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The Last Month in Astronomy


FEB-11-2010 • SDO Launched • The Solar Dynamics Observatory was successfully launched on February 11 aboard an Atlas 5 with a Centaur second stage. The SDO will be in earth synchronous orbit above its New Mexico ground station. The spacecraft will collect so much data that it can store it onboard and relay it during times when its orbit happens to be close to the ground station so the geosynchronous orbit solves that problem.

FEB-08-2010 • Endeavour at the ISS • The Endeavour Space Shuttle was launched on February 8 and docked at the ISS on February 10. This mission will add Node 3, also known as the Tranquility Node. It will also install a new observing area called the cupola. Both pieces were made by the Europeans. STS-130 is scheduled to land at KSC at 7:16 p.m. PST on Sunday, February 21.

FEB-08-2010 • Enceladus Water • Water has been found at Enceladus. You may have heard that before. But new observations by Cassini have shown the presence of negatively charged ions in that water. On Earth such ions are found where water is in significant motion such as ocean waves or at waterfalls.

FEB-03-2010 • Asteroid Collision • Hubble has apparently caught two asteroids in the act of colliding together. The debris field forms a kind of “X” pattern. David Jewitt of UCLA says “The filaments are made of dust and gravel ... some are swept back by radiation pressure from sunlight ... embedded in the filaments are co-moving blobs of dust that like originated from tiny unseens parent bodies.” He goes on to say that this could mean that the debris is from the collision of previously unknown asteroid. The debris field is located 2 AU from the sun and 1 AU from Earth.

JAN-29-2010 • Cool, Man, Cool • What may be the coolest celestial body bigger than a planet has been discovered using the United Kingdom Infrared Telescope (UKIRT). The object has the catchy name of SDSSS1416+13B and it is part of a binary star where the larger star is also a brown dwarf. The newly discovered brown dwarf is 400 degrees Fahrenheit, a temperature you can easily achieve with your kitchen oven.

JAN-26-2010 • New Phase for Spirit • The Mars Rover Spirit is mobile no more but save the tears. After 6 years on the Martian surface, the robot will enter a new phase of scientific discovery. “There’s a class of science we can do only with a stationary vehicle that we had put off during the years of driving” according to principal investigator Steve Squyres.

JAN-25-2010 • Asteroid cracks WISE • The first asteroid discovered by WISE is 2010 AB78. The spacecraft found it the old-fashioned way - look at the stars and see which one moves. But WISE can do this with incredible sensitivity using a telescope and camera cooled to near absolute zero with solid hydrogen. This combined with sensitive cameras covering 4 different parts of the infrared spectrum is expected to result in 200,000 new asteroid detections.

JAN-15-2010 • SOFIA Tested In Flight • The Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy was finally tested in flight. The flight took 6 hours. Stability of the scope was measured to show that it could keep a lock on an object. The telescope door was closed so it wasn’t subjected to the full range of temperature changes that it will when in operation. More in-flight testing will be performed over the next several months.

JAN-12-2010 • Betelgeuse Details • Astronomers in France have created an unprecedented image of Betelgeuse. Three different telescopes were used along with interferometry to produce the image. The new image shows temperature differences of about 270 Kelvins. The surface temperature of Betelgeuse is about 3300 Kelvins.

JAN-10-2010 • IYA 2009 Ends • The 2009 International Year of Astronomy officially closed during a ceremony in Padua, Italy. IAU past president Catherine Cesarsky says that every goal of IYA2009 was reached except one - for every person on Earth to hear or see something about astronomy during 2009. Given that many projects started in 2009 are still ongoing, the goal may be reached in the future. For example, the 100 Hours of Astronomy event last April will be reconstituted for 2010 by Astronomers Without Borders. Efforts in other countries were nothing short of amazing. For example, in India, 52 programs on astronomy were broadcast in 19 different languages.


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