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Tonight will be one of the last nights that you will be able to catch a trio of heavenly bodies hanging out in the night sky in the same neighborhood. This evening's sky watchers in the northern hemisphere will be treated to Saturn, Venus, and the Crescent Moon all within a few degrees of each other.
Tonight around 45 minutes after sunset, you will be able to look toward the southwestern sky and see the waxing crescent moon. To the lower right, you will see a very bright star which is actually the planet Venus. Above Venus, you will see another brightly lit star that will actually be the planet Saturn. The distance between the moon and Saturn will be roughly 5 degrees, which is equal to about half your fist or 3 fingers held at arm's length.
This will also be one of the last spectacular shows Saturn provides us for the year, because in just a few weeks, it will have dipped below the horizon and become visible to those in the southern hemisphere. For those of you with medium power binoculars or a telescope of at least 30-power, you would be able to view Saturn's rings tonight, even with it so close to the moon. I plan on taking out my telescope and imaging gear and getting a couple nice still shots of the trio. If you get any good shots, post them up in the comments and I will share them on our TweakTown Facebook Page.
Last Thursday, Virgin Galactic's private spaceship flew higher and faster than it has ever before. This experience provided company officials the confidence they needed to announce that the vehicle is on track to start taking passengers on suborbital jaunts next year.
This was the second time that Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo has had a rocket-powered test flight, which took off on Thursday morning from Mojave Air and Space Port in California. SpaceShipTwo reached a maximum altitude of 65,000 feet, and hit a top speed of Mach 1.6, which is 1.6 times the speed of sound - or around 761 mph.
The first test flight saw SpaceShipTwo reach just 56,000 feet and a speed of just Mach 1.2, which took flight on April 29.
Does Elon Musk get any sleep? I don't think so. The SpaceX founder has tweeted that he has invented a new way of creating rocket parts, by simply using hand gestures and a laser printer. He has posted a video showing this off, which is an incredible achievement.
Musk explains in the video above: "Right now we interact with computers in a very unnatural, 2D way. And we try to create these 3D objects using a variety of 2D tools. And it just doesn't feel natural - it doesn't feel normal, the way you should do things." Musk continues, demonstrating how he combined a bunch of technologies, including Oculus Rift, Leap Motion 3D controllers and holograms, in order to create a way to engineer a rocket engine, all without physically touching it.
Musk says that this system is "going to revolutionize design and manufacturing in the 21st century." The technology shown off by Musk is quite incredible, as it's all in early stages right now.
It has been quite a while since NASA has bothered with the moon in any great deal, but the US space agency is looking to make a lunar come back next month.
NASA sent up its Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer from its Wallops Flight Facility launch pad based in Virginia. LADEE is currently orbiting the Earth at the moment, but next month it will be circling the moon conducting various experiments, all without a human being on-board the craft.
NASA will be using a Lunar Laser Communications Demonstration, which, in a nutshell is fancy laser-powered space Internet that puts anything you use to shame.
Recently, NASA released images captured by the Hubble Space Telescope that show off what scientists are describing as a "Cosmic Caterpillar" that stretches across the universe for nearly 6,000,000,000,000 miles. The so-called Caterpillar is actually a massive cloud of space dust and gas that is collapsing in on itself to form a new star.
Unfortunately for the could-be new star, there are roughly 65 very large and extremely hot stars lurking nearby that can be seen on the right side of the image. These started producing what is said to be a powerful stellar wind, which is doing its best to disperse the cloud of gas and dust and form the long tail-like structure seen in the image. Additionally, 500 less bright stars are in the vicinity, which are adding to the destructive forces at large.
At the moment, it is unclear if the "caterpillar cloud"--or IRAS 20324+4057--will be able to fight back by gathering enough mass to counteract the erosion. However, it could eventually one day collect enough material to collapse into a very bright and quite large star, but everyone reading this will have long been dead and forgotten about before that event happens.
Our final science Friday post for this week is a story about rebirth, about breathing new life into a hibernating spacecraft to help hunt for near Earth asteroids. Today, NASA announced that it would be bringing the WISE Space Telescope back online and tasking it with an entirely new mission.
Before being mothballed for 2.5 years, the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer Telescope, aka WISE, spent 13 months composing a map of the entire sky that highlighted comets, asteroids, stars, and other objects that emit infrared light. As an additional feature to the survey, WISE also hunted asteroids that could pass relatively close to Earth at some point in the future.
Today's announcement states that NASA will bring WISE out of mothballs for a three-year mission, during which it will hunt for asteroids that may be on a collision course with the earth. Additionally, NASA is hoping to find a few non-threatening asteroids that would allow the space agency to use them as targets for a robotic mission that would relocate an asteroid into a safe and stable orbit around the moon.
It's that time again: it's Friday and that means more Science Friday news posts here at TweakTown! Today, a new report straight from NASA says the sun fired off an intense solar storm in the form of a Coronal Mass Ejection, or CME, that was aimed directly at the Earth early Wednesday morning.
The event took place around 1:24 AM EDT and sent billions of tons of charged particles steaming full speed ahead straight at Earth at a rate of 380 miles per second, or 1.3 million miles per hour. The storm is expected to reach the Earth on Saturday, however, do not let that scare you as our atmosphere will effectively block all of the harmful radiation that is headed our way. Those in the extreme north and south of both hemispheres can expect to see some awesome aurora over the next few days.
A statement from NASA confirmed that no one need to fear as this sort of event happens all the time. "These particles cannot travel through the atmosphere to harm humans on Earth, but they can affect electronic systems in satellites and on the ground," NASA officials explained in a statement. Head over to Source #2 to see an animated GIF of Wednesdays CME taking place.
What a treat! I get to write two SpaceTT posts in one day! Stargazers across the northern hemisphere are witnessing a rare occurrence happening right before our eyes. A nova in the constellation Delphinus has brightened over the last couple of days to a magnitude 5.0 and has allowed naked eye viewing of the astronomical phenomenon.
In the upper left-hand corner of the image above, you can see Nova Del 2013 appearing as a large star shining brightly in a sea of fainter stars. What you are actually witnessing is a binary star system in which the larger star is having its hydrogen stripped off by the much smaller white dwarf star. As is fresh layer of hydrogen grows thicker and more dense, the lower layers erupt in a runaway hydrogen-fusion reaction. As the reaction takes place, the star grows much hotter and brightens in the night sky.
To get an idea of how large this explosion is, one can simply imagine what a hydrogen bomb the size of the Earth would look like. The nova was discovered on August 14 by astronomer Koichi Itagaki of Yamagata, Japan, around 2PM EDT. It was originally listed as a magnitude 17 in brightness, and has since grown 100,000 times in brightness. The event will most likely only last for a few more days, so if you have clear, dark skies, you might just be able to see it with your naked eye. Tossing in visual aid from binoculars or a telescope will greaten one's chance at observing the nova.
Some of you might remember a post that I did a little over a week ago about the Perseid meteor shower. If you did not have a chance to view it with your own eyes, you truly missed out on something special. Luckily, it happens every year and you can plan to check it out next year. In any event, reliving such a wonderful astronomical event is always fun and Vimeo user Kai Gradert has uploaded a time lapse video of the event from the nights of August 10 and 11.
The video was shot during a photography workshop that was held in the Joshua Tree National Park. Gradert captured the footage with a Canon 6D using 14mm and 16mm wide angle lenses on a Kessler CineSlider mount. The stunning footage of the Milky Way, along with the incoming meteors and a few planes and satellites coming from the opposite direction, make this one of the best Perseid meteor shower videos I have seen to date.
News came in overnight that NASA has decided to call off all efforts dedicated to repairing its crippled Kepler Space Telescope. The 0.95-meter space telescope was launched four years ago with the task of discovering Earth-size planets orbiting nearby stars. The mission has widely been considered a success with hundreds of new planets now catalogued.
A few months back, the telescope's gyroscopic reaction wheels began failing, and this makes precisely aligning the telescope for stable long exposure shots impossible. Kepler resides in such a high orbit that even if we had a servicing robot or still flew space shuttles, we would simply not be able to reach it and as such, NASA has decided to end all efforts attempting to revive the telescope.
With Kepler gone and the Hubble space telescope quickly nearing its end of life, our only hope for outer space imaging sources now relies on the constantly threatened James Web Space Telescope. Unfortunately, it appears that every time our lawmakers start talking budgets, the James Webb is always the first to take the hit. I don't normally do this sort of thing, but if you like the images that the Hubble provides, and think hunting for new earth-like planets is a good thing, then please contact your local congressman and let them know that the James Webb space telescope is a good thing.