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2011 in review

December 31, 2011 Leave a comment

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 7,500 times in 2011. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 6 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Categories: Site News

First of NASA’s GRAIL Spacecraft Enters Moon Orbit

December 31, 2011 Leave a comment

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The first of two NASA spacecraft to study the moon in unprecedented detail has entered lunar orbit.

NASA’s Gravity Recovery And Interior Laboratory (GRAIL)-A spacecraft successfully completed its planned main engine burn at 2 p.m. PST (5 p.m. EST) today. As of 3 p.m. PST (6 p.m. EST), GRAIL-A is in an orbit of 56 miles by 5,197 miles (90 kilometers by 8,363 kilometers) around the moon that takes approximately 11.5 hours to complete.

“My resolution for the new year is to unlock lunar mysteries and understand how the moon, Earth and other rocky planets evolved,” said Maria Zuber, GRAIL principal investigator at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. “Now, with GRAIL-A successfully placed in orbit around the moon, we are one step closer to achieving that goal.”

The next mission milestone occurs tomorrow when GRAIL-A’s mirror twin, GRAIL-B, performs its own main engine burn to place it in lunar orbit. At 3 p.m. PST (6 p.m. EST) today, GRAIL-B was 30,018 miles (48,309 kilometers) from the moon and closing at a rate of 896 mph (1,442 kilometers per hour). GRAIL-B’s insertion burn is scheduled to begin tomorrow, Jan. 1, at 2:05 p.m. PST (5:05 p.m. EST) and will last about 39 minutes.

Full Story: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.cfm?release=2011-398

Quadrantid Meteors Set to Perform on Jan. 4th

December 31, 2011 Leave a comment

Sky & Telescope illustration

Sky & Telescope illustration

Celestially speaking, 2012 opens with a bang. The Quadrantid meteor shower, one of the best displays of “shooting stars” all year, will peak in the hours before dawn this Wednesday, January 4th. If you get up early, bundle up warmly, and find dark site with a wide-open view of the clear sky, you might see 1 or 2 meteors per minute during the shower’s brief but intense performance.

This year the Quadrantids are predicted to climax at 2 or 3 a.m. Eastern Standard Time on the morning of January 4th, and this timing offers very good circumstances for North Americans — especially those in the East. On that morning the waxing gibbous Moon sets about 3 a.m. local time (wherever you are), leaving the sky fully dark until dawn begins before or near 6 a.m.

Full Story: http://www.skyandtelescope.com/about/pressreleases/136399178.html

Tips on What to See with Your New Telescope

December 31, 2011 Leave a comment

Sky & Telescope: Craig Michael Utter

Sky & Telescope: Craig Michael Utter

As the gift-giving season comes to an end, maybe now you’ve got a shiny new telescope to call your own. Congratulations — you’re on your way to discovering many amazing things in the night sky. Be it a long, sleek tube or a compact marvel of computerized wizardry, every new telescope surely has an owner itching to try it out.

“Here are two important tips,” advises Robert Naeye, editor in chief of Sky & Telescope magazine. “First, set up your scope indoors and make sure you understand how everything works before you take it out into the night.” Trying to figure out unfamiliar knobs and settings in the dark and cold is no fun.

“Second,” he adds, “be patient. Spend time with each sky object you’re able to find, and really get to know it.” Too many first-time telescope users expect Hubble-like brightness and color in the eyepiece — when in fact most astronomical objects are very dim to the human eye. And our night vision sees almost everything as shades of gray. Much of what the universe has to offer is subtle, and of course extremely distant.

Full Story: http://www.skyandtelescope.com/about/pressreleases/136384853.html

New Findings on Saturn’s Moons & Magnetosphere

December 31, 2011 Leave a comment

Scientists have been puzzled by periodic bursts of radiation, known as the Saturn kilometric radiation (SKR), that occur in the planet’s magnetosphere. These emissions occur at a rate that is close to, but not quite the same as, the rate at which the planet rotates.

New observations from the Cassini spacecraft’s flybys of Saturn’s moon Enceladus in 2008 are revealing new details about the plasma environment around Enceladus and how it may affect Saturn’s magnetosphere. These observations could also shed some light on the SKR rotation rate.

Enceladus sprays out a plume of water vapor and ice from its south pole. This plume produces ionized gas that is a significant source of plasma for Saturn’s magnetosphere and E ring. Observations described by Morooka et al. show that the plume also produces negatively charged dust that affects the motion of the plasma in this region. This dust-plasma interaction impacts the dynamics of Saturn’s magnetosphere, possibly influencing the rate of SKR emissions.

Full Story: http://www.agu.org/news/press/jhighlight_archives/2011/2011-12-30.shtml#one

NASA Twin Spacecraft On Final Approach For Moon Orbit

December 28, 2011 Leave a comment

NASA’s twin spacecraft to study the moon from crust to core are nearing their New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day main-engine burns to place the duo in lunar orbit.

Named Gravity Recovery And Interior Laboratory (GRAIL), the spacecraft are scheduled to be placed in orbit beginning at 1:21 p.m. PST (4:21 p.m. EST) for GRAIL-A on Dec. 31, and 2:05 p.m. PST (5:05 p.m. EST) on Jan. 1 for GRAIL-B.

“Our team may not get to partake in a traditional New Year’s celebration, but I expect seeing our two spacecraft safely in lunar orbit should give us all the excitement and feeling of euphoria anyone in this line of work would ever need,” said David Lehman, project manager for GRAIL at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif.

The distance from Earth to the moon is approximately 250,000 miles (402,336 kilometers). NASA’s Apollo crews took about three days to travel to the moon. Launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Sept. 10, 2011, the GRAIL spacecraft are taking about 30 times that long and covering more than 2.5 million miles (4 million kilometers) to get there.

Full Story: http://www.nasa.gov/home/hqnews/2011/dec/HQ_11-426_GRAIL_Highlights.html

Time for a Change? Calendar Overhaul Proposed

December 27, 2011 Leave a comment

Researchers at The Johns Hopkins University have discovered a way to make time stand still — at least when it comes to the yearly calendar.

Using computer programs and mathematical formulas, Richard Conn Henry, an astrophysicist in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, and Steve H. Hanke, an applied economist in the Whiting School of Engineering, have created a new calendar in which each new 12-month period is identical to the one which came before, and remains that way from one year to the next in perpetuity.

Under the Hanke-Henry Permanent Calendar, for instance, if  Christmas fell on a Sunday in 2012 (and it would), it will also fall on a Sunday in 2013, 2014 and beyond. In addition, under the new calendar, the rhyme “30 days hath September, April, June and November,” would no longer apply, because September would have 31 days, as would June, March and December. All the rest have 30 (Try creating a rhyme using that.)

Full Story: http://releases.jhu.edu/2011/12/27/time-for-a-change-johns-hopkins-scholars-say-calendar-needs-serious-overhaul/