Draugr, Poltergeist and Phobetor

January 9, 2017 marks the 25th anniversary of Exoplanet discovery. On this day in 1992 the science journal Nature published a paper by astronomers Alex Wolszczan and Dale Frail detailing first confirmation of planets orbiting a star beyond our solar system. That star was a pulsar, 2300 light years away in the constellation Virgo, known as PSR B127+12. Pulsars are maelstroms of fast spinning highly magnetized solar remnants created when mass at the moment of supernova isn’t enough to make a black hole. Instead the outer layer blasts to oblivion, leaving an inner core of dense material exerting unimaginable gravitational force. Spinning countless times per second, those maintaining angular momentum become pulsars – distinguished by intense beams of radio emissions several times a second, similar to a lighthouse beacon.

At Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico Frail and Wolszczan witnessed regular dimming of the pulsar beacon, split second interruptions caused by orbiting planets. Two planets, PSR1257+12b (orbiting once every 66 days) and PSR1257+12c (one orbit every 98 days) became our first proven exoplanets. In 1994 they discovered PSR1257+12d, a tiny third exoplanet orbiting once every 25 days.

In 2015 the International Astronomical Union sponsored a Name Exoworlds contest, 12b, c and d became Draugr, Poltergeist and Phobetor. In 2009 NASA launched the Kepler Space Telescope using the same method of light interruption to detect planetary orbits. To date Kepler has identified 2330 of the over 3500 confirmed exoplanets. Happy exoplanet anniversary,


Best Space Photos Of 2016

On the cusp of 2017, say farewell to 2016 wrapped in cosmic wonder. Start by absorbing photo galleries in links below. Pause to consider  grainy 1959 snippets of the first video from space in order to lose your mind over 2016 timelapse. Happy New Year.

This enhanced-color view from NASA’s Galileo spacecraft shows an intricate pattern of linear fractures on the icy surface of Jupiter’s moon Europa.

Strong winds sweep across Mars’ surface. The wind has carved features called “yardangs,” one of many in this scene, and deposited sand on the floor of shallow channels between them where ripples and dunes can be seen.

Read more: https://sputniknews.com/photo/201612211048819638-best-space-images-2016/

Saturn and its magnificent rings

Approaching Northern Summer: This view shows Saturn’s northern hemisphere in 2016, as that part of the planet nears its summer solstice in May 2017.

Crash Course

Crash Course: It may look as though Saturn’s moon Mimas is crashing through the rings in this image taken by Cassini, but Mimas is actually 28,000 miles (45,000 kilometers) away from the rings. There is a strong connection between the icy moon and Saturn’s rings, though. Gravity links them together and shapes the way they both move.


Exoplanet Storms Ruby and Sapphire Wind

In 2004 science revealed 55 Cancri e, an exoplanet (planet orbiting a star outside our solar system) whose mass was primarily diamonds. http://www.space.com/18011-super-earth-planet-diamond-world.html This week, analysis of data from NASA satellite Kepler tells of HAT-P-7b, a gas giant 40% larger than Jupiter whose blustery upper atmosphere storms with ruby and sapphire wind.

Tidally locked, the same side of HAT-P-7b always faces a behemoth sun,  completing an orbit every every 2.2 days with day side surface  temperatures exceeding 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit. Analysis of extreme temperature variation between day and night sides of HAT-P-7b led to publication of the first exoplanet weather report, a forecast that includes upper atmosphere winds of ruby and sapphire.


“These results show that strong winds circle the planet, transporting clouds from the night side to the day side,” he said. “The winds change speed dramatically, leading to huge cloud formations building up, then dying away.”

And those clouds are almost certainly unlike anything here on Earth, the researchers added: Modeling work suggests that HAT-P-7b’s clouds are composed at least partially of corundum, the mineral that forms sapphires and rubies.”


Astronomers at University of Warwick in Coventry, England have detected evidence of the weather on a giant exoplanet outside our solar system. And not just any other weather; the scientists suspect that clouds on the exoplanet are made with corundum, a rock-forming mineral that forms sapphire and ruby.
(Photo : Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Ponder First ExoMars Images

ESA (European Space Agency) ExoMars Mission left our planet on March 14, 2016. Exo refers to Exobiology, the umbrella principle of a joint ESA and Russian mission to search for methane and other trace atmospheric Mars gases that might be signatures of biological life. Designed with several objectives, ExoMars arrived mid October 2016 as primary craft TGO (Trace Gas Orbiter) and Mars lander Schiaparelli.

Schiaparelli did her best, but not everything goes according to plan. Mission control’s best guess being Schiaparelli thrusters malfunctioned, pounding the lander to full fuel tank Martian oblivion at a violent 300 Km an hour.


This comparison of before-and-after images by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter shows two features likely created during the Oct. 19, 2016 landing attempt of the ExoMars Schiaparelli lander. The small bright feature at bottom is probably Schiaparelli’s parachute, while the dark, fuzzy blob is likely the lander’s crash site.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS


Unfazed by Schiaparelli’s demise, TGO dutifully marches a four day orbital ellipse of Mars. A carefully prescribed stretched loop ranging in altitude from 300 to 96,000 Km. Beginning March 2017, mission control will order TGO to repeatedly dip into the upper atmosphere, depleting orbital energy and shrinking the ellipse. Objective – a near perfect circular orbit at 400 Km by March, 2018.

Meanwhile CaSSIS (Color and Stereo Surface Imaging System) aboard TGO returned mesmerizing first images of Mars.

A feature called Arsia-Chasmata, on the blanks of a martian volcano Arsia Mons. Width of this image is about 15 miles (25 km).

A feature called Arsia-Chasmata, on the blanks of a martian volcano Arsia Mons. Width of this image is about 15 miles (25 km). Image via ESA/ Roscosmos/ EsoMars/ CaSSIS/ UniBE.

First images from ExoMars mission

The Known Universe And Other Cosmic Visualizations To Ponder

Ponder The Known Universe, a short film by the American Natural History Museum. Next – allow Hubble to hijack senses. Follow with reverence demanded by solar symphonies. Finally – drift softly back to Earth wrapped in the arms of Aurora.


Ponder Kepler 111451233 – Roundest Known Object In The Universe

We tend to think of celestial objects as round. Earth, Moon, Sun, planets and beyond – symmetrical orbs locked in gravitational waltz. Cosmic wobbles, wonky silhouettes, understandably obscured by the vastness of space.

All celestial bodies spin on their axis, rotation creates centrifugal force which pulls mass away from poles toward the equator. Our Sun has a radius at the equator 10 Km greater than its poles, Earth boasts a 21 Km variance. Be it sun, planet or moon, rotation flattens cosmic bodies into oblate spheres. Degrees of cosmic squashing depend on mass, composition and rate of spin.

A few weeks ago science declared Kepler 111451233 – roundest know object in the universe. Astronomer Laurent Gizon from Max Planck Institute For Solar System Research at University of Gottingen Germany, applied the science of asteroseismology to bestow symmetrical glory on a star 5,000 light years away. Asteroseismology measures the oscillation of stars to determine degrees of spherical flattening, all the while separating acoustic wave frequencies emanating from interior/exterior regions. Kepler 111451233 is twice the size of our Sun, spinning three times slower – not remarkable enough to justify round adulation. Cosmic tickles only erupt when factoring in acoustic wave anomalies indicating the exterior spins faster than the core. Science  published an inexplicable holy crap – a distant star twice as big as our Sun, registering a measly 3 Km variance between poles and equator is the roundest known object in the universe.

So what you say? I say ponder the importance of edge pieces on a jigsaw puzzle. The roundest known object in the universe is an edge piece, without edges the puzzle falls apart.


KIC 11145123 and our Sun. Credit: Laurent Gizon et al/Mark A Garlick