Fake Banner
    Serendipitous Jupiter
    By Alex "Sandy" Antunes | March 27th 2009 05:13 AM | 2 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Alex "Sandy"

    Read more about the strange modern world of a day laborer in astronomy, plus extra space science-y goodness....

    View Alex "Sandy"'s Profile
    I'm putting the finishing touches to a GUI when the red light starts flashing. The voice comes over the PA from ops, "Warning, Jupiter hoving to view". We quickly drop our work and run across the metal crosswalk that separates us from the STEREO operations bunker. Inside, against the din of the klaxon, we see the massive bulk of Jupiter crowding the leftmost of the main displays. STEREO B was in danger!

    And here is the result from our STEREO website. Jupiter seen by STEREO COR1 Okay, I made up the bit about the red light and the klaxons. And after this brief science break, I'll even bring in some irony.

    From the caption of the image, No one has been able to observe Jupiter and its moons for some time as it is too close to the Sun, but that did not stop the STEREO (Behind) COR1 coronagraph from capturing it and its four major moons over a 30-hour period (March 15-16, 2009). If you look carefully, you can identify three of its moons close to Jupiter, and even discern how their positions change as the movie progresses. Those with keen eyes can see the fourth moon, Callisto, as a fainter object well to the right of the others. These four moons are known as the Galilean moons, because they were first discovered by Galileo Galilei in 1610.

    Jupiter itself is largely saturated in the movie, to bring out the moons and the faint solar corona. The solid dark green area on the right is the coronagraph's occulting disk that blocks out the Sun and some of its bright atmosphere to that our instrument can see fainter structure just beyond the Sun. The thin, white line inside of that indicates the actual size of the Sun. By coincidence, a coronal mass ejection is seen blasting a white cloud of charged particles out into space during much of the clip. We have not seen many solar storms of late as the Sun is near its low point in its solar activity cycle.

    The movie of this is also up on YouTube, with over 165,000 views, posted courtesy of Phil Plait, who also covered it in his blog... five days ago. I'm with the STEREO team and only found out about it a day after Phil posted. Admittedly, it's taking me 4 days to get to blogging about it... I got distracted by Mission Madness. But there's still an odd gap between discovery, journalism, and the people on-site actually learning about it. I found out through a parenthetical comment on a STEREO E/PO email scheduling our next telecon, a little additional "In case you were not aware" mention.

    Phil managed to beat out the spaceweather posting (and the email I got) by a day. So this is yet another case of the popular science press being the best channel for an astronomer-- even one associated with the mission-- to learn just what serendipitous events that mission is discovering. The spaceweather.com writeup reads:

    NEAR THE EDGE OF THE SUN: Imagine looking up at noon and seeing a planet with four moons just 0.1o from the edge of the blinding sun. Impossible? NASA's STEREO-B spacecraft did it last week. Click on the image below to launch a movie of Jupiter and the Galilean satellites in close "solar conjunction."

    During the 30-hour movie, Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto circle Jupiter as a massive CME billows overhead. STEREO-B recorded the action on March 15th and 16th using an occulting disk to block the solar glare. This arrangment[sic] allowed STEREO's cameras to photograph moons of Jupiter eight thousand billion (8x1012) times dimmer than the adjacent sun.

    STEREO's coronagraph (occulting disk+camera) is designed to monitor faint but powerful activity in the sun's outer atmosphere. The CME is a good example. With a limiting magnitude of +6.5, it can also see stars, planets, moons and comets so close to the edge of the sun, it seems impossible. In fact, it happens all the time. Browse the STEREO gallery for examples.

    It's a neat little observation. It doesn't relate to my research-- the CME seen in the view is what I study. But I do enjoy such discoveries. With science teams distributed across a dozen or more institutes, and scientists working for many tasks across multiple projects, there really isn't a central STEREO command directing the activity of all STEREO scientists in real time. Instead, we have the Cor1 ops, the E/PO group, the NRL Cor2 group, the modelers, and so on for all t he instruments, all the avenues of research, all working towards the same goal but in different compartments and with, frankly, not enough cross-talk.

    Increasing, I use twitter feeds and the popular press in order to keep informed about neat bits of science other than my primary research. Scientific journalism is a necessary part of me staying informed in the sciences. Even for my own mission.


    Thanks for the STEREO link.  I was rather unaware of this, which bears out your point about scientific journalism.  However, when the STEREO site stated:
    No one has been able to observe Jupiter and its moons for some time as it is too close to the Sun.

    they are making something of a howler.  If one looks at the Where is STEREO? site, one can see that Jupiter may be hiding close to the Sun as seen from seen from STEREO-B, but is wide and clear as seen from STEREO-A.

    Moreover, to an observer from Earth, Jupiter has been visible to those with a clear morning sky for some time now.  If one follows these matters, one can see that Jupiter passed conjunction with the Sun on January 23rd this year, as one can read from the appropriate back number of Jim Kaler's  Skylights.
    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    I am not keen that Phil slapped his website on there in big ol' letters and then gave credit to NASA in tiny letters below it.   I guess you can do that, it being public domain stuff, but people shouldn't.  

    Here's the video without the blogspam before and after.   :)