January 2008 Archives

Carnival of Space Noir #38

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Well, that is different. This week's Carnival of Space is up at Sorting Out Science, and it's written as a crime story.

“I’m Addie — Addie Astra. And I seem to have a missing mass problem.” I told her that what she did with her Sunday mornings was her business — but the joke went right past her. This Addie, she’s a cool one, all right — or maybe just not the brightest star in the sky. Or maybe she just wanted me to think that.

Go check it out; it's very cool. And so are all the stories linked from it.

Results from the MESSENGER fly-by

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Mercury seen from MESSENGER, 27,000km awayScience data is a little slow in coming from this Tuesday's fly-by of Mercury, but according to NASA everything went as planned and the spacecraft seems to be were it was expected to be. The ground-based antennas are busy handling unexpected problems with Ulysses, another mission exploring that area of the Solar System (it just went over the north pole of the Sun), but we should get more info soon.

Meanwhile, the photo illustrating this article is the first one released by NASA (click on the image to enlarge). It was taken 80 minutes after the closest approach, when MESSENGER was already 27,000km away and looking back. It shows parts of the planet that had never been photographed before (they were not seen by Mariner 10), and that's just the beginning; we can expect many more pictures over the next few weeks, and we can expect to see most of the features of the planet in colour.

Carnival of Space #36

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Dynamics of Cats has the latest edition of the Carnival of Space, and we're up to number 36 already! One of the interesting stories it points to refers to 2007 WD5, the asteroid that might impact Mars later this month. The chance of impact at one time was 1-in-25, but it now looks more like 1-in-10,000. Too bad.

Plus: gorgeous pictures, 200 Lunar sci-fi stories, black holes in Saturn and more!

First MESSENGER images

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Mercury seen from MESSENGERAs I mentioned previously, images from the MESSENGER fly-by of Mercury have started arriving; the one shown here, the first one released by NASA, was taken from a distance of 2.7 million kilometres, just after midnight on 10 January (Melbourne time) (click the image to see a larger version).

MESSENGER will reach its closest approach to Mercury this time around early in the morning of 15 January (again, Melbourne time), when it will be 200km above the surface; images and movies should be released soon afterwards. This is the first time a spacecraft gets close to Mercury since Mariner 10, in 1974.

AAS meeting

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The American Astronomical Society is now having its annual meeting in Austin, Texas, and as a consequence there is a flood of astronomy news floating around. In fact, there's too much for me to write about, and people that are better (and more knowledgeable) writers than me have being doing a great job of covering the news. So, for lots of information on the meeting, see:

Watching Mercury

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Now is a good time to look at that small rock sitting very close to our Sun... Mercury is reaching it maximum eastern elongation, which means that it's about as far away from the Sun (when seen from Earth) as it is going to get this time around. If you have a nice, flat western horizon, look for it soon after the sunset, slightly north of the place where the Sun disappeared. The sky will still be quite bright by the time Mercury sets, but the best day to see it will be on the 21st. For observers in Melbourne, Mercury will set at 21:41 today and 21:42 tomorrow (the Sun sets at 20:45 and 20:44, respectively). For other locations, check this page from the US Naval Observatory.

But, of course, you may prefer to watch it from a better vantage point. If so, now is a very good time: MESSENGER, the first probe to visit that planet since the late 70s, is less than one week away from its first fly-by. The closest approach, at just 200km from the surface, will happen on the 14th, but the cameras will start to take pictures of the planet tomorrow, and some images should be released soon afterwards.

MESSENGER was launched in August 2004 and is in a very complex and long trajectory that will end up with the probe in orbit of the planet... on 18 March 2011. Two more fly-bys happen before then, one in October 2008 and other in September 2009. The reason for this is that it is very hard to send a probe that close to the Sun without having it go into the Sun; it will use its several planetary fly-bys (two of the Earth, two of Venus and three of Mercury) to match its speed to that of Mercury, enabling it to enter the planet's orbit with relative ease.

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This page is an archive of entries from January 2008 listed from newest to oldest.

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