Astronews Daily Extended Edition (2455547)

December 16, 2010 12:18 by scibuff

Videos

Soyuz TMA-20 Launch of Expedition 26 - A Russian Soyuz rocket launched the Expedition 26 crew to the International Space Station. The crew includes Russian cosmonaut Dmitry Kondratyev, American astronaut Catherine Coleman and from the European Space Agency Italian Paolo Nespoli.

Phobos shadow passing over Viking 1 landing site dust storm (40x actual speed) - On September 28, 1977, Viking Orbiter 1 observed a dust storm over the site where it had dropped its lander, more than a year previously. As Viking 1 orbiter watched, the shadow of Mars' inner moon Phobos passed over the cloud tops. Data: NASA/JPL. Processing: Daniel Machá?ek

  

Top Stories

NASA Discovers Asteroid Delivered Assortment of Meteorites – An international team of scientists studying remnants of an asteroid that crashed into the Nubian Desert in October 2008 discovered it contained at least 10 different types of meteorites. Some of them contained chemicals that form the building blocks of life on Earth, and those chemicals were spread through all parts of the asteroid by collisions. -NASA

Near-Synchronous Explosions Connect Across the Vast Distances on the Sun – For several decades, scientists studying the sun have observed solar flares that appear to occur almost simultaneously but originated in completely different areas on the Sun. Solar physicists called them “sympathetic” flares, but it was thought these near-synchronous explosions in the solar atmosphere were too far apart – sometimes millions of kilometers distant – to be related. But now, with the continuous high-resolution and multi-wavelength observations with the Solar Dynamics Observatory, combined with views from the twin STEREO spacecraft, the scientists are seeing how these sympathetic eruptions — sometimes on opposite sides of the sun — can connect through looping lines of the Sun’s magnetic field. -Nancy Atkinson / Universe Today

Galaxy Cluster Reveals Farthest Known Galaxy – Almost all of the bright objects in this Hubble Space Telescope image are galaxies in the cluster known as Abell 2218 -a cluster so massive and so compact that its gravity bends and focuses the light from galaxies that lie behind it. As a result, multiple images of these background galaxies are distorted into long faint arcs. -The Daily Galaxy

No Asteroid Particles Found in Second Hayabusa Compartment, But More in First – No visible material from asteroid Itokawa was found inside the second compartment of a canister returned to Earth by the Hayabusa spacecraft. However, JAXA also announced that more micron-sized grains have been found in the first compartment, opened earlier this year. -Nancy Atkinson / Universe Today

93rd Birth Anniversary of Sir Arthur Clarke – Let’s cherish the 93rd birth anniversary of Sir Arthur Clarke, who rendered an immense service to the world, by means of his innovative concepts on telecommunication + thrilling scientific books, We should do something to remind the world about his being in a day like this, as what his imagination has rendered, continues to grow day by day -IYA 2009 / Sri Lanka

A Majestic Galaxy in One of the Largest Known Structures in the Observable Universe – This image shows a majestic face-on spiral galaxy located deep within the Coma Cluster of galaxies, which lies 320 million light-years away, in the northern constellation Coma Berenices. The galaxy, known as NGC 4911, contains rich lanes of dust and gas near its center. These are silhouetted against glowing newborn star clusters and iridescent pink clouds of hydrogen, the existence of which indicates ongoing star formation. -The Daily Galaxy

Dec 14/15 Meteors (night after the Geminids peak) – What a difference 24 hours makes! Only a day removed from the Geminids peak and rates have crashed to a fraction of their peak. During the past 5 nights SALSA3 detected 12, 22, 69, 124 and now 20 Geminids. This is a characteristic of the Geminids in that the post-peak rates fall off much more rapidly than the pre-peak increase. -Carl Hergenrother

[more stories]

Photos

H-alpha Orion mosaic

H-alpha Orion mosaic

Geminid bolide

Geminid bolide

IC1848 - Soul Nebula

IC1848 - Soul Nebula

Slewing

Slewing

  
Venus Rising

Venus Rising

Toronto, Ward’s Island

Toronto, Ward’s Island

Lake Como, Italy

Lake Como, Italy

Waxing Gibbous Moon

Waxing Gibbous Moon

  

Gallery Pick of the Day

Geminids over Kitt Peak

Geminids over Kitt Peak - Credit & Copyright: David A. Harvey

The photo above is “Pick of the Day” from one of the three galleries: Astronomy Gallery, Space Shuttle Gallery and Space Station Gallery.

Astronews Daily (2455478)

October 8, 2010 12:16 by scibuff

Top Stories

Could a Human Mars Mission Be Funded Commercially? – What will it take to actually get humans to Mars? The best answer is probably money. The right amount of cold, hard cash will certainly solve a lot of problems and eliminate hurdles in sending a human mission to the Red Planet. But cash-strapped federal space agencies aren’t currently in the position to be able to direct a mission to another world – at least in the near term – and seemingly, a trip Mars is always 20-30 years off into the future. But how about a commercially funded effort? -Nancy Atkinson / Universe Today

Soyuz launches to space station – A Soyuz capsule carrying two Russian cosmonauts and an American astronaut has left Earth bound for the International Space Station (ISS). – BBC

European South Observatory: Top 100 Images – The European Southern Observatory is a veritable factory of mind-blowing space photos, and now they’ve compiled their top 100 images ever all in one place. -Wired / ESO

Water Discovered on Second Asteroid, May Be Even More Common – Water ice on asteroids may be more common than expected, according to a new study that is being presented at the world’s largest gathering of planetary scientists. -Science Daily

[more stories]

Videos

Solar Dynamics Observatory captures the Moon as it transits across the face of the Sun. This movie was imaged using the Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA) on SDO in the Iron emission 171?. 171 Angstroms is the Fe IX emission line, corresponding to gaseous Iron at about 1 million Kelvin. Credit: NASA SDO / Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company

  

Photos

M42 - Orion Nebula

M42 - Orion Nebula

Deep Sky Orion

Deep Sky Orion

NGC 2264 and the Christmas Tree cluster

NGC 2264 and the Christmas Tree cluster

IC 434 - Horsehead Nebula

IC 434 - Horsehead Nebula

  

Gallery Pick of the Day

Jupiter and Uranus at opposition

Recorded on September 27, this well-planned composite of consecutive multiple exposures captured Jupiter and Uranus in their remarkable celestial line-up accompanied by their brighter moons. The faint greenish disk of distant planet Uranus is near the upper left corner. Of the tilted planet's 5 larger moons, two can be spotted just above and left of the planet's disk. At the right side of the frame is ruling gas giant Jupiter, flanked along a line by all four of its Galilean satellites. Farthest from Jupiter is Callisto, with Europa and Io all left of the planet's disk, while Ganymede stands alone at the right. - Credit: Peter Knappert / APOD

The photo above is “Pick of the Day” from one of the three galleries: Astronomy Gallery, Space Shuttle Gallery and Space Station Gallery.

Battlestar Galactica Finale Goofs

March 23, 2009 11:47 by scibuff

There are a few minor spoilers below but nothing that would reveal the big picture or make much sense without actually seeing the show’s conclusion.

Undoubtedly, the last Friday brought the finale of one of the best sci-fi shows on TV. Battlestar Galactica (BSG) had a great run of four full seasons. Since the finale aired on Syfy channel last Friday many bloggers posted their comments and criticism about the final revelations. I will refrain from commenting on the actually story and rather focus on some easily noticeable mistakes the show creators made. On a side note, I recommend to click on the images below to see them in higher quality.

In modern astronomy, constellations present a method of dividing the sky into (88) areas with precise boundaries. Nevertheless, it is more common to regard constellations as groups of stars resembling recognizable patterns – asterisms. Throughout centuries stars seem to maintain the same position and apparent distances with respect to each other. Nonetheless, long-term observation reveal that the constellations change shape as stars exhibit independent motion, albeit very slow. The constellations in the presence appear roughly the same as the ancient Egyptians would have observe them. Nonetheless, if we went much further back into the past, we would have hard time recognizing asterisms with which we are so familiar today.

At the beginning of the finale (at around 9:00) after Adama spits the contents of his drinks onto his suit, there is a cut back to the fleet. At that moment, anyone slightly familiar with the night sky will immediately recognize the stars of Orion. All prominent stars, apart from Rigel (? Ori) obscured by Galactica, are visible. Easily identifiable are stars from the main quadrangle: Betelgeuse (? Ori), Bellatrix (? Ori), Saiph (? Ori), the stars of the Orion’s belt: Alnitak(? Ori), Alnilam(? Ori), Mintaka(? Ori), and the Orion Nebula (M42).

The Constellation of Orion as seen on BSG - Source: Sci-Fi HD

The Constellation of Orion as seen on BSG - Source: Sci-Fi HD

The proper motion of the Orion stars over the period of 300,000 years. The animation stars in 150,000 BCE and progresses in 50,000 years increments to 150,000 ACE

The proper motion of the Orion stars over the period of 300,000 years. The animation stars in 150,000 BCE and progresses in 50,000 years increments to 150,000 ACE

Unlike most other constellations the stars in the Orion exhibit a small relative motion (as observed from the Earth). The asterism formed more than a million years ago and will remain observable for another million or two into the future. At the time the screen shot above was taken the fleet was nowhere close to Earth but there might be a possible explanation of Orion’s appearance here. With the exception of ? Ori (Bellatrix) at the distance of 240 light years (ly), the rest of the main Orion stars are distanced between 600 and 1300ly away from the Earth. Hence, there might have been a place within a few tens of light years of Earth where a pattern resembling Orion could have been seen in the past. Furthermore, there is evidence that the show creators were aware of stellar drift, as officers mentioned several times the necessity to periodically recompute the jump coordinates. I’m willing to give the show “scientist” the benefit of the doubt, despite Occam’s Razor.

Earth rises above the Moon surface as seen on BSG - Source: Sci-Fi HD

Earth rises above the Moon surface as seen on BSG - Source: Sci-Fi HD

A few seconds before the Earth comes into the camera view, Galactica “flies” over the moon. When the Earth rises, it is apparent that an observer on the planet would see the new moon lunar phase. Hence, Galactica must have come from the far side of the moon and flown directly above the north pole. However, the surface morphology observed on screen does not correspond to features shown in maps of Moon’s far side.

Furthermore, the Earth in the image has virtually cloudless atmosphere and looks as if cut directly out of the Universal Movies intro. Even worse, Earth’s terminator reaches too close to the equator. Even if the fleet arrived at the time of summer solstice, the shadow cannot reach past the Antarctic Circle, which reaches just a few kilometres north of the coast of Antarctica at the longitudes around the southern tip of Africa. In any case, judging by Earth’s tilt and the surface illumination, the time should be close to the autumnal equinox (How do I know this?).

The next image reveals the most easily recognizable mistake. As we learn in the last moments of the show, the fleet arrived at Earth 150,000 years in the past. It was mentioned earlier how stellar drift shapes the face of constellations over time. The stars which give Orion the easily recognizable shape have relatively small proper motion relative to the Sun. Nevertheless, the situation is quite different in the case of the brightest stars in Ursa Major (forming the famous Big Dipper).

The Constellation of Ursa Major as seen on BSG - Source: Sci-Fi HD

The Constellation of Ursa Major as seen on BSG - Source: Sci-Fi HD

The image above was captured a few seconds after the fleet arrived above Africa, roughly at 59:50. It clearly shows the Big Dipper and a more trained eye can easily spot other stars forming the Ursa Major constellation. The problem is that 150,000 years ago, this constellation looked very different and hardly anyone would be able to identify it in the night sky. The actual position of stars forming the Big Dipper is displayed below.

The Big Dipper as seens from Earth in 150,000 BCE

The Big Dipper as seens from Earth in 150,000 BCE

Of course, stars in any given constellation are unlikely to be physically related. Surprisingly enough most stars visible in this region of the sky seem to be connected. Their measured common motion suggests that they all belong to a open star cluster approximately 75 ly away. The cluster is more properly known as the Ursa Major Moving Group.

The proper motion of the Big Dipper stars over the period of 300,000 years. The animation stars in 150,000 BCE and progresses in 50,000 years increments to 150,000 ACE.

The proper motion of the Big Dipper stars over the period of 300,000 years. The animation stars in 150,000 BCE and progresses in 50,000 years increments to 150,000 ACE.

The last goof I noticed could have easily been prevented by asking a somewhat knowledgeable person a simple question. Instead, the writer went for a phrase which would deliver the biggest awe. It kind of reminds me of the mistake George Lucas made by confusing the parsec (pc) for a unit of time (“Kessel run in 12 parsecs”)

Adama: “How’s that possible? Human beings naturally evolved on a planet one million light years away. The odds against that are …”

Baltar: “Astronomical, yeah.”

The Milky Way has the diameter of approximately 100,000 ly. Thus, if it were true that the planet on which the fleet landed was a million light years away, the original 12 colonies could not have been in our galaxy. It gets even worse. As far as we know (and we know quite a lot about the neighborhood of Milky Way) there is no good candidate for a place where New Caprica could have been. There are two dwarf galaxies close to the 1 million light years (Mly) marker. Leo I is a dwarf galaxy at around 0.8 Mly and the Phoenix Dwarf galaxy at around 1.3 Mly. Nevertheless, it is fair to assume that the BSG universe is limited to Milky Way as there are (weirdly enough) references to constellations seen from the Earth, and we have not heard a word of intergalactic travel capabilities.

Finally on a slightly different note. I’m not sure whether to be disappointed or glad about how the series ended. On one hand, I found the “God always has a plan” notion really annoying ever since the Pythia’s prophecy began to play a significant role in the show’s development. The idea of a omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent being “playing the dice” sending agents into people’s head to deliver message for him, or bringing people back from death goes against rational thinking of any sort. On the other hand, Moore’s portrayal how ridiculous irrational and superstitious beliefs are and how they ruin lives, regardless of whether or not that was his ultimate intention, is a good lesson that the viewers should take from the show.

* How did I conclude that the fleet arrives around the time of autumnal equinox? First of all, it is apparent from the illumination of Earth’s surface that the sun is positioned directly behind (the Moon is in the new moon phase). Hence, taking into consideration the axial tilt and the direction of Earth’s motion around the sun (see the image below), the conclusion follows.
Earth's position around the Sun through the year

Earth's position around the Sun through the year