October 31, 2008 at 11:10 am | Leave a Comment
Do It Right
So, the folks planning the final servicing mission to Hubble Space Telescope have announced that they will have to push back that mission because spare flight unit for the data handling system won’t be ready in time for the suggested February mission. Clearly they have to bring the unit up to date (modernize it) and that will take some time and testing to do. It cheers me somewhat to know that they won’t rush the spare to space, and I just hope that the Side B fix will hold until they can get up there to refit the telescope for its final few years of service.
Hubble’s a pretty complex set of machinery. It’s worth it to take the time to make sure things are right. After all, once the astronauts leave it behind after the mission, it’ll have to last a good number of years until JWST is up and running.
The good news for now is that the systems are up and running, instruments are being recalibrated after the Side B switchover, and science data is flowing.
Hubble is a machine close to my heart. I (along with Jack Brandt of the University of New Mexico), wrote Hubble Vision: Astronomy with the Hubble Space Telescope first published in 1995. Things moved along pretty quickly with the telescope, so in 1998 we wrote a second edition, called Hubble Vision: Further Adventures with the Hubble Space Telescope. In addition, I’ve written a couple of planetarium shows about the telescope — the second one is now a fulldome video called Hubble Vision. I’ll probably write a third documentary sometime soon to bring HST fans up todate in fulldome form.
All this was stimulated by my experiences in graduate school working as a small part of one of the instrument teams. I knew the telescope was turning out science, even after the spherical aberration was discovered. I wanted to tell its story and so Jack and I set out to do that in our books. The shows have been popular and I can see myself doing another one someday. There’s just something fascinating about the telescope and the visions of the universe it has given us.
By the way, if you’re a U.S. citizen reading this, please remember to vote on Tuesday. If you can take advantage of early voting, please do. It’s your right to vote, no matter WHO you favor. Please vote.
October 30, 2008 at 11:54 am | 2 Comments
And Sending Great Images Again!
To celebrate a triumphant comeback from the jaws of Side-A madness, Hubble Space Telescope folk pointed the observatory at a pair of interacting galaxies called Arp 147 that just sort of happen to form what looks like the number “10″ (if you stretch your imagination a little. This WFPC2 image shows that everything’s in working order and HST’s back to doing science. Let’s hope it stays working well until the servicing mission can get there to do HST’s long-awaited cosmic makeover.
So, what’s happening in this picture?
The left-most galaxy, or the “one” in this image, is relatively undisturbed apart from a smooth ring of starlight. It appears nearly on edge to our line of sight. The galaxy on the right is the “zero” in this 10. It’s a clumpy, blue ring crammed full of regions where intense star formation is taking place.
The blue ring was most probably formed after the galaxy on the left passed through the galaxy on the right. Just as a pebble thrown into a pond creates an outwardly moving circular wave, the collision and “punch through” of one galaxy through another sent a density wave out from the point of impact. It collided with material in the target galaxy that was moving inward due to the gravitational pull of the two galaxies. The result? More shocks and clumps of dense gas were produced. This spurred the star formation we see in the galaxy on the right. The dusty reddish knot at the lower left of the blue ring probably marks the location of the original nucleus of the galaxy that was hit.
October 29, 2008 at 19:02 pm | Leave a Comment
007 Fans Ready?
The latest in the James Bond series of movies takes a turn toward the astronomical in its choice of locations — the Residencia for astronomers and staff at European Southern Observatory and its Paranal site in the Atacama Desert of Chile. I wrote about this on March 25, 2008, when ESO first mentioned that the moviemakers had spent time doing location shooting for Quantum of Solace at the observatory.
I’ve never been to Paranal, but from my experience at other high desert locations, I would imagine that this was quite an undertaking to shoot at high altitude (Paranal is at 2600 meters — about 8,500 feet) at a working observatory, where work doesn’t stop when the clapper board descends. In addition, the environment around Paranal is quite delicate, and the film crews had to be careful for both themselves and the ecosystem.
The movie opens in theaters in the UK on Hallowe’en and the following week around the world. There’s a podcast at the observatory’s website as well as more information about the shooting and how the Paranal site came to be chosen by the filmmakers. While you’re there, you can explore some of the cosmic wonders that are being observed at Paranal, too!
October 29, 2008 at 8:30 am | Leave a Comment
Brilliant Massive Stars
The image below is just breathtaking. I found it at the Astronomy Picture of the Day site and just gaped at it for a few moments. Pictures like this are what draws us all to astronomy — if for nothing else than the sheer loveliness of such distant, alien visions. This was actually released a couple of years ago as a part of a story about looking for what we thought might have been the heaviest (most massive) star in the Milky Way Galaxy. When astronomers first studied this region, they speculated that there was a single star here that could be as much as 200 solar masses, which would make it the most massive known.
It turns out that what they thought was a single massive star was, in fact, three stars with about 100 solar masses divided between them. If you’re interested, they’re the central bright stars above the cloud in this image. Even three stars having a hundred solar masses is … well… massive. These stars will become insanely bright and stupendous supernovae when they die. And, below them is a huge stellar nursery, cranking out more hot, young stars for future astronomers to study!
October 28, 2008 at 11:55 am | 2 Comments
It’s Hard Up Here for a Blimp
Okay, so Wired beat me to it, but you gotta admit, it’s a great title. And, the story behind it is one that I’ve known about since last year when one of the two principals told me about it at a meeting. The “blimp” in question is actually a zeppelin (essentially a blimp with rigid airframe) — and the first to touch down on American soil in more than 70 years. It doesn’t have a name yet, but it belongs to a company called Airship Ventures, founded by a couple named Brian and Alexandra Hall.
Alex is an old friend and colleague who we got to know from her work with a couple of different science center fulldome theaters in England and the U.S. I ran into her at an Association of Science-Technology Centers meeting in Los Angeles a year ago and she regaled me over lunch with the tales of hers and Brian’s latest adventure.
I have to admit, I’ve wondered how this venture would go, considering that zeppelins haven’t been used much for human transport in an age of jet aircraft. Still, we’re all used to seeing the Goodyear Blimps (which are different in design but follow the same principles as zeppelins) in the skies over games. So the idea of gliding along in an airship that lets designers take advantage of the way gases can be compressed (remember the gas laws!) into bags (cells) that can be attached to rigid skeletons and used to loft people into silent flight isn’t a new one. I hope it goes well for Airship Ventures — and maybe sometime I’ll be able to save up and take a ride with Alex and Brian!
Older entries »
This blog a wholly pwnd subsidiary of Carolyn Collins Petersen, a.k.a. TheSpacewriter.
Copyright 2013, Carolyn Collins Petersen
Image of Horsehead Nebula: T.A.Rector (NOAO/AURA/NSF) and Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA/NASA)
“It is by Coffee alone I set my day in motion. It is by the juice of bean that coffee acquires depth, the tongue acquires taste, the taste awakens the body. It is by Coffee alone I set my day in motion.”