All posts for the month May, 2010

Number 156!

Welcome to this week’s  Carnival of Space! We’ve got an amazing array of astronomy- and space-science-related postings, so let’s step into the Cosmic Big Top!


First out of the gate is a fascinating podcast from Cheap Astronomy called “Live in Andalucia”. It’s part of Steve’s tour of Spain and all things astronomical. Did you know that the first universal astrolabe was created by an Islamic astronomer named al-Zarquli in the town of Al-Andalus?  This is just one of many interesting facts in this wonderful podcast.

What's a rainbow got to do with cosmology?

The folks at Armagh Planetarium (where I visited in the 1980s) sent along an interesting and cosmic take on how rainbows are formed. If you thought it was just sunlight and rain, think again!  That lovely rainbow (with or without the pot of gold) has a truly cosmic origin.

Of course the Sun is involved in rainbows, but it’s also an eater of comets. That’s the story you can read about in Ian O’Neill’s fascinating examination of a comet that got too close to the Sun called “Solar Observatory Predicts Comet Extermination”. It’s the tale of a daring comet and the STEREO spacecraft images and data that are giving comet scientists a peek at what turned out to be a slightly unusual comet — one that contained more than its share of heavier elements than the usual ice, dust, and rock that comets are known for.

What if our Sun were ejected from the galaxy, taking its planets along with it?  That’s the question being mulled on over at Centauri Dreams in this week’s entry called The Milky Way from Outside. It’s a cool way of looking at our galaxy and the way that stars are expelled from other galaxies at high speed.

Starbirth and stardeath are two popular topics in astronomy.  The places where stars are born, called starbirth nebulae (among other things) unleash batches of new stars as well as other objects we commonly refer to as brown dwarfs.  Brian Wang at Next Big Future has a look at the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) that is peering at brown dwarfs in the solar neighborhood.

Over at StarryCritters, John Williams gives us a look at the Eight-Burst Nebula, the leftovers of the death of a Sun-like star — a planetary nebula –  imaged in great detail by the Hubble Space Telescope. John’s specialty is giving his readers a chance to zoom in on objects and study them in greater detail. This entry is part of John’s series on numbers in Hubble images. Check it out!

Planetary nebulae are what’s left when stars about the mass of our Sun enter old age and ultimately give up their atmospheres. What’s left after all the huffing and puffing is a white dwarf, the burned out core of the former star.  These ancient stars are fascinating for a number of reasons.  In “Eclipsing White Dwarves”,  Steinn Sigurosson at Dynamics of Cats (one of my favorite blog names!) talks about the helium white dwarf NLTT 11748 and its eclipsing binary companion. It would appear that there’s some self-microlensing going on in this system. Click right up and read all about it!

A feeble black hole at M31's heart? Courtesy Chandra X-Ray Observatory.

Speaking of “end times”, many galaxies harbor supermassive black holes at their hearts. These black holes gobble up material, forever taking it out of cosmic circulation.  Some of these central core black holes are active and noisy. But, there are others that aren’t so active, such as the one Kimberly Kowal Arcand blogged about this past week at the Chandra Blog — covering selected aspects of Chandra x-ray astronomy.  This black hole turns out to be a feeble, unpredictable critter at the heart of the Andromeda Galaxy.

Exploration Here and Elsewhere

In a detailed discussion of the advancement of space settlements, Aron Sora at Habitation Intention explores the many and varied issues behind human exploration, colonization and settlement of near-Earth space.  In particular, he examines the International Trade Arms Regulations (ITAR) whose applications can (and do) stymie advances in space techn0logy.

One thing that ITAR may not affect is the science of teleportation — which all of us know from our forays into science fictional universes such as Star Trek. And that’s because, according to Bruce Leeeowe at Weird Sciences, quantum physics may not allow it.  Read his entry called “Teleportation: Impossible?” and see for yourself.

The solar system is chock full of places where life could exist. The conditions at all of these places aren’t always what we’d expect for life-bearing areas, but life is such a tough cookie that we can’t rule out many of the worlds where it could exist — such as Io, for example. In his “Possibility of Exotic Life on Jupiter’s Moon”, Bruce Leeeowe comments on the volcanic little world of Io.


Mars is another place where we dream of finding life (or the signs that it once existed there). The search for life is also the search for water, since that substance is required for just about every kind of life we know about. In “Water, Mars & Herschel”, Emma over at We Are in the Gutter discusses the first set of results from the Herschel Space Telescope and its detection of water vapor and carbon monoxide on Mars.

The most distant reaches of the known solar system begin with the Kuiper Belt — the region of space that extends out from the orbit of Neptune and is chock full of interesting (and rarely explored) bodies. At Weirdwarp, chrdann explores the Kuiper Belt, its discovery, classification, size and shape.  It’s the new frontier, folks!

Getting to places in the solar system (and beyond) is going to require NASA (and all of humanity’s space agencies) to create some basic technological building blocks beyond the current (limited) ones we have today.  In “Technological Stepping Stones to Space”, Robot Guy explores these technologies with the analogy of the humble but popular Lego block.

Space technology is part of discussions at such meetings as the International Space Development conference, held this past weekend in Chicago, Illnois. Over at Arts Nova, Jim Plaxco talks about events during the meeting, including a rude and unexpected protest rant that did little to advance the uninvited speaker’s cause. He includes a short audio clip of the surprise occurrence.

Two entries from The Next Big Future examine two new technologies that made their debuts recently. In “Successful Liftoff of what Could Be The First Successful Deployment of a Solar Sail by any country has been  made by Japan” Brian Wang brings us news of the IKAROS solar sail aboard the Venus-bound AKATSUKI spacecraft. Closer to home, Brian takes a look at the Air Force’s flight of the X-51 Waverider that made the first supersonic combustion ramjet-powered hypersonic flight 0n May 26. He has pictures as well as links to videos of the launch and takeoff sequences.

A thermal image from NASA's Terra satellite, showing the oil slick from the Gulf of Mexico disaster. Courtesy NASA.

NASA’s space technology (and that of the European Space Agency) is what allows us to study our own and other planets with amazing degree of detail. This includes in-depth data sets that help us understand climate change, atmospheric physics, and changes to our oceans. Over at Cosmic Log, Alan Boyle introduces us to the satellite’s-eye view of the ever-changing (and sickening in so many senses of the word) oil well catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico (c0urtesy of BP). Our eyes in the sky are not just tracking the spread of the oil slick, they’re also cataloguing the damage to the shorelines and vegetation.

Fond Farewells and Uneasy Good-byes

The impending end of the U.S. manned launch capability was the subject of Nancy Atkinson’s Universe Today story about the final set of rocket boosters to be shipped to the Kennedy Space Center on May 27, 2010.  It’s a sobering reminder that NASA and our access to space are changing.

A number of space notables, including astronauts Gene Cernan and Neil Armstrong, gave Congress an earful over the low priority that human exploration seems to be suffering over at NASA. Alan Boyle at Cosmic Log tells us the story in “NASA’s vision gets another battering”. Is this message NASA should be getting from all of us?  If so, then we should all be speaking out.

Two images of Phoenix Mars Lander before (left) and after (right) the Martian winter. Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona.

Speaking of good things ending, two writers commented on the end of the Phoenix mission to the Mars polar landscape.  Phoenix Pictures Gallery shared a poem commemorating the mission and scientists’ final attempts to message it after the harsh Martian winter. As well, my own humble blog posted a fond farewell to the plucky lander in “Say Goodbye to Phoenix Mars Lander. ” It’s not the end of Mars exploration, but it is a tribute to a lander that taught us about a hitherto-unexplored part of the Martian landscape.

Thanks for Coming to the Carnival!

That’s our Carnival of Space for this week. Hope you enjoyed the show!  A special welcome to readers coming to TheSpacewriter’s Ramblings from the Christian Science Monitor Cool Astronomy blog.  CSM has begun carrying selected entries from my humble home here on the Web.  Glad to have you aboard and glad to be aboard!

Note: if you entered your blog posting in the Carnival and it’s not here, drop me a line at cc dot petersen at g mail dot com and let me know the link so I can get it in.

It Served us Well

Two images of the Phoenix Mars lander taken from Martian orbit in 2008 and 2010. The 2008 lander image (left) shows two relatively blue spots on either side corresponding to the spacecraft’s clean circular solar panels. In the 2010 (right) image scientists see a dark shadow that could be the lander body and eastern solar panel, but no shadow from the western solar panel. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

The Phoenix Mars Lander is officially a thing of the past. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory announced on May 24 that controllers had given up trying to contact the lander.  They had been trying since Martian winter abated, by using the Mars Odyssey orbiter to make radio contact with the lander.

If you look at the “before-and-after” image to the left (taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter) you should be able to figure out why:  it doesn’t look like it’s in very good shape in the right-hand image. The lander did not survive the harsh Martian winter. Hundreds of pounds of carbon dioxide ice probably coated the lander throughout the winter, and that would have destroyed the solar panels, at the very least.

While it was “alive” the lander returned data about the Martian polar region where it landed — enough data to keep scientists busy analyzing it for years.  The information the spacecraft sent back is revising scientists’ understanding of Mars, particularly the ice-bearing regions which had never been explored in situ before Phoenix arrived.  (In situ is a latin term meaning “in the place”.)  We still have orbiters and landers on Mars, and there are new missions in planning and being built. Next to fly to Mars will be the Mars Science Laboratory — recently named Curiousity –, which I had the chance to see in its clean room at JPL this past week. It will launch in 2011. Once it lands on Mars, the laboratory will do what its name implies — do laboratory studies on the surface of the Red Planet. Our exploration of Mars continues on, and Phoenix was a large part of it.  Remember her well!