Posts Tagged ‘discovery’

International Year of Astronomy

Monday, January 5th, 2009 by Bellatrix

Now that 2009 has begun its important for all to know that 2009 has been declared the international year of astronomy. It is the 400th anniversary of when Galileo Galilee first turned his telescopes to the heavens, opening a whole new world of scientific discovery. It is an important time to remind and education the public about the world of astronomy, with astronomy budgets tightening getting the public involved is crucial to keeping support alive and well.

The history surrounding Galileo is quite fascinating and worth looking into for any science or history enthusiast. He was truly one of the first real scientists, pioneering what we know as the modern scientific method. Galileo lived an interesting life teaching mainly in Pisa Italy (where he did the famous experiment of dropping objects of different weights off the leaning tower) and then spending the majority of his life in Florence. In Florence he spent his time educating the ruling family of the time, the Medici. He did not invent the telescope as many think, as it was first invented for use as a naval navigation tool. He was the first to use it for astronomical purposes. With his telescope he discovered the moons of Jupiter and documented sunspots, the phases of Venus, and made detailed drawings of the surface of the moon. For anyone interested a terrific read on the subject is the book ‘Galileo’s Daughter’ by Dava Sobel. It is a good biography not just of his professional but also personal life and includes real transcripts of letters between him and his daughter; it gives a good view of life in Italy at the time.

Back in 2009, many events will be happening throughout the year to commiserate this occasion. For a full list check out the official website at The kick off will officially be in Paris on January 15 and 16 featuring keynote speeches from Nobel laureates and video feeds from scientists all over the world. The solar physics group will be having a yearlong campaign in over 30 countries at 150 different venues. ‘The Cosmic Diary’ is a website being launched in January focusing on the daily lives of astronomers with over 50 astronomers from 35 countries participating with blogs, articles, video, and more. Another event is the ‘100 Hours of Astronomy’ taking place on April 2-5. It will feature live web casts, public viewings, and other outreach events. One interesting feature going on the month of January is the project ‘Dark Skies Awareness’, where the International Year of Astronomy organization is trying to rise awareness about light pollution and they’ve called on the public to count the number of stars that are visible in areas with differing light pollution and you can then compare with there data on the number of stars when there is no light pollution and the results are quite surprising.

I personally encourage anyone reading to get involved. There are many ways for the public to get involved in astronomy. You can head out to your local planetarium and see what they have going on. Or go to a public viewing night held by your local university or observatory. I know some university’s go out into the community and do things like Universe in the Park viewing nights, or if you have children you can sign up their class or troop to have astronomy students come do a presentation. If you already have a telescope just take it out and make sure it gets some use, and if you know how try hooking up your camera to it and enter an astronomy picture contest. Astronomy is a fascinating subject, but in difficult financial times its important to keep the public enthused involved and educated, hopefully with some of these large scale events going on people will get reminded just how fun and amazing it can be to look up to the heavens as Galileo did so many years ago.

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Students Discover New and Different Planet

Monday, December 8th, 2008 by Bellatrix

Three undergraduate students from the Netherlands have made a new discovery in our universe without even trying. They discovered a new extrasolar planet, which is a great discovery itself, but to top it off they discovered it using a new technique and found it orbiting a special kind of star.

Students Meta de Hoon, Remco van der Burg, and Francis Vuijsje were given the assigned to develop search algorithms. They did so well on this project that they had time to test their search algorithm on real data. So they set to work investigating light fluctuations in thousands of stars in the so far unexplored OGLE database. The brightness of one of the stars was noticed to decrease by about 1% every two and a half days. The students were then allowed to use the ESO Very Large Telescope in Chile to follow up and confirm that a planet was causing the fluctuations.

The planet was given the name OGLE2-TR-L9b, but the students like to call it ReMeFra-1 after their names. The planet is quite large, weighing in at about five times the mass of Jupiter. To make sure that it was a planet and not a small star o brown dwarf they used spectroscopy to look at the chemical make up of the orbiting body and confirmed it is not a star. The planet is orbiting very close to its star; it lies at only three percent of the Earth-Sun distance giving it an orbital period of only 2.5 days. This discovery is also special because of the type of star. The star, named OGLE-TR-L9 is now the hottest star found to have a planet orbiting it. The star itself also rotates very quickly, which would have made it hard to use the conventional method of planet detection to find this one.

So we can add another extrasolar planet to the growing list. With each new planet discovery we learn so much. We have now expanded the list of possible stars that could have planets, knowing that stars this hot and fast can have planets. This technique may prove quite useful in detecting planets around similar stars. And the part that I think is most exciting is that this was all done by undergraduate students. Undergraduates are usually lucky to get some research experience, maybe a have a paper published with their names below their professor’s, but these students did something extraordinary and they’re getting the credit. It shows that you don’t have to be a stuffy know it all professor who has been researching for many years to be able to contribute.

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Thursday, October 2nd, 2008 by Evan Finnes

On October 6th the MESSENGER spacecraft will perform a Mercury flyby for the second time this year. MESSENGER (MErcury Surface, Space, Environment, GEochemistry and Ranging) will fly past Mercury at an altitude of 201 km while taking over 1200 images of the cratered surface.

The spacecraft made its first flyby on Jan 14th, during which it took over 1200 photos, and made several startling discoveries. Some of which demonstrated that the innermost planet is not as similar to the Earth’s Moon as once was believed. MESSENGER photographed craters which are very different from the craters on the Moon. For instance, the Caloris basin is a crater with a diameter of approximately 1545km. The floor of this crater has a surface which is more reflective than the material surrounding the crater. This is exactly opposite of the Moon, whose crater floors are darker than the surrounding material. MESSENGER also observed that Mercury’s magnetic field has changed since it was first observed by Mariner 10. MESSENGER also observed large cliffs which contain ancient faults, these faults act as a recording of the paleotectonics which occurred early in the planets history. MESSENGER also observed the mineral makeup of the planet’s surface, and discovered sodium and hydrogen in the planets exosphere.

On March 18th 2011 MESSENGER will enter Mercury’s orbit where it will gather data for an entire year. MESSENGER hopes to answer several questions. The first question: “Why is Mercury so dense?” Mercury has a density of 5.427g/cm3 which implies that the mass of mercury’s core accounts for 60% of the planets total mass. MESSENGER will gather mineralogical and compositional data to help determine why. Like on Earth, part of this core must be liquid if it is to have the dynamo necessary to generate a magnetic field.

Question 2: “What is the geologic history of Mercury?” MESSENGER will photograph and observe the planet in great detail in an attempt to better understand the processes which have shaped the planet. Specifically areas such as the faults observed on the large cliffs I described earlier. Because Mariner 10 was only able to observe 45% of the planet’s surface, MESSENGER is sure to discover more geologic splendors.

Question 3: “Is there water on Mercury?” Some of the permanently shadowed craters on Mercury’s poles contain a highly reflective material that could be ice. Mercury is the closest planet to the Sun, but it also has the largest daily temperature gradient of the terrestrial planets. Surface temperatures range from -83°C to 427°C, with the coldest temperatures recorded at the bottom of the polar craters.

MESSENGER will not begin collecting this exciting data for a couple more years, but it is sure to tease with some good photographs and interesting data while we wait. The second flyby is scheduled for next week and a third a third and final flyby is scheduled for September 28th 2009.

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