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Stories From May/June 2020
Video: SpaceX rocket EXPLODES blowing up Facebook's £150MILLION internet satellite
A ROCKET has exploded at Cape Canaveral space centre - blowing up Facebook's £150million internet satellite. NASA says SpaceX was conducting a test firing of its pioneering unmanned rocket when disaster struck. A series of explosions sent smoke and flames shooting through the sky and shook buildings miles away. The blast took with it Facebook's first satellite costing the company a whopping £150 million.
Shocking new footage shows the moment the rocket exploded moments before take offAn explosion rips through the giant rocket as it sits ready for lift-offAnd it is quickly engulfed in a huge fireball as years of work towards providing satellite communication in sub-Saharan Africa go up in flamesThe entire rocket is soon decimated by a gigantic explosion that rips through the facilityFire and smoke could be seen billowing from the launch pad as the SpaceX rocket explodedPlay Video
The social media giant's devastated founder Mark Zuckerberg said: "As I'm here in Africa, I'm deeply disappointed to hear that SpaceX's launch failure destroyed our satellite that would have provided so much connectivity to so many entrepreneurs and everyone else across the continent." SpaceX - founded by PayPal and Tesla tycoon Elon Musk - confirmed there was an anomaly on the launch pad which resulted in the loss of the rocket and its payload.
The Israeli made Amos-6 communications satellite was, according to Tech Crunch, carrying technology to allow Zuckerberg's firm to spot beam wireless internet directly to smartphones in sub-Saharan Africa. The social media company was working in conjunction with a French satellite provider named Eutelsat to lease the communication array for five years.
It had roped in Israeli company SpaceCom - whose stocks fell nine per cent at the news - to operate the broadcast and telecoms satellite. The first explosion occurred shortly before 9am with a second blast following about 20 minutes later.
The rocket was supposed to hoist an Israeli communications satellite this weekendThe Israeli made Amos-6 satellite (pictured) was carrying technology to allow Facebook to provide wireless internet directly to smartphones in sub-Saharan AfricaCredit: SpaceComPlay Video
Buildings several miles away shook from the blast and multiple explosions continued for several minutes. A cloud of dark smoke filled the overcast sky. The test, considered routine, was in advance of a planned Saturday launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Additional details were not immediately available. But sirens could be heard in the aftermath.
NASA SpaceX's major customer said the explosion occurred at Launch Complex 40 at the Air Force station, and Kennedy emergency staff was on standby. At the same time, personnel were monitoring the air for any toxic fumes.
The rocket was supposed to hoist an Israeli communications satellite this weekend which reports suggest was set to carry technology for Facebook into orbit. The Amos-6 satellite had amongst its functions the capability for the social media company to spot-beam broadband for their Internet.org initiative.
Astronomers Confirm Existence Of Earth-like Planet That Orbits The Nearest Star From The Sun
An international team of astronomers have made observations that confirm that our nearest star neighbour, Proxima Centauri does host Proxima b, an Earth-like planet in its habitable zone.
Located about 4.2 light-years from our Sun in the constellation Centaurus, Proxima Centauri is the closest star to the Solar System. Back in 2013, astronomers had first detected the presence of a planet around the red dwarf star. Later on, in 2016, astronomers made radial velocity measurements using ESO's HARPS instrument on the 3.6-metre telescope at La Silla, Chile. They were able to understand a lot about the orbital path of the potential exoplanet Proxima b and estimated that it was 1.3 times the mass of Earth.
Now in a new study that has been accepted to be published in Astronomy & Astrophysics, astronomers have confirmed that the exoplanet does exist. The discovery was made with new radial velocity observations from the ESPRESSO on ESO's Very Large Telescope in Chile. The new observations were about three times more precise than those obtained with HARPS.
The lead author of the new study, Alejandro Suarez Mascareño said in a press release that by "Confirming the existence of Proxima b was an important task, and it's one of the most interesting planets known in the solar neighbourhood."
Astronomers found that Proxima b has a mass of about 1.17 times that of the Earth. They confirmed that the Earth-like exoplanet orbits its host star in just 11.2 days, as previously predicted. The orbital path is about 20 times closer to Proxima Centauri than the Earth is to the Sun. But as Proxima Centauri is a red dwarf star, it receives energy that is enough to maintain temperatures that can host water in liquid form.
While Proxima b is within the habitable zone of Proxima Centauri, scientists are not suggesting that life can develop on the planet as it is being bombarded with 400 times more X rays than the Earth. Christophe Lovis, a researcher in UNIGE's Astronomy Department and part of the ESPRESSO team explains that sustainability of life would depend on the protection provided by its atmosphere "And if this atmosphere exists, does it contain the chemical elements that promote the development of life (oxygen, for example)? How long have these favourable conditions existed? "
Researchers explain that further observations by other instruments like RISTRETTO and HIRES would be able to help with such questions. Additionally, researchers in their study also found evidence of a second signal in the data, apart from Proxima b which could be of planetary origin.
The principal Investigator of ESPRESSO, Prof Francesco Pepe from the Astronomy Department in UNIGE's Faculty of Science elaborates, "If the signal was planetary in origin, this potential other planet accompanying Proxima b would have a mass less than one-third of the mass of the Earth. It would then be the smallest planet ever measured using the radial velocity method."
Top 3 astronomy events to look for in June 2020
No telescope is needed to see any of the astronomical events this month, but a grouping of Jupiter, Saturn and the moon will bring the perfect opportunity for people to get familiar with a new telescope.
Here are the top three astronomy events to look for in June:
1. Strawberry Moon
When: June 5
The first weekend of June will kick off with a full moon rising in the eastern sky right around sunset on Friday, June 5. Across North America, this is commonly called the Strawberry Moon.
This name originated with Algonquin tribes in eastern North America who knew it as a signal to gather the ripening fruit of wild strawberries. June's full moon takes on different nicknames around the globe. In Europe, it is typically called the Rose Moon, but in China, it is known as the Lotus Moon.
For us in the Southern Hemisphere where the season will soon transition into winter, it is referred to as the Long Night's Moon. The full moon will also come with an added bonus for some areas of the world. A penumbral lunar eclipse will be visible on Friday night across Australia, Asia, Europe and Africa, as long as cloudy conditions don't obscure the event.
2. A celestial trio you can spot with the naked eye
When: June 7-8
Jupiter and Saturn will shine brightly next to each other all month long, and just before the middle of the month, the planets will have a visitor. On the nights of June 7 and June 8, the moon will swing by Jupiter and Saturn. The trio will l be hard to miss.
This will take place over the course of two nights, so stargazers will have a couple of opportunities to see the event. No telescope is required to see the celestial meetup, but having one will add to the experience.
Pointing a basic telescope at the moon will give onlookers a more detailed look of all the craters on its surface. More powerful telescopes will allow folks to see some of Jupiter's largest moons and even Saturn's famous rings.
3. Stargazing on the summer solstice
When: June 20
Summer officially gets underway across the Northern Hemisphere on June 20 with the summer solstice. In The southern hemisphere it marks the start of Winter. The solstice features the longest day and shortest night of the year, but don't let that dissuade you from stargazing if you live above us.
There will also be a new moon around the solstice this year, meaning that there will be a dark, moonless night to kick off the summer stargazing season. The Winter in Australia is also the best time of the year to look for the Milky Way, although people will need to head to dark areas away from light pollution to see it.
Funerals in space: The people who send their ashes into orbit
When Steven Schnider was close to death in 2017, there was a consensus among family members that a space burial would be the best way to send him off. Their daughter took out her phone, did a quick search and pulled up a company called Celestis.
Last June, a portion of Steven's ashes -- along with cremated remains from over 150 other Celestis clients -- were flown into Earth's orbit aboard SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket, which launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Steven's family is among a growing number of people looking to space as a final resting place. Companies like Celestis offer a range of experiences, from an Earth Rise service that takes someone's ashes into space and brings them back, to Earth orbit and deep space options. Prices run from around $2,500 to $12,500. (The average cost of a funeral in most places, by comparison, is around $7,000.
The service has attracted high-profile clients including Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry and astronaut Gordon Cooper. Other companies such as Aura Flights and Elysium Space offer similar services. Space memorials are becoming increasingly popular thanks to growing cremation rates and a declining emphasis on cultural and religious traditions, says Celestis co-founder and CEO Charles Chafer, who started the company in 1994.
"The notion of, 'Bury me next to my grandfather in the family plot in a church' doesn't work in a mobile society," Chafer says. "People look for alternatives."
A celestial celebration
Ashes sent as part of Celestis's orbital service fly as what's called a "secondary payload," meaning they're sent on spacecraft from commercial providers headed into space for other purposes. The payload is small enough that it burns up entirely when re-entering the Earth at the end of its orbital lifetime, which ranges from a few months to a few hundred years.
Celestis has had 16 launches so far from locations including Cape Canaveral, the Marshall Islands and the Canary Islands. Five launches are scheduled to take place over the next two years.
To prepare for a launch, technicians glue small capsules filled with ashes into a metal sleeve. They then bolt that sleeve to a launch vehicle or satellite. The company asks clients to send at least twice as many ashes needed to fly, in case there's a failure (and there have been a few). If Celestis doesn't need to refly participants, it scatters the backup ashes near the launch site.
Celestis provides a real-time tracker so relatives can see the location of their loved ones above. It's a tool Joe Rust often uses to follow his brother Alex, who died in 2013 and whose ashes also launched aboard the Falcon Heavy. A few weeks ago, Alex was flying over Australia. Joe took a screenshot, sent it to his brother who lives there and told him to "look up."
Alex had initially wanted their brother, an engineer, to build a rocket that would send his ashes into space. Given that wasn't possible, Joe looked into other options and came across Celestis.
"He'd made what we thought was somewhat of a ridiculous request," Joe recalls. "The idea of him passing away wasn't something we wanted to think about or even thought was possible. He lived this really adventurous life, always on the edge, so we thought Alex was pretty invincible."
Dozens of Alex's relatives and friends attended the rocket launch last summer, along with fans who had never met him but were inspired by his adventures. "In good Alex fashion, we made a party out of it," Joe says.
Space fans also have the option to be scattered above the Earth through a company called Aura. Gas balloons are used to carry ashes more than 30 kilometers above the Earth's surface, into a region called near space. A scatter vessel containing the cremains opens, and they gently cascade toward Earth. Cameras capture footage of the release for loved ones to keep.
The ashes are carried around the world on stratospheric winds and join with the planet's atmosphere over weeks and months before eventually becoming raindrops and snowflakes. The company has launched more than 500 near space flights since 2016.
Chris Rose, Aura's co-director, says this memorial option removes the stress of having to find one ideal location to scatter a loved one's remains. "You're scattered across the world," he says.
The process isn't disruptive to the environment, Rose adds. After the ashes are released, the balloon continues to rise and expand due to pressure change. It eventually bursts and drops the gear it's carrying, including computer equipment for tracking and monitoring the flight, back to Earth using a parachute system. The Aura team recovers all equipment after using computer simulations and weather data to predict the flight path.
Death from above: 7 unlucky tales of people killed by meteorites
Thousands of years of historical records show people are likely struck by meteorites surprisingly often.
Our planet is vast, so meteorites typically don't concern us. But every once in a while, these objects actually strike humans and our property. Based purely on statistics, researchers estimate that a space rock should strike a human roughly once every nine years. And with those odds, you'd expect people to get killed by meteorites fairly often.
"I do strongly suspect that stats on 'death by asteroid' have been severely undercounted through human history," NASA Planetary Defence Officer Lindley Johnson. "It's only been in the last half century or so that we've even realized that such a thing could happen."
However, researchers still have not found a single confirmed case of death by space rock. But that's not to say we haven't come close. Modern history is full of near misses. On many occasions, space rocks have exploded over populated areas and sent thousands of meteorites raining down.
One of the most recent and well-known examples occurred in Chelyabinsk, Russia, in 2013, when a house-sized asteroid exploded over the city and injured some 1,200 people. Further back, on Jan. 30, 1868, a meteor exploded outside a town called Pultusk, near Warsaw, Poland, creating a literal meteor shower: More than 100,000 stones fell from the sky. The biggest recovered meteorite weighed 9 kilograms. It's the largest meteorite fall on record.
If someone flew over a populated area, dropping hundreds of thousands of stones from the sky, you might expect at least one person to get hurt. Yet there are no reports of injuries from Poland on that day.
However, if ancient scholars can be trusted, humans haven't always been so lucky. Researchers mining ancient texts in recent decades have discovered that historical records are surprisingly rich with accounts of apparent deaths due to falling space rocks. In most cases, there's no physical evidence to confirm these stories. Yet their presence in official histories and similarities to modern accounts lead some scientists to believe at least some of the events must have really occurred.
Here, we've compiled a list of some of the most compelling and captivating accounts.The archaeological site of Tall el-Hammam in Jordan may be the biblical city of Sodom, some researchers suspect.Wikimedia Commons
Around 1700 B.C.: meteor explosion may have destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah
Roughly 3,700 years ago, a meteor may have exploded over the Dead Sea city of Tall el-Hammam. Located in what is now Jordan, some scientists believe Tall el-Hammam was the biblical city of Sodom. And when the blast occurred, it caused massive devastation, according to a group of Christian scientists who've studied the site for more than a decade.
Archaeologists say the explosion instantly devastated hundreds of square miles north of the Dead Sea, destroying 100 percent of nearby cities and towns. The blast also may have stripped away once-fertile soils and coated agricultural lands with superheated brine ejected from the Dead Sea. Evidence of agricultural activity doesn't return to the landscape for at least 600 years.
In its heyday, the city had enormous fortification walls and was a thriving metropolis, but its structures all appear to have crumbled due to one dramatic event. The team says they've found a variety of clues about what happened in Tall el-Hammam, including the instant heating of pottery shards and rocks to over 14,000 degrees Fahrenheit (7760 degrees Celsius).
In the past, scientists have suggested Tall el-Hammam was destroyed by earthquakes or petrochemical fires, but those scenarios can't fully explain the high heat, vast quantities of ash, or why the structures all collapsed in one direction. Only an exploding space rock could've caused that kind of momentary heat pulse.
If it truly was an air blast, the effect would have been like setting off an atomic bomb over the ancient city, likely killing huge numbers of people and rendering it incapable of supporting life for centuries. And, just perhaps, that scenario could explain the destruction of the biblical cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Jan. 14, A.D. 616: 10 rebels killed in wall collapse
According to ancient official Chinese records, a large "shooting star" fell on the rebel Lu Ming-yueh's camp in January 616, killing 10 people. An account of the event was recorded in the Book of Sui, a history of the Sui dynasty commissioned by the emperor and composed by eminent scholars of the time.
The document claims this shooting star knocked out a wall-attacking tower, or siege tower, resulting in 10 deaths. Scientists examining the account in 1994 suggested that a meteorite would need to be relatively large to have caused that kind of damage, weighing dozens or even hundreds of pounds.
The official account and a description of the fireball lend credibility to the story. However, the team also suggests the incident could have been tied to a military campaign. If so, the story we're left with is simply a form of ancient propaganda.
Around 1341: 'Iron Rain' Over Yunnan Province Kills People and Animals
A group of vivid descriptions found in ancient Chinese historical documents record an "iron rain" that fell over Yunnan Province roughly 700 years ago. The accounts carry a number of different dates, ranging from 1321 to 1361, possibly as a result of copying errors in recent centuries. But researchers who studied earlier documents found that, before modern transcription, they all agreed on a date of 1341.
The descriptions of what happened come from cities and towns spread over hundreds of square miles of Yunnan Province. The local histories also carry similar language, suggesting the many witness testimonies all describe the same dramatic event. Because the fireball was seen across such a vast area, it would've had to have been a very large meteoroid to begin with.
"Houses and hilltops were all with bore-holes," as a result of the iron rain, the accounts say. Astronomers think those word choices sound similar to accounts of more recent iron meteorite falls, where fragments of the parent body left tiny craters across landscapes.
The documents also describe damaged crops and people's homes left half in ruins. The histories don't give an exact number of people who purportedly died from being hit by meteorites, but instead say "most of the people and animals struck by them were killed."
April 4, 1490: 10,000 people killed in Chinese city of Ch'ing-yang
According to numerous Chinese historical records kept by central and local governments, as well as other sources, on April 4, 1490, somewhere between 10,000 and tens of thousands of people were killed in an event that may have been caused by an asteroid exploding over the city of Ch'ing-yang (or Qingyang).
It sounds so horrific it's hard to believe, but some of the specifics match up with other well-documented events in more recent history. The records say the stones were all different sizes, with some as big as goose eggs and weighing about 3 pounds. Others were as small as water chestnuts.
This small range of meteorite sizes doesn't seem likely for an impact event that killed so many people, where you might expect larger stones to be the bringers of death. However, some astronomers wonder if these accounts describe a Tunguska-style airburst that leveled a city. Whatever the cause, the accounts say the surviving residents of Ch'ing-yang all fled in the aftermath.
In a weird coincidence, Chinese, Japanese and Korean astronomers also discovered a bright comet in 1490. This comet was seen to break apart in the night sky a century later. Astronomers now know this cometary fragmentation created the annual Quadrantid meteor shower, as well as the near-Earth asteroid 2003 EH1. There's no evidence the meteorite deaths are connected, but it's clear Asian astronomers of the day were well aware of celestial happenings.
1648: Two sailors killed on the Dutch ship Malacca
In 1648, two sailors were killed while at sea when a large rock crashed down from the heavens and landed on the ship's deck, according to Capt. Olof E. Willman. The captain wrote down his account of the event nearly 20 years later, and it was eventually included in Alexander von Humboldt's book Kosmos.
Willman claimed their ship, the Malacca, was traveling along the prominent spice trade route between Holland and the Dutch East Indies when an 8-pound rock fell from the sky. Two of his men were struck and died as a result of the impact.
Historians consider Willman's account reliable, but in 1994 a Swedish scientist showed that there were also at least 20 hazardous and active volcanoes along their route. So it's also possible that one of those launched a "volcanic bomb" that struck the ship.Roen Kelly/Astronomy
Aug. 10, 1888: Ottoman Empire records suggest meteorite death
At around 8:30 p.m. on the night of Aug. 10, 1888, a bright fireball carried a trail of smoke as it passed over villages in Iraq before exploding and raining stones on a "pyramid-shaped" hill. As a result, a man who lived in the area was killed, while another was paralyzed.
Ozan Unsalan, a planetary scientist at Ege University in Turkey, worked with a team to search for keywords like "meteorite," "fireball" and "stones from the sky." They found 10 documents that matched their search, including three tied to a single fireball event. They also found evidence of several additional large meteor explosions in the Ottoman Empire's centuries' worth of records.
The documents say rocks from the impact were sent back to the central government, but so far the team hasn't been able to locate them in museums or archives. Soon, the scientists hope to travel to the fall path to search for meteorites that could confirm the account. If they can find physical evidence of the space rock, it would provide the first confirmation of a person being killed by a meteorite. However, based on historical accounts, death from above seems to be nothing new.
Cosmic bursts unveil universe's missing matter
The FRB leaves its host galaxy as a bright burst of radio waves. Credit: ICRAR
Astronomers have used mysterious fast radio bursts to solve a decades-old mystery of "missing matter," long predicted to exist in the universe, but never before detected. The researchers have determined that all of the unaccounted normal matter exists in the vast space between stars and galaxies, as detailed today in the journal Nature.
Lead author Associate Professor Jean-Pierre Macquart, from the Curtin University node of the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) said astronomers have been searching for the missing matter for almost 30 years.
"We know from measurements of the Big Bang how much matter there was in the beginning of the universe," he said. "But when we looked out into the present universe, we couldn't find half of what should be there. It was a bit of an embarrassment. Intergalactic space is very sparse. The missing matter was equivalent to only one or two atoms in a room the size of an average office. So it was very hard to detect this matter using traditional techniques and telescopes."
The researchers were able to directly detect the missing matter using the phenomenon of fast radio bursts-brief flashes of energy that appear to come from random directions in the sky and last for just milliseconds. Scientists don't yet know what causes them, but it must involve incredible energy, equivalent to the amount released by the sun in 80 years. They have been difficult to detect as astronomers don't know when and where to look for them.
Associate Professor Macquart said the team detected the missing matter by using fast radio bursts as "cosmic weigh stations."
"The radiation from fast radio bursts gets spread out by the missing matter in the same way that you see the colours of sunlight being separated in a prism," he said. "We've now been able to measure the distances to enough fast radio bursts to determine the density of the universe. We only needed six to find this missing matter."
The missing matter in this case is baryonic, or 'normal' matter-like the protons and neutrons that make up stars, planets and humans. It's different from dark matter, which remains elusive and accounts for about 85% of the total matter in the universe.
Co-author Professor J. Xavier Prochaska, from UC Santa Cruz, says scientists have unsuccessfully searched for this missing matter with the largest telescopes for more than 20 years. "The discovery of fast radio bursts and their localisation to distant galaxies were the key breakthroughs needed to solve this mystery," he said.
Associate Professor Ryan Shannon, another co-author from Swinburne University of Technology, said the key was the telescope used, CSIRO's Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) radio telescope. "ASKAP both has a wide field of view, about 60 times the size of the full moon, and can image in high resolution," he said. "This means that we can catch the bursts with relative ease and then pinpoint locations to their host galaxies with incredible precision.
"When the burst arrives at the telescope, it records a live action replay within a fraction of a second," said Dr. Keith Bannister from Australia's national science agency, CSIRO, who designed the pulse capture system used in this research. "This enables the precision to determine the location of the fast radio burst to the width of a human hair held 200 meters away," he said.
Associate Professor Macquart said the research team had also pinned down the relationship between how far away a fast radio burst is and how the burst spreads out as it travels through the universe. "We've discovered the equivalent of the Hubble-Lemaitre Law for galaxies, only for fast radio bursts," he said. "The Hubble-Lemaitre Law, which says the more distant a galaxy from us, the faster it is moving away from us, underpins all measurements of galaxies at cosmological distances."
The fast radio bursts used in the study were discovered using ASKAP, which is located at the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory in outback Western Australia. The international team involved in the discovery included astronomers from Australia, the United States and Chile. ASKAP is a precursor for the future Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope. The SKA could observe large numbers of fast radio bursts, giving astronomers greater capability to study the previously invisible structure in the universe.
"A census of baryons in the universe from localized fast radio bursts" was published in Nature on May 28, 2020. Credit: International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research
End of the International Space Station! NASA reveals DEMOLITION plans with HUGE fireworks
According to the recent new, NASA scientists have revealed, THE International Space Station (ISS) is to be demolished and sent crashing towards the Earth in a "huge fireworks display". Finance for the project is due to run out and the strategies have been publicized by Ellen Stofan, NASA's former chief scientist.
She said: "The future of the ISS is a big issue for Nasa. The funding is there till 2024 but then it must start moving money to human Mars missions.If we keep it fully funded after 2024 it will compromise the Mars budget and by 2028 it will start failing. It is huge, the size of a football pitch, and so the overall plan is to drop it into the Pacific."
It is anticipated that the fuel tanks and massive units would cause a series of fireballs as they hit and detonate in the atmosphere.
A more modern and up-to-dae space station could swap the current one and act as a "transfer station" for missions to Mars, according to reports. Ms Stofan added: "To get to Mars we would need a transfer station. That means launching the modules for a Mars space ship and assembling them in an orbit around the moon."
David Parker, director of human spaceflight and robotic exploration at the European Space Agency (ESA), pointed out the £300million a year cost of the ISS.
He said: "Our plan is to free up this money from the mid-2020s to explore beyond low earth orbit... that will eventually mean de-orbiting the ISS. The south Pacific is the target and it will be a huge fireworks display."
Get Ready Because There Will Be Both A Solar and Lunar Eclipse In June
There's plenty in store for all sky watchers
Thus far, 2020 has been filled with notable astronomical events, and there's plenty still to come. We had three Super Moons in a row, starting with March's Full Worm Moon, April's Full Pink Moon, and, as we reported, May's peak of the 'Eta Aquarids' Meteor Shower just days before the Full Flower Moon.
We're not even halfway through the year and there's plenty more in store for all sky watchers, starting with a partial Penumbral Lunar Eclipse on June 5th and 6th and an Annular Solar Eclipse on June 21st.
This year we'll have a total of six eclipses, four Lunar and two Solar. The Lunar Eclipses will all be partial and the Solar Eclipses will be an Annular Eclipse on June 21st and a Total Eclipse on December 14th.
When the light from one celestial body (such as our Sun or Moon) is blocked by another (Earth or our Moon), an eclipse occurs as the body in between the two casts a shadow on the third body. We only experience two types of eclipses created by the different alignments of the Sun, the Earth and the Moon. When the light of the Sun is obstructed by the Moon we observe a solar eclipse on Earth, and when Earth is aligned between the Sun and the Moon, it casts a shadow on the Moon, creating a lunar eclipse.
When the Moon lies in the penumbral, or outer shadow, of the Earth, we have a Penumbral Lunar Eclipse, such as the one on June 5th and 6th. This occurs when the three celestial bodies are not perfectly aligned. Penumbral Lunar Eclipse are quite subtle as the moon might have be only slightly darker where Earth's shadow falls.
Penumbral Lunar Eclipse:
June's Penumbral Lunar Eclipse will visible, weather permitting, from much of Asia and Europe, Australia, Africa, Antarctica and South America's south west. The eclipse will begin on the 5th of June at UTC 17:45:51, reach its peak at 19:24:55 and end at 19:24:55. Check the date and time for your city or area. For my region (Mid North Coast NSW) Maximum effect occurs at 5:24 am Saturday, 6 June. ****CALCULATOR: Check the time for your city or area. click
Annular Solar Eclipse:
The Moon will be perfectly aligned between the Sun and Earth for the Annular Solar Eclipse on the 21st of June and as a result will leave the outer ring of the sun visible, also known as the 'ring of fire'. Annulus (Latin), means ring, the name given to this celestial event.
Always protect your eyes when watching a Solar Eclipse, which should be a special and memorable event, without harming your eyesight. Never look directly at the sun, even during an eclipse, without protective, special-purpose solar filters. These solar filters are used in "eclipse glasses" or in hand-held solar viewers which have to meet a very specific worldwide standard known as 'ISO 12312-2'. Sunglasses, no matter how dark, will not protect your eyes!
With clear skies, the full Solar eclipse, including the ring of fire, will be visible from parts of Africa including Central Africa Republic, Congo, and Ethiopia, as well as most of North India, South of Pakistan and China.
Partial views of the eclipse will be visible in South/East Europe, much of Asia and Africa, North in Australia and the Pacific and Indian Oceans. The eclipse will peak on June 21st. The total duration of the eclipse is 3 hours, 18 minutes.
8.8 billion habitable Earth-like planets in Milky Way alone
This artist's rendition provided by NASA shows Kepler-69c, a super-Earth-size planet in the habitable zone of a star like our sun,
Space is vast, but it may not be so lonely after all: A study finds the Milky Way is teeming with billions of planets that are about the size of Earth, orbit stars just like our sun, and exist in the Goldilocks zone - not too hot and not too cold for life.
Astronomers using NASA data have calculated for the first time that in our galaxy alone, there are at least 8.8 billion stars with Earth-size planets in the habitable temperature zone. For perspective, that's more Earth-like planets than there are people on Earth.
As for what it says about the odds that there is life somewhere out there, it means "just in our Milky Way galaxy alone, that's 8.8 billion throws of the biological dice," said study co-author Geoff Marcy, a longtime planet hunter from the University of California at Berkeley.
The next step, scientists say, is to look for atmospheres on these planets with powerful space telescopes that have yet to be launched. That would yield further clues to whether any of these planets do, in fact, harbor life.
The findings also raise a blaring question, Marcy said: If we aren't alone, why is "there a deafening silence in our Milky Way galaxy from advanced civilizations?"
In the Milky Way, about 1 in 5 stars that are like our sun in size, color and age have planets that are roughly Earth's size and are in the habitable zone where life-crucial water can be liquid, according to intricate calculations based on four years of observations from NASA's now-crippled Kepler telescope.
If people on Earth could only travel in deep space, "you'd probably see a lot of traffic jams," Bill Borucki, NASA's chief Kepler scientist, joked Monday.
The Kepler telescope peered at 42,000 stars, examining just a tiny slice of our galaxy to see how many planets like Earth are out there. Scientists then extrapolated that figure to the rest of the galaxy, which has hundreds of billions of stars.
For the first time, scientists calculated - not estimated - what percent of stars that are just like our sun have planets similar to Earth: 22 percent, with a margin of error of plus or minus 8 percentage points. Kepler scientist Natalie Batalha said there is still more data to pore over before this can be considered a final figure.
There are about 200 billion stars in our galaxy, with 40 billion of them like our sun, Marcy said. One of his co-authors put the number of sun-like stars closer to 50 billion, meaning there would be at least 11 billion planets like ours.
Based on the 1-in-5 estimate, the closest Earth-size planet that is in the habitable temperature zone and circles a sun-like star is probably within 70 trillion miles of Earth, Marcy said.
And the 8.8 billion Earth-size planets figure is only a start. That's because scientists were looking only at sun-like stars, which are not the most common stars. An earlier study found that 15 percent of the more common red dwarf stars have Earth-size planets that are close-in enough to be in the not-too-hot, not-too-cold Goldilocks Zone.
Put those together and that's probably 40 billion right-size, right-place planets, Marcy said. And that's just our galaxy. There are billions of other galaxies.
Scientists at a Kepler science conference Monday said they have found 833 new candidate planets with the space telescope, bringing the total of planets they've spotted to 3,538, but most aren't candidates for life.
Kepler has identified only 10 planets that are about Earth's size circling sun-like stars and are in the habitable zone, including one called Kepler 69-c.
Because there are probably hundreds of planets missed for every one found, the study did intricate extrapolations to come up with the 22 percent figure - a calculation that outside scientists say is fair. "Everything they've done looks legitimate," said MIT astronomer Sara Seager.
America's return to space: May 27 launch 10 years in the making
An artist's concept of Spacex Crew Dragon
NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley arrived at the Kennedy Space Center on Wednesday to prepare for a historic launch. The space agency's first manned mission since 2011 takes off May 27. It's also the first manned launch with a privately built rocket that will dock at the International Space Station the next day.
The mission, part of NASA's Commercial Crew Program, is 10 years in the making. "This is a new generation, a new era in human space flight," said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. It's a partnership that began in 2010 between the U.S. government and American companies as an idea to expand space exploration and transportation after the space shuttle program was retired in 2011.
If successful, SpaceX - headed by billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk - will become the first private firm to send Nasa astronauts into space. The Falcon Nine rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft will take off from the space centre's historic Pad 39A, the same one used for the Apollo and shuttle missions.
In 2014, SpaceX and Boeing were awarded contracts to fly the astronauts into space and bring them home safely. SpaceX goes first this month; Boeing's turn is scheduled for fall. SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell is going through a countdown of her own right now.
"I'm nervous now ... not because I'm on camera but because I'm about to fly Bob and Doug," she said. "There will be a little sense of relief when they're in orbit. How's that? I'll feel more relief when they get to the station and I'll start sleeping again when they're back safely on the planet ... on the Earth."
The May 27 launch is just the beginning. The goals are simple - and critical, although the scope has changed over time. Originally, it was to be a shorter mission. Now, it's a little longer, and that means more training to fly Behnken and Hurley to the ISS and get them home safely.
Beyond that lies the exploration of the moon and Mars, and perhaps the newest frontier of all: creating commercial and marketing activities in space, most likely starting with additions to the ISS. "This launch is the next step to increasing American, and really, human presence on board the lab ... the ISS ... it really is critical," said Kirk Shireman, ISS program manager.
"The idea is, in the short term, the commercial resupply missions have demonstrated cost savings. The commercial crew is going to demonstrate cost savings if you compare it to the space shuttle," Bridenstine said. A customer in the space race, NASA will be able to pick a vendor and negotiate a price for space exploration.
If you want to watch the May 27 launch, scheduled for liftoff at 4:32 p.m. EDT, NASA. Watch online@ NASATV/Gov
NASA names newest space telescope for pioneering female astronomer
In the 1970s, Roman set up a steering group for what would become the Hubble telescope.
NASA is naming its newest space telescope for pioneering astronomer Nancy Grace Roman - marking the first time in the agency's 62-year history that one of its major, billion-dollar programs has been named for a woman.
Roman, who overcame obstacles that women faced in her male-dominated field and at NASA to become the agency's first female executive and its first chief astronomer, is a "fitting" eponym for the project, astronomer Heidi Hammel said Wednesday. Her championing of space-based observatories gave her the nickname "Mother of Hubble."
With the new telescope, NASA is "taking her child and making it even more powerful," Hammel said. "It's widening the Hubble vision."
Until Wednesday morning, the Roman Space Telescope had been named WFIRST, for Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope. Still under development at NASA's Goddard Spaceflight Center in Greenbelt, Md., the telescope - identical in scale to the Hubble Space Telescope - will study dark matter, dark energy, distant planets and the evolution of the universe. Its launch target is the mid-2020s.
In a statement released by the agency, former senator Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), a champion of both the Hubble and now the Roman, said the decision is fitting as the nation celebrates the 100th anniversary of women's suffrage: "It recognizes the incredible achievements of women in science and moves us even closer to no more hidden figures and no more hidden galaxies."
Roman, who died in December 2018 at 93, joined NASA just months after its founding. She had a doctorate in astronomy, earned nearly a decade earlier at the University of Chicago.
"I was told from the beginning that women could not be scientists," she said in an interview late in life. Julie McEnery, deputy project scientist for the new telescope, said Roman was "somebody I really admired, and it makes me excited and proud to be associated with a mission that's named after her."
As NASA's first chief astronomer, Roman oversaw the creation of its earliest orbiting observatories. "Looking through the atmosphere is like looking through a piece of old stained glass," she wrote in the Annual Review of Astronomy and Astrophysics. She knew an observatory in the sky would allow scientists to see objects farther and fainter than they ever had before.
In the 1970s, Roman set up a steering group for what would become the Hubble telescope. She spent untold hours writing testimony for Congress and convincing budget offices of the project's importance. With its 7.9-foot mirror and $4.5 billion sticker price, the Hubble was far bigger and more costly than any space telescope ever launched. Skeptics wondered whether such an instrument was possible - and even if it was, would it be worth the cost?
"You simply had to be solid in your vision and persistent, and [Roman] had those qualities," Hammel said.
NASA has struggled to escape the gravity well of a storied history dominated by white males. Dan Goldin, its administrator in the 1990s, famously lamented the culture there as "too stale, male and pale." The agency that put 12 white males on the moon had historically consigned women and racial minorities to second-tier roles.
NASA's most ambitious effort today is a plan to put astronauts back on the moon by 2024. That program is named Artemis, after the Greek goddess who was the twin sister of Apollo.
Last year, a telescope in Chile operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy was renamed after Vera C. Rubin. She also was a trailblazing astronomer, renowned for her research showing that galaxies were certain to contain dark matter that cannot be detected through direct observation.
If space scientists have neglected women in the naming of spacecraft, they have at times been downright hostile to women seeking to join their ranks. When NASA was established in 1958, many astronomy programs did not admit women. Observatories had no women's restrooms. Women were barred from research presentations and scholarly clubs.
As recently as 2018, a sweeping report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine found that half of women in science had experienced harassment. The problem is especially bad for women of color; a 2017 survey of female space researchers found that 40 percent of nonwhite respondents had felt unsafe in their workplaces due to racism and sexism.
In an essay for the journal Science, Roman wrote of the hurdles she faced during her early career. The physics department chairman at Swarthmore College, where she earned her bachelor's degree, told her that he usually tried to talk women out of his program but that she "might" make it.
"But I am glad I ignored the many people who told me that I could not be an astronomer," Roman wrote. "I have had a wonderful career in a field that I love."
The Tunguska Explosion Could Have Been Caused By An Asteroid That Still Orbits The Sun
On a cool Summer morning in 1908, a fireball appeared over Northern Siberia. Eyewitnesses described a column of blue light that moved across the sky, followed by a tremendous explosion. The explosion leveled trees across more than 2,000 square kilometers. The explosion is consistent with a large meteor strike, but to this day no evidence of a crater has been found. Now known as the Tunguska Event, its cause remains a mystery to this day.
One of the challenges in studying the Tunguska event is its remoteness. The region is sparsely populated, and the event only had a handful of witnesses. Scientific investigations of the event didn't occur until the 1920s. It was then that the impact region was mapped and early searches for an impact crater were undertaken. By the 1960s it was clear the event was similar to an airburst nuclear explosion, with an energy of about 5 Megatons.
Given what we know, the most likely cause is an airburst asteroid strike, where the asteroid explodes in the atmosphere, similar to the Chelyabinsk meteor strike in 2013. Given the size of the impact region, it's estimated that the original asteroid was nearly 70 meters across. This would explain why no large impact crater has been found.
But fragments of the Chelyabinsk were found soon after impact, and one would expect Tunguska fragments to have reached Earth. Despite several searches, nothing has been found. This has led some to look to other causes, such as a massive leak of natural gas, or even the explosion of an alien spacecraft. But a new study argues that there are no fragments because the asteroid didn't fragment after all. Instead, it glanced off Earth's atmosphere.
Meteors have been known to deflect off our atmosphere before. The most famous event was the Great Daylight Fireball of 1972. It was a rock the size of a truck that skipped across the upper atmosphere. The meteor was seen across parts of Utah and Wyoming. The team looked at whether a similar glancing impact could have created the Tunguska explosion.
To do this they modeled several scenarios. They considered bodies ranging in size from 50 - 200 meters and composed of either ice, stone, or iron. They found that the most likely scenario is an iron asteroid about 200 meters in size. If the object made a shallow impact on the atmosphere, coming to within 10 kilometers of the Earth's surface, it would have remained largely unscathed and return to space to enter a near-solar orbit. It could still be orbiting the Sun to this day. The rapid compression of air near the asteroid would be enough to create the blast region observed.
While the study shows a glancing impact is a possible solution, there's no way to prove it's the true cause. As other researchers have pointed out, an icy comet could have also created the explosion leaving few fragments. We'll probably never know for sure.
Man's impromptu lesson gives girlfriend panic attack: 'Crying for about five minutes straight'
One man's impromptu astronomy lesson took an unexpected turn when he caused his girlfriend to suffer a panic attack while discussing the doomed future of our planet.
The space aficionado in question wrote on the subreddit "Today I F***** Up" that he was FaceTiming with his girlfriend while on Reddit discussing with another user how diamonds are "essentially worthless," as they are extremely common on other planets. (Scientists say that it actually rains the pricy uncut gems on Saturn and Jupiter.)
From there, the conversation segued into different types of stars and how they eventually die - including our very own Sun - and wipe out everything in their range in the process, including orbiting planets - like, ya know, the Earth. Naturally, his girlfriend wasn't a fan of that concept.
"She starts to worry about the end of life in our solar system," the man wrote. "As my girlfriend digests this information, she starts to think of how humanity may end completely and how life, and our existence is basically meaningless which sends her into a panic attack, causing her to freeze up, have difficulty breathing, and start crying for about five minutes straight."
Although it may seem illogical to breakdown over an event set to take place so, SO incredibly far in the future (seriously, scientists estimate the Sun won't run out of hydrogen for another 5 billion years), social media commenters still seemed to relate to the woman's sense of doom, albeit in relation to more impending events....
John B. : "My wife has these same fears about death. I can't bring up old age and dying without her breaking down," one user wrote. "I tend to avoid it, since there isn't anything I can say that with reassure her."
Ken A. "That reminds me when I was around 6-7yo, and my little brother 2-3yo," said another. "He asked me if we are going to die, and I said that we'll all die eventually. I was grounded because he cried for 2 days straight."
The fear of dying, referred to simply as "death anxiety," defines the apprehension people experience when they think of or become aware of death and the unknown that comes along with it, according to Healthline.
Death anxiety can be perfectly normal. However, when it starts interfering with how you live your day-to-day life, it can become problematic and warrant treatment by a medical professional.
This Is How The Genius Elon Musk Will Give Free WiFi To The Entire Planet
The same guy who invented PayPal, created the Tesla Cars, plans to create "SolarCities" and also developed cars that will make money for you when you don't use them, has ANOTHER very brilliant idea.
Elon Musk plans to launch 4,000 low-orbit satellites in order to give free internet access worldwide. The billionaire's company, SpaceX, revealed the initial framework of the plan in January, with the official request being submitted to the Federal Communications Commission last week.If the plan is initiated without any problems, the worldwide free satellite internet system can be operational within five years.
The worldwide satellite internet model has been proposed by a number of companies already, including tech giants Google and Samsung. However, what makes Musk's "SpaceX" a formidable contender for the project is the fact that the company already has the existing hardware to pull off the project.In order for the entire world to be fully covered 4,000 low-orbit satellites would need to be launched.
Elon Musk is all about inventing revolutionary projects that have potential to change the world. If this project succeeds, the whole world, even the the most remote parts will have a fast, free WiFi access at any time!
Newly Reprocessed Images of Europa Make This World Even More Interesting and Mysterious
Jupiter's moon Europa is the smoothest object in the Solar System. There are no mountains, very few craters, and no valleys. It's tallest features are isolated massifs up to 500 meters (1640 ft) tall.
But its surface is still of great interest, both visually and from a science perspective. And with a future mission to Europa in the works-possibly with a lander-a detailed knowledge of the surface is essential. It may have surface features called penitentes, that could be up to 15 meters (49 t) tall, posing a serious hazard for any lander.
Our best images of Europa are from NASA's Galileo spacecraft, which visited Jupiter and its moons from December 1995 to September 2003. Now NASA scientists are revisiting some of those image, and reprocessing them to build a better picture of the moon's surface.
Even though Europa is the smoothest object in the Solar System that we know of, it's no landing strip. The surface has a lot of texture, in the form of ridges, bumps, and cracks. Finding a suitable landing spot is challenging, though landing there isn't what these new images are necessarily all
Europa's surface contains a lot of what's called Chaos Terrain. That's where surface features like plains, ridges, and cracks are all jumbled together, appearing chaotic. The features were moved and jumbled around before they froze in place. Other bodies like Pluto, Mars, and Mercury also have Chaos Terrain.
There's a lot of scientific debate about Europa's surface, and what causes the Chaos Terrain. Impact events where the impactor penetrates the ice surface into a liquid crust is one possibility. Or it might be because of the heating and stretching that Jupiter's gravity forces on Europa, and how the sub-surface oceans respond to that. Scientists think that Europa's lineae are caused by eruptions of warm water, and that lineae are sort of like cracks between tectonic plates.
Crisscrossing Bands areas are made up of both ridges and cracks. A ridge is likely the result of repeated opening and closing of cracks. It's kind of like how mountains form on Earth, when two plates push against each other.
A crack is a smoother area, created when an area pulls apart horizontally. These are wide, flat areas, where water might flow into the opening and re-freeze, forming newer smooth surfaces.
These 20-year-old images are proving to be more critical than Galileo mission planners may have thought. With all of the advancements in image processing since the probe was launched in 1989, a new generation of mission planners is able to extract more information from these images.
NASA is planning to send its Europa Clipper spacecraft to Europa sometime in the 2020s. It won't actually land on the moon, but it'll orbit Jupiter, and perform close fly-bys of Europa. These reprocessed images of the Europan surface will help mission planners prepare.
Astronomers Make Incredibly Rare Detection of Earth-Like Planet 25,000 Light-Years Away
We are getting better and better at finding them.
There may be multitudes of Earth-like planets sprinkled throughout the Milky Way galaxy, but they are not so easy to find. To date, only around a third of the over 4,000 exoplanets found and confirmed are rocky - and most of those are within a few thousand light-years of Earth.
So the announcement of a new rocky exoplanet is always exciting - but this particular newly discovered rocky exoplanet is even more exciting yet.
It belongs to the much smaller subset of rocky exoplanets that orbit at an Earth-like distance from its star. And it's a whopping 24,722.65 light-years away from us - which could make it the most distant Milky Way exoplanet discovered yet.
It's so distant, it's close to - and might even be in - the galactic bulge, the densely populated region in the centre of the galaxy.
Although we are getting better and better at finding them, exoplanets are tricky little beasts. They don't give off any light of their own, and any starlight they might reflect would be a tiny, tiny signal lost in the noise of their host star.
Most of the exoplanets we know of have been detected using one of two methods. There's the transit method, which detects planets based in the regular, minuscule dips in starlight when an exoplanet passes in front of it; and there's the wobble method, which detects minuscule wobbling exerted on a star by the gravitational influence of an exoplanet.
Why Do People Stargaze?
It's a fact, people love to stargaze. Whether meteor watching, viewing the moon or simply spotting the space station passing overhead, people love to look at the night sky. Who doesn't stargaze? We all do. I love looking at the stars and on a clear night I can't help but get lost in the magic of it all.
You know, when you stargaze you're looking back in time. When you use a telescope you're using a time machine.
Stargazing on a nice dark clear night is almost like being in another realm. When you step outside on a cool autumn evening and see all those brilliant points of light, something special clicks in your mind. You just know something is different. You're stepping out of the everyday hustle and bustle of the modern world.
Today, our lives are filled with activity, beeping technology, deadlines and the constant need to be somewhere or to be doing something. When you cross that threshold from your backdoor to the inky blackness of night, all of those modern 'conveniences' disappear and you become part of the Universe - part of something much bigger than just you and your problems.
When ancient explorers used the Southern Cross to guide their ships to the unknown reaches of our land 'down under' they were not staring at those stars 'now,' they were staring at the stars they were over 200 years before! Light takes time to travel and everything in the night sky is unimaginably far away.
So, when you look up at the stars, what do you think about? That we're not alone? The vastness of it all? Remember, the starlight you see takes hundreds, thousands and sometimes millions of years before it makes it to Earth. When we tell kids they've time travelled, that they just stepped into the past, they're interested!
Astronomers say there are 300 billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy alone. Just let that sink in for a moment. Close your eyes and imagine what flying through space must look like. We're moving fast too. The Earth you're standing on is spinning at over 1,000 kilometres an hour. We're also moving through space at the rate of 530 kilometres a second. Feeling dizzy?
Answering The 'Big Questions' In Astronomy People Puzzle Over
Of all the sciences, people still don't completely understand what's going on upstairs. This week I thought I'd cover some of the more common things I'm asked. Ready? Let's go!
What is the difference between astronomy and astrology? Believe it or not, this is the most asked question I hear. Many people don't understand the difference. In ancient times, they were considered one and the same but the two disciplines were separated during the scientific revolution of the 17th century.
Astrology is a practice of using the locations of the planets to look into a person's personality or predict the future. It's not a science. By contrast, astronomy is the scientific study of the universe. Astronomers observe the objects in the night sky to try to determine their composition and learn more about the origin and structure of the universe.
Do I need an expensive telescope to enjoy astronomy? Many people hesitate to get involved with astronomy because they believe it requires expensive equipment. The only thing you really need to enjoy the night sky is your eyes, a dark viewing location, and some patience.
To get a better look at things, a pair of binoculars can provide a really good view. Many people will be surprised how many more stars and objects they can see with a decent pair of 10x50 binoculars.
They collect much more light than the human eye and will bring much dimmer objects into view. You can even see Jupiter's moons with binoculars. A simple camera tripod to steady the binoculars is also a good idea, since your arms can get tired very quickly.
Why can't I see very many stars at night? If you live near a big city, you may not be able to see a lot of stars. The reason for this is light pollution. Dust and water vapour in the atmosphere reflects the bright city lights back down towards the ground.
To truly appreciate the night sky, you must get as far away from city lights as possible. I can't think of many better sights than the band of the Milky Way stretching across a dark West Australian sky.
Where does space begin? Wow, this is a tricky one, but we now have an answer. Earth's atmosphere just gradually thins out as you move farther away from the Earth. With the advent of space tourism Sir Richard Branson's spaceflight team have asked for a definite boundary, so NASA and US aviation officials have decreed space starts at 100 kilometres high. You could drive there in one hour at highway speeds.
Why is the sky blue? This is another question that gets asked a lot. The blue colour of the sky during the day is caused by scattered sunlight. The white light from the Sun is composed of all the colours of the rainbow. During the day, the air scatters the blue light from the Sun more that the red light making the sky appear blue to our eyes.
In the evening at sunset however we see the red and orange colours for similar reasons but mainly because the thicker layer of air we're looking through filters out all but the red light. Easy huh?
Did Galileo invent the telescope? The answer to our last question surprises everyone. The short answer is no, but he was the first to turn it to the heavens. It was actually a Dutch spectacle maker named Hans Lippershey who assembled the first lenses into a tube. Galileo simply copied the idea, refined it, and became the toast of Europe!
Several years later, Galileo became the first person to use a telescope for astronomical observation. With his early telescope, Galileo observed the craters on the moon, the rings of Saturn, and the moons of Jupiter. He's known as the father of modern astronomy.
Get Set. Comet SWAN Arrives This Week. Here's What We Know
Set your alarm clocks. Early Wednesday morning Australian sky watchers will be treated to two beautiful celestial events that will make getting out of bed before the crack of dawn worthwhile. Not only is the annual Eta Aquariid meteor shower at its peak, but there's a beautiful comet in the sky.
The best time to see these two separate, but spectacular, events is probably between 4.30 and 5.00AM. Experts say the meteor shower is best viewed between 2AM and 5AM, but the comet is likely to be most visible for half an hour before 5.
Why the excitement about Comet SWAN
Comet SWAN was discovered in early April by Michael Mattiazzo, an amateur astronomer from Swan Hill in Victoria, while he was sifting through data from NASA's Solar and Heliospheric Observatory. Everyone is getting really excited because this is the biggest comet we've had in a long time and it's particularly photogenic. So how bright will it get? We're not entirely sure. Comets are a bit like cats; you can try to predict what they're going to do, but they'll do their own thing anyway.
While the tail of Comet SWAN has been largely straight it has started to curve over the past couple of nights
While the comet may be bright enough to see with your eyes by the time it comes closest to Earth on May 12, at the moment it's still a bit dim unless you live in a dark sky area. But even if you can't see it with your eyes, it's so big it's easy to pick up in a camera, says Mr O'Donnell, who has been observing it from his backyard in Byron Bay. " my camera with its long exposures really reveals the whole thing," he says.
Here's what we know about this celestial visitor and how you can catch it.
At the moment Comet SWAN is predicted to reach a brightness of around magnitude 2.5 - that's around the same as the fourth brightest star in the Southern Cross ƍ (Delta) Crucis over the next week. But the light is diffuse, so it won't look that bright - it'll look like a green fuzzy blob on the eastern horizon with the naked eye.
Although it is getting brighter, it is also getting closer to the horizon each day as it moves towards the Sun, which will make it harder to see in the dawn twilight. The other factor to take into account is light from the Moon. Juggling all these factors, the best time to see the comet may be on Wednesday morning between 4.30 - 5.00 AM, after the Moon has disappeared.
Wednesday morning also coincides with the Eta Aquariid meteor shower, in the same area of the sky for extra viewing pleasure. The comet will disappear below the horizon around May 17 in the Southern Hemisphere.
Looking east at 5am the comet is where the 30 altitude line crosses the 90 degree line.Just looked at the comet with 20x80 binoculars, I could see about 1.2 degrees of its tail. With my 305 mm Dob the head of the comet was spectacular. Credit: Astronomer Glen Cousins Via FB
NB/ Comet SWAN is currently located in southern skies, best seen by telescopes in Australia, New Zealand, southern Africa and South America. Stay tuned for updates.