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Archive for March 8, 2012

Venus and Jupiter Dance at Dusk


For the past month the two brightest planets, Venus and Jupiter, have been an eye-catching duo in the western sky after sunset. Week by week they’ve been gradually sliding closer together, and their celestial performance is about to culminate.

By March 9th these dazzling evening “stars” are less than 5° apart, about the width of three fingers at arm’s length. Then, from March 12th to 14th, the gap between them closes to just 3° as they pass one another in the evening sky. The pairing of these bright lights will be dramatic, though not especially rare.

Full Story: http://www.skyandtelescope.com/about/pressreleases/Venus-and-Jupiter-Dance-at-Dusk-141702683.html

Why the Man in the Moon Faces Earth


Many of us see a man in the moon—a human face smiling down at us from the lunar surface. The “face,” of course, is just an illusion, shaped by the dark splotches of lunarmaria (smooth plains formed from the lava of ancient volcanic eruptions).

Like a loyal friend, the man is always there, constantly gazing at us as the moon revolves around Earth, locked in what’s called a synchronous orbit, in which the moon rotates exactly once every time it orbits Earth. But why did the moon settle into an orbit with the man—rather than the moon’s crater-covered far side—facing Earth?

Previously, some scientists have thought the fact that we see the man is just the result of a coincidence, a sort of lunar coin toss, says Oded Aharonson, professor of planetary science at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). But he and his colleagues have now found that is not the case. In the past, the moon spun around its axis faster than it does today, and their new analysis shows that the fact that the man now faces us may be a result of the rate at which the moon slowed down before becoming locked into its current orientation.

Full Story: http://news.caltech.edu/press_releases/13500

Live Feed of Sunday’s Venus-Jupiter Conjunction


Slooh Space Camera will broadcast a free, real-time feed of the Venus and Jupiter conjunction Sunday, 3/11 starting at 02:30 UT / 7:30 PM PDT / 10:30 EDT. Slooh will provide multiple observatory feeds, including from Arizona and the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa. The broadcast can be accessed at Slooh’s homepage or by visiting Slooh’s G+ page, where you will be able to see the panel interact live via G+ Hangouts On Air.

Media websites can embed Slooh’s live syndicated image feed directly into their own coverage of the event by visiting Slooh’s media page.

In addition to the conjunction, Slooh will provide live views of several planets, including Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars using Slooh’s patented imaging technology. In addition, we will take an up close look at our nearest neighbor, the Moon.

If skies are clear, individuals can view the conjunction by looking toward the west, the first three hours after sunset.

Slooh’s own Patrick Paolucci will join Astronomy Magazine columnist Bob Berman along with other guests and Slooh members to discuss the event live and in true color.

Full Story: http://www.slooh.com/pr/slooh-live-feed-conjunction-march-2012.php

Space Foundation Honors Kepler Mission with Award


The NASA Kepler Mission has been selected as the 2012 recipient of the Space Foundation’s John L. “Jack” Swigert, Jr., Award for Space Exploration. The award will be presented April 16 during the opening ceremony of the 28th National Space Symposium at the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs, Colo.

The NASA Kepler Mission is being recognized for the discovery of 61 confirmed extrasolar planets and over 2,300 planet candidates in the first 16 months of observations from May 2009 to September 2010.

Full Story: http://www.nasa.gov/centers/ames/news/releases/2012/kepler_spacefoundation_award.html

Experiment Makes Measurement of Antihydrogen


In a paper published online today by the journal Nature, the ALPHA collaboration at CERN reports an important milestone on the way to measuring the properties of antimatter atoms. This follows news reported in June last year that the collaboration had routinely trapped antihydrogen atoms for long periods of time. ALPHA’s latest advance is the next important milestone on the way to being able to make precision comparisons between atoms of ordinary matter and atoms of antimatter, thereby helping to unravel one of the deepest mysteries in particle physics and perhaps understanding why a Universe of matter exists at all.

“We’ve demonstrated that we can probe the internal structure of the antihydrogen atom,” said ALPHA collaboration spokesman, Jeffrey Hangst, “and we’re very excited about that. We now know that it’s possible to design experiments to make detailed measurements of antiatoms.”

Full Story: http://press.web.cern.ch/press/PressReleases/Releases2012/PR06.12E.html

NASA’s Twin Grail Spacecraft Begin Collecting Lunar Science Data


NASA’s Gravity Recovery And Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) spacecraft orbiting the moon officially have begun their science collection phase. During the next 84 days, scientists will obtain a high-resolution map of the lunar gravitational field to learn about the moon’s internal structure and composition in unprecedented detail. The data also will provide a better understanding of how Earth and other rocky planets in the solar system formed and evolved.

“The initiation of science data collection is a time when the team lets out a collective sigh of relief because we are finally doing what we came to do,” said Maria Zuber, principal investigator for the GRAIL mission at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. “But it is also a time where we have to put the coffee pot on, roll up our sleeves and get to work.”

The GRAIL mission’s twin, washing-machine-sized spacecraft, named Ebb and Flow, entered lunar orbit on New Year’s Eve and New Years Day. GRAIL’s science phase began yesterday at 8:15 p.m. EST (5:15 p.m. PST). During this mission phase, the spacecraft will transmit radio signals precisely defining the distance between them. As they fly over areas of greater and lesser gravity caused by visible features such as mountains, craters and masses hidden beneath the lunar surface, the distance between the two spacecraft will change slightly. Science activities are expected to conclude on May 29, after GRAIL maps the gravity field of the moon three times.

Full Story: http://www.nasa.gov/home/hqnews/2012/mar/HQ_12-070_GRAIL_Science_Begins.html

Galaxy Cluster Hidden in Plain View

March 8, 2012 1 comment

A team of astronomers has discovered the most distant cluster of red galaxies ever observed using FourStar, a new and powerful near-infrared camera on the 6.5m Magellan Baade Telescope. The galaxy cluster is located 10.5 billion light years away in the direction of the constellation Leo. It is made up of 30 galaxies packed closely together, forming the earliest known “galaxy city” in the universe. The findings will be published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Remarkably, the cluster was completely missed by previous surveys, which searched this region of the sky for thousands of hours and were conducted by all the major ground- and space-based observing facilities, including the Hubble Space Telescope. Despite these intense observations, accurate distances for such faint and distant galaxies were missing until the advent of FourStar.

Eric Persson of the Carnegie Observatories* led the development of the new camera that enabled these observations. Persson and his team–which includes Carnegie’s David Murphy, Andy Monson, Dan Kelson, Pat McCarthy, and Ryan Quadri–equipped FourStar with five special filters to collect images that are sensitive to narrow slices of the near-infrared spectrum. This powerful approach allows them to measure accurate distances between Earth and thousands of distant galaxies at one time, providing a 3-D map of the early universe.

Full Story: http://carnegiescience.edu/news/galaxy_cluster_hidden_plain_view