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The Last Month in Astronomy


MAR-12-2012 • New Jupiter Movies • Scientists including amateur astronomers have made some new movies of Jupiter. The movies are taken from images captured by the Cassini spacecraft which flew by Jupiter on the way to Saturn in 2000. These movies capture a wave perturbing one of the jet streams. “This is the first time anyone has actually seen direct wave motion in one of Jupiter’s jet streams” according to Simon Miller, lead author of an article on these movies published in the April 2012 issue of Icarus. Amateur astronomer Gianluigi Adamoli is a co-author of the paper. He said “Understanding the emerging analogies between Earth and Jupiter, as well as the obviously profound differences, helps us learn fundamentally what an atmosphere is and how it can behave.”

MAR-07-2012 • Bubbles in the MW • A team of volunteers, citizen scientists if you will, have found 5,000 star blown bubbles in the Milky Way. These volunteers, 35,000 of them, found these bubbles as of the online Milky Way project. According to Robert Simpsion, a postdoc at Oxford, “The Milky Way Project is an attempt to take the vast and beautiful data from Spitzer and make extracting the information a fun, online, public endeavor”.

MAR-02-2012 • Dark Matter Slippery • Images from Hubble as well as the Canada-France-Hawaii telescope have found something interesting in the colliding galaxies called Abell 520. The problem? The colliding galaxies have moved on but the dark matter appears to have become detached from the galaxies. The dark matter location is inferred from gravitational lensing.

MAR-02-2012 • Breathe Deep at Dione • The Cassini spacecraft has detected a very thin atmosphere at the Saturnian moon Dione. When we say thin, we mean thin. Imagine 2 cubic inches and place 3 whole oxygen molecules inside. The Earth atmosphere has 15 trillion molecules in the same space. But Dione has company, Cassini has detected about the same atmosphere at the moon Rhea. Thin as that is, scientists are looking for some way to explain why even that much oxygen is present.

MAR-01-2012 • Twinkling Stars of Orion • Scientists using the Herschel space observatory have noticed that some stars currently forming in the Orion nebula are twinkling, that is, their brightness varies over the course of a few weeks. That’s much faster then previously thought likely. “Yet again, Herschel observations surprise us and provide more interesting insights into what happens during the very earliest phases of stars and planet formation” according to Goran Pilbratt of the ESA.

FEB-28-2012 • Asteroid 2011 AG5 • There are 8,744 near-Earth objects (NEOs). One of them has gotten some press recently as representing a real threat for the morning of February 5, 2040. Actually, not much of a threat. The odds as of now are 1 in 625. It will pass close in 2023 and 2028 and the probability will be recalculated many times before then. It’s 460 feet long. Currently the size and the probability give it a “1” on the 10 point Torino Hazard Scale.

FEB-23-2012 • Higgs Can’t Hide • The search for the Higgs boson has narrowed the range of possible masses for the particle. The Fermi National Accelerator has announced the most precise measurement of a related particle, the W boson. This raises confidence that the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) will find the Higgs particle later this year.

FEB-21-2012 • Geologic Activity on the Moon • 50 million years might sound like a long time ago but in the total lunar history it is recent times indeed. It is the time some geologic activity clearly occurred on the moon. The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has taken pictures of scarps that appear to be the result of that activity. According to Richard Vondrak from NASA “This pulling apart tells us the Moon is still active”.

FEB-21-2012 • New class of planets • Hubble has discovered a new class of exoplanet. GJ1214b, discovered by the MEarth project in 2009, is a watery world with a thick, steamy atmosphere. It is 2.7 times the size of Earth and orbits a red-dwarf star every 38 hours. During a transit of the planet in front of its star. The spectroscopic study yielded results that suggests a steamy atmosphere with more water than Earth.

FEB-13-2012 • ESA’s 3 Launchers • The Europeans have rounded out their launch capabilities with the Vega light launch rocket. Vega can put 1500 kg into a sun-synchronous orbit. The Vega joins the Soyuz medium lift and the Ariane heavy lift rockets. The Vega qualification launch was conducted from French Guinea.


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