Yesterday on Friday 31 July there was a rare astronomical event close to home that many might not have noticed, a second full moon of the month.
They sky over London last night was generally clear and where I live in NW London was exceptional with few clouds.
I gazed up and saw a full moon. what was unusual is that it was the second full moon in a calendar month.
Second Full Moon of the Month
I took this photo of it at around 1 am (Saturday morning) from our back garden.
Second Full moon July AKA a ‘blue moon’
Normally there are 29.5 days between full moons and therefore a full moon once a month. Such moons are known as a ‘blue moon’
A blue moon is defined as the second full moon in a calendar month. We have a saying that a rare event or happening occurs ‘once in a blue moon.’
The next Blue Moon will be in May 2016.
Even rarer, are have two blue moons in a calendar year this last happened in 1999. There were two full moons in January and two full moons in March and no full moon in February. So both January and March had Blue Moons.
The full moon is given a name for each month of the year it appears.
January: the Wolf Moon, February: the Snow Moon, March: the Worm Moon, April: the Pink Moon, May: the Flower Moon, June: the Strawberry Moon, July: the Buck Moon, August: the Sturgeon Moon, September: the Harvest Moon, October: the Hunter’s Moon, November: the Beaver Moon, December: the Cold Moon.
More well-known here are the Harvest Moon in September as centuries ago, this full moon helped farmers gather their harvest in at night. The Hunter’s Moon appears brighter and larger, which aided hunters at night in fields and forests.
Enjoy gazing at our constant, closest, changeless, celestial neighbour 🙂
A brief encounter with Pluto. On July 14 2015, the New Horizons Spacecraft flew past our most distant planet, Pluto. A truly historic moment in space travel.
Pluto is an a staggering 4.67 million miles (7.5 billion kilometres) from our home planet earth.
Light & the signals from New Horizons speeding to us at 186,000(approx 3000 kms) per second take over four hours to reach earth!
Here are some of the amazing photos…
Pluto and it’s major moon Charon
Close up of Pluto’s ice plain & mountains near fly by of Pluto
Pluto was regarded as the most distant planet in our solar system after its discovery in 1930 at the Percival Lowell observatory. Urbain Le Verrier in the 1840s, using celestial mechanics produced by Isaac Newton, predicted the position of the then-undiscovered planet Neptune after he had analysed perturbations in the orbit of Uranus. Further observations of Neptune in the late 19th century made astronomers speculate that Uranus’ orbit was being disturbed by another planet besides Neptune. In 1906, a wealthy Bostonian Percival Lowell who had founded the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona later becoming famous for early detailed observations of Mars. From the observatory Lowell began an extensive project in search of what was causing the perturbation, a possible ninth planet, which he termed ” Planet X“.
A young astronomer/researcher at the observatory, Clyde Tombaugh had the task to systematically image the night sky in pairs of photographs taken two weeks apart, then examine each pair and determine whether any objects had shifted position. He used a blink comparator, a viewing apparatus used by astronomers to find differences between two wide field photographs of the night sky taken through optical telescopes. The blink comparator permitted rapidly switching from viewing one photograph to viewing the other, “blinking” back and forth between the two taken of the same area of the sky at different times. This allowed the user to easily spot objects in the night sky that had changed position. On 23 January 1930, using the comparator on two photo plates, Clyde discovered the illusive planet X. As discoverer the Lowell observatory could name this new planet but as the discovery was world-wide news , suggested names were submitted.
A 11 year old English schoolgirl Venetia Burney from Oxford proposed the name Pluto. She was interested in classical mythology as well as astronomy and thought that the god of the underworld was an appropriate name for such a remote, dark and cold world. This name was submitted to Lowell. The object was officially named on March 24, 1930 Each member of the Lowell Observatory was allowed to vote on a short-list of three: Minerva (which was already the name for an asteroid), Cronus and Pluto. Pluto received every vote. The name was announced on May 1, 1930.Upon the announcement, Venetia received five pounds (£5) (£234 as of 2012), as a reward. The choice of name was partly inspired by the fact that the first two letters of Pluto are the initials of Percival Lowell, and Pluto’s astronomical symbol () is a monogram constructed from the letters ‘PL’.
Science history books have been recently amended with Pluto being ( I think unfairly) downgraded to a minor planet and just one member of the Kuiper Belt objects, a field containing primordial debris that are remnants from the creation of the solar system. The Kuiper Belt circles the outer solar system. This debris varies in size and as telescope power improved, objects as large as Pluto have been discovered within the belt and the question of Pluto being classed as proper planet has been raised by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) . This meant instead of the 9 planets in our solar system, we have now only the 8 ones being Mercury, Venus Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Neptune, Uranus and Saturn.
In 2002, the KBO 5000 Quaor was discovered, with a diameter then thought to be roughly 1280 kilometres, about half that of Pluto. In 2004, the discoverers of 90377 Sedna placed an upper limit of 1800 km on its diameter, nearer to Pluto’s diameter of 2320 km, although Sedna’s diameter was revised downward to less than 1600 km by 2007. , it was argued, Pluto should be reclassified as one of the Kuiper belt objects. On July 29, 2005, the discovery of a new trans-Neptunian object named Eris was found be approximately the same size as Pluto. This was the largest object discovered in the Solar System since Neptune’s giant moon Triton in 1846. Its discoverers and the press initially called it the tenth planet , although there was no official consensus at the time on whether to call it a planet. Others in the astronomical community considered the discovery the strongest argument for reclassifying Pluto as a minor planet. The debate on Pluto’s came to a head in 2006 with an IAU resolution that created an official definition for the term “planet”. According to this resolution, there are three main conditions for an object to be considered a ‘planet’:
The object must be in orbit around the Sun.
The object must be massive enough to be a sphere by its own gravitational force. More specifically, its own gravity should pull it into a shape of hydrostatic equilibrium (the condition in fluid mechanics where a volume of a fluid is at rest or at constant velocity. This occurs when compression due to gravity y is balanced by a pressure gradient force] e.g. the pressure gradient force prevents gravity from collapsing the Earth;s atmosphere into a thin, dense shell, while gravity prevents the pressure gradient force from diffusing the atmosphere into space).
It must have cleared the neighbourhood around its orbit, that there are no comparable objects within the planet’s orbit.
Pluto fails to meet the third condition, since its mass is only 0.07 times that of the mass of the other objects in its orbit (Earth’s mass, by contrast, is 1.7 million times the remaining mass in its own orbit. Controversy still rages at Pluto’s demotion to minor planet and reclassified in the new dwarf planet Plutoid category of trans-Neptunian objects. In 2006, NASA launched the New Horizons spacecraft to visit Pluto, it is now past halfway between Earth and Pluto, on approach for a dramatic flight past the icy planet and its moons in July 2015. Fittingly, the spacecraft contains ashes from the cremated remains of Clyde Tombaugh who passed away in 1997.
Photo plates used in the blink comparator showing an object shown
with a pointer (Planet X) that moved over six nights against the background of more fixed stars and confirmed as a new planet later named Pluto.
LORRI: (Long Range Reconnaissance Imager) telescopic camera; obtains encounter data at long distances, maps Pluto’s far side and provides high resolution geologic data.
SWAP: (Solar Wind Around Pluto) Solar wind and plasma spectrometer; measures atmospheric “escape rate” and observes Pluto’s interaction with solar wind.
PEPSSI: (Pluto Energetic Particle Spectrometer Science Investigation) Energetic particle spectrometer; measures the composition and density of plasma (ions) escaping from Pluto’s atmosphere.
SDC: (Student Dust Counter) Built and operated by students; measures the space dust peppering New Horizons during its voyage across the solar system.
New Horizons is powered a single radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG), which transforms the heat from the natural radioactive decay of plutonium dioxide into electricity. The compact, rugged General Purpose Heat Source developed and provided by the U.S. Department of Energy, carries approximately 11 kilograms (24 pounds) of plutonium dioxide fuel. It provides about 200 watts of power.
Yes they are big and fundamental in how we became and what were are today.
Below is a link to the 25 biggest turning points in earth’s history. Science is continually shining an almost celestial light to illuminate the path out of the darkness of our ignorance in understanding our existence. Exciting discoveries are being made. It is now thought that life on our planet began in deep space.
The cloud of gas and dust that eventually formed our sun and solar system was created over 5 billion years ago by the massive death throes and explosion of a massive star over 10-100 times the size of our sun in an event known as a supernova. This cloud contained all the elements we know of today and make us up.
So we are literally star born!
Chemical precursors to life have been found in comets and asteroids that were and still are around from 5 billion years ago at the birth of our solar system, from this cloud.
Some of these objects were very many at the beginning and their close orbits meant that they regularly collided with the forming earth. Some of these comets and meteorites seeded our planet with chemicals and materials which over millions of years evolved into multi cellar life, primitive bacteria and thenceforth to us billions of years later.
Please click below to link to an interesting BBC science article graphically portraying those key points & milestones in hour history
Waxing Gibbous Moon 5 October 2014 – Photo by PH Morton
The moon and the stars,
Dew and rain,
Hills and alleys,
Fields and meadows,
In serving fishes, fowls and beasts,
Serve all the sons of Men
A new deep and richer way.
And in serving them, bless,
enrich, serve me, thy
It’s different, but it’s very pretty out here. I suppose the are going to make a big deal of all this.
– Neil Armstrong (speaking from the moon)
YES WE ARE!
With the trusty camera, I took some photos of the full moon at around 9:30pm this evening in our back garden, which faces south and therefore an ideal place to view the moon and the planets traversing the night sky.
It was a bit difficult to photograph the moon without a tripod and using the maximum 21x zoom. The tricky part is keeping the moon in view, tracking as when you use high magnification, the earth’s rotation also magnifies the movement of the moon and other celestial bodies and therefore they move out of frame quite quickly.
Be that as it may, below are some of the photos taken trying various exposures.
Along the path, the gaze of the moon follows you.
The tangled branches
There on the snow
Mark out the signs
Of your thoughts.
– Francois Cheng
Photo by PH Morton
Photo by PH Morton
Photo by PH Morton
Photo by PH Morton
Photo by PH Morton
Photo by PH Morton
A dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.
– Oscar Wilde
Did you know?
The moon is 384,400 kilometres (238 855.086 miles) away from the Earth.
The moon is quarter the Earth’s size.
The moon is the brightest object in the night sky. This is incredible as the moon does not give out light but rather reflect light coming from the sun.
Have you heard?
You weigh slightly less when you are directly under a full moon.
With the exciting prospect of many new planets out side of our own home solar system being found, we need more probes to zero in extra solar planets (exoplanets) that orbit their parent sun in the habitable zone (also known as the Goldilocks Zone-not too hot, not too cold) where liquid water may exists and being the main precursor to life.
The BBC science news reports:
A telescope to find thousands of planets beyond our Solar System is the hot favourite for selection as Europe’s next medium-class science mission.
Known as Plato, the concept was chosen by an expert panel as the standout candidate in a competition run by the European Space Agency (Esa).
Design calls for a suite of 34 telescopes to be mounted on one satellite
Mission should confirm and characterise hundreds of rocky worlds
Would have the sensitivity also to detect the planets’ moons and rings
Intricate measurements of the host stars would yield key information
To launch from French Guiana on a Soyuz rocket in 2023/2024
Plato would be stationed 1.5m km from Earth on its “nightside”
The Paris-based organisation’s Science Policy Committee will now have the final say at its meeting in February.
If given the go-ahead, Plato would probably not launch until 2024.
The name of the mission is an acronym that stands for PLAnetary Transits and Oscillations of stars.
It is not really one telescope but rather a suite of 34 telescopes mounted on a single satellite.
The intention is for Plato to sweep about half the sky, to investigate some of its brightest and nearest stars.
It would monitor these stars for the tell-tale tiny dips in light that occur when planets move across their faces.
Critically, Plato would be tuned to seek out rocky worlds orbiting in the “habitable zone” – the region around a star where water can keep a liquid state.
A fundamental part of its quest would be to perform an intricate study of the host stars themselves, using their pulsations to probe their structure and properties.
Such observations, referred to as astroseismology, would provide key, complementary information for the proper characterisation of the rocky worlds.
Although, other missions have pursued this kind of science before, Plato is described as a major leap forward in capability.
The hope is that it could find really promising targets for follow-up by the big ground-based telescopes due to come online in the next decade.
These facilities, which will have primary mirrors measuring tens of metres in diameter, should be able to examine the atmospheres of distant worlds for possible life signatures.
The James Webb Space Telescope, the successor to Hubble, due for launch at the end of this decade, would likely still be working in 2024/2025 and could also pursue Plato’s discoveries.
The goal is to find planets like the Earth, not just in terms of their size but in their potential for habitability
Plato has spent the past two years in an assessment process that has pitted it against four other concepts.
All were vying for the third medium-class launch opportunity to be offered under Esa’s so-called Cosmic Vision programme, which defines the organisation’s space science priorities.
“Medium class” means a cost to the agency of no more than about 600m euros (£490m; $820m), although following the practice of previous missions this does not include the budget for instruments.
These are usually provided directly by Esa’s national member agencies and mean the final price tag can approach one billion euros.
All the competitors were invited to make a final presentation to representatives of the scientific community, industry, and national member agencies on 21 January. This was followed by closed-session discussions by two working groups, which rated the quality of the missions.
Planets beyond our Solar System are often given the term ‘exoplanet’
More than 1,000 have been detected to date using several techniques
But many of these worlds are large planets believed to resemble Jupiter or Neptune
Many gas giants have been found to be orbiting very close to their stars
It has prompted new ideas to describe the formation and evolution of solar systems
Their recommendations were then passed to Esa’s top space science advisory committee (SSAC) to make an evaluation.
It proposed that Plato be carried forward as the mission of choice, and this preference has now been sent on by Esa’s executive to the SPC. The committee has the prerogative of “selection” at its 19 February gathering, and could still reject Plato – but this would be a major surprise.
The final green light is known as “adoption” in Esa-speak. This is unlikely to happen until 2015, after member states have made firm commitments on their participation and an industrial team to build the satellite has been identified.
One big industrial contribution from the UK seems assured. This would be the camera detector at the base of the telescope suite.
Supplied by e2v in Chelmsford, the array of more than 130 charge-coupled devices would be 0.9 square metres in area.
The first two medium-class missions to be selected under Esa’s Cosmic Vision programme in 2011 were Solar Orbiter, a space telescope to study the Sun, to launch in 2017; and Euclid, a telescope to investigate “dark energy”, to fly in 2020.
The American space agency (Nasa) plans a similar mission to Plato calledTess (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite) in 2017, but the specifications mean that its rocky worlds will probably be in closer orbits around lower-mass stars than the discoveries made by the European project. In other words, the Plato planets are more likely to be in the habitable zones of more Sun-like stars.
Space isn’t remote at all. It’s only an hour’s drive away if your car could go straight upwards.
– Sir Fred Hoyle
Science & Space Highlights 2013
My favourite daily newspaper (excellent as it is free too 🙂 ) is The Metro which I read on weekdays on my early morning commute to work. Ben Gilliland produces an interesting , humorous & easy to understand updates and topics in the science world. Here are the highlights of 2013.
IT IS the start of a new year; 2013 is behind us and all eyes are looking towards the year ahead. It is a time to cast out the old and welcome in the new. But before we push 2013 into our collective wheelie bins to fester with turkey bones, congealed gravy and unrealised dreams, let us take one final look at the year on whose shoulders 2014 will stand. Like one of those chocolate selection boxes that are ubiquitous to the festive season, 2013 was a year packed with tasty morsels of sciencey goodness. We have reviewed the pictorial insert and (avoiding the whisky liqueur centres) selected a few of our favourites… [*The decision to run with a 2013 retrospective was in no way influenced by the author’s desire for two weeks off during the Christmas period. The fact that this piece could be prepared in advance is entirely coincidental]
Thanks to Nasa’s Kepler space observatory, 2013 was a bumper year for exoplanets. On January 2, a study by astronomers at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) revealed that the Milky Way contains at least one planet for every star – meaning that our galaxy is home to at least 100-400 billion exoplanets (although there is likely to be many more). Just five days later, another report, from astronomers at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, estimated that there are ‘at least 17 billion’ Earth-sized exoplanets in the Milky Way. On November 4, a study from the University of California (also based on Kepler data) reported that there could be as many as 40 billion Earth-sized planets orbiting within the ‘habitable zone’ of their host stars (the region around a star where conditions make the existence of liquid water possible). Of that number, the report estimated that as many as 11billion may be orbiting Sun-like stars – with the nearest such planet located just 12 light-years away.
Launched in 2009 along with the Herschel space telescope, the European Space Agency’s Planck cosmology probe was designed to map the Universe’s first light – the radiation after-glow of the Big Bang. On March 21, the mission’s all-sky map of this a Space was released. The exquisitely-detailed map revealed the tiny temperature variations that were present when the Universe was just 380,000 years old. Although they vary by less than a hundred millionth of a degree, these fluctuations in the density and temperature of the young Universe would form the seeds of the stars and galaxies that inhabit the cosmos today. Planck’s results confirmed many aspects of ‘Big Bang’ theory – including so-called ‘cosmic inflation’ (a period of exponential expansion thought to have occurred in the first fraction of a second of the Universe’s existence). It revealed the Universe to be slightly older than previously though (by about 80million years) and that it contains a little less of the mysterious dark energy (68.3%) thought to be driving the expansion of the cosmos and a little more of the ninja-like dark matter (26.8%) that interacts with the cosmos through gravity alone and a little more of the ordinary matter (4.9%) that makes up you, me and the stars and planets.
On October 3, after more than four years of sky mapping, the last of Planck’s instruments ran out the helium coolant they needed to operate. Six days later, the craft was moved out its operating position and placed into a ‘graveyard orbit’ around the Sun. Finally, on October 21, Planck was given the command to power down for good.
On April 29, another iconic ESA spacecraft, the Herschel Space Observatory, exhausted the last of its 2,300-litre supply of liquid helium coolant – marking the end of more than three years of stunning observations. Designed to see the Universe in the dust-piercing far-infrared part of the electromagnetic spectrum, Herschel gave us stunning images of the intricate networks of gas and dust from which stars are born. It identified star-forming regions in the most distant galaxies – revealing that, even in the early Universe, stars were formed at prodigious rates. In all, Herschel made over 35,000 scientific observations and collected more that 25,000 hours-worth of science data.
If you’ve been following the progress of Nasa’s veteran space probe, Voyager 1, you may have noticed that it seems to have ‘left the Solar System’ more than once. In September, Nasa announced that, on August 25, the craft had at last (for certain this time) become the first man-made object to leave the Solar System behind and pass into interstellar space. Launched in 1977 for a ‘grand tour’ of the planets, Voyager 1 covered an astonishing 19 billion km (about 121 Astronomical Units, or AU) of space before it passed beyond the reach of the solar wind and departed the Solar System. Of course, another definition would put the edge of the Solar System at the point where the Sun’s gravitational influence ends – a distance of about 63,200 AU – meaning Voyager won’t truly leave for another 17,000 years or so. If mankind is ever going to colonise Mars, we’ll need a steady supply of water.
On September 26, Nasa announced that their Curiosity rover had detected ‘abundant, easily accessible’ water in the Martian soil. The robotic explorer had found that the red surface of Mars contains about two per cent water by weight – meaning that future colonists could (in theory) extract about a litre of water from every cubic foot of Martian dirt. Then, in December, a study of images taken by Nasa‘s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter was released that hinted that there might still be liquid water flowing near the Red Planet’s equator. The images showed dark lines, called ‘recurring slope lineae’, which might be formed when water ice at high altitudes melted during the Martian summer and flowed down hill.
The Sun powers our existence here on Earth through the energy released by nuclear fusion in its core and it has long been a dream that we will one day recreate this process here on Earth. On October 7, scientists at the National Ignition Facility in California announced that they had taken a significant step towards that dream. Using a technique called ‘Inertial Confinement Fusion’, they zapped a tiny pellet of hydrogen fuel with the combined might of 192 laser beams – heating it 100 million degrees and initiating fusion. Significantly, for the first time, the reaction liberated more energy than was needed to initiate it. The amount of energy was tiny, but it showed that cheap, clean, fusion energy might one day be a reality.
Neutrinos are virtually massless particles that flood the cosmos, but have no electric charge so pass through the Universe (and through stars, planet and you) oblivious to, and unaffected by their surroundings. On November 22, scientists at the IceCube Neutrino Observatory, an ice-entombed telescope in Antarctica, said they had detected high-energy neutrinos from beyond the Solar System for the first time. The neutrino’s ability to pass through space unsullied by their surroundings means that, unlike the electromagnetic radiation most telescopes look for, none of the information they carry is lost or corrupted. The discovery has been hailed by astronomers as opening up a ‘new era of astronomy’.
A mission that could revolutionise our knowledge about our home galaxy was launched on December 19. One of the most ambitious space-charting missions ever conceived, ESA’s Gaia space craft will map the precise location, composition, brightness and age of a billion stars. It’s near-billion pixel camera (the most powerful ever flown into space) will create an ultra-precise 3D map of our corner of the Milky Way. By pinpointing the position and motions of the stars, the map can be used to chart how the Milky Way is evolving (by fast-forwarding their motions) and how it first evolved (by rewinding them).
Tremendous amounts of dust (red) were detected in the centre of the supernova, within the outer shockwave (blue)
Stuff and Dust of Us – Supernova Creation
Striking images of a young supernova abundant with fresh dust at the centre, have been captured by a telescope in the Chilean desert.
It is the first time astronomers have witnessed the genesis of the grains which formed galaxies in the early universe.
The pictures were captured by the Alma (Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array) radio telescope.
Alma (Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array) telescope
They were revealed at the 223rd meeting of the American Astronomical Society.
They will be published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.
It is generally known now that our star the sun, our solar system, planets like our home earth and ultimately us originate from dust grains forged in the crucible of a massive dying star called a supernova. A supernova is the biggest known explosion in nature after the Big Bang which created our universe. Such is the tremendous heat and power produced all the known elements that make us up are created.
Space & the universe is full of tiny solid particles we can call space dust. We can see so called dark dust lanes in our Milky Way galaxy along with beautiful clouds in pictures from the Hubble and other telescopes
Dust from dead stars more so supernovae form dust clouds particles of dust clumps/coalesces together driven by static electricity attraction then gravity as mass of these clumps increases after attracting more and more smaller clumps. At the centre of the the clump a proto-star forms under immense pressure until nuclear fusion is triggered. Spinning and orbiting this new star star further clumps of dust coalesce in to the planets, moons and, asteroids debris that makes up our solar system. Although we know this dust exists throughout the universe and galaxies, there was no firm evidence of where it actually originated from.
In today’s universe, it largely forms around dying stars as they burn out. But these fading giants were not around at the dawn of the universe.
“It’s the same problem as we have in my house – there’s a lot of dust and we don’t know where it comes from. Space is quite a messy place,” quipped Remy Indebetouw, an astronomer with the National Radio Astronomy Observatory.
“So we took one of the most technologically advanced telescopes ever – Alma – and tried to find out how dust formed in the early universe.”
“Supernovas have long been thought to be the creators – the bright factories that burst out building blocks for galaxies. But catching one in the act is far from easy.
“And even when we do spot a supernova cloaked in a dusty plume, there’s the old chicken-egg problem: how do we know that the cloud wasn’t there first?”
‘Not a nuisance’
To settle the argument, a team of astronomers from the UK and US used Alma to observe the glowing remains of 1987A, the closest recently observed supernova, 168,000 light-years from Earth.
They predicted that, as the gas cooled after the explosion, solid molecules would form in the centre from atoms of oxygen, carbon, and silicon bonded together.
Earlier observations of 1987A with the infrared telescope Herschel had only detected a small amount of hot dust.
But thanks to the power of the Alma radio telescope array, which stretches out over the Atacama desert, it took only 20 minutes to capture the evidence on camera.
“And all of that matter – the red area you see at the centre of the picture – was there in the core of the star before it exploded.That’s the exciting thing.
“People think of dust as a nuisance – something that gets in your way. But it turns out it’s pretty important and essential in creation.”
While supernovae signal the destruction of stars, they are also the source of new material and energy, says Dr Jacco van Loon of Keele University, a co-author on the study.
“Our lives would be very different without the chemical elements that were synthesised in supernovae throughout history,” he said.
“Grains are incredibly difficult to make in the vast emptiness of space. And if supernovae indeed make lots of them, this has very important and positive consequences for the eventual formation of the Sun and the Earth.”