While I’ve been recuperating from surgery, I’ve been doing a lot of reading. The most recent book I picked up is called A Gentle Rain of Starlight. It’s written by Michael West, who is currently head of science operations at the Gemini Observatory telescope at Cerro Pachón in Chile, and is about the history of astronomy on Mauna Kea in Hawai’i. It’s a nice, relaxing read, not too technical and beautifully illustrated with some breaktaking pictures of the island and the summit where so much astronomy is being done. Back in 1996 I did an observing run on Mauna Kea, and I’ve always fondly remembered how beautiful it is up there above the clouds of an island paradise. I can’t wait to go back sometime!
I’ve also been catching up on my magazine reading, ranging from Analog to The New Yorker. Enforced “down time” is not a bad thing.
On the astronomy news front, there’s a lot been happening. Another spacecraft, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is getting ready to start its full mapping and imaging mission now that it has achieved its final orbit around the Red Planet. On Friday it will send its first low-altitude images of Mars back to Earth for analysis and public display. Here’s a preview image taken by the orbiter’s Mars Color Imager (MARCI) camera. To read more about it, go here.
Another spacecraft I’ve been watching on its journey is the New Horizons mission to Pluto. It won’t arrive at its final destination until 2015, but along the way the spacecraft has been testing out some of its instruments and cameras. On September 26 it sent back a nice image of Jupiter from a distance of 219 million kilometers (181 million miles, for those of you using the English system of measurements).
The image (below) also shows the shadows of the Jovian moons Europa and Io.
In a very cool coincidence, the Japanese Aerospace Agency has launched the Solar-B “Hinode” spacecraft to study the Sun using instruments sensitive to optical, extreme ultraviolet, and x-ray light. The team running the mission, which includes scientists and instruments from Japan, the U.S. and the United Kingdom, is hoping to study the mechanisms that give rise to all kinds of solar magnetic changes that drive space weather. The coincidence? A stream of strongly charged particles is flowing away from a coronal hole in the Sun’s atmosphere, and is headed toward Earth. Hopefully the Solar-B spacecraft will be able to measure the solar wind stream. Here on Earth, there’s a possibility for auroral displays (according to Spaceweather.com.)
And so, astronomy marches onward.
Finally, those of you who know me from my work with Loch Ness Productions should make a note that our website address is changing. Intead of www.lochness.com, we will now be www.lochnessproductions.com—a slightly longer name, but more accurate for us. The shorter name will go to a research group in Scotland at the end of the year (by mutual agreement).
There’s more information on our site about the change, and we’re mailing out a heads-up message to folks we commonly exchange email with to let them know that this also affects our email addresses (simply replace the “lochness.com” in the email address to “lochnessproductions.com”. If you’re a Loch Ness Productions customer (past, current, or future), please make this change in your address book and pass it along to anybody else you know of.
Contacting me through this blog, however, stays the same, at: cc.petersen at gmaildotcom. (Replace the “dot” with a period and the ” at ” with the @ to get my accurate address.