Pluto Ice Volcano


January 14, 2016 -NASA released spectacular images of possible ice volcanoes on the surface of Pluto. Captured on July 14, 2015 by New Horizons Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI), geologists are suggesting evidence of cryovolcanic activity. Pictured below is Wright Mons (named by New Horizons mission in honour of the Wright brothers ) Science is intrigued by absence of impact craters (only one crater in vicinity of Wright Mons ) indicating a surface/crust of recent formation.

Eruption is the single characteristic ice volcano shares with earthly volcanic perception. Rather than molten rock, cryo eruption spews a sludge of water, ice, nitrogen, ammonia and methane. Jeffrey Moore, leader of New Horizons Geology, Geophysics and Imaging team believes proof of volcanic Pluto will unlock clues to geologic and atmospheric evolution.

“After all, nothing like this has been seen in the deep outer solar system”.- Jeffrey Moore

View larger. | This composite image of a possible ice volcano on Pluto includes pictures taken by the New Horizons spacecraft’s Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) on July 14, 2015, from a range of about 30,000 miles (48,000 kilometers), showing features as small as 1,500 feet (450 meters) across. Sprinkled across the LORRI mosaic is enhanced color data from the Ralph/Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC), from a range of 21,000 miles (34,000 kilometers) and at a resolution of about 2,100 feet (650 meters) per pixel. The entire scene is 140 miles (230 kilometers) across. Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

View larger. | This composite image of a possible ice volcano on Pluto includes pictures taken by the New Horizons spacecraft’s Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) on July 14, 2015, from a range of about 30,000 miles (48,000 kilometers), showing features as small as 1,500 feet (450 meters) across. Sprinkled across the LORRI mosaic is enhanced color data from the Ralph/Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC), from a range of 21,000 miles (34,000 kilometers) and at a resolution of about 2,100 feet (650 meters) per pixel. The entire scene is 140 miles (230 kilometers) across. Image credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

Using New Horizons images of Pluto’s surface to make 3-D topographic maps, scientists discovered that two of Pluto’s mountains, informally named Wright Mons and Piccard Mons, could be ice volcanoes. The color depicts changes in elevation, blue indicating lower terrain and brown showing higher elevation. Green terrains are at intermediate heights. Image credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

Closer Look: Majestic Mountains and Frozen Plains: Just 15 minutes after its closest approach to Pluto on July 14, 2015, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft looked back toward the sun and captured this near-sunset view of the rugged, icy mountains and flat ice plains extending to Pluto’s horizon. The smooth expanse of the informally named Sputnik Planum (right) is flanked to the west (left) by rugged mountains up to 11,000 feet (3,500 meters) high, including the informally named Norgay Montes in the foreground and Hillary Montes on the skyline. The backlighting highlights more than a dozen layers of haze in Pluto’s tenuous but distended atmosphere. The image was taken from a distance of 11,000 miles (18,000 kilometers) to Pluto; the scene is 230 miles (380 kilometers) across. View larger. | Image credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

On July 14, 2015, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft looked back toward the sun and captured this near-sunset view of the rugged, icy mountains and flat ice plains extending to Pluto’s horizon. The smooth expanse of the informally named Sputnik Planum (right) is flanked to the west (left) by rugged mountains up to 11,000 feet (3,500 meters) high, including the informally named Norgay Montes in the foreground and Hillary Montes on the skyline. The backlighting highlights more than a dozen layers of haze in Pluto’s tenuous but distended atmosphere. The image was taken from a distance of 11,000 miles (18,000 kilometers) to Pluto; the scene is 230 miles (380 kilometers) across. View larger. | Image credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

Image credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

http://earthsky.org/space/pluto-might-have-ice-volcanoes

Old Water


Earth has a lot of water – over 70% of the planet is below sea level. Less than 3%  fresh water – almost all of that hiding as groundwater or frozen glaciers and ice-caps. Earth commands a orbital sweet spot around the sun – not too far, not too close, but just right to set us apart with liquid surface water. Water responsible for another unique distinction – plate tectonics. Water lubricates  continental plates, facilitating constant bump and grind across our molten outer core. Movement responsible for mountain ranges, weather patterns and life as we know it.

Not often pondered outside quality, supply and demand – our most basic element is taken for granted. Understanding frozen objects litter the universe doesn’t often translate to consideration of how we ended up with all that water.

A study led by Ilsedore Cleeves, an Astrochemist from the University of Michigan Ann Arbor, indicates much of our water was present before the sun formed – more importantly 30-50% of Earth’s water not only escaped heat,radiation, and vaporization when the sun booted up, some 4.6 billion years ago – it prevailed despite those conditions. When a star first “lights up”, the surrounding cosmic cloud (imagine a chaotic jumble of cosmic dust particles and ice) it’s subjected to intense heat and radiation – vaporizing ice, and separating some water molecules into oxygen and hydrogen.

Science could only speculate as to how much water survived this bombardment – in other words, what might have remained as a “universal ingredient” in planet formation. Of particular interest, the study of two very different waters – regular old water and heavy water. Heavy water contains an element called Deuterium or heavy hydrogen – Deuterium rich water (identified as having a hydrogen isotope containing  a neutron in addition to proton in the nucleus) is the product of substantial exposure to cosmic radiation.

Cleeves led researchers in creating a “planetary disk” – essentially a laboratory mock up of what happened to ice and water when the sun “lit” up. How much heat, direct solar radiation, and distance traveled by outside cosmic radiation were needed to account for measurable heavy water in our solar system.  Their conclusion, published Sept. 26 in the journal Science – water and heavy water didn’t add up. A whole lot of  water – perhaps as high as 50% came from icy interstellar space, millions of years before our sun got down to business.

“Our findings show that a significant fraction of our solar system’s water, the most-fundamental ingredient to fostering life, is older than the sun, which indicates that abundant, organic-rich interstellar ices should probably be found in all young planetary systems.” – Conel Alexander, research team member from the Carnegie Institute of Science.

Ponder that statement a moment – “abundant, organic-rich interstellar ices should probably be found in all young planetary systems” – that is so cool.

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/earth-has-water-older-than-the-sun/

 

 

NameExoWorlds Contest


“Exo” means outer or outside, Exoplanet is the name given planets orbiting stars beyond our solar system.  Since 1919, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) has been the official “namer” of space objects. In a press release issued July 9, the IAU announced a contest in partnership with Zooniverse (will link below), to name 305 Exoplanets discovered before 2008.

Starting is September of this year, Astronomy Clubs and non-profit organizations will be able to register as participants in the NameExoWorlds contest. By October 2014, registrants will be asked to vote on the stars and clusters they want to name,  narrowing the list down to 20-30 hopefuls.Beginning in December 2014, those registered can submit names and by March 2015, the public can vote for their favorites.

I want in on this, voting after the fact is unacceptable. Consider this official notice of the Notes International Astronomy Club. I invite and encourage additional members to join me – my club house has plenty of room and we have Exoplanets to name.

http://nameexoworlds.org/

https://www.zooniverse.org/

http://earthsky.org/space/astronomers-invite-worldwide-public-to-help-name-exoplanets-and-their-stars?utm_source=EarthSky+News&utm_campaign=a54adcb587-EarthSky_News&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_c643945d79-a54adcb587-393970565

Where Did You Come From 2014 AA?


It’s no secret I check space weather every day; solar wind, chance of flares, active sun spots, list of PHA (potentially harmful asteroid) in the next few months. My eyes settled on 2014 AA, Jan.2, 2014, .001 LD  (1 LD = the distance from earth to the moon), 3 meters. Holy crap – this wasn’t here yesterday. Where did you come from 2014 AA? It seems I needn’t have bothered trying to calculate what .001 of 384,000 Kms. was, 2014 AA entered our atmosphere around midnight EST. Believed to have burned up over the Atlantic, somewhere off the east coast of Africa.

This rogue little space rock hadn’t even been discovered until New Years Day, 24 hours later it slams into our atmosphere. Another nugget of information presented itself – this is only the second time astronomers spotted an asteroid before it hit our atmosphere. The first time in 2008 when 2008 TC3 burned up over the Sudan, and coincidentally TC 3 wasn’t discovered until the day before impact.

http://earthsky.org/earth/small-asteroid-entered-our-atmosphere-just-hours-ago

There isn’t a lot any of us can do about falling space junk; I’m not pacing the floor, fretting about a doomsday asteroid. There isn’t much we could do about a sudden, unexpected projectile hurtling towards our planet. That said, I was truly shocked to learn only two asteroids have ever been detected before hitting our atmosphere. Currently spaceweather lists 1488 PHA’s ranging from a few meters to Km’s in width. Gravity and its pull, orbits, and trajectories are fickle, I’d be a much happier ponderer if we put a little more effort into more than 24 hours notice.

Image – skyandtelescope.com

Geminids and Gibbous Moons


When the Geminid meteor shower peaks on Dec. 13 and 14, a pesky, almost full moon is poised to steal fireball thunder. The annual Geminids are one of the most prolific night shows, with an average of 120 meteors an hour. As if losing ISON wasn’t bad enough; a bright winter moon is expected to reduce visible meteors 2 – 5 fold.

Annual meteor showers result from earth’s orbit intersecting debris from a sun orbiting comet. Radiant point, is the name given to this intersection. Debris from comet 3200 Phaethon happens to intersect our orbit in the vicinity of constellation Gemini, hence – Geminids. To find Gemini, look for the star Castor, low on the east, north-east sky around 9 PM. Castor is one of the brightest stars in the sky and along with Pollux, make up the ” twin brothers ” of Gemini. The reason Geminids produce so many visible meteors is that the constellation and radiant point swing upward; by 2 AM the point is directly above you in the sky. The angle of the radiant, translates into no poor seats for this show – you can see it from anywhere, with 2 AM as your prime time.

This year we have a waxing gibbous moon to deal with – not a deal breaker, but grounds for some new rules. Since the nearly full moon is so bright, you should wait until the moon sets. This year pre-dawn moon set offers the best view. Get out of town – away from city lights – and give yourself a few minutes to adjust to the darkness. Gibbous moon aside – I guarantee you’ll see fireballs – you don’t even have to find Gemini, the Geminids have a crazy way of appearing to come from any direction.

http://earthsky.org/astronomy-essentials/radiant-point-for-geminid-meteor-shower

To find out when the moon sets in your little corner of the world – a link…..

http://www.usno.navy.mil/USNO/astronomical-applications/data-services

Ponder the last time you wished upon a falling star.

Jupiter, Castor and Pollux rise at early-to-mid evening in early December but at dusk or nightfall  by the month's end.

Jupiter, Castor and Pollux rise at early-to-mid evening in early December but at dusk or nightfall by the month’s end.

ISON – Bye, Bye Bye


Oh comet ISON, you tried so hard; you refused to go down without a fight and sadly all you have to show for it is a rather messy dust cloud. Cheer up – you did your best, and I for one wasn’t disappointed. Still smarting over the fact my sister laid eyes on you and I never had that chance hurts, but I’m optimistic your fading glory might still cross my path in December.

NASA scientists now describe what’s left of ISON as a “fading ghost”. R.I.P ISON.

Don’t take it personally ISON, you’re not the only kid in space. Instead of sulking over your demise I’m looking for a replacement before you’ve even left the stage. As of today, 1440 PHA’s (potentially hazardous asteroids) lurk within 100 LD (lunar distance) from earth. Some of them game changers, such as the almost 2 Km. wide asteroid passing within 18 LD (one LD equals the distance from earth to the moon) on Jan. 21 – massive, but harmless – much too far away. The closest any of these PHA’s will come is the 5 metre chunk that passed within .4 LD yesterday. Hardly worth giving you the hook dusty ISON.

Solar winds have risen sharply; now almost 500 Km/second, coupled with two active “earth facing” sunspots – AR 1908 and 1907 barely make a ripple on my radar. Sorry earth facing sunspots; you’ll have to do better than a 25% chance of M-class flares if you want to replace ISON. Our sun, flipping magnetic polarity is pretty cool – even if it happens every 11 years or so At the very least worthy of a nod for jaw dropping auroras.

I’m partial to the Tycho supernova; witnessed by astronomer Tycho Brahe in 1572. For almost a year it shone as brightly in the night sky as Venus. Take that dusty, disintegrating ISON. Tycho blasted elements outward at an impressive 11 million miles an hour. No big deal, that’s what white dwarf stars do when they go supernova. The cool thing is that science now understands when Tycho went ballistic a shock wave or “sonic boom” of sorts went outwards at Mach 300, the wave collided with interstellar gases and created a reverse shock wave – one that turned back on Tycho at Mach 1000, heating gases and making them visible to astronomers as a glowing ball. Very cool; Tycho helped us understand supernovas – you just confused us ISON.

ISON; you thought dazzling us with a 16 million Km. tail would suffice – remarkable yes, but you have stiff competition. Asteroid P/2013 P5, discovered by pan-STARRS  on Sept. 10,  2013 , rotates like a sprinkler head with six distinct comet like tails radiating from the centre. This is jaw dropping ISON – science has never encountered this anomaly. You’re up against gamma ray bursts, black holes and star nebulas, “A” for effort ISON.

The universe is too full of wonder to keep you around; take heart – you had a good run, and I’ll miss you.

Holy Crap ISON – Some Of You Made It!


Last night I wrote that ISON was the little engine that could. Holy crap ISON – I thought I would have to eat my words today but you refuse to give up. ISON won’t live up to the billing of “comet of the century”, yet it seems at least some of the nucleus survived the sun’s atmosphere. Scientists don’t expect what’s left to be as bright as comet Lovejoy in 2011, that said – ISON is most likely going to be visible in the eastern skies come Dec. 2 0r 3rd. Good job ISON.