Image credit: Astronomy Education Services/Gingin Observatory
We’ve got a space alert for the star watchers among our readers.
It isn’t often that a comet is visible to the naked eye, however, Comet PanSTARRS (not to be confused with Pawn Stars) is going to be visible in the Northern Hemisphere for a few more nights still. And up here in Woodstock, IL, it looks like the best night to get a glimpse is going to be tonight.
You see, a few of the star watchers on our team were stymied last night by the cloud coverage. But tonight’s forecast is calling for clear skies.
Your best bet for viewing the comet is going to be about a half hour after sunset when the comet should be visible to the naked eye just to the left of the moon (although a pair of binoculars would definitely make it easier to see).
“Look too early and the sky will be too bright,” according to Rachel Stevenson, a NASA Postdoctoral Fellow at JPL. “Look too late, the comet will be too low and obstructed by the horizon. This comet has a relatively small window.”
If any of you astrophotographers out there take some pictures, we’d love to see and share your photos of this celestial event. You can either link to them in the comments below, or email them to email@example.com and we’ll add them to the comments for you.
The trouble with interstellar travel is that (as one of the most notable authorities on the subject put it)
“Space is big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space.”
With the nearest extrasolar star (Proxima Centauri) so far away that it would take over four years traveling at the speed of light to reach it, interstellar travel would require multiple generations to achieve with the current technology levels.
Science Fiction has resolved the problem with the concept faster-than-light travel. Depending on the series, it has been called hyperspace, warp drive, jump drive, the Holtzman drive, or any of a number of similar terms. In most cases, though, it generally boils down to encasing the ship within a bubble of “normal” space-time and pushing it through distorted or alternate space. It works great in movies, television and books, but it has all been mostly the realm of fiction. A concept for real-life warp drive was developed in 1994, but calculations showed that it would require impractical amounts of energy.
As SPACE.com is reporting, that may not be the case any more.
According to the article, adjustments can be made to the design that would significantly decrease the power requirements. Experiments are now being performed at Johnson Space Center, where scientists will attempt to create tiny instances of the space-time distortion necessary for “warp” space travel.
While we may not necessarily see it in our lifetime, it is entirely possible that future generations will be traveling to other worlds at faster-than-light speeds as a result of these experiments.
Thirty-five years ago this week, Voyager 1 was launched. Its mission—along with its sister craft, Voyager 2 (which, interestingly enough, was launched two weeks earlier)—was to explore the outer reaches of our solar system and the beginnings of interstellar space. Aboard each craft was a gold-plated audio disc containing sounds, images and messages from Earth, on the off-chance either was ever found by intelligent life from outside the Solar System.
In 1979 and 1980, Voyager 1 visited Jupiter and Saturn, respectively. While there, the craft provided the first high-resolution pictures and conducted other studies of the two planets and their respective satellites. This resulted in the first views of Jupiter’s ring system, discovery of volcanic activity on the moon Io, the first close analysis of the atmosphere of Titan, and detection of complex structures in Saturn’s rings. Article Continues…
Look! Up in the Sky! It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane! It’s a planet crossing the face of the Sun!
To be more exact, Venus is making its extremely rare transit in front of the Sun today, at about 5:04pm CDT. During this time, its silhouette will be visible on the Sun’s disc, like a tiny version of an eclipse. In the past, this transit has been used to calculate the size of the solar system. Now, though, it’s just an incredibly rare astronomical event.
How rare is this? Well, that depends; the transit of Venus is on a bit of an odd cycle. These transits happen in pairs eight years apart (the last transit was in 2004). These pairs, however, are separated by spans alternating between 121.5 years and 105.5 years. Prior to the 2004 one, the last Venusian transit was in 1882, 121.5 years earlier. That means the next one will happen in 2117. So if you’re going to see Venus transiting the Sun, this is your only chance.
Of course, you can’t just look up at the sun and see it; you’ll seriously damage your eyes. That’s doubly, triply, and sextuply so for a plain telescope; you might as well just sear your cornea out with a soldering iron. However, there are ways to safely see the transit: Article Continues…
Early tomorrow morning (4:55 EDT), SpaceX—the first private company to launch, orbit, and recover a spacecraft—is going to attempt another first: being the first private company to dock a spacecraft to the International Space Station.
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket will propel a cargo-laden Dragon capsule towards the ISS. While none of the cargo aboard is considered mission critical or irreplacable, SpaceX’s mission is part of a comprehensive NASA evaluation of their capability to launch, rendezvous with the ISS and return to earth.
While waiting to dock, astronauts will perform a number of tests on Dragon’s automated controls, including a manual override by the ISS crew. Their success will help land them a contract to become the first commercial carrier to deliver to the ISS.
With the ending of the Space Shuttle program and the scuttling of its successor, the United States is currently reliant on other countries like Russia to get our astronauts and supplies into space. Contracts with companies like SpaceX will play key parts in the United States’ role in the future.