Hubble abandonment being reconsidered

Following on from Stuart's post...

The good ol' BBC have a report that NASA are reconsidering their decision to abandon Hubble.

Which is probably good news.

Posted in astro blog by Peter on Saturday 31st Jan 2004 (11:58 UTC) | Permalink

Hubble Funding

News was announced on 16th January that servicing mission 4 for the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) was to be cancelled because of the retirement of the Space Shuttle. Is this a clever ploy by NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe to make people question the funding priorities of the Bush administration? Well even if it isn't, it seems there is a lot of support for the HST - it even has a campaign to save it.

However, I have noticed several comments on savethehubble.com from US citizens who seem to think that the HST is a NASA only mission and so only US citizens have the right to comment. This annoys me as I feel that I should point out that the HST is a collaboration between NASA and ESA (European Space Agency). ESA pay for around 15% or so of the costs and therefore get 15% of the time. Perhaps this is all down to the fact that ESA don't market themselves any where near as much as NASA. Another example is the SOHO mission (Solar Heliographic Observatory). This was built in Europe with instruments from Europe and America. NASA was responsible for the launch and the day-to-day running of the mission. Europe should be jumping up and down just as much as the US in promoting our acheivements.

Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Friday 30th Jan 2004 (22:28 UTC) | Permalink

Mars rover blogs

It seems that there are a few Mars Rover blogs out there. This one is from the point of view of the landers ("I have bounced safely to the surface of Mars...Here is the first color image that I have taken with my digital camera") and here is another one. They provide a link to a cool quicktime panorama of the Spirit landing site.

Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Monday 26th Jan 2004 (17:14 UTC) | Permalink

Double Pulsar

I forgot to mention this at the time (8th January) because I had known about it since before Christmas and got carried away with all the Mars missions.

Astronomers from Jodrell Bank, Australia, Italy, India and the USA have announced the first discovered double pulsar system in Science Express (annoyingly it requires a subscription so go here for the press release). A pulsar is the collapsed middle of a star more massive than our Sun (the Sun is about 1 million times the mass of the Earth) squashed into a space the size of Manchester. They emit 'beams' of radio waves and rotate on their axis, making them a bit like radio lighthouses. In this system, one of the pulsars rotates once every 23 thousandths of a seconds (pretty extreme eh?) and the other rotates every 2.8 seconds. The extreme nature of the system has allowed the study of four effects which can test Einstein's general relativity (it has passed so far). It also means that the gravity wave detectors now stand a better chance of being able to detect gravity waves.

Why not do the gravity wave crossword?

Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Monday 26th Jan 2004 (15:40 UTC) | Permalink

A good impression

I have just been looking at NASA's nice new panorama of the Opportunity landing site. When the lander hit the surface it was surrounded in airbags which then deflated and were drawn in once it had come to rest. It is possible to see the airbag impressions in the surface. To me it looks as though it first landed somewhere near the rocky outcrop to the left of the panorama, bounced slightly past its current position (you can see a couple of airbag impressions 180 degrees around from the ones on the left) and then bounced backwards to where it sits now.

Meanwhile, Mars Express has been doing some interesting science of its own. A high precision spectrometer has shown that there is a difference in carbon dioxide between the northern and southern hemispheres and the High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) has taken pictures of around 1.87 million km2 of the surface.

Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Monday 26th Jan 2004 (15:11 UTC) | Permalink

Opportunity to explore

It seems that Opportunity has landed in a more interesting looking location than previous missions which seem to land on fairly flat deserts with a uniform covering of rocks. This landing site looks like it has some interesting bouldering problems on some rocky outcrops. Hopefully the terrain doesn't get steeper than 30 degrees otherwise the rover could stop due to its hazard detection system.

"Are you sure you want to go steeper? yes/no/cancel"

Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Sunday 25th Jan 2004 (15:16 UTC) | Permalink

Twin Mars Rover touches down successfully

In Stuart's absence - well, I'm sure he'll be along in a while! - I thought I'd post about this; it seems that the twin of the Mars Spirit rover has successfully touched down on the other side of Mars; according to the BBC it touched down successfully at 0505GMT. Spirit is still broken - at least, not working properly - and sending back engineering data randomly. See this press release at NASA for more info - 'Spirit sent 73 megabits at a rate of 128 kilobits per second. The transmission included power subsystem engineering data, no science data, and several frames of "fill data."' It's a start, though, I suppose! It's all quite exciting, nonetheless...

Posted in astro blog by Peter on Sunday 25th Jan 2004 (14:18 UTC) | Permalink

Bad Astronomy: the Moon

I seem to spot bad astronomy everywhere these days. The Guardian's Life section, last Thursday, is the latest culprit. They had an article about Antartica which came with a day in the life of a scientist. Under the entry for 2am David Adam states:

"The sun can no longer be seen, but it has merely dipped behind a mountain, not set below the horizon. The only real clue that this is the dead of night is that the moon is just about visible."

Once again the bad astronomy is in the propagation of a misconception. In this case the misconception is that, just like in children's story books, the Moon only comes up at night. This is just not the case as it can be quite possible to see the Moon during the day.

It is at this point that I am suddenly reminded of one lunchtime at school when I was about 9 years old. I was standing in the playground looking at a radio mast in the distance. It was a cloudless day and shifting my gaze upwards I was surprised that I could quite clearly see the Moon. This was quite a shock at the time as I had grown up with the notion that the moon was to be associated with the night.

The Moon has a 28 day orbit around the Earth and follows a course across the sky similar to the Sun. Now the Sun appears to go around the Earth once a day (this is actually the Earth spinning on its axis) so we can see that they go out of sync. At first quarter the Moon is high in the sky during the evening, at full moon it rises to its highest point by around midnight and at last quarter it can be seen in the early morning. At new moon, the Moon is pretty near the Sun so will be up around midday. From the point of view of an observer, the Moon spends roughly half its time up during the day and half at night. If it was never up during the day we would never get an eclipse! Perhaps everyone should stick to using stars to represent night rather than the moon.

Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Monday 19th Jan 2004 (00:30 UTC) | Permalink

Bad Astronomy: HST

Peter spotted some bad astronomy on the BBC website. The page shows a gallery of nice Hubble Space Telescope images, but the third one has a dodgy caption: "Its powerful lenses detected what astronomers say may be the oldest planet in our galaxy - up to 13 billion years old." The HST doesn't have any lenses as it uses mirrors! Check out Phil Plait's book and website for more on misconceptions about the HST.

Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Saturday 17th Jan 2004 (16:58 UTC) | Permalink

Mars sports

So... to commemorate my first ever post to this blog, I thought I'd post a URL that was brought to my attention that takes a sideways look at the Mars missions - and summarises whether they were successful or not. It can be found here - the Mars Score Card and is quite good fun :-)

Posted in astro blog by Peter on Saturday 17th Jan 2004 (16:35 UTC) | Permalink

Martian Google

Mars mania still has the World in its grip. Even Google have a Mars themed logo at the moment.

It seems that Spirit's mini-thermal emission spectrometer has been producing data that I haven't really seen reported in the news. Taking a look at their slideshow, it seems as though the spectra from Spirit and Mars Global Surveyor are pretty similar except for a bit more absorption due to Carbon dioxide and carbonates in the Spirit spectrum.

And finally, in a story that sounds like it should be to do with Beagle 2, NASA commissioned a small-town watchmaker to create 21 watches that have 24 hours and 37 minutes in a day. He has patented the design, so he should probably make some money out of it a bit like Blur who composed the first ring tone on Mars - just a shame there was no one there to answer!

Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Friday 16th Jan 2004 (01:01 UTC) | Permalink

Mars Map

It is amazing what you stumble across when randomly surfing the Web. I have just discovered a 'clickable' map showing the topography of Mars. This is made by the Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter (MOLA) and I noticed that it is where the BBC got their image from in an article about Beagle 2 which landed roughly here.

Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Thursday 15th Jan 2004 (01:11 UTC) | Permalink

Names in space

It is a busy time at the moment for NASA as they have also just released images of comet Wild 2 taken by the Stardust mission. This spacecraft was launched on 7th February 1999 and its mission is to collect some dust from the comet and return it to the Earth in 2006.

As well as bringing dust back, the spacecraft has also taken the names of over 1 million people to the comet. Amongst these names are some of my relatives who I added back in 1998.

Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Monday 05th Jan 2004 (16:52 UTC) | Permalink

Mars Hits

It seems that the Beagle 2 website had 16.4 million hits on Christmas day and Jodrell Bank managed to peak at 250,000 hits on Boxing day. The mission has definitly generated some public interest.

Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Monday 05th Jan 2004 (16:29 UTC) | Permalink

2 down and 1 to go

It seems that there is still no sign of Beagle 2, although Mars Express will be able to look for it on Wednesday. NASA's Spirit has been able to send back its first black and white images indirectly via an orbiter and so they have been able to release a nice press release image of Gusev crater. It looks as though they lined it up a bit better than today's astronomy picture of the day. The image is very reminiscent of the Pathfinder images back in 1997. There are now less than three weeks to go until Opportunity lands, although on current odds it shouldn't work.

Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Monday 05th Jan 2004 (16:20 UTC) | Permalink
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