have worked for so long. Hubble and penicillin are neck and neck for being the single greatest contribution to mankind IMO.

Glovey said...

Great blog man! Keep up the good work!

Banacek said...

Poor Pluto. It gets no respect.

Shutterbug said...

Pluto will always be a planet, in my mind... :P

Daan said...

I wonder if the aliens will come

ScottD said...

great post. A lot of these I had no idea about. Keep it up.

mac-and-me said...

that pic is awesome
and happy bday hubble

LunaSihne said...

The sun always interests me.

Matt said...

I saw the picture of interacting galaxies released to commemorate its 21st "birthday," and it made me sad, because I won't be around for millions of years to see it through to the finish. Good post!

freightblog said...

interesting. thanks :)

Alan said...

Awesome picture you got there.

Jessica Thompson said...

Great pictures!! Come check me out, alphabetalife.blogspot.com

Nina said...

I just want Pluto back.

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