Welcome, come in to the 323rd Carnival of Space! The carnival is a community of space science and astronomy writers and bloggers, who submit their best work each week for your benefit. It's my turn again, and it's a bit special for it is to be the last article published on Urban Astronomer before we move hosts. I'm taking my time with the migration, as I want to get it right without losing any content (You realise there's over 950 pages of stuff to read here? No wonder the lettering is all faded from my keyboard...), so things might be a bit silent for a few more days but when we're ready you'll be the first to know! Unless you don't follow my twitter feed
, in which case you might only notice days later.
But you're here for the carnival:
First up to bat is Paul D. Spudis of The Once and Future Moon
writing about the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE)
robotic explorer which recently arrived at the Moon. We all learned in school that the Moon is a dry and airless world, but it does still technically have an atmosphere, albeit one as thin as the vacuum outside the International Space Station. LADEE is on a mission to study this atmosphere, and how it reacts with the mysteriously floating clouds of dust that appear to be kicked up from the Lunar surface by electrostatic forces.
Robin Hanson discusses great filters in regards to the Fermi Paradox
. Humanity seems to have a non-trivial chance of expanding to fill the universe with lasting life. But the fact that space near us seems dead now tells us that any given piece of dead matter faces an astronomically low chance of begetting such a future. There thus exists a great filter between death and expanding lasting life, and humanity faces the ominous question: how far along this filter[s] are we? The human population went down to about ten thousand breeding pairs back in 70000 BC. This may have been caused by the Toba Super-volcano. Supervolcanoes, asteroids and other events could disrupt the development of intelligent species on other planets if they are more frequent than our experience here on earth.
The latest research on rocky relics suggests a distant planetary system, now past its “death throes”, had very similar water ‘delivery system’ to our own
- and consequently the potential to contain habitable exoplanets complete with water. Astronomers have found the shattered remains of an asteroid that contained huge amounts of water orbiting an exhausted star, or white dwarf. This suggests that the star GD 61 and its planetary system – located about 150 light years away and at the end of its life – had the potential to contain Earth-like exoplanets, they say. This is the first time that both water and a rocky surface - two “key ingredients” for habitable planets - have been found together beyond our solar system.
And then we hear about collaborations between Eastern space agencies
: The Ukrainian space agency has always been short of funding. The Ukrainians used to work closely with the Russians as part of the Soviet program, but that stopped with the breakup of the soviet union. Currently Russia's leader Putin has bad relations with the Ukraine. Ukraine has the Zenit rocket family. Ukraine had been working on the "lighthouse" project to make expanded rocket engines based on the Zenit engines. Previously it was believed that these were mostly paper studies. The Cyclone-4 engine should launch in 2014. China has money in its space program. China and Ukraine space agencies have a cooperation program. The combination will help China to accelerate technological catch up in space launch capabilities. China has its own teams and rocket designs and internally developed a liquid hydrogen upper stage, but there seems to be a speed up in rocket development by utilizing rocket engines that Ukraine has developed.
And that's all for this short-but-dense Carnival of Space. See you again after the move!
This week's Carnival of Space is hosted by Brian Wang at Next Big Future. This week's carnival features newly discovered features of galactic clusters, space flight options for those who can't afford the full $200,000 Space Tourist package, and the succesful launch of another private space company's rocket. There are details on several different new technologies for interstellar space flight, a new spaceplane design, google's involvement in space venture funding, and an article on how easily antimatter can be stored in a zero-G environment.
This week's carnival is a big one, packed with everything from planetary science to space law. We've got a summary of last week's Lunar occultation of Spica, invitations from NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab to apply to become a Solar System Ambassador, discussions on the habitability of alien moons, new discoveries on our own Moon and updates on the roving Here, There and Everywhere exhibit.
There's a discussion on maritime salvage law, as applicable to manmade objects in space, the use of lasers to reduce Skylon's launch costs, SpaceX's attempts at building a reusable booster rocket, and a brief look at the Grasshopper test rocket. Rounding matters off, we have Urban Astronomer's article about a recently found Solar Twin, and a pair of articles about the Comet ISON's upcoming performance in our December skies.
This image tracks the life of a Sun-like star, from its birth on the left side of the frame
to its evolution into a red giant star on the right.
An older, but almost identical star to the Sun has been found in the constellation of Capricornus (The Sea Goat). Mankind has only been studying the Sun for the last 400 years (a very small percentage of its 4.6 Billion year lifespan), but by studying very similar stars at various ages, we have been able to extrapolate a lot of information about our own star. These stars are commonly termed “Solar twins” and now an international team of researchers, led by astronomers in Brazil, have found the oldest solar twin to date with help of ESO’s VLT (Very Large Telescope). Its name is HIP 102152 and it is approximately 4 billion years older than our Sun, effectively making it double in age. This has given astronomers an unprecedented view of what our sun (and planet) will be doing in 4 billion years. It has also cleared up an age-old question about the Lithium content in younger stars, because it is less prevalent in ours. By comparing the chemical compounds in our sun to younger solar twins (such as 18 Scorpii – half the current age of the sun) and matching that data up to the newly discovered HIP 102152, they can confirm earlier theories that lithium content is directly related to the age of a star.
According to TalaWanda Monroe (Universidade de São Paulo and lead author on the new paper), "For decades, astronomers have been searching for solar twins in order to know our own life-giving Sun better. But very few have been found since the first one was discovered in 1997. We have now obtained superb-quality spectra from the VLT and can scrutinise solar twins with extreme precision, to answer the question of whether the Sun is special." Apart from its age, HIP 102152 appears to comprise many of the same chemical compounds as our sun (lacking in the other solar twins). This suggests the strong possibility that the ancient HIP 102152 may also be host to several terrestrial planets.
This research was presented in “High precision abundances of the old solar twin HIP 102152: insights on Li depletion from the oldest Sun”, by TalaWanda Monroe et al. in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.
Apologies for the late posting, but as those who follow me on twitter
could have told you, I just became a father again. The new arrival keeps me busy, so updates are slow. And with those excuses out of the way, let's talk about the 318th Carnival of Space
. This week's carnival is hosted by Pamela Hoffman of Everyday Spacer
, and packs in a varied program. If you click that link, you'll learn about Apollo era lunar geology, a certain iPhone planetarium app, our cosmic connections with each other and aurorae. There's talk about upcoming missions to the Moon, inflatable space stations and the Solar System's water. Crowning it all is an article about NASA's LADEE spacecraft, on a mission to study the Moon's atmosphere. So click on through to the Carnival of Space
and expand your mind!
NGC 6818 as seen by the Hubble Space Telescope.
My own view wasn't anything as detailed or colourful.
Not so long ago, a discussion on the Google Plus "Amateur Astronomers
" community led me to the Deep Sky Hunter Star Atlas
. It's a stunning effort by Michael Vlasov to create a completely free and downloadable star atlas covering the entire sky down to magnitude 10.2 (and including deep sky objects down to magnitude 14.0). It's a small .pdf file (less than 50MB), but a serious print job: over a hundred A3 pages, double-sided. For the sake of portability, I scaled mine down to A4.
About two weeks ago I decided to take it for a test drive. The skies were dark and crystal clear (Thank you cold fronts bringing clean air from the Antarctic!) and my evening was clear, so I decided to do something I've not done in almost 20 years: Plan an evening's observing. Pick a constellation, browse through the catalogues to find something interesting to view, find it on the charts to plot a starhop, and repeat. I chose a galaxy in Sagittarius (NGC 6822) and a planetary nebula in Scorpius (NGC 6513).
It didn't go as planned: I waited too long after setting up the scope (one of the Celestron C8 stable, equatorial mount), so by the time I went outside, Scorpius had already vanished behind a tree, leaving only the galaxy. I had a quick browse of the old familiar targets (Saturn, Triffid, the sort of thing I can find without assistance) and then set to it. The star hop started at Sigma Sgr, so it took me a long time to limp across to where the galaxy was supposed to be. I couldn't see it, and spent almost half an hour scanning the starfield in the area till I knew it from memory and was convinced that I was pointing in the right place. All I could see was a dark empty space between the faintest stars where the charts said there should be a galaxy. I admitted defeat. But before packing up, I decided to try for another object that was on the chart, about a degree North of the galaxy: NGC 6818
- the Little Gem planetary nebula. It took 30 seconds to find the one star in the field that stayed blurry even after focus was adjusted. Put in a higher power eyepiece and there it was, plain as day. Pale grey, with possibly a blue-green tint, circular, quite small. I looked at it for a few minutes, trying to hold in my mind the image of the outer layers of a star being ejected out into space in a vast expanding shell of plasma, and reconciling that with the insignificant little smudge before me.
And after that, pack up the scope and go to bed. I hadn't realised just how bitterly cold it was till I grabbed the metal of the fork with both my naked hands... Man, I've missed this. Next time I try those two targets again!
Just as “go-to” technology simplified the use of telescopes, astronomy apps are revolutionizing the way new and experienced stargazers find their way around the night sky. One of the newest apps is Starmap Media
for the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. Created by the makers of the Starmap
and Starmap PRO
planetarium apps, Starmap Media is designed for anyone looking to learn more about the night sky and astronomy in general.
Part planetarium, part astronomy professor, this astronomy app helps users do more than simply locate constellations and planets. Through 10-15 minute multimedia “stories”, the app explains the science behind astronomical objects while helping users pinpoint them in the night sky from their location.
I was able to review the app for two weeks and found it to be a useful “introduction-to-astronomy” tool that should appeal to new stargazers and those interested in learning more about the cosmos.
Your Personal Astronomer Starmap Media
aims to simulate the experience of having an astronomer give you a personalized tour of the night sky. If you want to know what’s currently visible, the app’s The Sky Tonight feature will display the constellations and planets above you based on your location. At the same time, a narrator will walk you through the most prominent constellations and some of the facts behind them.
For cloudy nights or use during the day, the app offers downloadable stories for use in “couch mode” that cover everything from cosmology to the mythology of the constellations. Two stories are included with the app and additional ones can be purchased for 99 cents each. At the time of this review, some 30 stories are available and sample titles include: “A Star’s Destiny”, “Wandering the Summer Sky”, “Measuring the Cosmos”, “The Changing Pole Star”, and “What Happens when Galaxies Collide?”
Ideal for Budding Astronomers
Each Starmap Media story notes whether it is meant for Beginner, Intermediate, or Advanced users. Most stories are aimed at the beginner/intermediate groups and it seems that this is the audience who would benefit most from the app. That said, I did learn a couple of new things from the app despite having observed the sky for almost 20 years, so experienced observers may also find some value.
Advanced observers should be aware, though, that The Sky Tonight planetarium is quite basic and does not list objects from the Messier/NGC catalogs, comets, or satellites. This was done intentionally to keep things simple, but astronomers should be aware that this app should not be considered a substitute for more robust planetarium apps on the market.
The information, narration, and illustrations contained in the Starmap Media stories are excellent. Don’t expect fancy computer animation or fast-paced video, though. The app generally uses artistic illustrations or static photos to accompany the narration.
Starmap Media is also easy to use, which should appeal to beginners looking for an app that doesn’t require prior stargazing experience or knowledge of astronomy.
Lastly, the science is sound. Created by experienced astronomers and written by a professional science writer, the information is both accurate and accessible.
The biggest drawback to the app is that it’s limited to the Apple platform and can only be used on the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch.
Also, while the app is free, just two stories are included, and each additional story must be purchased individually. Stories only cost $0.99 each, so the cost is not prohibitive (you could download all of the stories and still pay less than what you would for a typical astronomy book or DVD) but users need to take the extra step to download one story at a time. An additional option in which users could purchase a bundle of 3 or 5 stories at a slightly discounted price, for example, might be simpler and encourage more use.
A Solid Introduction to the Night Sky
All told, Starmap Media delivers on its promise to help new stargazers find their way around the night sky and learn more about astronomy in the process. You can download it from the Apple App Store or learn more on the Starmap Media website
: Free, with 2 stories included. Additional stories cost $0.99 each.Size
: 57 MB + downloadable storiesLanguages
: English and FrenchAbout the Author
Andrew Symes has been observing the night sky since 1994. Located in Ottawa, Canada, Andrew is passionate about communicating the beauty of the night sky and the adventures of human and robotic spaceflight. Most fond of planetary and solar observing, Andrew can usually be found outside with his 8" SCT telescope gazing at the Moon or the planets or observing the sun with his Coronado H-alpha solar telescope. For more of Andrew's writing and photography, read his blog CanadianAstronomy and follow him on Twitter!
Welcome to the 317th Carnival of Space. Once again, it's Urban Astronomers turn to scour the Internet for news and articles on space science and astronomy and bring them together into one place. We've had a lot of submissions this week, so let's cut straight to the chase:
Next Big Future
, the current home base of the Carnival of Space, sends us their usual bonanza with four articles: First up is a ten thousand person colonization space ship design
, proposed with a focus on how the community and living spaces should be designed. People are assigned area with the density of the city of Seattle and standard mixed use living areas. Everyone has 50 square meters of living space. There is agricultural and other green areas. The second submission is an update on Spiderfab, which has gotten a phase 2 NASA NIAC $500,000 funding. Here are the detailed designs
from the phase 1 project. Third, billionaire Peter Thiel is famous for his early investment in Facebook. He also was a cofounder of Paypal which was then merged with Xcom which was started by Elon Musk. Positron Dynamics has seed funding from Paypal billionaire Peter Thiel’s Breakout Labs. Initial simulations show that as much as 10 micrograms of positrons could be produced each week
with a linear accelerator," says co-founder Ryan Weed, PhD, a physicist and former cryogenic engineer for Jeff Bezos’s space flight company Blue Origin. We could see the beginning of the age of commercial antimatter within five years. And finally, Six phase 2 NASA NIAC projects
were announced. Propellant-less Spacecraft Formation-Flying and Maneuvering with Photonic Laser Thrusters was one of the six projects.
The next featured submitter is Links Through Space
. They invite us to follow their Astronomy club
Toutatis in Kustavi, Finland. The Fall/Winter season is open. Read about their experiences as an Astro-club. Watch new astrophotos and animations of the night sky.
This composite shows the region around the massive star-forming region
SDC 335.579-0.292 seen using NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope and ALMA. The
yellow blob at the centre of the ALMA images is a stellar womb with over 500 times
the mass than the Sun — the largest ever seen in the Milky Way. The embryonic star
within is hungrily feeding on the material that is racing inwards. It is expected to give
birth to a very brilliant star with up to 100 times the mass of the Sun.
Credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)/NASA/JPL-Caltech/GLIMPSE
When astronomers pointed the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter array (ALMA) at the Spitzer dark cloud SDC335.579-0.292, hoping to study partially developed proto-stars, they were not expecting to discover a record-breaking 500 stellar mass monster. The unborn star
, situated some 11000 light years away, is the largest ever seen in the Milky Way
, and will likely evolve into a supergiant star some 100 times the mass of the Sun
Stars form in vast clouds of cold gas and dust, which coalesce into dense knots of material that have enough gravity to draw in more and more material. The clouds collapse inwards, piling more and more matter into the protostar until its core temperature and pressure are high enough to begin nuclear fusion. As the protostar blossoms, it's intense radiation and stellar wind blow away the remains of the cloud, revealing a newborn star to the universe. This happens in hundreds of places within the cloud, and explains why new stars usually form in clusters which gradually disperse over billions of years. But when it comes to the formation of rare supergiants like the one discovered in SDC335, astronomers haven't been able to agree on how this process can produce such huge stars.
One of the two leading theories suggests that the cloud fragments as it collapses into discrete smaller cores which are then drawn in to the growing protostar over time. The other states that the entire molecular cloud collapses inwards, with material falling in towards one or two massive cores, and this appears to be the case at SDC335.
“The remarkable observations from ALMA allowed us to get the first really in-depth look at what was going on within this cloud,” says Nicolas Peretto, leader of the team that made this discovery. “We wanted to see how monster stars form and grow, and we certainly achieved our aim! One of the sources we have found is an absolute giant — the largest protostellar core ever spotted in the Milky Way."
“Even though we already believed that the region was a good candidate for being a massive star-forming cloud, we were not expecting to find such a massive embryonic star at its centre,” says Peretto. “This object is expected to form a star that is up to 100 times more massive than the Sun. Only about one in ten thousand of all the stars in the Milky Way reach that kind of mass!”
The protostar is still at a very early stage in its development, but already has a volume of gas equivalent to more than 500 times the mass of the Sun swirling around its core and observations have shown that more gas and dust continue to flow inwards. The nature of the collapse supports the globular collapse theory, in which the entire cloud collapses directly into the protostar.
"Not only are these stars rare, but their birth is extremely rapid and their childhood is short, so finding such a massive object so early in its evolution is a spectacular result," adds team member Gary Fuller from the University of Manchester, UK.
The discovery was originally published in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics. This paper is also available on arXiv at arXiv:1307.2590v1
This week's Carnival of Space
is hosted by Brian Wang of Next Big Future
. The carnival is a weekly event hosted by an astronomy or space science blogger who brings a collection of writing from related blogs into one space. This week's carnival includes rogue planets, plans on what to do if we meet intelligent aliens and ways to use 3D printing to make space travel easier. The Astronomical Society of Kenya has a new logo, a new book has been published linking astronomy to biology, and the limits of adaptive optics technology have been stretched even further. We even get a bit speculative, discussing ways to power warp-drive ships and float cities in the relatively comfortable upper clouds of Venus!
For all this, and a little more, visit the carnival here