I've often talked about how amateurs still can make contributions in modern astronomy, making us unique among the sciences. Well, 14-year old Caroline Moore became the youngest person to discover a supernova, through diligence and drive. The story of her find of SN2008ha
is both a great character piece, and an example of what a motivated and skilled person can accomplish in 8 months.
At parties, some people are intimidated when I say I'm an astronomer (or, worse, astrophysicist). They assume I'm a haughty ivory tower genius who laughs at little people like them. It's so hard to reassure them that, no, I don't laugh, I merely chuckle. But I do feel it's my duty to help make life easier for the non-astrophysicists out there.
So, say you're at a party and you meet a famous astronomer. It doesn't matter which one, we're all famous (or at least published). Here are 6 things not
- I'm an Aquarius, can you tell me my future?
- I'm angry because Pluto isn't a planet anymore!
- What will happen in 2012 when the Earth, sun and the center of our galaxy line up?
A recent survey of 'dark' gamma-ray bursts, which are bright in gamma- and X-ray emissions, but have little or no visible light, are giving us a look into the dusty corners of otherwise dust-free galaxies.
Star formation occurs in dense clouds that quickly fill with dust as the most massive stars rapidly age and explode, spewing newly created elements into the interstellar medium to seed new star formation. Hence, astronomers presume that a large amount of star formation is occurring in dust-filled galaxies, although actually measuring how much dust this process has built up in the most distant galaxies has proved extremely challenging.
Space weather can kill astronauts. This is one of the motivations for funding space weather. Solar events-- flares, particle storms, and coronal mass ejections-- can knock out GPS and cell phone reception, screw up radio and radar, and endanger airline pilots flying the polar routes. All of these damaging effects are well worth mitigating.
But what about circumstances higher up?
In an article titled Fake Astronaut Gets Hit by Artificial Solar Flare
, NASA reports on their upcoming experiment to see just how much damage a solar flare would cause to an unprotected astronaut.
Mercury, closest planet to the sun, is as hot as you would expect, with daytime temperatures of 800 degrees Fahrenheit/450 degrees Celsius and because of its small size, its gravity is weak, only about 38 percent of Earth's.
These conditions make it hard for the planet to hold on to its extremely thin atmosphere, which can can only be seen by special instruments attached to telescopes and spacecraft like MESSENGER (MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging). Even then it's not easy because Mercury's magnetic field gets in the way. MESSENGER's first flyby on January 14, 2008, confirmed that the planet has a global magnetic field, as first discovered by the Mariner 10 spacecraft during its flybys of the planet in 1974 and 1975.
We're somewhat lost in how to meet future carbon footprint goals. Heck, Germany should have been able to just close a few Soviet-era East German factories and hit their Kyoto protocol targets but even they couldn't do it.
The answer, as always, may be in nature. Some parts of outer space are great at getting rid of excess carbon, including an unusual carbon-rich star that was part of a mystery stellar explosion recorded in 2006.
I believe that a scientist looking at nonscientific problems is just as dumb as the next guy.
- Richard Feynman
I just read a neat HST result on dark matter on slashdot.org. I also enjoy peeking at Astronomy Picture of the Day to find out about stuff I don't know. Basically, I get my fix from the same sites I recommend to others curious about astronomy. So I'm not just a professional astronomer. I'm an astronomer fan when it comes to fields other than what I work on.
Researchers using data from NASA's THEMIS mission have pinpointed the impact epicenter of an earthbound space storm as it crashes into the atmosphere - and given an advance warning of its arrival. The team's study reveals that magnetic blast waves can be used to pinpoint and predict the location where space storms dissipate their massive amounts of energy. These storms can dump the equivalent of 50 gigawatts of power, or the output of 10 of the world's largest power stations, into Earth's atmosphere.
The joint Japan-U.S. Suzaku mission is providing new insight into how assemblages of thousands of galaxies pull themselves together and, for the first time, Suzaku has detected X-ray-emitting gas at a cluster's outskirts, where a billion-year plunge to the center begins.
Suzaku ("red bird of the south") was launched on July 10, 2005. The observatory was developed at the Japanese Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS), which is part of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), in collaboration with NASA and other Japanese and U.S. institutions.
NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory has found a cosmic "ghost" lurking around a distant supermassive black hole. This is the first detection of such a high-energy apparition, and scientists think it is evidence of a huge eruption produced by the black hole.
This discovery presents astronomers with a valuable opportunity to observe phenomena that occurred when the Universe was very young. The X-ray ghost, so-called because a diffuse X-ray source has remained after other radiation from the outburst has died away, is in the Chandra Deep Field-North, one of the deepest X-ray images ever taken. The source, a.k.a. HDF 130, is over 10 billion light years away and existed at a time 3 billion years after the Big Bang, when galaxies and black holes were forming at a high rate.