One of the things I adore about the Japanese is their near-magical ability to transform, manipulate and just plain BUILD with paper. Take this person, for example, who has concocted mechanical paper models that move, including the astronomical models shown here. A delightful project for children and adults — download the printable PDFs here (zip file, 4.4 Mb. Thanks to Debbye for sending me all the files!) The instructions have lots of diagrams, so you should get by without a reading knowledge of Japanese. (I hope!)
Early Friday morning, the LCROSS probe will crash into the lunar south pole, looking for further evidence of water on the Moon. Above is a map showing approximately where LCROSS will strike; if you have a 10″ telescope (or larger), you should be able to view the impacts for yourself!
The actual impacts commence at 4:30 am PDT (11:30 UT). The Centaur rocket will strike first, transforming 2200 kg of mass and 10 billion joules of kinetic energy into a blinding flash of heat and light. Researchers expect the impact to throw up a plume of debris as high as 10 km.
Close behind, the LCROSS mothership will photograph the collision for NASA TV and then fly right through the debris plume. Onboard spectrometers will analyze the sunlit plume for signs of water (H2O), water fragments (OH), salts, clays, hydrated minerals and assorted organic molecules.
“If there’s water there, or anything else interesting, we’ll find it,” says Tony Colaprete of NASA Ames, the mission’s principal investigator.
This is an exciting opportunity for ordinary citizens to watch space exploration in action! There’s simply nothing like seeing the planets (or anything else) with your own eyeball; print and digital images just do not compare to the “real thing”.
EDIT, October 10, 2009: First images of the Centaur impact (as seen from LCROSS) are online!
This mid-infrared image was taken in the last minutes of the LCROSS flight mission to the Moon. The small white spot (enlarged in the insets) seen within the dark shadow of lunar crater walls is the initial flash created by the impact of a spent Centaur upper stage rocket. Traveling at 1.5 miles per second, the Centaur rocket hit the lunar surface yesterday at 4:31am UT, followed a few minutes later by the shepherding LCROSS spacecraft. Earthbound observatories have reported capturing both impacts. But before crashing into the lunar surface itself, the LCROSS spacecraft’s instrumentation successfully recorded close-up the details of the rocket stage impact, the resulting crater, and debris cloud. In the coming weeks, data from the challenging mission will be used to search for signs of water in the lunar material blasted from the surface.
Eventually I had to get back to the series naming I started with, right? This week’s edition would be better-named as “Randomspam”, but oh well. To start, a lovely image of the Iris Nebula by Alvin Jeng.
Next, a page from the Dunhuang Star Atlas, a Chinese work dating from 649-684 AD:
This ancient Chinese map of planet Earth’s northern sky is part of the Dunhuang Star Atlas, one of the most impressive documents in the history of astronomy. The oldest complete star atlas known, it dates to the years 649 to 684, discovered at the Silk Road town of Dunhuang in 1907. A recent analysis that examines the accuracy and projections used to make it notes the atlas marks positions of over 1,300 stars and outlines 257 Chinese star groups or asterisms. The star positions in the hand drawn atlas were found to be accurate to within a few degrees. In this example showing the north polar region, a very recognizable Big Dipper, part of the modern constellation Ursa Major, lies along the bottom of the chart. An additional 12 charts depict equatorial regions in 30 degree sections and also include a grouping resembling the modern constellation Orion. The atlas is on display at the British Library in London to celebrate the International Year of Astronomy.
On June 15th, the LOIRP released another Lunar Orbiter image, this time of the Apollo 12 landing site:
(There’s also a version at the site without annotations, if you want it. Both images come in a large version.)
Finally, as Saturn approaches its equinox in August, Cassini is recording interesting nearly-edge-on images of Saturn’s rings, and a tiny moon among them:
(You really need to see them large to get the full effect. I hate how image sizing puts kinks in diagonal lines, blah.)
To understand what you’re seeing, I highly recommend this article by Phil Plait, as he does a great job explaining what’s going on and why it’s significant. Below is another view of the tiny moon Daphnis, chugging along in Saturn’s rings.
This is one from further back in the APOD archives, the Tarantula Nebula:
Explanation: The Tarantula Nebula is a giant emission nebula within our neighboring galaxy the Large Magellanic Cloud. Inside this cosmic arachnid lies a huge central young cluster of massive stars, cataloged as R136 and partially visible on the upper right. The energetic light and winds from this cluster light up the nebula and sculpt the surrounding gas and dust into vast complex filaments. These “tentacles” give the Tarantula Nebula its name. In this impressive color image from the Wide-Field Imager camera on ESO’s 2.2-meter telescope at La Silla Observatory, intricacies of the nebula’s complex array of dust and gas are visible. A 300 light-year portion of the Tarantula Nebula is imaged. The Tarantula Nebula, also dubbed 30 Doradus, lies 170,000 light years away toward the constellation of Dorado.
Astronomical observation goes back to the dawn of civilization, and digging around online yielded this neat interactive atlas of ancient astronomy — starts at continents and refines on down from there. Also, the Wikipedia entry on archaeoastronomy is pretty darned extensive, and covers a lot of different cultures and time periods. (Ancient civilizations are a fascination of mine, so the amount of pictures made me a little giddy.)
Archaeoastronomy can be applied to all cultures and all time periods. The meanings of the sky vary from culture to culture; nevertheless there are scientific methods which can be applied across cultures when examining ancient beliefs. It is perhaps the need to balance the social and scientific aspects of archaeoastronomy which led Clive Ruggles to describe it as: “…[A] field with academic work of high quality at one end but uncontrolled speculation bordering on lunacy at the other.”
As for me, I’m just going to oggle the Nebra skydisk: