Transit of Venus – Party at HCC

The Meade Telescope Safely Projecting an Image of the Sun and Venus
Image Credit: Dave Fischer

The Humanist Society of Greater Phoenix (HSGP) held a party to celebrate the Transit of Venus across the disc of the Sun. I won’t happen again for another 105 years. The Humanist Community Center is located at 627 W Eighth Street, Mesa Arizona.

Below is the black disk of Venus crossing the Sun.

The Transit of Venus Projected on our Screen
Image Credit: Dave Fischer

Venus Transits the Sun – Observation on Tuesday Hosted by The Humanist Society of Greater Phoenix

The Humanist Society of Greater Phoenix (HSGP) is hosting an astronomy event Tuesday afternoon, 5 June 2012, featuring the Transit of the Sun by Venus.

The location is the Humanist Community Center (HCC) located at 627 W. 8th Street Mesa, AZ. A map of the location is here.

The 2012 Transit by Venus as seen from the Mauna Loa Observatory, Hawaii
Image Credit: HSGP

The transit as seen in Phoenix begins a little after 3:00 PM, so arrive early at HCC. The hosts will have a variety of observation methods.

Safety is a primary concern. Please note these warnings from Wikipedia:

The safest way to watch a transit is to observe an image of the Sun projected onto a screen through a telescope, binoculars, pinhole[7] or reflected pinhole.[8] The event can be viewed without magnification using filters specifically designed for this purpose, such as an astronomical solar filter or eclipse viewing glasses coated with a vacuum-deposited layer of chromium. However, the disk of Venus is tiny compared to the sun and not much will be seen. The once-recommended method of using exposed black-and-white film as a filter is not now considered safe, as small imperfections or gaps in the film may permit harmful UV rays to pass through. Observing the Sun directly without appropriate protection can damage or destroy retinal cells, causing temporary or permanent blindness.[9][10][11]

The Humanist Community Center in Mesa
Image Credit: HSGP

NuSTAR Launch Postponed

Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR)
Image Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

Testing of flight software with the new flight computer on the Pegasus XL rocket has pushed the launch of NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) spacecraft beyond the March 2012 window available at the Reagan Test Site on the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands.

The next available window is within two or three months, at most, but negotiations are ongoing.

NuSTAR is designed to measure high-energy x-rays, which will allow for more detailed and sensitive study of black holes, high-speed energy jets, neutron stars and supernova remnants. NuSTAR uses advanced optics and detectors to observe some of the hottest, densest and most energetic objects in the universe.

Spitzer Images Messier 27 in the Infrared

Spitzer Infrared Image of Messier object M27
Image credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Harvard-Smithsonian CfA

NASA has released this new image of the “Dumbbell nebula,” also known as Messier 27. The image was taken in the Infrared by the Spitzer Space Telescope.

The object was discovered in 1764 by Charles Messier. It was the 27th object he named in his catalog of nebulous objects.

The Dumbbell nebula is located in the constellation Vulpecula, which is about 1,360light years away from Earth. The gaseous debris from the dying star is spread across 4.5 light years of space. The white dwarf at the center of the nebula was a sun-like star. After a lifetime of 9-10 billion years, it bloats and expels much of its material, now containing carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, silicon and other heavy elements, into interstellar space. These elements are recycled in the next generation of stars and planets.

The diffuse green glow, which is brightest near the center, is probably from hot gas atoms being heated by the ultraviolet light from the central white dwarf.

Arizona State University Astronomy Open House

Arizona State University Astronomy Open House

Friday, March 25, 8-10 pm

Location: Bateman Physical Sciences Building H-wing Main Entrance (click here for a map of ASU showing the H- wing)

Free Parking (after 7pm): Tyler Street Parking Garage; From parking garage go West along University Dr sidewalk (toward campus) until you see signs leading you to the entrance. (click here for a map of ASU showing the location)

This Month’s Theme: STARS

  • Come see the winter sky! Take our Astronomy Quiz!
  • View exciting celestial objects through our telescopes!
  • Learn about rocks with the GEO Club!
  • Want to see a rock from Space? Stop by the meteorite table!
  • View our out-of-this-world poster display!
  • Have a question about the universe? Ask an Astronomer!
  • For information about the moon, stop by the LROC table!

Planetarium show: TBD

Talk: Stars in our Galaxy

Contact Information:

Star Comparison
Comparison of Star Size – Our Sun is the Smallest Dot and Antares is the Big Dude
Image Credit: ASU

Valentine’s Day Comet Rendezvous with Comet Tempel 1

This is the story of two spacecraft, three comets and four rendezvous. So, keep your eye on the moving targets at all times.

Comet 81P Wild 2 (c#1) was visited (r#1) by the Stardust mission (s#1) in 2004 (it was launched in 1999), and sent its sample canister containing the comet bits back to Earth in 2006. The mission returned samples of the comet’s tail.

Comet 9P Tempel 1 (c#2) was impacted (r#2) on 4 July 2005 by NASA’s Deep Impact mission (s#2). Deep Impact was re-purposed for the 103P Hartley 2 (c#3) rendezvous (r#3), which took place on 4 November 2010.

Stardust NExT
Stardust NExT and Wild 2
Image Credit: NASA / JPL

Now, the Stardust spacecraft (comet Wild 2) is set to rendezvous (r#4) with comet Tempel 1 (spacecraft Deep Impact) on Valentine’s Day 14 February 2011.

And that is how you do cometary science on the cheap and with low risk.

In 2005, Tempel 1 made its closest approach to the sun. This likely changed the surface of the comet. Now, scientists will get a chance to re-image the surface of the comet with Stardust and compare the images with those taken by Deep Impact five years ago.

Comet 103P / Hartley 2 – Rendezvous

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology has released this video of Comet Hartley. The images were taken by the EPOXI spacecraft at one hour intervals from 28 October to 3 November 2010 during the approach. The rotation of the comet nucleus is clearly shown and the gases are being spewed most actively from one end.

Video Credit: NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory California Institute of Technology

This image was taken during the approach at 7:59 AM Phoenix time (13:59 UTC) on 4 November. The Sun is to the right.

Hartley 2 816 km
Comet Hartley 2 from EPOXI at 816 km
Image credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / UMD

The nucleus of Hartley 2 is about 2 km long and 0.4 km wide at the most narrow section. Active jets are clearly visible.

Hartley 2 700 km
Comet Hartley 2 at 700 km.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UMD

Below is a montage of the five comets visited by spacecraft and photographed up close. Hartley 2 at 1.25 miles in length is by far the smallest of the five comets, but has the most intense activity in relation to its surface area.

Five Comets visited by Spacecraft
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UMD

Comet 9P Tempel 1 (4.7 miles), was impacted on 4 July 2005 by NASA’s Deep Impact mission, later re-purposed for the Hartley 2 rendezvous.

Comet 19P Borrelly (5.4 miles) was photographed in 2001 by the spacecraft Deep Space 1.

Comet 81P Wild 2 (3.4 miles) was visited by the Stardust mission in 1999. The mission returned samples of the comet’s tail.

Comet Halley (9.3 miles) was visited in 1986 by the Giotto mission and the Vega program.

Grand LaGrange

The Artemis (Acceleration, Reconnection, Turbulence and Electrodynamics of the Moon’s Interaction with the Sun) mission is designed to study the Sun’s magnetosphere on opposite sides of the moon. The mission utilizes two of the five THEMIS spacecraft, which have completed their original mission. The five spacecraft were launched in 2007, and completed their research earlier in 2010. Their mission was to investigate the auroras in the Earth’s atmosphere and why they dramatically change from slowly shimmering waves of light to wildly shifting streaks of color. The data from the spacecraft will provide scientists with important details on how the planet’s magnetosphere works and the important Sun-Earth connection.

Now, two of these craft are headed toward the Moon and the two Lagrange points, EML-1 and EML-2.

As shown in the two diagrams below, EML-1 (L-1) lies between the Earth and the Moon (about 61,000 km above the Moon’s surface) and EML-2 (L-2) lies beyond the Moon at the same distance.

Artemis Orbit
Artemis Spacecraft P1
Earth Moon Lagrange Orbits

Image Credit: NASA / Goddard

Artemis Orbit Side
Artemis Spacecraft P1
Earth Moon Lagrange Orbits – Side View

Image Credit: NASA / Goddard

The first spacecraft (P-1) has migrated from Earth orbit to L-2 and entered a Lissajous orbit about L-2. These orbits (as seen in the diagrams above) are dynamically unstable, and require adjustments from on-board thrusters. The spacecraft will take from 14 to 15 days to complete a single loop. The plan is for the two spacecraft to spend about three months monitoring the influence of the magnetospheres of the Earth and the Moon on the solar wind. This will provide the first three-dimensional perspective of how energetic particle acceleration occurs near the Moon’s orbit as well as the space environment behind the Moon.

After this period, the spacecraft at L-2 will migrate to L-1 and join its sister. In late March of 2011, both spacecraft will maneuver into elliptical orbits around the Moon and continue to observe magnetospheric dynamics, solar wind and the space environment over the course of several years.

The research to be conducted by the Artemis program is important for several reasons. One is the pure research itself.

Second is the fact that both L-1 and L-2 are proposed as propellant and supply depots for the robotic and manned exploration of the Moon and the Solar System. Understanding the solar radiation environment at these locations will be important for manned operations and the health of the astronauts (see the related problems associated with Galactic Cosmic Rays (GCR) – The 800 Pound Gorilla).

For the importance of propellant depots, see the discussion in this post Post Augustine Commission – ULA Says “Fly Me to The Moon”, and the uses of propellant depots here The Augustine Commission – Final Report – Hits and Misses – Wrapped Up