Sunday, January 27, 2008


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:

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:

NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope:

NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA):

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:

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:

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:

December 11, 2007 new release of GRAIL:

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

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:

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:



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:

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:



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



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)



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?



How Can I Keep From Singing
The Cyber Hymnal
Last updated December 5, 2007
Retrieved January 17, 2008

How Can I Keep From Singing
Digital Tradition Mirror
Retrieved January 24, 2008;ttHOWCANI.html

Robert Lowry
The Cyber Hymnal
Last updated January 14, 2008
Retrieved January 24, 2008

Anna Bartlett Warner
The Cyber Hymnal
Last updated January 13, 2008
Retrieved January 24, 2008

American Shaker Music
Copyright © 1998-2007, The Music Buffs Web Pages.
Last updated 2007
Retrieved January 24, 2008

Lowry & Hugh - How Can I Keep from Singing, Anthem description
Boosey & Hawkes, music publishers
Retrieved January 24, 2008

How Can I Keep From Singing
The Enya Discography
Copyright © 1997-2006,
Retrieved January 25, 2008


Saturday, January 19, 2008


Smith's Cloud is Coming

In 20 million to 40 million years, a colossal cloud of gas will collide with our galaxy. The impact could trigger an intense burst of star formation. The details were reported on January 11 at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Austin, Texas.

The large cloud is called Smith's Cloud, named after Gail Bieger (formerly Gail Smith), who discovered the cloud in 1963 while an astronomy student at Leiden University in the Netherlands. Some astronomers think Smith's Cloud is a remnant of the original formation of the Milky Way.

The cloud is currently 8,000 light-years from our galaxy's disk. It has enough hydrogen to make a million stars like the sun, it is 11,000 light-years long and 2,500 light-years wide. If you could look up from Earth and see the cloud, it would span 30 times the width of the moon, or 15 degrees, roughly an area the angular size of the constellation Orion.

For decades after its discovery, because the available images lacked any detail, scientists were puzzled as to whether the cloud was a part of the Milky Way or outside of it. The recent observations were made using the National Science Foundation's Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope, the largest steerable radio telescope. Because the cloud is made of cold gas, it emits only in the radio wavelengths. The results showed Smith's Cloud is moving toward the Milky Way, not away, at more than 540,000 mph (869,000 kilometers per hour).

In the latest observations, the cloud is rubbing against the outer atmosphere of the Milky Way, and it is starting to push up gas in front of it. Also, it seems to be feeling a tidal force from the gravity of the Milky Way and the cloud may be in the process of being torn apart.

The cloud will likely strike a region somewhat farther from the galactic center than our solar system. The addition of new gas into our galaxy along with the shock of the collision may trigger a burst of rapid star formation. Many of the new stars are expected to be massive, with relatively short lives that end as exploding supernovae.

To learn more, visit these links:

The home page of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory:

The home page of the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope:

Even Thin Galaxies Have Supermassive Black Holes

A half-dozen supermassive black holes hide where they are least expected, in relatively skinny galaxies. The discovery implies galaxies don't need center bulges to harbor monstrous black holes.

Until now, astronomers thought central concentrations of stars called galactic bulges were required for black holes to grow. Like most spiral galaxies, our own Milky Way has such a bulge. In many large galaxies, the bulge feeds the black hole, creating high-speed consumption and a lot of radiation.

Up to now, it was thought that the small and thinner galaxies did not have supermassive black holes.
New observations from the Spitzer Space Telescope, however, show this is not the case.

The new information was presented the week of January 7 at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Austin, Texas. Now, astronomers think dark matter, an invisible substance thought to account for about 85 percent of all matter in the universe, might play a role in the early development of supermassive black holes.

The mostly dormant black hole at the center of our galaxy has several million times the mass of the sun. In more active galaxies, black holes can surpass a billion solar masses. (The record-setter, at 18 billion solar masses, was also announced during the annual meeting.)

A few recent studies have caused astronomers to question the conventional thinking. In 2003, scientists discovered a relatively "lightweight" supermassive black hole in a bulge-less galaxy. And even more recently, the reportingh team spotted another supermassive black hole lurking in a similar galaxy. In the new report, the team anounced the discovery of six more monstrous black holes in thin galaxies with minimal bulges.

The black holes were only recently detected because they have been shrouded by dust. Galaxies with minimal midsections tend to be extremely dusty. Infrared light can penetrate the dust, which means Spitzer could find the black holes with its infrared capabilities.

The team speculates that the missing piece of the black-hole puzzle may be dark matter. Early on in the galaxy's life, this invisible matter might somehow set the mass of the black hole. Other theorists have suggested in recent years that dark matter was integral to galaxy formation.

The study will be published in the April 10 issue of the Astrophysical Journal.

To learn more, visit the home page of the Spitzer Space Telescope:

View of New Hydrogen Clouds In The M81 Group Of Galaxies

The M81 Group of galaxies, 11.8 million light-years from Earth, are interacting gravitationally with each other. The newly-discovered gas clouds, each containing from 14 to 57 million times the mass of our Sun, are similar to gas clouds also found near our own Milky Way Galaxy.

Astronomers analyzing these M81 Group clouds conclude that they are likely remnants of earlier interactions among the galaxies and that this suggests that the clouds observed near the Milky Way had a similar origin.

The astronomers presented their findings to the American Astronomical Society's meeting in Austin, Texas.

To learn more, visit these links:

The home page of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory:

The home page of the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope:

Distant Galaxy Contains Ingredients for Life

Astronomers from Arecibo Observatory radio telescope in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, have detected for the first time the molecules methanimine and hydrogen cyanide -- two ingredients that build life-forming amino acids -- in a galaxy some 250 million light years away.

When combined with water, the molecules form glycene, the simplest amino acid and a building block of life on Earth.

The Arecibo astronomers focused on the distant galaxy Arp 220, an ultra-luminous starburst galaxy, because it forms new stars at a very high rate. They used the 305-meter, or 1,000-foot diameter, Arecibo radio telescope, the world's largest and most sensitive, to observe the galaxy at different frequencies. The observations, made in April 2007, were the first use of the 800 megahertz wide-band mode of the telescope's main spectrometer.
The molecules were found by searching for radio emission at specific frequencies. Each chemical substance has its own unique radio frequency, much like people have unique fingerprints.

The astronomy team, led by Arecibo astronomer Christopher Salter, announced the discovery January 11 in a poster presented at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Austin, Texas.

To learn more, visit the home page of the Arecibo Observatory:

Ulysses Flying by of the Sun's North Pole

The timing could not be better. Just last week, solar physicists announced the beginning of a new solar cycle and on January 14th, the Ulysses spacecraft flew over a key region of solar activity--the sun's North Pole.

Launched in October of 1990 from the space shuttle Discovery, Ulysses is a joint mission of the European Space Agency and NASA. Unlike other spacecraft, Ulysses is able to fly over the sun's poles, looking down on regions that are difficult to see from Earth.

Ulysses has flown over the sun's poles three times before in 1994-95, 2000-01 and 2007. Each flyby discovered something interesting and mysterious, but this one may be most interesting of all.

Many researchers think the sun's poles are central to the ebb and flow of the solar cycle. Consider that when sunspots break up, their decaying magnetic fields are carried toward the poles by large currents of plasma, making the poles a kind of "sunspot graveyard." Old magnetic fields sink beneath the polar surface two hundred thousand kilometers, all the way to the sun's inner magnetic dynamo. There, dynamo action amplifies the fields for use in future solar cycles.

One big puzzle revealed by previous flybys is the temperature of the sun's poles. In the previous solar cycle, the magnetic north pole was about 80,000 degrees or 8% cooler than the south. And no one yet knows why there would be a difference.

The current flyby may help solve the puzzle because it comes less than a year after a similar South Pole flyby in February of 2007. Mission scientists will be able to compare temperature measurements of the north and south, with little time between them.

Ulysses also discovered the sun's high-speed polar wind. At the sun's poles, the magnetic field opens to allow the solar atmosphere to stream out at a speed of roughly a million miles per hour.

By flying around the sun, covering all latitudes, Ulysses has been able to monitor this polar wind throughout the solar cycle--and it is acting a bit odd.
Posner explains: Eleven years ago, during a similar change between solar cycles, the polar wind spilled down almost all the way to the sun's equator. But this time the polar wind is confined to latitudes above 45 degrees.

No one is certain whether this detail is important. That's why now is a good time to visit the sun's North Pole. Researchers will be monitoring the magnetic field above the north pole to see what it's like during the change of solar cycles.

To learn more about the latest solar observations, visit the Ulysses mission home page:

Flying Laboratory Meets the Public

On Monday, January 14, what NASA calls the "world's largest airborne observatory" was on display at Moffett Federal Airfield in California. Officials at NASA/Ames in Mountain View enthusiastically showed off the massive aircraft they hope will one day help them discover the origin of life.

Called the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, or SOFIA, the former PanAm commercial airliner has been fully renovated, refurbished and rigged with a reflecting telescope similar to the Hubble Space Telescope.

Early next year, the modified Boeing 747SP is expected to take off from an airfield in Palmdale just northeast of Los Angeles and travel to an altitude of more than 45,000 feet - thousands of feet above the typical airliner - at speeds of over 600 mph, ushering in a new era of astronomy.

SOFIA is expected to do science that no other NASA observatory can do. According to some, it will be almost as good as going into space. SOFIA is maintained in Southern California, but its science and mission project office is based at NASA/Ames. NASA observers say the project that was nearly scuttled several years ago. As it is, SOFIA arrives several years behind schedule and hundreds of millions of dollars over budget.

That being said, SOFIA could help researchers learn about the birth and death of stars as well as the formation of new solar systems. Although unusual, it's not the first telescope in flight. From 1974 to 1995, NASA operated the Kuiper Airborne Observatory, which carried a 36-inch reflecting telescope in a converted C-141 military cargo plane.

SOFIA will be used to study planets, comets and asteroids in our solar system, and should help astronomers learn more about star formations and black holes at the center of galaxies.

There are a number of advantages to putting a 44,100-pound, 2.5-meter diameter telescope onboard an aircraft. First, SOFIA should be able to rise above most of the Earth's water vapor, enhancing its abilities to study the cosmos. Second, it can take advantage of infrared technology to study space, providing images that aren't possible from the ground.

SOFIA is meant to combine some of the best features from both mountain-top observatories and systems orbiting in space. Even with its initial $600 million price tag and $75 million annual operating budget, it is cheaper than space observatories and can be easily repaired or modified. The images scientists expect to capture should be relatively free of distortions and blocked views, unlike grounded observatories. Also, the pilots will be able to turn the plane and change the telescope's angle, allowing any point in space to be seen.

In its former life, the plane had been used by both PanAm and United Airlines before NASA bought it a decade ago and started modifications. The aircraft is still undergoing flight tests, and is scheduled for its first scientific mission in early 2009.

To learn more, visit the Web site of the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA):

Happy 25th, IRAS

January 25 marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the launch of IRAS, the Infrared Astronomical Satellite. A joint project of the United States (NASA), the Netherlands (NIVR), and the United Kingdom (SERC), the Infrared Astronomical Satellite (IRAS) was the first space-based observatory to perform a survey of the entire sky at infrared wavelengths. It mapped 96% of the sky four times, at 12, 25, 60 and 100 micrometer wavelengths, with resolutions ranging from 30 arcseconds at wavelength 12 micrometers to 2 arcminutes at wavelength 100 micrometers. IRAS discovered about 350,000 sources, many of which have yet to be identified. About 75,000 of those are thought to be starburst galaxies, still in the stage of star-formation. Many other sources are normal stars surrounded by dusty disks, possibly in the early stage of planetary system formation. Discoveries included a dust disk around the star Vega and the first images of the Milky Way Galaxy's core.

Like most of the infrared satellites that followed, IRAS's life was limited by its cooling system: to effectively work in the infrared, a telescope must be cooled to extremely low temperatures. For IRAS, 475 liters of superfluid helium kept the telescope at a temperature of 2 kelvins (about -271 °C), keeping the satellite cool by evaporation. On November 22, 1983, 10 months after launch, the fluid helium depleted and the telescope temperature rose, preventing further observations.

IRAS was designed to catalog fixed sources, scanning the same region of sky several times. Jack Meadows led a team at Leicester University, including John Davies and Simon Green, which searched the rejected sources for moving objects. This led to the discovery of three asteroids, including 3200 Phaethon (an Apollo asteroid and the parent body of the Geminid meteor shower), six comets, and a huge dust trail associated with comet Tempel-2. The comets included the periodic comets 126P/IRAS and 161P/Hartley-IRAS and comet IRAS-Araki-Alcock (C/1983 H1), which made a close approach to the Earth in 1983.

To learn more, visit the IRAS page on the Caltech Web site:

Happy 30th, IUE

January 26 marks the thirtieth anniversary of the launch of IUE, the International Ultraviolet Explorer. The IUE satellite was a collaborative project between the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the European Space Agency (ESA), and the United Kingdom's Science and Engineering Research Council (SERC; now Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council, or PPARC ). Launched January 26, The satellite carried a telescope and instruments for astronomical research. The instruments were used to obtain ultraviolet (UV) spectra of a wide variety of astronomical objects.

UV radiation is light created by processes more energetic than those that produce visible light. For example, the light one sees from the sun is produced at the solar surface, at a temperature of about 10,340 degrees Fahrenheit (6000 degrees Kelvin).The sun also produces ultraviolet light, from the much hotter gases above the surface, at temperatures of 17,540 to 179,540 degrees Fahrenheit (10,000 to 100,000 degrees Kelvin).

IUE had an expected lifetime of 3 years and a mission goal of 5 years, but greatly exceeded that time. When shut down on September 30, 1996, IUE had been in continuous operation for 18 years and 9 months.

IUE's geosynchronous orbit allowed for real-time operation, which made IUE very flexible. Astronomers came to the spacecraft command stations to direct their observations and inspect the data as they were collected, much as they do at ground-based observatories. Two on-board spectrographs covered ultraviolet wavelengths from 1200 to 3350 angstroms.

Observers around the world took advantage of the observatory, gathering data from a wide variety of astronomical sources. Objects observed by IUE include virtually every type of object in the universe, from planets and stars to galaxies. One of IUE's strengths was the ability to rapidly respond to targets of opportunity such as comets, novae, and supernovae. IUE obtained the only ultraviolet data of the outburst of Supernova 1987a in the Large Magellanic Cloud. By tracking on the nucleus of fast-moving Comet IRAS-Araki-Alcock, IUE was able to obtain the first detection of molecular sulfur in a comet. During July 1994, IUE, along with the rest of the world, observed Jupiter when Comet Shoemaker-Levy collided with the planet.

To learn more, visit the IUE archive section of the Space Telescope Science Institute:



Jan 19 - Moon at perigee
The point in the Moon's orbit when it is closest to Earth.

Jan 19 - Mars 1.1° south of Moon, occultation

Jan 22 - The planet Mercury is at its greatest eastern elongation (19 degrees)

Jan 22, 8:35 A.M. (13:35 UTC) - Full Moon

Jan 24 - The star Regulus is 0.7° north of the moon, occultation.

Jan 25 - The planet Saturn is 3° north of the moon



Jan 20, 1930 - Birthday of U.S. Astronaut Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin

Jan 20, 1986 - Discovery of Uranus moons Cordelia and Ophelia by Richard J. Terrile

Jan 22, 1968 - Launch of Apollo 5, 40th anniversary

Jan 23, 1906 - Discovery of Asteroid 582 Olympia by German astronomer, and discoverer of several comets and asteroids, August Kopff (1882 - 1960)

Jan 23, 1941 - Birthday of Glenn Research Center

Jan 23, 1986 - Discovery of Uranus moon Bianca by Bradford A. Smith

Jan 24, 1882 - Birthday of Harold Babcock

Jan 24, 1986 - Voyager 2 spacecraft flyby of the planet Uranus

Jan 24, 1990 - Launch of Hiten (Japan Moon Orbiter)

Jan 24, 2000 - Discovery of Dhofar 019 Meteorite (Mars Meteorite)

Jan 25, 1736 - Birthday of Italian / French mathematician and astronomer Joseph Louis Lagrange (1736 – 1831).

Jan 25, 1983 - Launch of the Infrared Astronomical Satellite (IRAS), 25th anniversary.

Jan 25, 1994 - Launch of Clementine spacecraft (U.S. Moon Orbiter)

Jan 25, 2004 - Successful Mars landing of Mars Exploration Rover B, named "Opportunity," which is still going strong long after its 90 sol (90 Martian days) primary mission.

Jan 26, 1905 - Discovery of Asteroid 557 Violetta by German astronomer and astrophotography pioneer Max Wolf (1863 - 1932).

Jan 26, 1962 - Launch of Ranger 3 (U.S. Lunar impact)

Jan 26, 1978 - Launch of the International Ultraviolet Explorer (IUE), 30th anniversary

Jan 26, 1980 - Discovery of Saturn moon Epimetheus by Voyager 1 spacecraft



Born in South Carolina, Benjamin Franklin White (1800-1879) began his musical career at an early age, playing a fife during the War of 1812. He later collaborated with his brother-in-law, William Walker, in collecting folk tunes and camp meeting melodies. In 1835 Walker published "The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion," which used the shaped not music notation system. Unfortunately, Walker gave no credit to White for his contributions to the work. This created a lifelong rift between the two men. In 1844, White published his own collection, entitled "The Sacred Harp," which also used the shaped note music notation system.

In his collection, White included a hymn set to a folk tune from the Appalachians. The roots of the melody probably go back to the folk music of the English, Irish or Scotts. White named the tune after the Beech Springs Baptist Church, which is still in existence near Pine Mountain, Georgia. Founded in 1832, the church was originally located near two beech trees at a spring, hence the name. However, White misspelled the name as "Beach Spring" and it stuck. The tune was paired with a hymn text that had been written in 1759 by Joseph Hart (1712 - 1768).

Beach Spring

Come, ye sinners, poor and needy,
Weak and wounded, sick and sore,
Jesus ready stands to save you,
Full of pity, love and pow’r.
He is able,
He is willing, doubt no more.

Let not conscience make you linger,
Nor of fitness fondly dream,
All the fitness He requireth
Is to feel your need of Him.
This He gives you,
’Tis the Spirit’s rising beam.

Agonizing in the garden,
Lo! your Master prostrate lies;
On the bloody tree behold Him,
Hear Him cry before He dies;
“It is finished!”
Sinners will this not suffice?

Lo! th’incarnate God ascended,
Pleads the merit of His blood;
Venture to Him, venture wholly,
Let no other trust intrude.
None but Jesus,
Can do helpless sinners good.


In 1962, a teacher from Missouri named Eva Brown Lloyd (1912 - 2006) wrote a hymn text. She submitted it in 1966 submitted it to a hymn writing contest sponsored by the Church Music Department of the Southern Baptist Convention. She won the competition and later that year her hymn was published in a pamphlet along with seven other new hymns.

Lloyd intended her text to be sung to the tune of "Beecher," the tune composed for and most familiar as the setting for "Love Devine, All Loves Excelling." However, when the text was published, it was set to the tune "Beach Spring."

Come, All Christians, Be Committed

Come, all Christians, be committed
To the service of the lord;
Make your lives for him more fitted,
Tune your hearts with one accord.
Come into His courts with gladness,
Each his sacred vows renew,
Turn away from sin and sadness,
Be transformed with life anew.

Of your time and talents give ye,
They are gifts from God above;
To be used by Christians freely
To proclaim His wondrous love.
Come again to serve the Savior,
Tithes and off'rings with you bring.
In your work, with Him find favor,
And with joy His praises sing.

God's command to love each other
Is required of every one;
Showing mercy to one another
Mirrors His redemptive plan.
In compassion He has given
Of His love that is divine;
On the cross sins were forgiven;
Joy and peace are fully thine.

Come in praise and adoration,
All who in Christ's name believe;
Worship Him with consecration,
Grace and love you will receive.
For His grace give Him the glory,
For the Spirit and the Word,
And repeat the gospel story
Till mankind His name has heard.


81t Beach Spring
Indexes for The Sacred Harp, 1991 Edition
Sacred Harp Singing
Copyright © 2007 Sacred Harp Musical Heritage Association
Retrieved January 14, 2008

Benjamin Franklin White. The Cyber Hymnal.
Last updated December 23, 2007.
Retrieved January 14, 2008.


Monday, January 14, 2008


Vatican Staff Changed Before Observatory Relocation

Last week, we reported the relocation of the Vatican Observatory to an unused convent. At that time we mentioned there had been other recent events that suggested there was a controversy. One such event occurred shortly before the relocation announcement.

Pope Benedict XVI removed Father George Coyne S. J. 86 from his 28-year position as director of the Vatican Observatory after the American Jesuit priest repeatedly contradicted the Holy See's endorsement of "intelligent design" theory.

Coyne was replaced by Argentine Jesuit Father Jose Funes, 43, an expert on disk galaxies. Although the Vatican did not give reasons for the change, sources close to the Holy See say that Benedict would have been unhappy with Father Coyne's public opposition to intelligent design theory.

Father Coyne's most notable intervention came after Cardinal Christoph Schonborn of Vienna, a former student of the Pope, put the case for intelligent design in an article in the New York Times in July last year.

To learn more about the Vatican Observatory, visit their Website, hosted by Steward Observatory at the University of Arizona, Tucson:

Shedding Light on Dark Energy

A telescope at Earth's South Pole is looks into mysterious force known as dark energy. First described nine years ago, dark energy is a mysterious and powerful force. It overrules the laws of gravity and pushes galaxies away from one another, causing the universe to expand at a faster rate.

Dark energy is thought to account for 70% of the mass of the universe. It is invisible and virtually undetectable. Nobody knows what it is, where it is or how it behaves.

As tall as a 7-story building, the 10-meter South Pole Telescope (SPT)saw first light on February 16, 2007. A few months ago it began searching for evidence of dark energy. Controlled remotely from the University of Chicago, the $19.2-million telescope has succeeded in its first mission: finding unknown galaxy clusters, which are clues to the emergence of dark energy.

For thousands of years, astronomers have been puzzling out the size, shape and chemistry of the universe, first by naked eye and then -- for the last 400 years -- with increasingly powerful and sophisticated telescopes. Mostly they study the motion of large objects and apply the known laws of physics to analyze them.

The telescope does not see dark energy directly. Instead, it gathers information for researchers to gain a better understanding of the mysterious force, by tracing how it emerged and changed over billions of years.

To do that, scientists will use the SPT to search for enormous clusters of galaxies -- the last structures in the universe to be formed by gravity after the Big Bang.

The mission of the SPT is to trace how many galaxy clusters formed at different periods in the history of the universe, and then determine when dark energy slowed or stopped their formation.

Galaxy clusters are rare, containing maybe just 1% of all the stars in the universe. Most are so far away and faint that most optical and radio telescopes cannot detect them.

Instead, scientists look for tiny variations in temperature of the remnants of the first light in the universe, emerging about 400,000 years after the Big Bang. Slightly warmer spots in the background indicate the presence of the dim, hard-to-locate galaxy clusters.

And the South Pole is the best place on Earth to do that. Humidity in the atmosphere would distort signals the telescope receives and the picture it makes. But there is little water vapor at the South Pole. Even though the pole sits on a massive, million-year buildup of ice 10,000 feet deep, the area is a natural desert -- the air is dry, and it rarely snows.

In addition, because of the tilt of the Earth's axis, the pole is in darkness for nearly half the year. That allows researchers to focus the telescope on one part of the sky for long periods of time.

To learn more, check out the home page of the University of Chicago's South Pole Telescope (SPT)

LSST Receives Funding From Charles Simonyi and Bill Gates

The Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) project has announced two major gifts: $20 million from the Charles Simonyi Fund for Arts and Sciences and $10 million from Microsoft founder Bill Gates.

Under development since 2000, the LSST is a public-private partnership. This gift enables the construction of LSST's three large mirrors, which take more than five years to manufacture. The first stages of production for the two largest mirrors are now beginning at the Mirror Laboratory at the University of Arizona in Tucson. Other key elements of the LSST system will also be aided by this commitment.

Proposed for "first light" in 2014, the 8.4-meter LSST will survey the entire visible sky deeply in multiple colors every week with its three-billion pixel digital camera, probing the mysteries of dark matter and dark energy, and opening a movie-like window on objects that change or move.

The LSST will be constructed on Cerro Pachón, a mountain in northern Chile. Its design of three large mirrors and three refractive lenses in a camera leads to a 10 square degree field-of-view with excellent image quality. The telescope's camera will be the largest digital camera ever constructed. During 10 years of operations, about 2,000 deep exposures will be acquired for every part of the sky over 20,000 square degrees. This color "movie" of the universe will open an entirely new window: the time domain. LSST will produce 30 terabytes of data -- equivalent to more than 6,000 DVDs -- per night, yielding a total database of 150 petabytes. Dedicated data facilities will process the data in real time.

To learn more, visit the home page of the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) project:

HST Mission Will Fix and Add Equipment

On Tuesday, January 8, NASA officials announced said Tuesday that the planned 11-day, seven-astronaut shuttle mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) would include the installation of a pair of new scientific instruments, as well as an attempt to fix two older modules that produced important work before failing. The mission will feature five spacewalks. Along with the new instruments, an assortment of gyroscopes, thermal blankets and batteries will be installed, aiming to extend the telescope's operating life until 2013.

The two devices being repaired include the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS) and the Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS). According to NASA, the ACS was the most-used device on the telescope, before failing last January. The STIS, which helped detect black holes and extra-solar planets, failed several years ago.

The Cosmic Origins Spectrograph (COS) will be used to examine the "cosmic web," or the large-scale structure of the universe created by the gravity of dark matter, and traced in the formations of galaxies and interstellar gas.

A second device, called the Wide Field Camera 3, or WFC3, will provide a new wide-field and "panchromatic," or many-colored imagine capability to supplement the telescope's other cameras.

The combination of the new instruments and repaired instruments are expected to give astronomers a full set of tools with which to attack some really profound problems, ranging from the nature of dark matter and dark energy, to the chemical composition of the atmospheres of planets around other stars.

At the time of the announcement the mission as scheduled for August 2008. Following the announcement, delays were reported in the next shuttle Atlantis launch because of a faulty fuel gauge. The planned August date will likely be pushed back, but officials will proceed with the HST mission as soon as possible.

To learn more about the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) and the upcoming mission, visit this Web site:

Mars-Asteroid Impact Effectively Ruled Out

Since our last update, astronomers have received numerous tracking measurements of asteroid 2007 WD5 from four different observatories. These new data have led to a significant reduction in the position uncertainties during the asteroid's close approach to Mars on January 30, 2008. As a result, the impact probability has dropped dramatically, to approximately 0.01% or 1 in 10,000 odds, effectively ruling out the possible collision with Mars.

To learn more about the tracking of asteroids and comets, visit the home page of the NASA/JPL Near-Earth Object Program:

Two Older Stars Birthing Planets

Hundreds of millions — or even billions — of years after planets would have initially formed around two unusual stars, but a second wave of planetesimal and planet formation appears to be taking place, according to UCLA astronomers and colleagues.

The stars are known as BP Piscium, in the constellation Pisces, and TYCHO 4144 329 2, in the constellation Ursa Major. The stars have many characteristics of very young stars, including rapid accretion of gas, extended orbiting disks of dust and gas, a large infrared excess emission and, in the case of BP Piscium, jets of gas that are being shot into space. Planetesimals, like comets and asteroids, along with planets, form from the gas and dust particles that orbit young stars; planetesimals are small masses of rock or ice that merge to form larger bodies.

As seen from Earth, some 75 percent of BP Piscium's radiant energy is being converted by the dust particles into infrared light, and about 12 percent of TYCHO 4144 329 2's. These are unusually high amounts, which Melis described as "spectacular" in comparison to other stars that are known to be not-young.

TYCHO 4144 329 2 orbits a companion star that has a mass similar to that of our sun; a second generation of planets is not forming around this companion, which appears to be an ordinary old star in all respects. By studying this companion star, the astronomers have deduced that TYCHO 4144 329 2 is just 200 light-years from Earth — very close by astronomical standards. They do not know precise age of TYCHO 4144 329 2, or BP Piscium's age or distance from Earth.

The astronomers are continuing to study these stars with a variety of ground-based telescopes and with space-based observatories, including NASA's Hubble Space Telescope and Chandra X-ray Observatory, and they are searching for additional similar stars.

To learn more, visit the Web site of the UCLA Division of Astronomy and Astrophysics:

Ancestors of Milky Way-type Galaxies Discovered

Astronomers at Rutgers and Penn State universities have discovered galaxies in the distant universe that are ancestors of spiral galaxies like our Milky Way.

These ancient objects, some of the first galaxies ever to form, are being observed as they looked when the universe was just two billion years old. Today, scientists peg the universe’s age at 13.7 billion years, so light from these galaxies traveled almost 12 billion years to reach Earth.

The newly discovered galaxies are quite small – one-tenth the size and one-twentieth the mass of our Milky Way. They also have fewer stars – only one-fortieth as many as are in the Milky Way. From ground-based telescopes, they look like individual stars in size. Recent images made by the Hubble Space Telescope, however, reveal them as regions of active star formation.

The researchers determined that these galaxies were fertile breeding grounds for new stars, which burned hot and bright. These stars ionized the hydrogen atoms around them, stripping them of their electrons and causing them to emit a tell-tale sharp band of ultraviolet light known as Lyman alpha.

The researchers also noted that several of these galaxies, sometimes 10 or more, pulled together over the ensuing few billion years to form a single spiral galaxy.

The astronomers undertook four types of observations to find and characterize the objects they were seeking. They performed the first step – actually finding the Lyman alpha-emitting galaxies amid all the visible objects of deep space – using the Blanco four-meter telescope at the NSF Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile. To measure their distance, they used the Magellan Telescope at Las Campanas Observatory, also in Chile, to measure redshift – an effect that shows how fast an object is receding from view due to a rapidly expanding universe. (The redshift at which they studied these galaxies is 3.1.) To determine how many stars are in the galaxies, they used the NASA Spitzer Space Telescope’s Infrared Array Camera. And to determine how big the galaxies are, they used the NASA Hubble Space Telescope’s Advanced Camera for Surveys.

“Astronomy has long used a model where big surveys are followed by detailed studies of the interesting objects they find,” said Nigel Sharp, program officer in NSF’s Division of Astronomical Sciences. “This work nicely couples the large area, wide-field view of our ground-based telescope with the sharp focus of the Hubble, to probe to the faintest light levels. This team has come the closest yet to finding young galaxies that resemble our own Milky Way in its infancy.”

Eric Gawiser presented findings from teams led by him and Caryl Gronwall, senior research associate in Penn State’s Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics, at the American Astronomical Society (AAS) annual meeting January 7-11, 2008 in Austin, Texas.

To learn more, visit the Web site of the Rutgers Department of Physics and Astronomy:

Warnings of Rogue Black Holes

Our Milky Way galaxy may contain hundreds of black holes lurking and waiting waiting to gobble unsuspecting planets and stars that cross their paths. These "rogue" black holes would each weigh several thousand times the mass of the sun.

The warning comes from astronomer Kelly Holley-Bockelmann of Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, and her colleagues at Pennsylvania State University and the University of Michigan.

But while most black holes remain at the center of galaxies or inside globular clusters - collections of up to a million stars orbiting a galaxy - rogue black holes are "kicked" into space at velocities as high as 4,000 kilometers per second when more sedate black holes merge. Unless it is consuming a lot of matter and emitting X-rays and Gamma rays, astronomers say the only way to observe the approach of a rogue black hole would be to watch for gravitational lensing caused by the massive gravity well.

The team expects to publish their work in an upcoming issue of the Astrophysical Journal.

The US team acknowledges the existence of a third class of black holes is based on "observational hints" only. Also, the good news is that if rogue black holes really are lurking in the Milky Way galaxy, the team does not think they pose an immediate threat to planet Earth. In fact, the team thinks it extremely unlikely they would do any damage to Earth in the lifetime of the universe.

To learn more, visit the Web site of the Vanderbilt University Department of Physics and Astronomy:

First Detailed Map of Dark Matter in a Supercluster

For the first time astronomers are able to see indirect evidence of dark matter and how this invisible force impacts on the crowded and violent lives of galaxies. University of British Columbia researcher Catherine Heymans has produced the highest resolution map of dark matter ever captured before.

Scientists believe that dark matter is the invisible web that houses galaxies. And as the universe evolves, the gravitational pull of this unseen matter causes galaxies to collide and swirl into superclusters.

Heymans and the University of Nottingham’s Meghan Gray led an international team to test this theory that dark matter determines the location of galaxies.

Using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, Heymans and her team viewed an area of sky approximately the size of the full moon. They mapped the invisible dark matter scaffolding of the massive supercluster Abell 901/902 and the detailed structure of the individual galaxies embedded in it.

Abell 901/902 resides 2.6 billion light-years from Earth and measures more than 16 million light-years across.

According to the team, dark matter leaves a signature in distant galaxies. For example, a circular galaxy will become more distorted to resemble the shape of a banana if its light passes near a dense region of dark matter. By observing this effect, astronomers can then infer the presence of dark matter. Heymans constructed a dark matter map by measuring the distorted shapes of more than 60,000 faraway galaxies located behind the Abell 901/902 supercluster. To reach Earth, these galaxies’ light traveled through the dark matter that surrounds the Abell 901/902 supercluster of galaxies and was bent by its massive gravitational field.

The Hubble study pinpointed four main areas in the supercluster where dark matter has pooled into dense clumps, totaling 10 trillion times the Sun’s mass. These areas match the known location of hundreds of old galaxies that have experienced a violent history in their passage from the outskirts of the supercluster into these dense regions.

To learn more, visit the Web site of the Department of Physics & Astronomy at the University of British Columbia:

Opening up the Infrared Sky

The infrared sky is expanding significantly for the world astronomical community with the first world release of data (DR1) from the UKIRT Infrared Deep Sky Survey (UKIDSS).

UKIDSS DR1 has mapped a larger volume of the sky than any previous infrared survey. As the UKIDSS project progresses, it will gradually become the dominant source of information about the infrared sky, expanding its volume by a factor of 15 beyond DR1.

For the past two years, the United Kingdom Infrared Telescope (UKIRT) in Hawaii has been systematically scanning the heavens for five different "colors" of faint infrared light. This allows astronomers to penetrate dark clouds where stars are currently forming, and to locate stars much less massive and much cooler than the Sun. Furthermore, our own Galaxy (the Milky Way) is transparent to the infrared, making it possible to see all the way to its centre and beyond. And finally, the expansion of the Universe stretches visible light from the most distant (and youngest) galaxies and quasars into the infrared part of the spectrum, and by observing this infrared light we can trace the evolution of galaxies from their youngest members. The first world release of these data makes all this information available to researchers everywhere.

Andy Lawrence from the University of Edinburgh, the UKIDSS Principal Investigator, said "We are moving into new territory. This survey probes huge volumes of space, so that we can locate rare but important objects like the very coolest and least luminous stars and the most distant galaxies. Astronomers in Europe have started getting the science out, but this world release should really unleash the scientific potential of the dataset."

According to astronomers, the present release is just the beginning. WFCAM has recently taken its one millionth observation, and the UKIDSS survey is progressing strongly. UKIDSS will have surveyed a volume 15 times larger than the current release, DR1, by the time it is completed in 2012.

Results from this world-leading effort are released in two stages - first to the member nations of the European Southern Observatory (ESO), and 18 months later to the world astronomical community. The data now being released worldwide were obtained in the first, intensive and exciting, WFCAM observing periods on the UKIRT telescope, up to January 2006. There will be new data releases approximately every six months over the coming five years.

Astronomers from the ESO nations have been busily following up on the early UKIDSS data for the past year. The survey has proved itself a rich source of exotic objects, exactly as expected. Steve Warren, the UKIDSS Survey Scientist, highlights the discovery of the coolest known brown dwarf in the Galaxy - ULAS J0034 for short - which, at an absolute temperature only just over twice that of the Earth, is fully 100 degrees cooler than any other known brown dwarf. This is likely one of the closest astronomical objects outside the Solar System, and was discovered in the shallow UKIDSS Large Area Survey (LAS). UKIDSS is also expected to discover some of the most distant objects known, and it appears to be well on the way to this goal. DR1 includes early data from the Ultra-Deep Survey (UDS), which aims to study the evolution of galaxies when the Universe was a fraction of its current age. This project is extraordinarily ambitious, requiring the telescope to revisit the same square-degree area of sky on hundreds of nights. "A hundred thousand very distant galaxies are detected even in the earliest UDS data, and there is also a 'needle in a haystack' object - a quasar at a redshift just in excess of 6, meaning 12.7 billion light years from Earth," says co-discoverer Ross McLure. "The light we now see from this object is very, very old, having set off on its journey to the telescope only a billion years after the big bang."

The first world release also contains large amounts of data on the Milky Way, with millions of stars, young stars and other objects seen clearly through the thick veils of dust which block the Milky Way to visible light, as illustrated in the accompanying images. Phil Lucas, head of the Galactic Plane Survey (GPS), notes that "in terms of detected objects, the GPS dominates UKIDSS, with hundreds of millions of infrared stars in DR1 and many times that still to come. And with the science archive now hosting a large-scale image of the GPS so far, we're able to visualize the infrared Milky Way better than ever before."

These results are among the motivations for carrying out surveys of the infrared sky. Comprising five separate surveys, some of which are highlighted here, UKIDSS has now scoured a larger volume of the Universe than any previous sky survey, and only slightly less than the largest visible light surveys. When the observations are completed in 2012, UKIDSS will have probed some 70 times deeper on average than the previous largest survey.

"The UKIDSS survey program was expressly designed to capitalize on the unique technical capabilities of the UKIRT Wide-Field Camera" said Gary Davis, Director of the Joint Astronomy Centre in Hawaii, which operates the UKIRT. WFCAM was developed at the UK Astronomy Technology Centre in Edinburgh at a cost of £5M, and it is now the world's leading infrared panoramic camera. "It is rewarding to see the effort and dedication of a large team of scientists and engineers over many years coming to fruition. The release of DR1 presages the huge impact that UKIRT will make on world astronomy over the next several years by probing deeper into the infrared universe than ever before."

Images from the Wide Field Camera undergo processing at the Cambridge Astronomical Survey Unit (CASU), Cambridge, UK, and the science products are transferred to the WFCAM Science Archive operated by the Wide Field Astronomy Unit in the Institute for Astronomy at the University of Edinburgh. Astronomers from around the world will access the UKIDSS data from the Science Archive, which is bracing for the influx of new users.

A small preliminary release, of about 1/4 the size of DR1, has been scrutinized from all over the world since it was opened up in August 2007. Nigel Hambly, the scientist responsible for operation of the Science Archive, says that interest is likely to be intense. "Followup of objects discovered in this data release within the ESO nations has already revealed the power of the UKIDSS survey to turn up unique objects and we expect the world community will want to quickly make the most of the data now becoming available".

To earn more about the UKIRT Infrared Deep Sky Survey (UKIDSS), visit their Web site:


Mercury and MESSENGER, Part 2 of 2

The time has arrived, folks. On Monday, January 14, the planet Mercury will be visited in the first of three fly-bys of the spacecraft called MESSENGER (MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging). MESSENGER is the second robotic probe sent to Mercury from Earth, and in 2011 MESSENGER will become the first to orbit Mercury and study the planet closely for one full Earth year. To get the latest on the Mercury encounter, visit the MESSENGER mission home page ( For now, please enjoy the second half of our overview of the swift planet Mercury.

Surface and Interior

Mercury's surface appears to be much like that of the moon. It reflects approximately 6 percent of the sunlight it receives, about the same as the moon's surface reflects. Like the moon, Mercury is covered by a thin layer of minerals called silicates in the form of tiny particles. It also has broad, flat plains; steep cliffs; and many deep craters similar to those on the moon. The craters formed when meteors or small comets crashed into the planet. Mercury does not have enough atmosphere to slow down meteoroids and burn them up by friction. The Caloris Basin, Mercury's largest crater, measures about 800 miles (1,300 kilometers) across.
Mercury's interior appears to resemble that of the Earth. Both planets have a rocky layer called a mantle beneath their crust, and both planets have an iron core. Based on Mercury's size and mass, scientists believe the planet's core makes up about three-fourths of its radius. Earth's core makes up about half of its radius. The discovery of a magnetic field around Mercury led some scientists to think that the planet's outer core, like Earth's, is liquid iron.


Mercury is dry, extremely hot, and almost airless. The sun's rays are approximately seven times as strong on Mercury as they are on the Earth. The sun also appears about 2 1/2 times as large in Mercury's sky as in the Earth's.

Mercury does not have enough gases in its atmosphere to reduce the amount of heat and light it receives from the sun. The temperature on the planet may reach 840 degrees F (450 degrees C) during the day. But at night, the temperature may drop as low as -275 degrees F (-170 degrees C). Because of the lack of atmosphere, Mercury's sky is black. Stars probably would be visible from the surface during the day.
Scans of Mercury made by Earth-based radar indicate that craters at Mercury's poles contain water ice. The floors of the craters are permanently shielded from sunlight, so the temperature never gets high enough to melt the ice.
Mercury is surrounded by an extremely small amount of helium, hydrogen, oxygen, and sodium. This envelope of gases is so thin that the greatest possible atmospheric pressure (force exerted by the weight of gases) on Mercury would be about 0.00000000003 pound per square inch (0.000000000002 kilogram per square centimeter). The atmospheric pressure on the Earth is about 14.7 pounds per square inch (1.03 kilograms per square centimeter).
Earth plant and animal life could not survive on Mercury because of the lack of oxygen and the intense heat. Scientists doubt that the planet has any form of life.

Density and Mass

Mercury's density is slightly less than the Earth's. That is, if weighed on the same planet, a portion of Mercury would weigh slightly less than an equal portion of the Earth. Mercury is smaller than the Earth and therefore has much less mass. Mercury's smaller mass makes its force of gravity only about a third as strong as that of the Earth. An object that weighs 100 pounds on the Earth would weigh only about 38 pounds on Mercury.

Space Exploration

Until this year, the United States spacecraft Mariner 10 was the first and only spacecraft to reach Mercury. The remotely controlled spacecraft flew to within 460 miles (740 kilometers) of Mercury on March 29, 1974. It swept past the planet again on September 24, 1974, and on March 16, 1975. During those flights, the spacecraft photographed portions of the surface of Mercury. It also detected Mercury's magnetic field.

Mariner 10 became the first spacecraft to study two planets. The probe photographed and made scientific measurements of Venus while traveling to Mercury. As the probe flew near Venus, the planet's gravity pulled on the spacecraft, causing it to move faster. Thus, Mariner 10 reached Mercury in less time and by using less fuel than if it had flown directly from the Earth.

In 2004, the United States launched the MESSENGER probe to Mercury. Messenger is scheduled to fly by Mercury twice in 2008 and once in 2009 before going into orbit around the planet in 2011. The probe will then orbit Mercury for one Earth year while mapping Mercury's surface and studying its composition, interior structure, and magnetic field.


MESSENGER, the official site for the MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging mission. Retrieved January 2, 2008.

Zuber, Maria T. "Mercury." World Book Online Reference Center. 2004. World Book, Inc. Retrieved January 2, 2008.

Planets: Mercury. In NASA Solar System Exploration, Last updated November 5, 2007. Retrieved January 2, 2008, from the NASA Solar System Exploration website, maintained by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory:



Jan 14 - MESSENGER spacecraft, 1st Mercury Flyby

Jan 14 - Ulysses spacecraft, maximum north solar latitude (79.8 Degrees)

Jan 15 - Cassini spaceraft, distant flyby of Saturn moons Methone and Pandora

Jan 15, 2:46 P.M. EST (07:46 UTC) - First Quarter Moon

Jan 19, 3:40 A.M. EST (8:40 UTC) - The moon is at perigee, the point in the moon's orbit when it is closest to Earth 366,435 km

Jan 19 - The planet Mars is 1.1° south of the moon, occultation. An occultation occurs when one object passes in front of a smaller one, temporarily obscuring all or part of the background object from view.



Jan 13, 1980 - Discovery of EETA 79001 (Mars Meteorite)

Jan 13, 1986 - Discovery of Uranus moons Desdemona and Rosalind by Voyager mission scientist Stephen P. Synnott

Jan 14, 1905 - Discovery of Asteroid 555 Norma by German astronomer and astrophotography pioneer Max Wolf (1863 - 1932).

Jan 14, 2005 - Landing of Huygens Probe on Saturn's moon Titan

Jan 15, 1906 - Discovery of Asteroid 584 Semiramis by German astronomer, and discoverer of several comets and asteroids, August Kopff (1882 - 1960)

Jan 15, 1976 - Launch of Helios 2 (Solar Orbiter)

Jan 15, 2001 - Stardust spacecraft, Earth flyby

Jan 15, 2004 - Spirit Rover first drove onto the Martian Surface

Jan 17, 1887 - Birthday of U.S. meteorite collector, self-taught meteoriticist and educator, and founder of the American Meteorite Museum (1942 - 1960), Dr. Harvey Harlow Nininger (1887 - 1986). A portion of the collection was sold to the British Museum in 1958. The bulk of the collection is now part of Arizona State University as a branch of the ASU Museums.

Jan 19, 1747 - Birthday of German astronomer Johann Elert Bode (1747 - 1826), popularizer of the hypothesis known as the Titius-Bode law. The hypothesis was discredited with the discovery of Neptune in 1846.

Jan 19, 1840 - U.S. claimed discovery of Antarctica. On this day Lt. Charles Wilkes, American leader of the United States Exploring Expedition, sighted from sea an area of Antarctica now known as Wilkes Land.

Jan 19, 1965 - Launch of Gemini 2 (Unmanned Suborbital Flight)

Jan 19, 1980 - Discovery of Saturn moon Janus by Voyager 1

Jan 19, 2002 - Discovery of SAU 090 Meteorite (Mars Meteorite)

Jan 19, 2006 - Launch of New Horizons spacecraft (Pluto and Kuiper Belt Mission) aboard an Atlas V



The Welsh harpist Edward Jones (1752-1824), also known as Bardd y Brenin (The King's Bard), served as the harpist to British King George III from 1783 to 1787 and produced more than twenty musical publications during his life, including his popular “Musical and Poetical Relics of the Welsh Bards” first published in 1784. One of the tunes in this collection was an ancient Welsh harp melody collected by Edward and his brother William. This was the first written record of the tune, though it was probably much older. The tune was called "Ar Hyd y Nos," which translates to English as “the live­long night,” or more traditionally, "all through the night."

Some suggest that the first English lyrics to use the tune were written by the ‘Romantic’ poet Amelia Opie (1769-1853) and that it was sung to the English setting, "Here beneath a willow weepeth poor Mary Ann."

Welsh lyrics for this Welsh melody were finally written by John Ceiriog Hughes (1832 - 1887). Though Hughes worked in the railway system most of his life (as a clerk and then a station master), he was also a Welsh poet and collector of Welsh folk tunes, sometimes called the "Robert Burns of Wales." Hughes wrote under the penname Ceiriog (the name of the river in his home village). He also adapted old Welsh tunes to his own lyrics, which was the case with "Ar Hyd y Nos."


Ar Hyd Y Nos

Holl amrantau'r sêr ddywedant
Ar hyd y nos
'Dyma'r ffordd i fro gogoniant
Ar hyd y nos.
Golau arall yw tywyllwch
I arddangos gwir brydferthwch
Teulu'r nefoedd mewn tawelwch
Ar hyd y nos.

O mor siriol gwen a seren
Ar hyd y nos
I oleuo-i chwaer ddae ar en
Ar hyd y nos.
Nos yw henaint pan ddaw cystudd
Ond i harddu dyn a'i hwyr dydd
Rhown ein goleu gwan i'n gilydd
Ar hyd y nos.


(literal English translation)

All the stars' eyelids say,
All through the night,
"This is the way to the valley of glory,"
All through the night.
Any other light is darkness,
To exhibit true beauty,
The Heavenly family in peace,
All through the night.

Oh, how happily shines the star,
All through the night,
To light its earthly sister,
All through the night.
Old age is night when affliction comes,
But to beautify man in his twilight,
We'll put our weak light together
All through the night.


While many found it difficult to translate the Welsh lyrics and maintain their poetry, many around the world have tried. And to be sure, there are several English translations. An English translation was written in January of 1856 by a weaver and poet from Mid Glamorgan named Evan James (1809 - 1878), who wrote under the penname Ieuan ap Iago.

(James version)

Sleep my love, and peace attend thee
All through the night;
Guardian angels God will lend thee,
All through the night,
Soft the drowsy hours are creeping,
Hill and vale in slumber steeping,
I my loving vigil keeping,
All through the night.

Angels watching ever round thee,
All through the night,
In thy slumbers close surround thee,
All through the night,
They should of all fears disarm thee,
No forebodings should alarm thee,
They will let no peril harm thee,
All through the night.


In 1884, another version was written by business man, philanthropist, song writer, and baronet, Sir Harold Edwin Boulton (1859 - 1935). And it is Boulton's version that most people sing today.

(Boulton version)

Sleep my child and peace attend thee,All through the nightGuardian angels God will send thee,All through the nightSoft the drowsy hours are creepingHill and vale in slumber sleeping,I my loving vigil keepingAll through the night.While the moon her watch is keepingAll through the nightWhile the weary world is sleepingAll through the nightO'er they spirit gently stealingVisions of delight revealingBreathes a pure and holy feelingAll through the night.Love, to thee my thoughts are turningAll through the nightAll for thee my heart is yearning,All through the night.Though sad fate our lives may severParting will not last forever,There's a hope that leaves me never,All through the night.


More recently, an English translation written by J. Mark Sugars has been acknowledged by many as a poetic, yet faithful to the Welsh text.

(Sugars version)

Stars look down and tell their story,
All through the night.
"Here's the way to a land of glory,"
All through the night.
Other light seems merely darkness
When true beauty shines upon us,
Heaven's family tranquil o'er us,
All through the night.

See how smiles a star serenely
All through the night.
Beaming at the earth so keenly
All through the night.
"Night is old age, with grief coming,
But, adorning man and evening,
Pale light from us will be streaming
All through the night."


The beautiful melody has been embraced by many as the base for different hymn texts. Here are just two. The first was written by the British shipwright and Calvinist, John Kent (1766 - 1843).

'Tis the Church Triumphant Singing

'Tis the church triumphant singing
Worthy the Lamb!
Heav'n thro' out with praises ringing,
Worthy the Lamb!
Thrones and pow'rs before Him bending,
Odors sweet with voice ascending
Swell the chorus never ending,
Worthy the Lamb!

Ev'ry kindred, tongue and nation
Worthy the Lamb!
Join to sing the great salvation;
Worthy the Lamb!
Loud as mighty thunders roaring,
Floods of mighty waters pouring,
Prostate at His feet adoring,
Worthy the Lamb!

Harps and songs forever sounding
Worthy the Lamb!
Mighty grace o'er sin abounding;
Worthy the Lamb!
By His blood He dearly bought us;
Wand'ring from the fold He sought us;
And to glory safely brought us:
Worthy the Lamb!

Sing with blest anticipation,
Worthy the Lamb!
Thro' the vale of tribulation,
Worthy the Lamb!

Swetest notes, all notes excelling,
On the theme forever dwelling,
Still untold, tho' ever telling,
Worthy the Lamb!


The following hymn text was written by the British Methodist minister, the Reverend Fred Pratt Green (1903 - 2000).

For the Fruit of All Creation

For the fruit of all creation,
Thanks be to God.
For His gifts to ev'ry nation,
Thanks be to God.
For the plowing, sowing, reaping,
Silent growth while we are sleeping,
Future needs in earth's safekeeping,
Thanks be to God.

In the just reward of labor,
God's will is done.
In the help we give our neighbor,
God's will is done.
In our world-wide task of caring
For the hungry and despairing,
In the harvests we are sharing.
God's will is done.

For the harvest of the Spirit,
Thanks be to God.
For the good we all inherit,
Thanks be to God.
For the wonders that astound us,
For the truths that still confound us,
Most of all, that love has found us,
Thanks be to God.


To learn more about this song, and see and hear other hymn texts that use this melody, please visit these links:

All Through the Night (Ar Hyd Y Nos), Version 1
From the “Folk Songs of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales” section of Contemplations from the Marianas Trench

All Through the Night (Ar Hyd Y Nos), Version 2
From the “Folk Songs of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales” section of Contemplations from the Marianas Trench

All Through the Night, Welch lyrics and English translation
Taylor's Traditional Tunebook. Created by Barry Taylor.
Hosted by Contemplations from the Marianas Trench

God, That Madest Earth and Heaven
The Cyber Hymnal

Now to Heaven Our Prayer Ascending
The Cyber Hymnal

One is Kind Above All Others
The Cyber Hymnal

Through the Love of God Our Savior
The Cyber Hymnal


Sunday, January 06, 2008


Mars Puzzle May Be Solved

Planetary scientists have wondered for years about an apparent contradiction on Mars. Abundant evidence points to an early warm, wet climate on the red planet, but there's no sign of the widespread carbonate rocks, such as limestone, that should have formed in such a climate.

A new study by MIT's Maria T. Zuber and Itay Halevy and Daniel P. Schrag of Harvard University provides a possible answer to the mystery. In addition to being warmed by a greenhouse effect caused by carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, as on Earth, the early Mars may have had the greenhouse gas sulfur dioxide in its atmosphere. That would have interfered with the formation of carbonates, explaining their absence today.

It would also explain the discovery by the twin Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, of sulfur-rich minerals that apparently formed in bodies of water in that early Martian environment. And it may provide clues about the Earth's history as well.

The challenge was to interpret the planet's history, based on the data gathered by the Mars rovers--and especially Opportunity's discovery of sulfate minerals--from just tiny fractions of the surface, says Zuber, who is head of MIT's Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences and the E.A. Griswold Professor of Geophysics. "How do you take very detailed measurements of chemical composition at one tiny place on Mars," she says, "and put it into the context of the broad evolution of the planet?" The breakthrough, she said, was when she and her colleagues realized "we'd been after the wrong molecule."

After several years of exploring the role of carbon dioxide and the carbon cycle, she said, they realized "maybe the key is sulfur dioxide, not carbon dioxide."

It was Opportunity's discovery of the mineral jarosite, which only forms in highly acidic water, that set them thinking about how that acidic environment could have come about. Sulfur provided the answer.

The new analysis suggests that on Mars, sulfur went through a whole cycle through the atmosphere, bodies of water on the surface, and burial in the soil and crust, comparable to the well-known carbon cycle on Earth. Through most of Earth's history, carbon dioxide has been released in volcanic eruptions, and then absorbed into seawater, where it fosters the formation of calcium carbonate (limestone), which gets buried in ocean sediments.

Much evidence suggests Mars may once have had an ocean that covered about a third of the planet, in its northern hemisphere. Sulfur dioxide dissolves easily in water, so after being spewed into the atmosphere by the giant volcanoes of Mars' Tharsis bulge, much of it would have ended up in the water, where it inhibited the formation of carbonate minerals but led to the formation of silicates and sulfites, such as calcium sulfite.

These minerals degrade relatively rapidly, so they would not be expected on the surface of Mars today. But they also allow formation of clays, which have been found on Mars, and which added to the puzzle since clays are usually associated with the same conditions that produce carbonates.

The new picture of a sulfur cycle helps to solve another mystery, which is how early Mars could have been warm enough to sustain liquid water on its surface. A carbon dioxide atmosphere produces some greenhouse warming, but sulfur dioxide is a much more powerful greenhouse gas. Just 10 parts per million of sulfur dioxide in the mostly carbon dioxide air would double the amount of warming and make it easier for liquid water to be stable.

The analysis may also tell us something about our own planet's past. The early Earth's environment could well have been similar to that on Mars, but most traces of that era have been erased by Earth's very dynamic climate and tectonics. "This might have been a phase that Earth went through" in its early years, Zuber says. "It's fascinating to think about whether this process may have played a role" in the evolution of the early Earth.

The team's detailed analysis appeared in the December 21 issue of Science. To learn more about the latest discoveries on Mars, visit the Mars Exploration Rover Mission home page:

The Search for ET Just Got Kicked Up

The longest-running search for extra terrestrial radio signals is getting a burst of new data from an upgraded telescope. The result is dramatically improved search capabilities, but the full benefits will be realized only with public participation. Astronomers are calling for new volunteers for SETI@home, a project in which ordinary citizens donate unused time on their computers to let the machines help comb through the search data.

“The next generation SETI@home is 500 times more powerful than anything anyone has done before,” said project chief scientist Dan Werthimer. “That means we are 500 times more likely to find” alien life—if enough new volunteers join. Even if not, the upgrades still promise an improvement of at least about 100-fold, he said.

Since it launched eight years ago, the University of California, Berkeley-based SETI@home has signed up more than 5 million interested volunteers, according to project scientists. It boasts the largest community of dedicated users of any Internet computing project, they said: 170,000 devotees on 320,000 computers. This number of computers should rise by an additional million to handle the expanded data flow, Werthimer said.

The increased amount of data is a result of new and more sensitive receivers and other improvements to the world’s largest radio telescope in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, said project leaders. The software used for the job, they added, has been upgraded to deal with the surge of information.

According to project scientist Eric Korpela, the new data amounts to 300 gigabytes per day; on a yearly basis that adds up to the amount of data stored in the U.S. Library of Congress. “That’s why we need all the volunteers,” he said. “Everyone has a chance to be part of the largest public-participation science project in history.”

The 1,000-foot wide Arecibo dish, which fills a valley in Puerto Rico, is part of the National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center operated by Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. Since 1992, Werthimer and his team have used radio observations at Arecibo to record signals from space and analyze them for patterns that could indicate they were transmitted by a civilization.

When the team’s incoming data overwhelmed its ability to analyze it, the scientists conceived a “distributed computing” project to harness many computers into one big supercomputer to do the analysis. Since SETI@home was launched, other distributed computing projects have arisen, from folding@home to predict the structures of organic molecules, to the newly-launched cosmology@home to model possible universes. Most share the SETI@home platform.

“Until now, there has been enough computing power to go around,” Werthimer said. What largely triggered the new flow of data was the addition of seven new receivers at Arecibo, which let the telescope record signals from seven regions of the sky simultaneously instead of one, he added.

“The multiple receivers help us weed out interference better” and reduce the chance of mistaking earthly signals from alien ones, he said. No telltale signals from an intelligent civilization have yet been identified.

“Earthlings are just getting started looking at the frequencies in the sky; we’re looking only at the cosmically brightest sources, hoping we are scanning the right radio channels,” Werthimer said. “The good news is, we’re entering an era when we will be able to scan billions of channels. Arecibo is now optimized for this kind of search, so if there are signals out there, we or our volunteers will find them.”

SETI stands for Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. To learn more, check out the home page of SETI@home at the University of California at Berkeley:

Mars Impact Possibility Goes Up, Then Down

Two weeks back, we reported on the possibility of an asteroid impact with the planet Mars on January 30. The body is designated asteroid 2007 WD5, discovered on November 20, 2007 by the NASA-funded Catalina Sky Survey using a 1.5-meter telescope on Mt. Lemmon, near Tucson. At the time of that reporting, with a limited number of observations, astronomer estimated a 1.3%, or 1-in-75, chance of the impact.

About a week later, astronomers reported that additional observations had caused the estimate to increase to 3.9%, or a 1-in-25, chance of the impact.

Further observations through January 2 have reduced by a factor of 3 the range of possible paths of the asteroid past Mars. The most likely path has moved a little farther away from the planet, causing the Mars impact probability to decrease slightly to 3.6% (about a 1-in-28 chance). The latest observations were made using the 2.4 meter telescope at New Mexico Tech's Magdalena Ridge Observatory and reported by astronomer Bill Ryan. Astronomers suggest that as additional observations further shrink the uncertainty region of this asteroid, the region will no longer intersect Mars and the impact probability will quickly drop to zero.

To learn more, visit the home page of the NASA/JPL Near-Earth Object Program:

Youngest Exoplanet Yet Discovered

The time required for planetary formation has long been a matter of debate. The currently popular theory says that planets are created several million years after star formation, from the star's leftover disc of gas and dusty debris. Now, astronomers observing a young star 180 light years from Earth have found evidence that stellar birth can lead to the formation of a planet within a few millions of years, just a blink on the cosmic timescale.

Astronomers estimate that it has a mass 3,115 times that of Earth and 9.8 times that of Jupiter.

Previously the youngest planet to have been identified was an estimated 100 million years old. In contrast, Earth is estimated to be 4.5 billion years old.

The new planet orbits an infant star, called TW Hydrae (TW Hya), which is thought to have formed between eight and ten million years ago.

The planet would have formed shortly after the birth of the star and it is possible that other planets are forming within the disc. The star is 180 million light years from Earth.

The new planet orbits 3.7 million miles from its parent star – compared with the 93 million miles between Earth and the sun – and takes only 3.56 days to complete an orbit around TW Hya.

The discovery of the planet is expected to provide insights into the mechanisms.

The researchers demonstrated that the new planet, TW Hya b, formed within the first ten million years of the star system’s formation, before stellar winds and radiation could dissipate the clouds.

The process of formation of the TW Hya system is continuing and is thought to be nearly complete. There is a gap of 5.6 million miles between the star and the inside edge of the disc of clouds surrounding it.

The planet lies between the disc and the star and it was the absence of gas or dust in the gap where it orbits that helped to alert astronomers. Vast discs of dust and gas are thought to form stars and planets because microscopic specks of matter bump into each other to create lumps that eventually become big enough to form cores.

Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, in Germany, reported their discovery in the January 3 issue of the British journal Nature. They said: “There is a general consensus that planets form within discs of dust and gas around newly born stars. Details of their formation process, however, are a matter of debate. The timescale of planet formation remains unclear, so the detection of planets around young stars with protoplanetary discs is potentially of great interest. Hitherto, no such planet has been found.”

An alternative theory is that gravitational anomalies within the disc of dust and gas cause giant planets to form.

Exoplanets were first discovered in 1995. To date, 270 of have been spotted, according to the Extrasolar Planets Encyclopaedia. Virtually all of the discoveries have been made indirectly, mainly by a "wobble" in light, seen from Earth, when the planet swings around its star.

To learn more about extrasolar planets, visit the Extrasolar Planets Encyclopaedia:

Learning From Grains of Comet Dust

Four years ago, NASA's Stardust spacecraft chased down a Comet Wild-2 (pronounced “Vilt-two”) and collected grains of dust blowing off its nucleus. When the Stardust spacecraft returned, comet dust was shipped to scientists all over the world, including University of Minnesota physics professor Bob Pepin. After testing helium and neon trapped in the dust specks, Pepin and his colleagues report that while the comet formed in the icy fringes of the solar system, the dust appears to have been born close to the infant sun and bombarded by intense radiation from these and other gases before being flung out beyond Neptune and trapped in the comet.

The finding opens the question of what was going on in the early life of the solar system to subject the dust grains to such intense radiation and then hurl them hundreds of millions of miles from their birthplace.

The studies of cometary dust are part of a larger effort to trace the history of our celestial neighborhood.

"We want to establish what the solar system looked like in the very early stages," said Pepin. "If we establish the starting conditions, we can tell what happened in between then and now." One early event was the birth of Earth's moon, about 50 million years after the solar system formed.
Also, the gases he studies have relevance even closer to home. "Because some scientists have proposed that comets have contributed these gases to the atmospheres of Earth, Venus and Mars, learning about them in comets would be fascinating," he said.

Comet Wild-2 is thought to have originated in the Kuiper Belt, a comet-rich region stretching from just inside the orbit of Neptune to well beyond Pluto. As it grew in this roughly -360 F region, it incorporated grains of dust and ambient gas.

The comet received a visit from the Stardust spacecraft in early January 2004, two years after its launch. Veering as close as 149 miles to the comet nucleus, Stardust used a spongy, ultralight glass-fiber material called aerogel to trap the dust. At the moment of encounter, the spacecraft exposed a sheet of aerogel -- supported by a framework -- to the stream of particles blowing off the nucleus.

"It looked like a tennis racket," said Pepin. "It was exposed for approximately 20 minutes."
The aerogel trapped aggregates of fine particles that hit at 13,000 miles per hour and split on impact. The collisions left drumstick-shaped trails pointing inward from the surface of the aerogel.

After the collection, the spacecraft headed home and parachuted its payload safely back to Earth in January 2006. A few months later, Pepin received three sub-samples of particles and colleagues at Nancy University, France, received two others, all from the same particle "hit."

Their task was to analyze gases locked in tiny dust grains about a quarter of a billionth of a gram in weight. As a first step, the researchers heated the grains to about 1,400 degrees C., liberating gases imprisoned for eons.

"The particles probably came from the first million years or even less, of the solar system's existence," Pepin said. That would be close to 4.6 billion years ago. If our middle-aged sun were 50 years old, then the particles were born in the first four days of its life.

The research appears in the Jan. 4 issue of the journal Science. To learn more about the Stardust mission, visit the mission home page:

No One Expected a Vatican Eviction

Pope Benedict XVI has instructed the Vatican's Jesuit astronomers to remove themselves and their instruments from the papal summer palace, Castel Gandolfo, and relocate to an unused convent. The change was apparently necessary in order to provide more space for visiting diplomats.

Many observers view the change as a negative move in the Church's relationship with science, which dates back to the time of Galileo and earlier. Some accuse Benedict of trying to turn the clock back on his predecessor's embrace of science.

Others suggest the observatory’s main problem is that it’s largely run by Jesuits, one of the groups having a stormy relationship with the Holy See. After their use as the Pope's shock troops during the counter-reformation, the order was suppressed in the 18th century, before being restored in the 19th century. Nevertheless, some apparently feel that the Jesuits are too clever and have a tendency toward liberal thinking.

In spite of the controversy over the move, the observatory's director, Father Jose Funes, insists "It is not a downgrading of science in the Vatican."

Earlier this year, Benedict welcomed attendees to the observatory’s summer school with the message: "The Vatican Observatory has sought to demonstrate the Church's desire to embrace, encourage, and promote scientific study, on the basis of her conviction that 'faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth'."

To learn more about the Vatican Observatory, visit their Website, hosted by Steward Observatory at the University of Arizona, Tucson:

Solar Cycle 24 Has Begun

Solar physicists have been waiting for the appearance of a reversed-polarity sunspot to signal the start of the next solar cycle, and the wait is finally over. On January 4, a magnetically reversed sunspot emerged at solar latitude 30 degrees N.

Many forecasters think Solar Cycle 24 will be big and intense. Starting slow and peaking in 2011 or 2012, the cycle to come could have significant impacts on telecommunications, air traffic, power grids and GPS systems, as well as creating some spectacular auroras.

For more on the sun, check out these links:

The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO):


Mercury and MESSENGER, Part 1 of 2

On January 14, the planet Mercury will be visited by the second robotic probe from Earth. The mission is called MESSENGER, meaning MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging. While the first visitor, Mariner 10, only made three passes (or fly-bys), MESSENGER will gradually settle into orbit around Mercury in 2011 and study the planet closely for one full Earth year. Prior to this, MESSENGER will perform three flybys of Mercury. The first will be January 14, the second October 6 and the third September 29, 2009. With first flyby coming up, here is a two-part overview of the swift planet Mercury.


Mercury is the planet in our solar system nearest the sun. It has a diameter of 3,032 miles (4,879 kilometers), about two-fifths that of Earth. Mercury orbits the sun at an average distance of about 36 million miles (58 million kilometers), compared with about 93 million miles (150 million kilometers) for Earth.

Because of its size and nearness to the sun, Mercury is often hard to see from the Earth without a telescope. At certain times of the year, Mercury can be seen low in the western sky just after sunset. At other times, it can be seen low in the eastern sky just before sunrise.

Orbit and Distance

Mercury travels around the sun in an elliptical (oval-shaped) orbit. The planet is about 28,580,000 miles (46,000,000 kilometers) from the sun at its closest point, and about 43,380,000 miles (69,820,000 kilometers) from the sun at its farthest point. Mercury is about 48,000,000 miles (77,300,000 kilometers) from Earth at its closest approach.

Mercury moves around the sun faster than any other planet. The ancient Romans named it Mercury in honor of the swift messenger of their gods. Mercury travels about 30 miles (48 kilometers) per second, and goes around the sun once every 88 Earth days, or about 4.1 times in one Earth year.


Until the mid-1960's, astronomers thought that Mercury rotated on its axis once every 88 Earth days, the same time the planet takes to go around the sun. This implied that one side of Mercury always faced the sun, and the other side was always dark. However, radar studies conducted in 1965 showed that the planet actually rotates once in 58.65 Earth days -- a rotation slower than any other solar system planet except Venus. This is a siderial day, or the time required for all of the stars in the Mercurian sky to move around exactly once.

In contrast, the planet's slow rotation and rapid orbit causes Mercury's solar day, or the interval between one sunrise and the next, to lasts 176 Earth days.


When viewed over time through an optical telescope, Mercury appears to change in shape and size. The changes in shape are called phases, and resemble those of the moon. They result from different parts of Mercury's sunlit side being visible from the Earth at different times. The changes in size correspond to Mercury's varying distance from Earth as Mercury and the Earth travel around the sun. Mercury can be seen on the far side of the sun about every 116 days. At this point, almost all its sunlit area is visible from the Earth. It looks like a bright, round spot (or gibbous) with almost no visible marks. As Mercury moves behind the sun and then toward the Earth, less and less of its sunlit area can be seen (or Mercury wains). After about 36 days, only half its surface is visible. After another 22 days, it nears the same side of the sun as the Earth, and only a thin sunlit area (or crescent) is visible. The amount of sunlit area that can be seen increases gradually (or waxes) after Mercury passes in front of the sun and begins moving away from the Earth.


When Mercury is on the same side of the sun as the Earth is, its dark side faces the Earth. The planet is usually not visible at this point because Mercury and the Earth orbit the sun at different angles. As a result, Mercury does not always pass directly between the Earth and the sun. Sometimes Mercury is directly between the Earth and the sun. When this occurs, every 3 to 13 years, the planet is in transit and can be seen as a black spot against the sun.

Next time: Mercury and MESSENGER, Part 2 of 2


MESSENGER, the official site for the MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging mission. Retrieved January 2, 2008.

Zuber, Maria T. "Mercury." World Book Online Reference Center. 2004. World Book, Inc. Retrieved January 2, 2008.

Planets: Mercury. In NASA Solar System Exploration, Last updated November 5, 2007. Retrieved January 2, 2008, from the NASA Solar System Exploration website, maintained by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory:



Jan 5 - The planet Venus is 7° north of the moon

Jan 5 - The star Antares is 0.5° north of the moon, occultation. An occultation occurs when one object passes in front of a smaller one, temporarily obscuring all or part of the background object from view.

Jan 6 - The planet Venus is 6° north of the star Antares

Jan 8, 6:37 A.M. (11:37 UTC) - New Moon

Jan 10 - The planet Neptune is 0.4° north of the moon, occultation. An occultation occurs when one object passes in front of a smaller one, temporarily obscuring all or part of the background object from view.

Jan 12 - The planet Uranus is 3° south of the moon

Jan 14 - MESSENGER performs first Mercury Flyby

Jan 14 - Ulysses reaches maximum north solar latitude (79.8 Degrees)



Jan 6, 1998 - Launch of Lunar Prospector (Moon Orbiter), 10th anniversary

Jan 6, 1968 - Launch of Surveyor 7 (US Moon Lander), 40th anniversary

Jan 6, 1985 - La Criolla Meteorite Fall (Hit House), with type L6 Chondrite meteorites, in La Criolla, Argentina. The strewnfield was 10 km long.

Jan 7, 1610 - Discovery of Jupiter moons Io, Europa and Callisto by Italian astronomer, physicist and mathematician Galileo Galilei (1564 - 1642)

Jan 7, 1985 - Launch of Sakigake (Japan Comet Halley Mission)

Jan 8, 1587 - Birthday of Dutch astronomer Johannes Fabricius (1587 - ca. 1615). Fabricius may have been the first observer of sunspots (1610/1611) and he was the first to publish sunspot observations.

Jan 8, 1868 - 140th Birthday of British astronomer Sir Frank Watson Dyson FRS (1868 - 1939). Dyson is remembered mainly for introducing time signals ("pips") from Greenwich, England, and for organizing expeditions to the 1919 solar eclipse, where Einstein's theory of general relativity was tested (the theory of the effect of gravity on light).

Jan 8, 1905 - Discovery of Asteroid 554 Peraga & Asteroid 556 Phyllis by astronomer Paul Götz

Jan 8, 1942 - Birthday of Stephen Hawking

Jan 8, 1973 - Launch of Luna 21 (USSR Moon Lander/Rover) 35th anniversary

Jan 9, 1986 - Discovery of Uranus moon Cressida by Voyager mission scientist Stephen P. Synnott

Jan 9, 1990 - Launch of STS-32 Columbia with the LDEF satellite

Jan 10, 1936 - Birthday of U.S. astronomer Robert Woodrow Wilson

Jan 10, 1969 - Launch of Venera 6 (Soviet Venus Lander)

Jan 11, 1610 - Discovery of Jupiter moon Ganymede by Italian astronomer, physicist and mathematician Galileo Galilei (1564 - 1642)

Jan 11, 1787 - Discovery of Uranus moons Titania and Oberon by German-British astronomer William Herschell (1738 – 1822)

Jan 12, 1820 - Birthday of the Royal Astronomical Society

Jan 12, 1907 - Birthday of Ukranian-born rocket designer and engineer Sergel Pavlovich Korolev (1907 – 1966), mastermind of the Soviet Union’s early success in the international space race.



John Henry Hopkins, Jr. (1820 - 1891) was the oldest of several children by John Henry Hopkins, a bishop in the Protestant Episcopal Church. Following his graduation from the General Theological Seminary, New York City, in 1850, Hopkins was ordained a deacon in the Protestant Episcopal Church. Later, in 1872, Hopkins was ordained a priest and eventually lead congregations in New York and Pennsylvania.

Hopkins wrote extensively on the church and on church music. In 1853, he founded the "Church Journal" and was its editor and proprietor until 1868.

In 1857, Hopkins assisted in the production of the General Theological Seminary's Christmas pageant by writing a song for the appearance of the magi, or wise men. The Bible tells us very little about the magi, but scholars of today suggest that they were likely part of a caste of Zoroastrian priests and sages from ancient Persia.

In his song, Hopkins described the magi based upon common inferences made by others of his day. They did not know their social station of the magi, but the great value of the gifts suggested that the magi were persons of great wealth and authority and possibly kings. Also, they did not know the number of magi, but tradition suggested there was one to bear each gift, and so there were three. Hopkins did not describe the magi as being from Persia, but rather used a common term of the day, stating they were from the Orient. This general term described the areas of the Middle East, Egypt and Arabian influenced North Africa.

Through the verses of the song, Hopkins presented the magi and explained the significance of their gifts to the Christ child. The result was a wonderful musical story on the birth, life, death, resurrection, and lordship of Jesus Christ. Though the song was first performed as part of the 1857 Christmas pageant, Hopkins did not publish it until 1863 in his collection, “Carols, Hymns and Song." The song is called "The Quest of the Magi," but it is more popularly known by its first line of text, "We Three Kings of Orient Are."

In addition to being sung at Christmas, it is also sung by many a Epiphany, 12 days after Christmas (December 12), when many recognize the arrival of the magi at the home of the young child Jesus.

We Three Kings of Orient Are

We three kings of Orient are;
Bearing gifts we traverse afar,
Field and fountain, moor and mountain,
Following yonder star.


O star of wonder, star of light,
Star with royal beauty bright,
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Guide us to thy perfect light.

Born a King on Bethlehem’s plain
Gold I bring to crown Him again,
King forever, ceasing never,
Over us all to reign.


Frankincense to offer have I;
Incense owns a Deity nigh;
Prayer and praising, voices raising,
Worshipping God on high.


Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume
Breathes a life of gathering gloom;
Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying,
Sealed in the stone cold tomb.


Glorious now behold Him arise;
King and God and sacrifice;
Alleluia, Alleluia,
Sounds through the earth and skies.


We Three Kings - The Cyber Hymnal
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We Three Kings of Orient Are – Christmas Carols
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Biography and hymns of John Henry Hopkins, Jr., 1820-1891, (Retrieved January 1, 2008) -

John Henry Hopkins > Hall of North and South Americans > Museum of History
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We Three Kings of Orient Are - An Online Christmas Songbook
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