Sunday, January 27, 2008

ASTRONOMY NEWS AND EVENTS

Asteroid 2007 TU24 Near-Earth Flyby

Asteroid 2007 TU24 was discovered by the Catalina Sky Survey (Arizona) on October 11, 2007. The object’s approach on January 29 is the closest for any known asteroid until 2027. The 800-foot-wide chunk of rock will brighten to about 11th magnitude in late January. At its closest approach, January 29th at 8:33 Universal Time, asteroid 2007 TU24 will still be a comfortable 344,000 miles from the center of Earth. That's 554,000 km, or 1.44 times the mean distance to the moon.

To learn more about observing Asteroid 2007 TU24, visit this Sky and Telescope page:
http://www.skyandtelescope.com/community/skyblog/observingblog/14346437.html


New Math on "Cosmic Collisions"

Two theoretical physicists at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have used what they call “pen-and-paper math” to describe the motion of interstellar shock waves — violent events associated with the birth of stars and planets.

The findings, published recently in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, could provide astronomers with important information on the history of the solar system, the formation of stars, and the creation of chemicals that may have formed the basis for planets and even life on Earth.

The lead author is Wayne Roberge, professor of physics, applied physics, and astronomy at Rensselaer. Roberge developed the mathematical solution with his colleague, adjunct professor Glenn Ciolek. It describes the force and movement of shock waves in plasma, the neutral and charged matter that makes up the dilute “air” of space. Unlike many previous studies of its kind, the researchers focused specifically on shock waves in plasma, which move matter in very different ways than the uncharged air on Earth.

As shock waves travel, they heat and condense interstellar plasma, forming new chemical compounds through intense heat and pressure. The motion of shock waves also distributes the chemical products around the galaxy. On Earth, shock waves are commonly associated with supersonic aircraft and explosions. In space, shock waves are commonly associated with the birth or death of a star.

When stars are born, they often emit jets of matter moving at hundreds of thousands of miles per hour. The impact of these jets onto surrounding material creates an extreme and sudden disturbance. This material does not have time to react to the sudden pile-up of energy and mass. Shock waves lash out into the surrounding plasma to expel the sudden force. These shock waves spread material through space, potentially “seeding” new solar systems with chemicals that may be important for life.

According to the researchers, the findings could enhance the success of infrared observing work done by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope and NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), a modified Boeing 747SP aircraft with an infrared telescope that is now in testing and is expected to begin operation in early 2009.

To learn more about the findings, the authors and infrared astronomy, visit these Web sites:

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, New York:
http://www.rpi.edu/

NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope:
http://www.spitzer.caltech.edu/

NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA):
http://www.sofia.usra.edu/


Touch the Invisible Sky

A new NASA-funded book was recently released. Called “Touch the Invisible Sky,” the book presents the sky to a very special audience because it is written in Braille. The book uses Braille, large type print and tactile diagrams of celestial images observed by space telescopes Hubble, Chandra, and Spitzer to reveal the cosmos to the blind and seeing-impaired.

The book began with a small mission grant, but NASA decided to make the book a national resource, distributing copies of the book at no cost to schools of the blind around the US, the Library of Congress, several blind technology and training centers, and state libraries that have astronomy collections.

“Touch the Invisible Sky” was co-written by Doris Daou, Noreen Grice and Simon Steele. Many of the pictures in the book show the universe at wavelengths that no human eye can see--e.g., infra-red, ultraviolet and x-rays. According to Daou, these images remind readers that most of the universe and its beauty is hidden from everyone unless we use special telescopes.

NASA has previously funded two other astronomy books written in Braille, “Touch the Universe” and “Touch the Sun.” To learn more about the book, visit NASA’s news release:
http://science.nasa.gov/headlines/y2008/15jan_touch.htm


Twin Probes Watch the Sun in 3-D

In April of last year, astronomers got a new perspective on the sun when NASA’s two Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO) probes began sending back the first three-dimensional images of our nearest star. NASA built the twin spacecraft to learn more about coronal mass ejections, or CMEs—a billion tons of electrically charged particles that are sporadically expelled by the sun. When CMEs slam into Earth, their electric fields have the potential to blow out the circuits of communications satellites or overload regional power grids.

Despite their destructive power, CMEs are so wispy that they are hard to observe without blocking the sun’s light, and seeing them from only one vantage point makes it difficult to determine their 3-D structure. STEREO creates this with two space-based observatories - one ahead of Earth in its orbit, the other trailing behind. As of January 8, the two probes were 44 degrees apart and will continue to separate as the mission proceeds.

In addition to providing 3-D images of solar eruptions and the sun’s surface, STEREO will help space-weather forecasters determine which CMEs are likely to touch Earthl; this may extend the warning time from hours to several days.

To learn more, visit the home page of NASA’s Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO) probes:
http://stereo.gsfc.nasa.gov/


GRAIL Mission to Explore the Moon’s Interior

A mission will launch in 2011 to explore the interior structure of Earth’s moon. The NASA mission is called Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) and consists of twin orbiting spacecraft. The mission is budgeted $375 million—cheap by comparison to many robotic exploratory missions. The two spacecraft are based on U.S. Air Force XSS-11 technology and will move in tandem orbits around the moon for several months.

The goal of GRAIL is to measure the gravitational field of the moon in a precise detail that has never been attempted before. Instruments onboard the spacecraft will measure the moon, from core to surface, with x-ray radiation (a specific band of radiation within the electromagnetic radiation spectrum).

NASA scientists hope to uncover more of the moon’s structure, which will help us to learn more about Earth’s past and future, as well as that of other rocky planets orbiting the sun and other stars (what are called extra solar planets, or exoplanets). GRAIL is part of NASA’s Discovery Program of economic and innovative science missions.

To learn more, visit these links:

NASA’s Discovery Program: http://discovery.nasa.gov/

December 11, 2007 new release of GRAIL:
http://discoverynewfrontiers.msfc.nasa.gov/news/news_archive/2007/news_121107.html


Mercury Flyby Provides for New Discoveries

On January 14, the MESSENGER spacecraft flew past Mercury at a distance of only 124 miles. During the flyby the spacecraft collected 500 megabytes of data and more than 1200 photos covering nearly six million square miles of previously unseen terrain.

One of the first images revealed new details on the Caloris Basin. The cratered expanse was mostly in darkness 30 years ago when NASA's Mariner 10 spacecraft made the first flybys of Mercury. Last week, MESSENGER caught the terrain in sunlight for the first time. At first glance, the photo seems to show little more than a wasteland of craters, but researchers are excited because they have gotten their first good look at the biggest known impact crater on Mercury and one of the biggest craters in the entire solar system.

In the mid-1970s, Mariner 10 caught a tantalizing glimpse of the basin's edge, a ring of shadowed mountains thrown up long ago by some catastrophic impact. A comet or asteroid had smashed Mercury and gouged a crater bigger than the state of Texas. What was inside? No one could say.
"Big impacts are revealing," says Murchie. "They're natural drill holes that expose the interior of the planet—which of course we're dying to see."

MESSENGER snapped the picture that geologists had long wanted: Caloris in its entirety, a top-down view in broad daylight—and the results were surprising. Many experts expected the interior of Caloris Basin to be dark, like the dark 'seas' of hardened lava that fill major impact basins on the Moon and give anthropomorphic form to the "Man in the Moon." Instead, Caloris is bright inside and pitted with regions of interesting color.

One of the images returned by MESSENGER, this horizon shot showing a beautifully shadowed crater named Sholem Aleichem, first seen in the Mariner 10 flyby. Sholem Aleichem is named for a author of Yiddish literature, Sholem Rabinovich, having the penname Sholem Aleichem.

Another early highlight of the flyby are ridges geologists call lobate scarps. They are fractures in Mercury's crust, perhaps formed as a result of planetary shrinkage, like wrinkles on a raisin. As a possible cause for this, astronomers suggest that billions of years ago, Mercury may have undergone a period of contraction as its molten core cooled.

Other images of note include a telephone-shaped crater, Mercury's Antarctic, and a "fresh" crater with many secondary crater chains.

Over 110 scientists, students and engineers are sifting through the harvest of photography, spectroscopy, laser radar echoes and magnetic field measurements from the flyby. Discoveries are sure to ensue.

To learn more, visit the MESSENGER mission home page of MESSENGER, the MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging mission
http://messenger.jhuapl.edu/


Europe's Mercury Mission Gets a Go

On January 18, the European Space Agency (ESA) signaled the start of a busy period for the planet Mercury by signing the contract to begin industrial development for the BepiColombo mission. UK scientists and industry have key roles in BepiColombo, including construction of spacecraft subsystems and science instrument design.

The BepiColombo mission will make the most comprehensive study of Mercury to date. Planned for launch in August of 2013, it is the first dual mission to Mercury, with one European spacecraft and one Japanese spacecraft. The program is carried out as a joint mission under ESA leadership with the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

The European spacecraft, ESA’s Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO), will carry 11 instruments to study the surface and internal composition of the planet using different wavelengths and investigation techniques.

The Japanese spacecraft, JAXA’s Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO), will carry five instruments to study the planet’s magnetosphere, the region of space around the planet that is dominated by its magnetic field.

The two orbiters will be launched together and will travel as a single unit in the Mercury Transfer Module. During the six-year trip the craft will perform numerous fly-bys of Earth, the moon and Venus, and will also rely on its two chemical propulsion systems and an ion propulsion system. The ion propulsion (similar to the system tested by ESA’s Smart-1 mission to the moon), will also assist with inserting the dual craft into a polar orbit around Mercury in August of 2019. Once in orbit, the two orbiters will then separate and proceed to their intended altitudes for each of their studies. The mission in Mercury orbit is expected to last one Earth year.

The BepiColombo mission is named after Professor Giuseppe (Bepi) Colombo (1920-1984) from the University of Padua, Italy, a mathematician and engineer of great imagination. He was the first to see that an unsuspected resonance was responsible for Mercury's habit of rotating on its axis three times for every two revolutions it made around the sun. He also suggested to NASA how to use a gravity-assist swing-by of Venus to place the Mariner 10 spacecraft in a solar orbit that would allow it to fly by Mercury three times in 1974-5.

To learn more about the BepiColombo mission, visit this link:
http://bepicolombo.esa.int/science-e/www/area/index.cfm?fareaid=30


Blinded Shanghai Observatory Must Relocate

The bright lights of the big city have proved too much for Shanghai's observatory, which will move its astronomy work away from the blinding light pollution.

The glare from Shanghai, a metropolis of nearly 17 million people, has been devastating to the abilities of the Optical Astronomy Laboratory of Shanghai Observatory. According to observatory astronomers, China's second-largest optical telescope (1.56 meters) had been unable to conduct world-class astronomical observations in recent years due to the glare.

Light pollution in Shanghai is nearly 30 times the levels advised by the International Astronomical Union. On January 22, the observatory announced the signing of an agreement with neighboring Zhejiang province to establish China's first "night sky protected area" in the rural area of Tianhuangping and will soon move its equipment there. The new location is at an altitude of nearly 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) and local authorities have promised restrictions on lighting in the area.

To learn more, visit the Shanghai Astronomical Observatory, part of the Chinese Academy of Sciences:
http://www.shao.ac.cn/optical.htm


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ANNIVERSARIES

Happy 50th, Explorer 1

This week, we celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of America’s first artificial satellite.

On the night of January 31, 1958 (February 1, 1958 at 03:48 UTC), Explorer 1 was launched into orbit atop a Jupiter-C rocket designated Juno I.

Following the Soviet success with the launch of Sputnik and the December 1957 failure of the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory's first attempt to launch a satellite (named Vanguard), the U.S. Army was given the go-ahead to try launching a scientific satellite using a rocket that had been developed to test guided missile components. The satellite was launched from Launch Complex-26 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida onboard a Juno I rocket.

The crayon shaped Explorer 1 satellite (that's how I've always thought of it) was 203 cm (80 in) in length, 15 cm (6 in) in diameter and weighed 13.9 kg (30.7 lb). The forward half contained a cosmic ray detector, a radio transmitter, temperature and micrometeoroid sensors, and batteries. The back half was taken up by a solid-propellant rocket motor, which served as the launch vehicle's fourth stage.

There were three key people in the project. The first was James A. Van Allen, the University of Iowa physicist who directed the design and creation of Explorer’s instruments. The second was William H. Pickering, director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which designed and built Explorer. And the third was Wernher von Braun, head of the U.S. Army Ballistic Missile Agency team that designed and built the Jupiter-C rocket.

Data returned by Explorer 1 and Explorer 3 (launched in March 1958) provided evidence that the Earth is surrounded by intense bands of radiation, now called the Van Allen radiation belts. This was the first major scientific discovery of the space age.

To learn more about Explorer 1, visit the NASA home page of the Explorer 1 mission:
http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/explorer/


Happy 30th, Progress

A Russian space ‘work horse’ turned 30 this past week. Progress is the name of a series of Russian expendable freighter spacecraft. Their design is roughly based on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft, and they are launched using the Soyuz launch vehicles.

In mid-1973, the designing work was begun by the bureau TsKBEM (now named RKK Energia). The design was complete by February, 1974, the first production model was completed in November of 1977 and Progress 1 launched on January 20, 1978.

It is currently used to supply the International Space Station, but was originally used to supply Russian space stations for many years, including Salyut 6 and MIR. There are three to four flights of the Progress spacecraft to the ISS per year. Each spacecraft remains docked until shortly before the new one, or a Soyuz (which uses the same docking ports) arrives. Then it is filled with waste, disconnected, deorbited, and destroyed in the atmosphere.

Since 1978, there have been 111 launches of different versions of the Progress spacecraft and all were incident-free.

The 112th mission of the Progress series, named 'Progress-63M’ is scheduled for February 5.

To learn more about Progress, visit this link:
http://www.russianspaceweb.com/progress.html


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THE SKY THIS WEEK

Jan 28 - The planet Mercury is stationary. The body appears motionless in the sky due to the turning point between its direct and retrograde motion.

Jan 29 - Asteroid 2007 TU24 Near-Earth Flyby (0.004 AU)


Jan 30, 12:03 A.M. (05:03 UTC) - Last Quarter Moon

Jan 30 - The planet Mars is stationary. The body appears motionless in the sky due to the turning point between its direct and retrograde motion.

Jan 30 - The moon is at apogee, the point in the moon's orbit when it is farthest from Earth.

Feb 1 - The planet Venus is 0.6° north of Jupiter

Feb 1 - The star Antares is 0.6° north of Moon, occultation

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THIS WEEK IN HISTORY

Jan 27, 1908 - Discovery of Jupiter Moon Pasiphae by British astronomer Philibert Jacques Melotte (1880-1961), 100th Anniversary

Jan 27, 1967 - Apollo 1 Fire (Gus Grissom, Edward White & Roger Chaffee)

Jan 28, 1611 - Birthday of Johannes Hevelius (1611-1687), Polish astronomer described as “the founder of lunar topography.”

Jan 28, 2006 - Space Shuttle Challenger Accident

Jan 30, 1868 - Pultusk Meteorite Shower in Poland, 140th Anniversary

Jan 31, 1958 - Explorer 1 Launch (1st US Satellite), 50th Anniversary

Jan 31, 1961 - Launch of Mercury-Redstone 2 with Ham the chimpanzee

Jan 31, 1966 - Launch of Luna 9 (USSR Moon Lander)

Jan 31, 1971 - Launch of Apollo 14 (3rd Manned Moon Landing)

Jan 31, 2004 - The Opportunity rover drives onto the Martian surface

Feb 1, 2003 - Space Shuttle Columbia Accident

Feb 2, 1977 – Re-entry and burn-up of the Salyut 4 Space Station (USSR)

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MUSICAL DIVERSION

There seems to be much confusion as to the origin of a wonderful hymn called "How Can I Keep From Singing," also known by its first line of text, "My Life Flows On." In recent years it has been attributed to the Quakers and to the Shakers. In fact, the actual origin of the hymn is Baptist.

The melody for the hymn was written by a Baptist minister from New Jersey, the Reverend Robert Wadsworth Lowry (1826-1899). For reference, Lowry also wrote the popular Gospel hymn, "Shall We Gather At The River." The hymn "How Can I Keep From Singing?" was first published in 1869 in a collection which Lowry also edited, entitled "Bright Jewels for the Sunday School" (New York: Bigelow & Main). Though some sources cite Lowry as the author of the hymn text, other sources state the text was written by New York State author, teacher and hymnist, Miss Anna Bartlett Warner (1827-1915). Warner is best known for her children's song, "Jesus Loves Me, This I Know."


How Can I Keep From Singing

My life flows on in endless song;
Above earth’s lamentation
I hear the sweet though far off hymn
That hails a new creation:
Through all the tumult and the strife
I hear the music ringing;
It finds an echo in my soul—
How can I keep from singing?

What though my joys and comforts die?
The Lord my Savior liveth;
What though the darkness gather round!
Songs in the night He giveth:
No storm can shake my inmost calm
While to that refuge clinging;
Since Christ is Lord of Heav’n and earth,
How can I keep from singing?

I lift mine eyes; the cloud grows thin;
I see the blue above it;
And day by day this pathway smoothes
Since first I learned to love it:
The peace of Christ makes fresh my heart,
A fountain ever springing:
All things are mine since I am His—
How can I keep from singing?

-----

In 1956, a variation of the hymn, including a new verse, was provided by Doris Plenn and published by Pete Seeger in "Sing Out!" magazine (Vol. 7 No. 1, 1957). Plenn had learned the song from her grandmother, who told Plenn it came from the Quaker tradition. Below is Plenn's revised second verse and her additional verse.


What through the tempest loudly roars,
I hear the truth, it liveth.
What through the darkness round me close,
Songs in the night it giveth.
No storm can shake my inmost calm
While to that rock I'm clinging.
Since love is lord of Heaven and earth
How can I keep from singing?

When tyrants tremble, sick with fear,
And hear their death-knell ringing,
When friends rejoice both far and near,
How can I keep from singing?
In prison cell and dungeon vile
Our thoughts to them are winging.
When friends by shame are undefiled,
How can I keep from singing?

-----

Bibliography

How Can I Keep From Singing
The Cyber Hymnal
Last updated December 5, 2007
Retrieved January 17, 2008
http://www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/h/c/hcaikeep.htm

How Can I Keep From Singing
Digital Tradition Mirror
Retrieved January 24, 2008
http://sniff.numachi.com/pages/tiKEEPSING;ttHOWCANI.html

Robert Lowry
The Cyber Hymnal
Last updated January 14, 2008
Retrieved January 24, 2008
http://www.cyberhymnal.org/bio/l/o/w/lowry_r.htm

Anna Bartlett Warner
The Cyber Hymnal
Last updated January 13, 2008
Retrieved January 24, 2008
http://www.cyberhymnal.org/bio/w/a/r/warner_ab.htm

American Shaker Music
Copyright © 1998-2007, The Music Buffs Web Pages.
Last updated 2007
Retrieved January 24, 2008
http://www.members.aol.com/musbuff/page40.htm

Lowry & Hugh - How Can I Keep from Singing, Anthem description
Boosey & Hawkes, music publishers
Retrieved January 24, 2008
http://www.boosey.com/shop/prod/Lowry-Hugh-How-Can-I-Keep-From-Singing-Choral-Music-Experience-series-/691625

How Can I Keep From Singing
The Enya Discography
Copyright © 1997-2006, Enya.com.
Retrieved January 25, 2008
http://discography.enya.com/tracks/H02.html

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