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M106 by Filippo Ciferri.
M106 by Filippo Ciferri.

Astrosp-here and astro there, astro everywhere.

First, the picture. Isn't that incredible? Today's astrophoto comes from Filippo Ciferri. He took this and several other pictures from light-polluted Rome if you can believe it.

Bad Astronomer Phil Plait debunks a story proposing the Sun came from another galaxy.

Centauri Dreams has an article on the work being done to save the Arecibo observatory. You know, that big dish in the jungle in Contact?

Space.com teaches you how to make a comet. Put that in your cookbook.

Daily Galaxy asks, if we suffered another "K/T" asteroid impact, would humanity survive?

Astrosphere for June 27, 2007

Moon mosaic by Paul F. Campbell.
June 27th, 2007: Moon mosaic by Paul F. Campbell.

Just give you all a warning, I'm going to be moving back to Vancouver, Canada in 2 days, so there might be a few interruptions. I'll try to keep it to a minimum.

Today's astrophoto comes from Paul F. Campbell. It's a series of pictures of the Moon stitched together into a mosaic.

John Moore has created a detailed poster of the Moon.

Scientific American has an interesting story about Transient Lunar Phenomena. They're not UFOs, just outgassing on the Moon.

Steinn Sigurdsson reports that a planet has been discovered orbiting a white dwarf.

What's worse, a fast moving star moving through the Solar System, or a slow moving one? systemic has the surprising answer.

Pamela Gay continues blogging about The universe on The History Channel. If only we had that kind of budget for Astronomy Cast.

I agree with George Dvorsky on his Sentient Developments blog. If aliens wanted us dead, they'd have done it a long time ago.

Gamma Ray Observatory Will Launch in December

Technicians in the General Dynamics clean room. Image Credit: NASA and General Dynamics.
June 26th, 2007: Technicians in the General Dynamics clean room. Image Credit: NASA and General Dynamics.

NASA has Hubble, Spitzer and Chandra to cover visible, ultraviolet, infrared and X-ray portions of the electromagnetic spectrum. The next wavelength to get its own space telescope is gamma rays. When NASA's Gamma ray Large Area Telescope (GLAST) launches in December, there will be a powerful new observatory in space, capturing more gamma rays than any space observatory to date.

GLAST is currently living in a "clean room" at General Dynamics in Arizon. This is a special enclosed environment with very low levels of contaminants or environmental pollutants. It will remain in this clean room until it's transfered to the launch pad later this year.

When GLAST finally makes it into orbit, it'll be the most powerful and sensitive gamma ray observatory ever launched, gathering photons that can contain hundreds of billions of times more energy than we perceive with our eyes. These gamma rays are generated in the most extreme events in the universe, such as the disks of gas swirling around black holes.

Unlike the other space-based observatories, GLAST doesn't have a mirror to focus the photons; gamma rays don't work that way. Instead, it's got a large detector capable of detecting any gamma rays in 20% of the sky. It'll orbit the Earth every 95 minutes, and image most of the sky 16 times a day. It can also be directed to stare in a specific direction to image an event, such as the afterglow from a gamma ray burst.

New Rocket Could Launch Really Big Telescopes

A 6- to 8-meter space telescope would dwarf the Hubble Space Telescope. Credit:NASA.
June 26th, 2007: A 6- to 8-meter space telescope would dwarf the Hubble Space Telescope. Credit:NASA.

If you've got a really big rocket, what should you use it for? If you're an astronomer, you'll want it used to launch really big telescopes; observatories that would dwarf the Hubble Space Telescope.

NASA's new Ares V launcher, is being developed as part of the Vision for Space Exploration. Once completed, this mighty launcher will deliver cargo all the way to the Moon. In fact, it'll be capable of launching 8% more weight than the Saturn V rockets that put humans on the Moon during the Apollo missions.

Philip Stahl, an engineer at NASA's Marchall Space Flight Center thinks it should also be used to launch gigantic telescopes. How big? According to Stahl, Ares could loft a telescope with a primary mirror 8+ metres across. This would provide a telescope that could see objects 3 times sharper than Hubble, but more important, it could see objects 11 times fainter.

The main telescope could be launched by Ares V, and follow on missions by smaller rockets could send up new scientific instruments that attach to the end of the mirror. In this way, the observatory could be used for 50 years, just like an Earth-based telescope.

Double Supernovae Discovered

Supernova 2007ck (left) and supernova 2007co. Credit: Stefan Immler NASA/GSFC, Swift Science Team.
June 26th, 2007: supernova 2007ck (left) and supernova 2007co. Credit: Stefan Immler NASA/GSFC, Swift Science Team.

Supernovae are rare events, only occurring once every 25-100 years in galaxy. So it came as a complete surprise when NASA's Swift satellite turned up two supernovae going off at the same time in a Galaxy - separated by only 16 days.

Until now, Astronomers have never seen a supernova going off in the Galaxy MCG +05-43-16, and then suddenly: kaboom kaboom. The twin supernovae have been categorized SN 2007ck and SN 2007co.

And they're completely different events. The first, SN 2007ck, is a Type II supernova, where a star with many times the mass of our own Sun runs out of fuel and collapses catastrophically. This creates a black hole or Neutron star, and blows the outer layers of the star into space.

The second, SN 2007co is a Type Ia event. This is where a White Dwarf star steals material from a binary partner until it can't hold any more material, and detonates in a massive blast.

This is a complete coincidence. The two events are separated by tens of thousands of light years of space. In fact, an Astronomer in the Galaxy might see the two events separated by thousands of years.

Astrosphere for June 26, 2007

The Lagoon and Trifid Nebulas. Image credit: Chris Schur.
June 26th, 2007: The Lagoon and Trifid Nebulas. Image credit: Chris Schur.

Today's photograph comes from Chris Schur, and it contains both the Lagoon and Trifid Nebulas. http://www.schursastrophotography.com/xtiastro/m8m20a.html if you want to see more details, or just a really big version of it.

And here are some stories:

Daily Galaxy is reporting that Einstein was right... again.

Really Rocket Science has a Craiglist ad for a space station.

astropixie wants to you to know about a cool planetary alignment this week.

Jeff Faust has gotten a preview copy of NASA's strategic communications plan. And now he communicates it to us.

Skepchick Rebecca has a great idea. Record a quick video of yourself demonstrating science and upload it to Youtube.

Servicing spacecraft Makes an Automated Fly Around

Artist impression of Orbital Express. Image credit: Boeing.
June 25th, 2007: Artist impression of Orbital Express. Image credit: Boeing.

Launching a spacecraft is a big investment. If anything goes wrong, you've got hundreds of millions of dollars of junk in space. And even if the spacecraft is working perfectly, but just runs out of fuel, its communications equipment can't be directed at the Earth properly.

Boeing took a step forward to solving that problem last week with a test of its Orbital Express system, a spacecraft that will validate on-orbit servicing. During a 5-hour test on June 16, the Autonomous Space Transport Robotic Operations (ASTRO) servicing spacecraft separated from another spacecraft, made an automated fly around, and then re-attached.

The important thing here is that the entire maneuver was done autonomously. It simulated the approach that a servicing spacecraft would take when docking with a spacecraft, making sure to avoid its antennas and cameras.

During its next test, ASTRO will depart and fly to a range of 4 km (2.5 miles) before approaching and performing a free-fly capture with its robotic arm.

Science Experiments that Astronauts will Deploy on the Moon

The moon, imaged by the Galileo spacecraft during its journey to Jupiter. Image credit: USGS.
June 25th, 2007: The moon, imaged by the Galileo spacecraft during its journey to Jupiter. Image credit: USGS.

NASA announced that it has selected 7 new experiments that might be carried to the Moon as part of the Vision for Space Exploration. Each of these missions would be "suitcase science" experiments, which the astronauts could easily deploy them onto the surface of the Moon as part of a mission.

The experiments include:

  • Autonomous Lunar Geophysical Experiment Package - NASA/JPL.
  • Lunar Laser Transponder and Retroreflector Science - NASA/JPL.
  • Volatile Analysis by Pyrolysis of Regolith on the Moon using mass Spectrometry - NASA/Goddard.
  • Seismology and Heat flow instrument package for Lunar Science and Hazards - NASA/Goddard.
  • Lunar Radiation Environment and Regolith Shielding Experiment - SWRI.
  • Lunar Suitcase Science: A Lunar Regolith Characterization Kit - U.S. Army.
  • Autonomous Lunar Dust Observer - Ball Aerospace.

NASA chose these winning proposals out of 70 submissions under the Lunar Sortie Science Opportunities Program.

Imagining Plants on another Planet

Perhaps eggplants might represent the colour of alien plants. Image credit: WUSTL.
June 25th, 2007: Perhaps eggplants might represent the colour of alien plants. Image credit: WUSTL.

If and when Astronomers finally start discovering life on other worlds, they'll be wondering what kinds of lifeforms are there. They probably won't have plants as we know them, but there'll be some kind of life that converts light from the Sun into energy. What would this life look like?

It turns out, the look of the plant life on another planet will depend on the light from the Sun. This is according to new research from Robert Blankenship at Washington University in St. Louis. Plants here on Earth are green because of chlorophyll, which converts solar power into sugars for metabolism. But this isn't the best molecule. Ideally, you want something black, which absorbs all of the light.

Blankenship is part of a NASA working group at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. They're studying the light that comes from stars and extrasolar planets, looking for clues that would hint at extrasolar life. Specifically, they're looking for elements which are out of balance from what a world should be if it was completely lifeless. For example, here on Earth, the free oxygen in our atmosphere wouldn't be around if there wasn't a natural process replenishing it. There's also a very specific wavelength of light, 700 nanometres out, where there are signs of very intense chlorophyll absorption.

Astrosphere for June 25, 2007

IC 1318. Image Credit:P-M Heden.
June 25th, 2007: IC 1318. Image Credit:P-M Heden.

I hope everyone out there had a great weekend. Here's what's happening out in the astrosphere.

Today's astrophoto is from forum member Perran. It's a widefield view of nebula IC 1318. Nicely done.

Centauri Dreams has an interesting article about plans to build a giant radio telescope on the far side of the Moon.

Daily Galaxy takes us on a journey to the bottom of the Arctic Ocean to search for mysterious forms of life.

Phil Plait spotlights a new scientific explanation for a mystery that creationists use to discredit the Big Bang.

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