No Telescope? No Problem

On April 29th behemoth asteroid 1998 OR2 will make closest approach to Earth at a safe distance of approximately 6 million kilometers. Traveling through the cosmos at 31,320 km/h, 1.8 km wide, 4.1 km long 1998 OR2 reigns as largest near Earth asteroid flyby of the year. There’s no chance of planetary impact and sadly no chance of seeing it without a telescope. Fear not, the Virtual Telescope Project hosts free online viewing starting April 28, 2020.

Ghostly image of a large boulder in space.

Radar image of asteroid 1998 OR2, acquired April 18, 2020. According to current estimates, this space rock is probably at least a mile wide (1.8 km) and maybe 2 1/2 times that long (4.1 km). Image via Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico.

First glimpses of large asteroid due to pass soon

Pale Blue Dot Revisited

Thirty years ago today, February 14, 1990 – NASA spacecraft Voyager 1 looked back from Saturn to capture the Pale Blue Dot.

An image of bluish space, with streaks of sunlight crossing it, and with a single dot - Earth - within one of the sunbeams.

In this image from Voyager 1 – acquired on February 14, 1990, from a distance slightly past the orbit of Saturn – Planet Earth is visible as a bright speck within the sunbeam, just right of center. Earth appears softly blue. It occupies less than a single pixel in this image and thus is not fully resolved. Image via NASA.

As Voyager 1 approached Saturn, mission control planned to conserve power by shutting down imaging cameras. Astronomer Carl Sagan had an idea – before shutdown look back at planet Earth. Six billion kilometers across the cosmos Voyager 1 immortalized the Pale Blue Dot.

Today, 30th anniversary of the Pale Blue Dot

On this 30th anniversary, every last one of us should take a moment to ponder Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot –

“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every ‘superstar,’ every ‘supreme leader,’ every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.” – Carl Sagan

Inouye Sun

Highest resolution images ever taken of the Sun were released January 29, 2020 by astronomers at the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope. Inouye, the world’s largest solar telescope sits near the summit of Mount Haleakala on Maui. Construction began in January 2013. The distinguishing feature, a 13 foot primary mirror arrived in August, 2017. This week we have Inouye to thank for expanding solar horizons. A statement from NSF (National Science Foundation) –

“The images show a pattern of turbulent ‘boiling’ plasma that covers the entire sun. The cell-like structures – each about the size of Texas – are the signature of violent motions that transport heat from the inside of the sun to its surface. That hot solar plasma rises in the bright centers of ‘cells,’ cools, then sinks below the surface in dark lanes in a process known as convection.”

Square of tightly-packed caramel corn-like granules.

I can’t watch this video without grinning from ear to ear –

Erupting solar plasma drives space weather’s engine. Solar storms impact airlines, GPS, telecommunications and the power grid. To understand solar dynamics, is to understand space weather. High resolution Inouye images are touted as the greatest leap in humanity’s ability to study the Sun since Galileo.  Said Thomas Rimmele, Director of Inouye Solar Telescope –

“It’s all about the magnetic field. To unravel the sun’s biggest mysteries, we have to not only be able to clearly see these tiny structures from 93 million miles [150 million km] away but very precisely measure their magnetic field strength and direction near the surface and trace the field as it extends out into the million-degree corona, the outer atmosphere of the sun.”

Newest solar telescope releases its 1st images

Orbem Terrae

Adrien Mauduit of Night Lights Films effortlessly sprinkles corners of imagination with stardust. Ponder Orbem Terrae ( Latin, loosely translated as orbiting Earth or the whole world). Mauduit’s unique artistry hums arias of wonder. Wrap yourself in Orbem Terrae-

All the modern films taken at night usually capture this celestial course from a fixed point of the Earth. Thus you will most likely watch the moon or the milky way make their way across the firmament. In the Northern Hemisphere, it seems to move from left to right, and the opposite in the Southern Hemisphere. Nonetheless have you ever seen a film where the night sky is fixed and the Earth moves instead? Well, now you have!That was the whole point of this short time-lapse film that I dubbed ‘Orbem Terræ’, or orbiting Earth in latin. The goal is to bring a whole new perspective on how we actually move against the background sky! In this manner, some of the clips give a very cool effect where you almost feel like you’re on the International Space Station lokking down at the Earth. This ‘floating’ effect is admittedly unsettling though, as if we will fall into the abyss of the universe. However only now can you appreciate the true movement of rotation of our planet in the solar system. Some of the clips are also tilted, reversed and rotated on purpose to accentuate the effect, so much that sometimes, you have no clue what is up and what is down! It’s especially true for the scenes featuring water reflection!

To achieve this particular effect, it actually not rocket science. There exist simple devices that, if set in the right way, can follow and track a particular point of the sky by compensation for the rotation of the Earth. By mountain your camera on top of those ‘tracker’, you can now have a fixed sky, a rotating Earth effect, and some advantages as the cherry on top: more details in the night sky objects!

This short film is actually a compilation of all the best tracked shots I have acquired during the past 4 years. After all my different movies, I’ve been asked a number of times to put together this compilation, so here you go! They were taken all over the globe from Europe to South America, Africa to North America. It features some of the most detailed astrophotography sequences on the market for this quality output, including some never-seen-before ones! “ – Adrien Mauduit

Nazi Propaganda, Ultima Thule and Arrokoth

On January 1, 2019 NASA darling New Horizons made the farthest close approach fly-by of a cosmic object in human history. Tiny 2014 MU69, a Kuiper Belt object far beyond Pluto was dubbed Ultima Thule shortly before the historic encounter. Ancient geographers used the term ultima Thule in reference to distant territory or destination, northernmost region of the habitable world, remotes goals or ideals. Ultima Thule suited the apple of New Horizons eye. Beyond limits of the known world, a fitting moniker until Nazi propaganda compelled Ultima Thule to become Arrokoth.

2014 MU69 – Arrokoth (Sky, in the Powhatan and Algonquian languages)

Long before a Newsweek reporter mentioned Nazi party use of Ultima Thule in reference to a mythical homeland for Aryan people, NASA pondered implication by association, including its legal team in naming 2014 MU69. Ultima Thule was a fine name, but for media buzz over Nazi propaganda I never would have known neo-Nazis and far right extremists claimed it for their cause. Nor would I known a Swedish skinhead band named Ultima Thule attained three top twenty hits in their homeland.

Imperatives to rename Ultima Thule had little to do with common public knowledge of  Nazi propaganda, everything to do with alt-right association and use of Ultima Thule in their cause.

Ultima Thule renamed to avoid Nazi link

Open Contest To Name 20 New Moons Of Saturn

Today, Scott Sheppard of Carnegie Institution for Science launched a contest to name 20 newly discovered moons of Saturn. For those keeping score,  Saturn (now with 82 moons) leapfrogged past Jupiter (79 moons) to claim satellite supremacy.

Illustration is courtesy of the Carnegie Institution for Science, Saturn image is courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute. Starry background courtesy of Paolo Sartorio/Shutterstock.

Dust off history books, brush up on Norse, Gallic and Inuit mythology – between now and December 6, 2019 the contest is open to anyone who follows IAU rules. Follow link below to enter contest.

From Wikipedia –

In 1847 the seven then known moons of Saturn were named by John Herschel. Herschel named Saturn’s two innermost moons (Mimas and Enceladus) after the mythological Greek Giants, and the outer five after the Titans (Titan, Iapetus) and Titanesses (Tethys, Dione, Rhea) of the same mythology. Until then, Titan was known as the “Huygenian (or Huyghenian) satellite of Saturn” and the other moons had Roman numeral designations in order of their distance from Saturn. Subsequent discoverers of Saturnian moons followed Herschel’s scheme: Hyperion was discovered soon after in 1848, and the ninth moon, Phoebe, was named by its discoverer in 1899 soon after its discovery; they were named for a Titan and a Titaness respectively. The name of Janus was suggested by its discoverer, Audouin Dollfus.

Current IAU practice for newly discovered inner moons is to continue with Herschel’s system, naming them after Titans or their descendants. However, the increasing number of moons that were being discovered in the 21st century caused the IAU to draw up a new scheme for the outer moons. At the IAU General Assembly in July 2004, the WGPSN allowed satellites of Saturn to have names of giants and monsters in mythologies other than the Greco-Roman. Since the outer moons fall naturally into three groups, one group is named after Norse giants, one after Gallic giants, and one after Inuit giants. The only moon that fails to fit this scheme is the Greek-named Phoebe, which is in the Norse group.

  • Two of the newly discovered prograde moons fit into a group of outer moons with inclinations of about 46 degrees called the Inuit group. All name submissions for this group must be giants from Inuit mythology.
  • Seventeen of the newly discovered moons are retrograde moons in the Norse group. All name submissions for this group must be giants from Norse mythology.
  • One of the newly discovered moons orbits in the prograde direction and has an inclination near 36 degrees, which is similar to those in the Gallic group, although it is much farther away from Saturn than any other prograde moons. It must e named after a giant from Gallic mythology.

Black Hole Visualization

This week NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center released a black hole visualization. Jeremy Schnittman, astrophysicist specializing in computational modeling of black hole accretion flows enlisted computer software to animate black hole glory. From

Viewed from the side, the disk looks brighter on the left than it does on the right. Glowing gas on the left side of the disk moves toward us so fast that the effects of Einstein’s relativity give it a boost in brightness; the opposite happens on the right side, where gas moving away us becomes slightly dimmer. This asymmetry disappears when we see the disk exactly face on because, from that perspective, none of the material is moving along our line of sight.

Closest to the black hole, the gravitational light-bending becomes so excessive that we can see the underside of the disk as a bright ring of light seemingly outlining the black hole. This so-called “photon ring” is composed of multiple rings, which grow progressively fainter and thinner, from light that has circled the black hole two, three, or even more times before escaping to reach our eyes. Because the black hole modeled in this visualization is spherical, the photon ring looks nearly circular and identical from any viewing angle. Inside the photon ring is the black hole’s shadow, an area roughly twice the size of the event horizon — its point of no return.

“Simulations and movies like these really help us visualize what Einstein meant when he said that gravity warps the fabric of space and time,” Jeremy Schnittman, who created the images at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, said in a statement.

Simulated black hole.

Click in to see more angles. | The black hole is seen nearly edgewise in this new visualization from NASA. The turbulent disk of gas around the hole takes on a double-humped appearance. The black hole’s extreme gravity alters the paths of light coming from different parts of the disk, producing the warped image. “What we see depends on our viewing angle,” NASA said. Image via NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Jeremy Schnittman.

NASA creates stunning new black hole visualization