SJAA Ephemeris May 2010 | SJAA Home | Contents | Previous | Next

The Last Month in Astronomy


08-APR-2010 •Volcanoes on Venus• The European Space Agency (ESA) has a spacecraft called Venus Express which has been orbiting the solar system’s hottest planet for the last 4 years. It has found compelling evidence that volcanoes on that planet are active. An instrument onboard called VIRTIS (Visible and Infrared Thermal Imaging Spectrometer) can see through the Venusian clouds and sees the surface is glowing in some infrared frequencies. The glowing areas are probably lava flows. The next step is to find rocky materials that might be the same as those on Venus and see their infrared signatures when they are heated up to 600 degrees Celsius.

08-APR-2010 •Global Hawk Flies• NASA has successfully completed the first science flight of the unpiloted Global Hawk aircraft. This robotic plane can fly as high as 60,000 feet (about twice the usual cruise height of a commercial passenger jet) and it can stay up for 30 hours. David Fahey, a research physicist at NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory (Boulder, CO) says “The Global Hawk is a fantastic platform because it gives us expanded access to the atmosphere beyond what we have with piloted aircraft. We can go to regions we couldn’t reach.”

07-APR-2010 •Summer on Triton• The first infrared analysis of the Neptunian moon, Triton, shows that the thin atmosphere thickens during its summer. The ESO’s Very Large Telescope also discovered carbon monoxide and methane. A season on Triton lasts 40 years and the last summer solstice occurred in 2000. The summer season, still around -235 degrees Celsius, causes frozen nitrogen, carbon monoxide and methane to sublimate. The summer atmosphere on Triton is estimated to be 4 times thicker now than it was when Voyager 2 flew past Neptune in 1989. That still leaves an atmosphere that is 20,000 times less than the atmosphere on Earth.

06-APR-2010 •Brown Dwarf Planet• A planet-like object has been found around a brown dwarf. The object formed in less than 1 million years, the age of the brown dwarf itself. This goes against some models of planet formation. According to Kevin Luhman of the Center for Exoplanets and Habitable Worlds at Penn State University “it appears that nature is able to make planetary-mass companions through two very different mechanisms.”

31-MAR-2010 •Forensic Astronomy• Astronomers have assembled 3-4 perspectives of supernova remnant Cassiopeia A. Alex Filippenko from Berkeley says “Light echoes allows us to conduct forensic studies of stars that exploded long ago, before modern astronomical instruments became available. It’s kind of like getting photographs of a crime that was committed years ago, before cameras existed.” Alex and friends made the light-echo measurements. The echoes are found in light bouncing off of interstellar dust. Most of the light from Cass A swept past Earth 330 years ago. The echoes that are bouncing off of dust is light that simply took a longer path to get here. The measurements were made using the Maxall 4-meter telescope at Kitt Peak and the 10-meter Keck 1 telescope. The new measurements show that the supernova explosion was asymmetrical.

30-MAR-2010 •LHC sets record• A focused collision of protons at the Large Hadron Collider set a new energy record of 7 trillion electron volts. Scientists at Berkeley built the detector called ATLAS and the experiment called ALICE which will be used when the LHC changes from protons to heavy ions which should produce a quark-gluon plasma.

17-MAR-2010 •Planck Images Cold Dust• The Planck spacecraft, an ESA mission launched a year ago, has imaged a swath of the Milky Way. It shows the bright band of the disk. The image was taken in the far infrared. Charles Lawrence, the NASA project scientist for this mission, says “We can see the cold dust and gas that permeate our galaxy on very large scales, while other missions like Herschel can zoom in to see the detail.” Image on the left is from ESA and the HFI Consortium, IRAS. NASA Photo ID is PIA12964


Previous | Contents | Next