September 2006 Archives

ISS/Atlantis transit of the Sun

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Thierry Legault, a French photographer, captured a great image of the ISS and Atlantis in front of the Sun as seen from the ground. That was quite an acomplishment, considering that the transit lasted for less than a second.

By the way, I love the picture of his equipment (scroll all the way to the bottom of the page to see it).


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Phil Plait, author of the Bad Astronomy blog, has a great story about an amateur discovering a supernova and how being in a bar can lead to greatness. Worth reading.

No shuttle yesterday

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The pass of the ISS - Atlantis "binary system" (Atlantis had already undocked and was, apparently, very visible as a separate point of light besides the ISS) over Australia yesterday was completely obscured by clouds in Melbourne, but Ian Musgrave, from Adelaide, got nice pictures of the event.

In the meantime, Anousheh Ansari, the first female "space tourist" is on her way to the ISS, and she is blogging from space, which is probably another first. It wasn't widely reported outside Australia, but Ansari was an online student of Melbourne-based Swinburne Institute of Technology's astronomy program.

Science on SBS

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Cassini probe on the groundThe Sunday 8:30pm time-slot on SBS is becoming more interesting every week for anyone interested in astronomy and in science in general. After showing Brian Greene's "The Elegant Universe" over three weeks, last night SBS aired an episode of "Horizon" (a.k.a. "Nova" in the USA) about the Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn.

It didn't have any new information to people who usually follow news about space missions, but the visual material was very well done, as were the inteviews with astronomers and other research personnel. Also, it was interesting seeing just how large the Cassini probe is (it's about the size of a small bus).

Next week's program will talk about space tourism; SBS programming info is here.


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I should probably have written about this earlier, but...

I've started attending the meetings of the New Astronomers Group of the ASV. The intake meeting was at the end of August, and the first regular meeting I attended was two weeks ago, on the 6th. Meeting happen on the first Wednesday of each month.

The NAG is a semi-formal group of "beginners" with the intention of introducing people to astronomy. Each monthly meeting includes a talk about a specific subject, ranging from astronomy theory to very practical, observation-related issues. The intake meeting had a general introduction amateur astronomy and useful tools (such as a planisphere and a red torch), including an introduction to the society's 20-inch telescope, and it is intended only for people joining the group (there's one intake every three months). After joining, you're part of the group for a year, after which you "graduate" out of it and open space for new people.

Regular meetings seem to be attended by around 20 people (although I'm told attendance can vary wildly depending on the subject to be discussed and the weather); this month's meeting (which happened on a cold, rainy night) was on the subject of the life-cycle of stars, discussing the birth and death of stars and everything in between (the main sequence, supernovae, red giants, white and brown dwarves etc.). Pretty interesting, even though I knew most of the material and I had to leave a few minutes early due to tram schedules.

It's a pretty good way of meeting like-minded people and getting to know other members of the society (the meetings are open only to ASV members); people talk about what they're learning and doing, bring their instruments so that people with more experience can teach them to use them, bring interesting material they find on the net and so on. I hope to learn quite a bit from the group. For those who might want more information about the group, go to the ASV website.

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter reaches final orbit

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After six months doing complex aerobraking manoeuvres (which basically mean that the orbiter would go close enough to the planet to have its speed reduced by contact with the atmosphere), MRO has now reached its final orbit and is ready to start working on its science objectives.

MRO reached Mars back in March, and assumed a highly elliptical orbit that took it as far as 45,000km away from the planet (and as close as 100km). The final orbit it now reached is almost circular, with a maximum altitude of just under 500km. It has also adjusted the orientation of the orbit so that the lowest point of the trajectory happens over the Martian South Pole, with the highest point over the North Pole.

The orbiter will spend a few weeks deploying and adjusting instruments and solar panels, and the science phase is expected to begin in earnest in November. The first high-resolution images of the surface (taken with the HiRISE instrument and showing the ground with a 1-metre resolution) will probably start to come in at the end of this month.

I wrote a bit about the MRO last year, and the JPL mission website has loads of information and pictures.

"Xena" has a name

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2003 UB313, aka Xena, has now an official name given by the IAU: Eris. Its moon, previously known informally as Gabrielle, is now called Dysnomia. Eris is the Greek goddess of discord, while her daughter Dysnomia is related to lawlessness. This follows the general theme for trans-Neptunian objects being named after "not-so-nice" Greek gods.

The IAU announcement is here (PDF document).

Photos of the eclipse

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Will Gater, from London, has put up some pictures of last week's lunar eclipse in his blog.

Atlantis is up

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Atlantis lifts offAfter still more delays, Atlantis finally went up on Saturday. Once more, pieces of foam dropped from the fuel tank during the lift-off and hit the shuttle, but the inspections performed by the astronauts yesterday show that everything looks good with the spacecraft.

Atlantis will dock with the ISS later tonight (6:46am EDT, 8:45pm AEST). They both (separately as well as when connected) are easily visible from the Earth if you happen to look up at the right place and the right time; the nice folks at Heavens Above can give you a nice table showing when they will be visible from your location, wherever it happens to be. For example, for Melbourne, they will be visible tomorrow morning, from 5:41 to 5:45, relatively low in the sky (31° at most) with magnitude -0.7. Wednesday next week (20 September) will bring a much better pass, going up to 75° 47° above the eastern southwestern horizon a bit after sunset (6:31 to 6:37pm 7:03 to 7:09pm), with magnitude -1.5 -0.3; should be one the brightest objects in the sky and easily visible even with a somewhat bright sky. (the predicted times and orientation changed, so I've updated the text)

STS-115 close to launch

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If everything goes ok, STS-115 should launch just over 10 hours from now, at 11:41 Florida time (that's tomorrow morning at 1:41 AEST). After a weather-related delay and then a problem with a fuel cell (they decided to go ahead anyway, as two of the three fuel cells are enough to power the shuttle during the whole mission), this is probably the last chance for a launch inside this window.

SMART-1 impact

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SMART-1 impactSMART-1 has impacted the Moon as predicted, at 5:42UTC on Sunday (15:42 AEST). The Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope has captured an image of the flash generated by the impact, and the ESA website has a simulated animation of the last orbit, together with lots of pictures sent by the probe during its last few orbits.

Partial lunar eclipse next week

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A partial lunar eclipse will be visible in Australia next week. Eastern Australia will see the moon set while still eclipsed (in Earth's penumbra, but already out of the umbra), while the rest of the country (West Australia, Northern Territory and most of South Australia) will see the full eclipse.

The eclipse (umbra) starts (first contact happens) at 18:05 UTC on the 7th of September, which is 4:05 AEST the next day, peaks at 18:51 UTC (4:51 AEST) and ends at 19:37 UTC (5:37 AEST). The penumbral eclipse extends until 21:00 UTC (7:00 AEST) but the moon will set before that: in Melbourne, it will set at 6:12 (so you won't miss much of it). If you are a very early riser and have a good view of the western horizon, that will be a great way of starting the day.

Recapitulating, the eclipse starts at 4:05am AEST on 08 September (early next Friday morning). Full details can be seen at the Theodore Lunar Observatory website.

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This page is an archive of entries from September 2006 listed from newest to oldest.

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