February 2007 Archives

New Horizon flies by Jupiter

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As I write this, the New Horizons probe is less than 5 minutes away from its closest approach to Jupiter, on its way to Pluto. It is using Jupiter's gravitational pull to gain speed, which will allow it to get to Pluto much earlier than it would normally. Still, it will take 8 more years to get there: the closest approach to Pluto will happen on 14 July 2015 (Bastille Day).

New Horizons was launched just over one year ago, on 19 January 2006, and the fact that it made it to Jupiter in less than 14 months is a good demonstration of how fast this probe is (and the fact that the trip to Pluto will still take almost 10 years is a good demonstration of how large our solar system is...). The gravity-assist manoeuvre around Jupiter is accelerating it to over 83,000 km/h (from just under 70,000) and will send it flying through Jupiter's magnetosphere "tail", the result of the interaction between the solar wind and Jupiter's magnetic field; New Horizons will be the first probe ever to fly through this area, and the data it sends back should be interesting.

After that (from June onwards, probably) the probe will mostly hibernate until it meets Pluto, as there is nothing really interesting on the way there. Jupiter data should start appearing in New Horizon's web site soon, and you can use the same web site to follow the probe's progress through the outer solar system.

The British shuttle

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Reliant ShuttleThis is all over the net, but it's too cool not to mention: the folks at Top Gear, a British TV show (seen in Australia on SBS, sharing the 19:30 Monday slot with Mythbusters) built and launched a space shuttle. They based their design around a Reliant Robin, a British three-wheeled automobile. The idea was to have the "orbiter" separate from the boosters and external tank at around 3,000 feet (1km or so) and glide back to Earth, landing somewhat softly. It didn't quite work out, but the result was very impressive.

It must have been an amazingly expensive stunt, and was brilliantly executed; that was possibly the largest amateur rocket ever launched in Europe, and one of the largest in the world. Oh, the boosters and the external tank were built in, basically, a large garage.

This is the video of the launch:

And Google Video has the whole, 21-minute long, segment.

Lunar eclipse

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For information on the 28 August 2007 eclipse, go here.

There's a total lunar eclipse coming up next month; it will start at 23:20 UTC on 03 March (04 March 10:20 Melbourne daylight savings time) and will last for six hours, from first contact until the Moon leaves the penumbra.

It won't be visible from Melbourne, though, as the Moon will be below the horizon at the time. Viewers in Adelaide should be able to see the Moon start to get a bit reddish as it goes into the penumbra just before it sets (it may be hard to see, though), while observers in Perth will see it set just before it gets completely obscured by the Earth's shadow. Anyone east of the South Australia - Victoria border won't see anything — that includes the whole of Victoria and Tasmania, most of New South Wales and Queensland and the whole of New Zealand.

But don't despair. On 28 August a new total eclipse will be visible exactly to the area of the world that misses out on the first one. It will start at 07:51 UTC (17:51 Melbourne time), and eastern Australia will see the whole eclipse starting just after the Moon rises (western Australia catches the eclipse in progress at Moon rise).

We'll miss out on a third eclipse in February of next year, though. The next total lunar eclipse we'll be able to see from Australia, and then only in part, will be in December of 2010. For a fully visible total eclipse, Australians who miss out in August will have to wait until 11 December 2011.

For more details, check the visibility charts at the NASA Lunar Eclipse Home Page: for the March eclipse, and for the August eclipse.

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This page is an archive of entries from February 2007 listed from newest to oldest.

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