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LATEST ASTRONOMY NEWS & EVENTS:
Enormous Ring of Debris Around Young Star Holds Clues to Planet Formation
New Juno findings amaze scientists studying Jupiter (March 7, 2018) by Kelly Beatty
New findings from NASA’s Juno spacecraft show Jupiter’s weather systems extend much deeper than previously believed and that the huge planet rotates nearly as a rigid body below the racing jet streams, storms and cyclones.
“This is really an amazing result, and future measurements by Juno will help us understand how the transition works between the weather layer and the rigid body below,” Tristan Guillot, a Juno co-investigator from the Université Côte d’Azur, Nice, France, said in a NASA release. Guillot is the lead author of a paper on Jupiter’s deep interior published in the March 8 issue of the journal Nature.
“Juno’s discovery has implications for other worlds in our solar system and beyond,” he said. “Our results imply that the outer differentially-rotating region should be at least three times deeper in Saturn and shallower in massive giant planets and brown dwarf stars.”
How deep Jupiter’s familiar cloud belts and zones extend has been a mystery for decades, but precise measurements of the planet’s gravity field, the subject of another paper in Nature, show the weather layer, from its top to a depth of some 3,000 kilometres (1,900 miles), contains about three Earth masses of material, or about 1 percent of Jupiter’s total mass.
Exoplanet Proxima Centauri b Had a Very Bad Day (March 1, 2018)
On 24 March last year, a planet – Proxima b – orbiting the red dwarf Proxima Centauri, the Sun’s nearest stellar neighbour, had a very, very bad day.
Two powerful solar flares erupted in two minutes, the second one 10 times brighter than any known flare from Earth’s sun, increasing Proxima Centauri’s brightness by 1,000 times in just 10 seconds and blasting Proxima b with 4,000 times more radiation than Earth receives from a major outburst.
The huge flare, and a smaller one that preceded it, was discovered by the Carnegie Institution’s Meredith MacGregor and Alycia Weinberger when they reviewed observations made last year by the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, or ALMA, radio telescope. Proxima Centauri, known as a fare star, is the Sun’s nearest stellar neighbour at a distance of 4.2 light years.
“It’s likely that Proxima b was blasted by high energy radiation during the flare,” MacGregor said in a Carnegie statement. “Over the billions of years since Proxima b formed, flares like this one could have evaporated any atmosphere or ocean and sterilized the surface, suggesting that habitability may involve more than just being the right distance from the host star to have liquid water.”
Proxima b, with a mass of at least 1.3 times that of Earth, orbits its sun at a distance of about 7.5 million kilometers (4.6 million miles), completing one “year” in a bit more than 11 days. The planet orbits in the red dwarf’s habitable zone, but astronomers already doubted its habitability because of the star’s extreme solar wind and history of flares.
A paper last November looked at the same ALMA observations and concluded the average brightness, including the output of the star and the flare, may have been caused by disks of dust and debris circling Proxima Centauri that are similar to the asteroid and Kuiper belts in Earth’s solar system, possibly indicating the presence of additional planets.
But when MacGregor, Weinberger and their team looked at the data as a function of observing time, the nature of the transient event became clear, according to the Carnegie statement.
“There is now no reason to think that there is a substantial amount of dust around Proxima Cen,” Weinberger said. “Nor is there any information yet that indicates the star has a rich planetary system like ours.”
Last Chance to See Doomed Chinese Space Station (March 7, 2018) By: Bob King
Don't look now, but a whole lotta metal will be falling out of the sky. Soon. And we're not talking meteorites. China's Tiangong 1 space station is staring down its final weeks with re-entry predicted sometime between March 24th and April 19th. Of late, the 8.5-ton spacecraft has been losing altitude at the rate of 6 kilometers a week from atmospheric drag. Although it's impossible to predict even an approximate landing site until hours before re-entry, Tiangong 1's orbital inclination makes anywhere between 43°N and 43°S fair game.
Launched in September 2011, Tiangong 1 (Chinese for "heavenly palace") was China's first space station. After several successful manned and unmanned missions, Chinese National Space Administration (CNSA) officials extended the spacecraft's life for two years until they lost telemetry in March 2016. By June of that year, amateur satellite watchers reported that the station was out of control, a fact that the CNSA finally conceded three months later.
The original plan was to de-orbit the space station with a controlled thruster burn for a safe breakup over the Pacific Ocean. But without telemetry, the craft can no longer be controlled, so re-entry depends entirely on the vagaries of atmospheric drag complicated by the effects of Sun-driven space weather.
Tiangong 1 glides through Orion over Williamsburg, Virginia. Watch for it to make similar passes for a short time before burning up on re-entry later this month or early next. As its loses altitude, drag from friction with the atmosphere causes the satellite to lose even more altitude, creating more drag and leading to its inevitable demise. Chris Becke (@BeckePhysics)
Not until hours before re-entry will we have a good idea of where heaven will meet earth. Although it can fall anywhere within the zone mentioned earlier, the California-based Aerospace Corporation predicts a higher probability in either of two narrow belts of latitude from ~39°N to 43°N and ~39°S to 43°S. In the southern hemisphere, these latitudes include sections of Chile, Argentina, Tasmania, and New Zealand. In the northern, Italy, Spain, and a strip of U.S. states from New York to California lie within this preferred path.
Chances are that any surviving fragments will fall in the ocean, but there's always a tiny possibility pieces could slam into the ground where they might be recovered. Getting hit by a human-made "meteorite" is exceedingly rare, with odds estimated at about one in a trillion. You're a million times more likely to win the Powerball jackpot. In all of spaceflight history only one person has ever been struck by space junk. That would be Lottie Williams of Tulsa on January 22, 1997. She was 48 at the time and out on an early morning walk when a metal fragment of a re-entering Delta II rocket struck her left shoulder with a glancing blow. She was not injured.
If still in orbit on March 31st, people in the Windsor area will get there first chance in several weeks (and probably last chance overall) to see the space station as it crosses the early morning sky. To see it, be out a minute or two before 6:39:51 am EDT, where it will appear 10 degrees up from the horizon in the SW, moving northeastward at visual magnitude 1.3. It will be visible for about 4-5 minutes, disappearing in the early glow of sunrise in the east.
Before Tiangong 1 hits the drink, observers in the southern and eastern U.S. and other locations have several chances to see it. This week through the middle of next (about March 13th), the doomed station will make 1–3-minute-long passes during convenient evening viewing hours. Unfortunately, for those in the Windsor region, our best chance to see the satellite will only come if it maintains orbit past March 31st - that morning it will be visible in the south just after 6:39 am EDT (see photo caption). Tiangong 1's magnitude will vary from as bright as 0.2 to as faint as 4 depending on the altitude of the pass. The higher, the brighter.
After the 13th (give or take), the satellite will move into the daytime sky and then reappear at dawn sky at the end of March. The dawn run concludes about April 10th. Should Tiangong 1 still be in orbit after that date, it will return to the evening sky in mid-April.
To find out when and where to look from your location, go to Heavens Above and login. If you're not registered, you can still click the Change Your Observing Location link in the column on the left side of the opening page to add your city. Then return to the opening page and click the Tiangong 1 link to get a table of upcoming passes. If you click the date link, a map showing its path pops up. Because of its evolving orbit, pass times may vary a bit. The space station will look just like a star moving from west to east across the sky.
Maybe, just maybe you'll get to see its transformation from a point of light to a slow-moving fireball when it finally plummets to Earth. If you're exceptionally lucky, a piece might just show up in your backyard. Leave it be, as experts believe there's still toxic hydrazine propellant on board.
Speaking of satellites, this is also the month that Humanity Star begins making evening passes from many northern hemisphere locations. Follow the same directions as you did for Tiangong 1 but click on the Humanity Star link to get times and maps. Despite initial predictions, the flashing satellite isn't expected to shine brighter than 4th magnitude. **Update: I got eyes on this satellite for the first time on March 10.1 UT, when I spotted it in binoculars just west of the Pleiades. Humanity Star was on schedule and exhibited bright, quick flashes of varying magnitude. I next lowered the binoculars and found it with just my eyes. The brightest flashes were about magnitude 2. Pops like a strobe!
Cast your gaze wide to see the zodiacal light. The wedge is large and broad at the bottom and stands easily six fists high. It begins to the left of the Pegasus Square and tilts upward and left through Pisces, Aries, and Taurus. Its name comes from "zodiac" because the glow follows the ecliptic through the zodiac constellations. Stellarium
As long as you're watching for satellites, keep an eye out for the zodiacal light, especially if you have access to a dark sky. Evenings are moonless now and March through early April are peak times to see this big, fuzzy cloud of comet and asteroid dust. Face west from 1½–2 hours after sunset and look for a tapering cone of soft, diffuse light reaching up from low in the western sky past the Pleiades and through Taurus until it tickles the toes of the Gemini Twins. The cone is broader and brighter — at least as bright as the summer Milky Way — at its base and fades and tapers the higher you look.
Dust boiled off comets cycling around the Sun is the major contributor to the zodiacal light, but colliding asteroids provide material, too. The dust gathers in a vast cloud that extends at least to Jupiter and reveals its presence by scattering sunlight. Plan a drive to the country to see it best. Skies will be moonless now through March 18–19. Don't miss the sight of one of the largest entities in the solar system.
Scientists See a Full Day on Pluto and Charon (November 19, 2015) by Nancy Atkinson
A day on Pluto is 6.4 Earth days (6 days 9 hours and 36 minutes) long. That’s a lengthy, cold, and rather dark day. But this new image released by the New Horizons spacecraft team gives us a better idea of what a day on Pluto might be like. This montage of images shows Pluto rotating over the course of a full Pluto day.
It is interesting to note that Pluto’s moon Charon is tidally locked around Pluto, so this means that Charon takes 6.4 Earth days to orbit around Pluto – the same amount of time as a day on Pluto. If you were standing on Pluto, Charon would always be at the same place in the sky, or you wouldn’t be able to see it at all. And vise versa if you were on Charon.
New Horizons also captured a full day rotation for Charon, too, which you can see below.
On approach to the Pluto system in July 2015, the cameras on NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft captured images of the largest of Pluto’s five moons, Charon, rotating over the course of a full day. The best currently available images of each side of Charon taken during approach have been combined to create this view of a full rotation of the moon. Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI.
The images were taken by the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) and the Ralph/Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera as New Horizons zoomed toward the Pluto system, and in the various images the distance between New Horizons and Pluto decreased from 5 million miles (8 million kilometers) on July 7 to 400,000 miles (about 645,000 kilometers) on July 13, 2015.
The science team explained that in the Pluto montage, the more distant images are at the 12 to 3 o’clock position, and so these are the best views we have of the peculiar “bumps” or impact craters on the far side. The side New Horizons saw in most detail – what the mission team calls the “encounter hemisphere” – is at the 6 o’clock position. The most prevalent feature there is the heart-shaped, “Tombaugh Regio” area that made us all love Pluto even more.
The odd shape of Pluto in the 12 and 1 o’clock position images aren’t lumps and deformities, but just artifacts from the way the images were combined to create these composites.
For the Charon montage, the images at the 9 o’clock position were taken from the greatest distance, with few of the signature surface features visible, such as the cratered uplands, canyons, or rolling plains of the region informally named Vulcan Planum. The side New Horizons saw in most detail, during closest approach on July 14, 2015, is at the 12 o’clock position.
As a comparison, below is a timelapse view of the Pluto-Charon orbital dance, which was taken by New Horizons back in January 2015. Pluto and Charon were observed for an entire rotation of each body, the same 6 days 9 hours and 36 minutes.
Pluto and Charon were observed by the New Horizons spacecraft for an entire rotation of each body; a “day” on Pluto and Charon is 6.4, which is Earth days. The first of the images was taken when New Horizons was about 3 billion miles from Earth, but just 126 million miles (203 million kilometers) from Pluto, on Jan. 25-31, 2015. NASA/APL/Southwest Research Institute.
Numerous Fireballs Reported as Taurid Meteor Stream Impacts Earth's Atmosphere
Highlights of the Night Sky for This Month:
Want to Know When To See the International Space Station?
The international space station is the largest man-made object ever to orbit the earth. It circles the earth in an orbit high enough that we can see sunlight reflecting off its outer surfaces every time it passes overhead. Usually it appears like a rather bright star slowly moving across our sky here in Windsor and Essex County. Knowing when and where to look for it is the tough part. Below are the flyover times from NASA for the Windsor Area. Just click on the date for all the info available. If you still need more detailed information for spotting the station, here is a website that can help you to go out at the right time and find it.
(Just click on) www.heavens-above.com
Go to NASA's website:
For ISS Sightings from Windsor, Ontario go to the bottom of this page!
(Just click on) www.heavens-above.com
Go to NASA's website:
For ISS Sightings from Windsor, Ontario go to the bottom of this page!
Spot the International Space Station from Your Location...Click Here!
Date Time Visible Duration Max Elevation Starts At Disappears At
Find Jupiter's Galilean Satellites
Identify Saturn's Satellites
Click on the link below for an up-to-the-minute locator for Saturn's major moons.
What's Going On in the Sky Tonight?
Here is a little information on things that you can look for in the sky tonight and what is going on over the next few nights. For a Sky Chart to help you find your way around, scroll to the left-hand column (near the top) on this page.