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Today is the birthday of Edouard Roche, born October 17, 1848 in Montpellier, France (one of my favorite cities), for whom the Roche limit or Roche Radius is named.  

The Roche limit is the distance within which a celestial body, held together only by its own gravity, will disintegrate due to the tidal forces exhibited by a second  body, the second body’s forces exceeding the first body’s gravitational self-attraction.  Inside the Roche radius, orbiting material is spread around and forms rings whereas outside the limit material tends to coalesce and reform.  Roche was the first astronomer to note that just as the moon attracts the Earth’s water, the gravitational pulls of multiple objects in space could be large enough to pull a body apart.  The rings of Saturn are a great example.

Image of Edouard Roche in the Public Domain.  Image of Saturn courtesy NASA.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Voskhod-the first multiple-manned mission

image

Although we now take for granted the long term success of the International Space Station, it wasn’t too long ago that we were totally earthbound. That changed on this day, October 12, 1964 when the Soviet Union launched the Voskhod 1 (Восхо́д), the first manned capsule to carry more than one person into space. The Voskhod program was a proof of concept program to test systems for more ambitious space exploration. The Voskhod program was notable for several firsts: the first multi-person mission to space (Cosmonauts Komarov, Yegorov and Feoktistov in the Voskhod 1) and the first space walk (Belyayev and Leonov in Voskhod 2). The Vostok and Voskhod programs provided the framework for what became the Soyuz program and ultimately the current ISS.image

The Russian desire to ‘win’ the Space Race led to many dangerous compromises.  The interior of the capsule (shown above) was so cramped that the cosmonauts would not have room for space suits, making the flight extremely dangerous in the event of depressurisation.  To insure the engineers paid enough attention to this, head designer Sergei Korolev assigned the lead engineer to fly inside the capsule, therefore motivating him to design the safest capsule possible.  

The Russian word Voskhod (Восхо́д) means sunrise and is a combination of the Russian words vos- (from vostok восток) meaning east and xodete (ходить) meaning go or rise.

For more on the Space Race, check out this excellent book: image

Image of the Voskhod capsule being assembled courtesy Energiea.

Special thanks to my many Russian teachers over the years:  Michael Comenetz, Misha Yurieff, Irina Semionova, Anna Brodski.  

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Happy Birthday to Heinrich Olbers, born October 11, 1758, who discovered the asteroids Vesta (top) and Pallas, the second and third asteroids discovered.  While trained in medicine, Olbers was an excellent astronomer, and on March 28, 1802 he discovered Pallas, which he named after the Ancient Greek goddess Pallas Athena.  He did not, however, identify his discovery as an asteroid, but rather as a minor planet.  When Olbers found Pallas, he was actually trying to relocate the dwarf planet Ceres, discovered the year before and also representing a mystery to astronomers as something sharing the characteristics of both planets and comets but also unlike both.  

The word asteroid was coined later that year in 1802 by English/German astronomer William Herschel by Anglicizing the Ancient Greek word αστερo-ειδης (astero-edeis), itself a combination of the word αστερ (aster star) and ειδος (eidos form). A musician and scientist, Herschel is known for discovering Uranus and its two moons as well as infrared radiation.   Despite his massive contribution to astronomy, including the discovery of a planet which he attempted to name the Georgian planet after King George III of England, the only word he contributed remains asteroid.  It was Olbers who first postulated on the existence of an ‘asteroid belt’, which he suggested was the remains of a destroyed planet.  

Saturday, August 30, 2014
On Aug. 30, 1992, astronomers Jane Luu and David Jewitt discovered an object in the outer solar system that had been predicted since the 1930s, which became the first Kuiper Belt object and which was given the name 1992 QB1.  After the discovery of Pluto by Clyde Tombaugh, astronomer Frederick Leonard proposed the existence of a trans-Neptunian poplulation, wondering whether it was “not likely that in Pluto there has come to light the first of a series of ultra-Neptunian bodies, the remaining members of which still await discovery but which are destined eventually to be detected”.  In 1987 David Jewitt (then at MIT) directed then graduate student Jane Luu to begin looking for objects outside of Pluto’s orbit as Leonard and others had proposed.  The work was slow and painstaking, using technology developed decades earlier, but breakthroughs came when they began using  CCD (charge-coupled devices).  Since the first Kuiper Belt Object was discovered, over 100,000 KBOs over 100km in diameter have been discovered.  They were named after Dutch-American astronomer Gerard Kuiper, who discovered the moon Miranda orbiting Uranus and Nereid orbiting Neptune, as well as pioneering the use of infra-red observation.  Kuiper also worked with the Apollo program to identify landing sites on the moon.  

On Aug. 30, 1992, astronomers Jane Luu and David Jewitt discovered an object in the outer solar system that had been predicted since the 1930s, which became the first Kuiper Belt object and which was given the name 1992 QB1.  After the discovery of Pluto by Clyde Tombaugh, astronomer Frederick Leonard proposed the existence of a trans-Neptunian poplulation, wondering whether it was “not likely that in Pluto there has come to light the first of a series of ultra-Neptunian bodies, the remaining members of which still await discovery but which are destined eventually to be detected”.  In 1987 David Jewitt (then at MIT) directed then graduate student Jane Luu to begin looking for objects outside of Pluto’s orbit as Leonard and others had proposed.  The work was slow and painstaking, using technology developed decades earlier, but breakthroughs came when they began using  CCD (charge-coupled devices).  Since the first Kuiper Belt Object was discovered, over 100,000 KBOs over 100km in diameter have been discovered.  They were named after Dutch-American astronomer Gerard Kuiper, who discovered the moon Miranda orbiting Uranus and Nereid orbiting Neptune, as well as pioneering the use of infra-red observation.  Kuiper also worked with the Apollo program to identify landing sites on the moon.  

Monday, August 4, 2014
833 years ago, on August 4, 1181, astronomers in what is now China and Japan noted a supernova, one of several celestial phenomena to be noted by the East but ignored by the West.  Now known as SN 1181 or 3C58, the remains of this massive explosion can still be seen. While plenty of modern scientific words can be dated accurately, the older a word is (in general) the harder it is to pin down a date.  The word supernova however, defies this logic entering the European awarness in the 16th century.  Late October 1604 (and some sources give the date 6 November 1604) a new and bright object appeared in the sky.  German astronomer and mathematician Johannes Kepler (born 27 December 1571-15 November 1630) noticed the ‘new' object and unsure what exactly it was, simply named it stella nova, from the Latin words for new star.  It wasn’t until the 1930s that astronomers Walter Baade and Fritz Zwicky started using the term super-nova and by 1938 the hyphen was dropped and the word became supernova.  The first reliably recorded supernova was noted by Pliny in AD 185.  Notable supernovae (note the plural maintains the Latin form and does not take the -s that English mostly uses) occurred in 1054, noted mainly by Chinese and Arabic astronomers, and the supernova of 1572 noted extensively by Tycho Brahe.  The definition of supernova: the explosion of a star, possibly caused by gravitational collapse, during which the star’s luminosity increases by as much as 20 magnitudes and most of the star’s mass is blown away at very high velocity.
This image of Supernova 1181 comes from NASA’s Chandra program with this caption:  3C58 is the remnant of a supernova observed in the year 1181 AD by Chinese and Japanese astronomers. This new Chandra image shows the center of 3C58, which contains a rapidly spinning neutron star surrounded by a thick ring, or torus, of X-ray emission. The pulsar also has produced jets of X-rays blasting away from it to both the left and right, and extending trillions of miles. These jets are responsible for creating the elaborate web of loops and swirls revealed in the X-ray data. These features, similar to those found in the Crab, are evidence that 3C58 and others like it are capable of generating both swarms of high-energy particles and powerful magnetic fields. In this image, low, medium, and high-energy X-rays detected by Chandra are red, green, and blue respectively.
 

833 years ago, on August 4, 1181, astronomers in what is now China and Japan noted a supernova, one of several celestial phenomena to be noted by the East but ignored by the West.  Now known as SN 1181 or 3C58, the remains of this massive explosion can still be seen. While plenty of modern scientific words can be dated accurately, the older a word is (in general) the harder it is to pin down a date.  The word supernova however, defies this logic entering the European awarness in the 16th century.  Late October 1604 (and some sources give the date 6 November 1604) a new and bright object appeared in the sky.  German astronomer and mathematician Johannes Kepler (born 27 December 1571-15 November 1630) noticed the ‘new' object and unsure what exactly it was, simply named it stella nova, from the Latin words for new star.  It wasn’t until the 1930s that astronomers Walter Baade and Fritz Zwicky started using the term super-nova and by 1938 the hyphen was dropped and the word became supernova.  The first reliably recorded supernova was noted by Pliny in AD 185.  Notable supernovae (note the plural maintains the Latin form and does not take the -s that English mostly uses) occurred in 1054, noted mainly by Chinese and Arabic astronomers, and the supernova of 1572 noted extensively by Tycho Brahe.  The definition of supernovathe explosion of a star, possibly caused by gravitational collapse, during which the star’s luminosity increases by as much as 20 magnitudes and most of the star’s mass is blown away at very high velocity.

This image of Supernova 1181 comes from NASA’s Chandra program with this caption:  3C58 is the remnant of a supernova observed in the year 1181 AD by Chinese and Japanese astronomers. This new Chandra image shows the center of 3C58, which contains a rapidly spinning neutron star surrounded by a thick ring, or torus, of X-ray emission. The pulsar also has produced jets of X-rays blasting away from it to both the left and right, and extending trillions of miles. These jets are responsible for creating the elaborate web of loops and swirls revealed in the X-ray data. These features, similar to those found in the Crab, are evidence that 3C58 and others like it are capable of generating both swarms of high-energy particles and powerful magnetic fields. In this image, low, medium, and high-energy X-rays detected by Chandra are red, green, and blue respectively.

 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

On July 16, 1969, the Apollo 11 crew blasted off and four days later opened the door of the lunar module and Neil Armstrong stepped out onto the lunar surface.  Armstrong’s radio back to Earth that his was ‘one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind’ became instantly one of the most quoted and known phrases uttered in the name of science.  The Apollo program was started less than a decade earlier with success following success.  Named by then NASA Director Abe Silverstein (who later said it was like naming his baby) after the Ancient Greek god known for knowledge and who was represented as a flaming chariot shooting across the sky.  Hats off today to Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong and Michael Collins.  All born in 1930 and still healthy and looking to the skies.  

Thanks also to the flight crew:

SUPPORT CREW

  • Charlie Duke, Capsule Communicator (CAPCOM)
  • Ronald Evans (CAPCOM)
  • Owen K. Garriott (CAPCOM)
  • Don L. Lind (CAPCOM)
  • Ken Mattingly (CAPCOM)
  • Bruce McCandless II (CAPCOM)
  • Harrison Schmitt (CAPCOM)
  • Bill Pogue
  • Jack Swigert

FLIGHT DIRECTORS

  • Cliff Charlesworth (Green Team), launch andEVA
  • Gene Kranz(White Team), lunar landing
  • Glynn Lunney(Black Team), lunar ascent

All images courtesy NASA, used with permission and in the public domain.  Please copy and share!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Today is the birthday of William Lassell, born on June 18, 1799 in Bolton, near Manchester, Lassell made his fortune brewing beer which allowed him to pursue his real passion in astronomy.  Lassell made many contributions to the science of astronomy, including an equatorial mount for his home-made telescopes that allowed him track objects more accurately.  In 1846 Neptune was discovered by German astronomer Johann Gottfried Galle after a protracted search for outer planets.  It was English astronomer John Herschel who suggested to Lassell that he attempt to discover whether or not Neptune had any satellites.  A mere 17 days after accepting the task on October 10, 1846, Lassell was able to confirm the existence of Neptune’s largest satellite, which he proposed to name Triton (Τριτων).  Just a bit smaller than our own moon, Triton is the largest satellite in our solar system with retrograde motion. The name of Triton was first proposed decades later by Camille Flammarion from the Ancient Greek sea god Triton, the son of Poseidon-the Roman equivalent of Neptune.  

Lassell continued in his duel role as a brewer of beer and astronomer until his death on October 5, 1880 leaving behind a massive fortune estimated at the equivalent of almost $10 million dollars in today’s currency.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Enceladus and the Rings of Saturn

On March 9, 2006, the Cassini Space probe took an astounding photograph that confirmed the theory that the moon Enceladus was contributing to the ring system of Saturn.  The photo here was taken by NASA after engineers used Saturn itself to obscure the Sun but illuminate the rings and satellite, here clearly shown with a cryovolcano erupting water and gas into the E-ring.  

Three years later, the Cassini space probe was positioned again to use the light from the sun to illuminate the rings and surface of the giant planet, with a shadow thrown across the ring system.  Mathematical models of the ring system show that they are unstable beyond 10,000 years, meaning that they are constantly replenished from a source such as Enceladus.  

Launched on October 15, 1997, the Cassini-Huygens spacecraft left Earth for flybys of Earth, Venus and Jupiter, before arriving at Saturn on Christmas Day, 2004 and separating the Huygens probe which reached Titan a few weeks later.  Cassini-Huygens was named for Italo-French Astronomer Giovanni Domenico Cassini (later known as Jean Dominque Cassini), known  for his discovery of four moons of Saturn, and Dutch astronomer Christiaan Huygens, who discovered Saturn’s moon Titan.  The Cassini spacecraft is still in service today, currently located at the south Pole of Saturn, taking images of the famous hexagon.  The spacecraft is scheduled to remain in service until September 2017.

Images courtesy NASA/ESA, in the public domain.

Sunday, February 23, 2014
Today is the anniversary of the discovery of the first modern supernova, currently named SN1987A, located in the Tarantala Nebula in the Large Magellanic Cloud.  It was independently discovered by both  Ian Shelton and Oscar Duhalde of the Las Campanas Observatory in Chile on the night of February 23/24, 1987, and within the same 24 hours independently by Albert Jones in New Zealand. Two weeks later, between March 4–12, 1987 it was observed from space by Astron, a large ultraviolet space telescope. The supernova has yet to receive an official name.  
While plenty of modern scientific words can be dated accurately, the older a word is (in general) the harder it is to pin down a date.  The word supernova however, defies this logic.  Late October 1604 (and some sources give the date 6 November 1604) a new and bright object appeared in the sky.  German astronomer and mathematician Johannes Kepler (born 27 December 1571-15 November 1630) noticed the ‘new' object and unsure what exactly it was, simply named it stella nova, from the Latin words for new star.  It wasn’t until the 1930s that astronomers Walter Baade and Fritz Zwicky started using the term super-nova and by 1938 the hyphen was dropped and the word became supernova.  The first reliably recorded supernova was noted by Pliny in AD 185.  Notable supernovae (note the plural maintains the Latin form and does not take the -s that English mostly uses) occurred in 1054, noted mainly by Chinese and Arabic astronomers, and the supernova of 1572 noted extensively by Tycho Brahe.
Time-lapse animation of SN1987A from 1994 to 2009, video compilation courtesy Mark Macdonald, via Larsson, J. et al. (2011). “X-ray illumination of the ejecta of supernova 1987A”. Nature 474 (7352): 484–486., used with permission under a Creative Commons 3.0 license.  

Today is the anniversary of the discovery of the first modern supernova, currently named SN1987A, located in the Tarantala Nebula in the Large Magellanic Cloud.  It was independently discovered by both  Ian Shelton and Oscar Duhalde of the Las Campanas Observatory in Chile on the night of February 23/24, 1987, and within the same 24 hours independently by Albert Jones in New Zealand. Two weeks later, between March 4–12, 1987 it was observed from space by Astron, a large ultraviolet space telescope. The supernova has yet to receive an official name.  

While plenty of modern scientific words can be dated accurately, the older a word is (in general) the harder it is to pin down a date.  The word supernova however, defies this logic.  Late October 1604 (and some sources give the date 6 November 1604) a new and bright object appeared in the sky.  German astronomer and mathematician Johannes Kepler (born 27 December 1571-15 November 1630) noticed the ‘new' object and unsure what exactly it was, simply named it stella nova, from the Latin words for new star.  It wasn’t until the 1930s that astronomers Walter Baade and Fritz Zwicky started using the term super-nova and by 1938 the hyphen was dropped and the word became supernova.  The first reliably recorded supernova was noted by Pliny in AD 185.  Notable supernovae (note the plural maintains the Latin form and does not take the -s that English mostly uses) occurred in 1054, noted mainly by Chinese and Arabic astronomers, and the supernova of 1572 noted extensively by Tycho Brahe.

Time-lapse animation of SN1987A from 1994 to 2009, video compilation courtesy Mark Macdonald, via Larsson, J. et al. (2011). “X-ray illumination of the ejecta of supernova 1987A”. Nature 474 (7352): 484–486., used with permission under a Creative Commons 3.0 license.  

Saturday, February 15, 2014
Happy Birthday, Galileo Galilei, born February 15, 1564.  

On the nights of January 7/8, 1610, Galileo Galilei noted in his notebooks the discovery of the first 4 Jovian moons, which he named after the powerful Medici family, naming them Medicean I, II and III.  The name Europa (second from right) comes from Greek mythology-Europa was abducted by Zeus (the Greek name for Jupiter) in the form of a bull and bore him many children.  Io (the yellow moon on the left) is also named for a child of Zeus (Jupiter) the daughter of Inachus, who was raped by Jupiter. Jupiter, in an effort to hide his crime from his wife, Juno, transformed Io into a heifer.  Calllisto (on the far right) was named for another seduction of Jupiter.  Callisto was the daughter of Lycaon, who was a follower of Artemis, famous as goddess of the hunt and for her chastity.  To punish Callisto for lying with Jupiter, Artemis banished her.  Without protection, Jupiter was forced to change Callisto and her son into bears to hide them from his wife Hera’s fury.  Eventually, Jupiter placed them both in the sky as the Ursa Major and Minor, the Big and Little Bears (known today as the Big and Little Dippers).  Ganymede (largest moon pictured here, third from right) was the fourth moon discovered by Galileo, named for the shepherd boy known for his incredible beauty and kidnapped by Jupiter.  These names would not become common for several hundred years.  Today, Jupiter has fifty named moons:
1. Io  2. Europa 
3. Ganymede 4. Callisto 5. Amalthea 6. Himalia 7. Elara 8. Pasiphae 9. Sinope 10. Lysithea 11. Carme 12. Ananke 13. Leda 14. Thebe 15. Adrastea 16. Metis 17. Callirrhoe 18. Themisto 19. Megaclite 20. Taygete 21. Chaldene 22. Harpalyke 23. Kalyke 24. Iocaste 25. Erinome 26. Isonoe 27. Praxidike 28. Autonoe 29. Thyone 30. Hermippe 31. Aitne 32. Eurydome 33. Euanthe 34. Euporie 35. Orthosie 36. Sponde 37. Kale 38. Pasithee 39. Hegemone 40. Mneme 41. Aoede 42. Thelxinoe 43. Arche 44. Kallichore 45. Helike 46. Carpo 47. Eukelade 48. Cyllene 49. Kore 50. Herse 
and an additional 16 provisional moons:
1. S/2003 J2 2. S/2003 J3 3. S/2003 J4 4. S/2003 J5 5. S/2003 J9 6. S/2003 J10 7. S/2003 J12 8. S/2003 J15 9. S/2003 J16 10. S/2003 J18 11. S/2003 J19 12. S/2003 J23 13. S/2010 J 1 14. S/2010 J 2 15. S/2011 J1 16. S/2011 J2 



All images courtesy NASA.  Thanks also to NASA for additional historical background

Happy Birthday, Galileo Galilei, born February 15, 1564.  

On the nights of January 7/8, 1610, Galileo Galilei noted in his notebooks the discovery of the first 4 Jovian moons, which he named after the powerful Medici family, naming them Medicean I, II and III.  The name Europa (second from right) comes from Greek mythology-Europa was abducted by Zeus (the Greek name for Jupiter) in the form of a bull and bore him many children.  Io (the yellow moon on the left) is also named for a child of Zeus (Jupiter) the daughter of Inachus, who was raped by Jupiter. Jupiter, in an effort to hide his crime from his wife, Juno, transformed Io into a heifer.  Calllisto (on the far right) was named for another seduction of Jupiter.  Callisto was the daughter of Lycaon, who was a follower of Artemis, famous as goddess of the hunt and for her chastity.  To punish Callisto for lying with Jupiter, Artemis banished her.  Without protection, Jupiter was forced to change Callisto and her son into bears to hide them from his wife Hera’s fury.  Eventually, Jupiter placed them both in the sky as the Ursa Major and Minor, the Big and Little Bears (known today as the Big and Little Dippers).  Ganymede (largest moon pictured here, third from right) was the fourth moon discovered by Galileo, named for the shepherd boy known for his incredible beauty and kidnapped by Jupiter.  These names would not become common for several hundred years.  Today, Jupiter has fifty named moons:

1. Io  2. Europa 

and an additional 16 provisional moons:
All images courtesy NASA.  Thanks also to NASA for additional historical background
 
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