The European Space Agency (ESA) has recently developed the Jules Verne Automated Transfer Vehicle, whose job is to deliver supplies to the International Space Station. The first re-supply mission just ended, and since this spacecraft is designed for single-use, it burned up upon re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere. Go here for some cool looking pictures and here for a video of the re-entry, courtesy of ESA.
Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Now available here is the September 24th edition of this radio show. In addition to playing an interview with Prof. Joseph Tanski of Vassar College on summer research opportunities for Vassar undergraduates, I go over the latest news concerning the Earth and Sun - part of a recap before I continue my on-going "tour of the Universe" I started this summer. Hope you enjoy!
Sunday, September 28, 2008
Saturday, September 27, 2008
NASA is often communicating with its astronauts in space, both on the shuttle and the International Space Station, and they are often talking back. Now you can listen to these conversations live, by going here. As someone who always loves to listen to the air traffic control chatter when I fly United, I'm pretty excited by this. Hope you are too!
Last week, NASA made a major presentation concerning its plans for future human spaceflight and potential return to the Moon and Mars to academics, industry leaders, reporters, etc. If interesting go here to see copies of the presentations given at this meeting. Hope you enjoy!
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
The September 17th radio show is now online and available here. On this program, in addition to the usual news and calender, I go over the latest results concerning galaxy formation. I'll post the a more detailed description later, but in the mean time, hope you enjoy.
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Already available here, below is a description of the September 10th edition of this radio show. On this program, I discussed:
- Calendar of upcoming Astronomy / science events in the greater Poughkeepsie / New York City area.
- Interview with Prof. Allyson Sheffield of Vassar College.
- News: Phoenix Mars Lander begins analysis on deepest soil sample to date (link) as well as makes some puzzling measurement regarding humidity on the Martian surface; amateur astronomers see Perseid meteor shower hit the Lunar surface; ESA's Rosetta spacecraft flies by astroid (2867) Steins - sees chain of craters, rotation, and overall diamond shape (link); Cassini detects ring arcs around two moons of Saturn (link); NASA awards contract to S.C. Jones Services, Inc. to get rid of pests at Kennedy Space Center; NASA building "Solar Ultraviolet Magnetograph Investigation" to measure the strength of the magnetic field at the outer edges of the Sun; NASA developing a new space equiptment rack for "Zero-Gravity" flights; NASA delays launch of Space Shuttle Atlantis to October 12 and launch of Space Shuttle Endeavor to November 12 due to bad weather - media viewing of equipment to be flown on Atlantis for installation on Hubble Space Telescope set for Sept. 10; launch of ESA's GOCE satellite delayed due to rocket problems; NASA to hold media briefing on September 25th on Lunar Exploration plans; mirror blank produced for Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (link); NASA produces 50th anniversary art book - information here; NASA announces new Carl Sagan postdoctoral fellowship to study extra-solar planets - information here; NASA issues a challenge to high school and college students to describe a future supersonic airliner - information here - as well as a new aeronautics competition - information here; Swift to announce new gamma-ray burst findings today; Custer Institute to host 30th annual Astronomy Jamboree and Conference October 3rd and 4th.
- Milky Way Structure and Galaxy Formation: It is currently believed that all galaxies, including the Milky Way, formed by the merging of smaller galaxies together - an this process is ongoing. If this is correct, there should be evidence for this in the Milky Way today - as discussed by Prof. Sheffield at the beginning of this show. A recent survey of satellite galaxies of the Milky Way, small galaxies which are in the process of merging into our galaxy, discovered that they all have roughly the same total mass (stars + dark matter) - regardless of how many stars they have. This implies something strong about the formation of these galaxies or the properties of dark matter - astronomers are still not sure which (link). Evidence of previous mergers is also in "streams" of stars - stars with similar orbits and chemical composition - in the halo of the Milky Way. There are many questions regarding the structure of the Milky Way - including how many spiral arms there are, since two of the spiral arms that were thought to be there have apparently disappeared (link).
Monday, September 22, 2008
Two weeks, NASA hosted a press conference concerning GRB 080319B, a gamma-ray burst observed on 3/19 of this year that was the brightest GRB ever in the optical - so bright it could be seen with the naked eye! Astronomers think this because the gamma-ray burst was pointed directly at the Earth, a very rare occurence. For more information about this, check out the slides, movies, and pictures presented at this press conference available here.
NASA recently successfully tested a new motor for its Ares I rocket, the successor to the space shuttle. They posted photos online here, and they look pretty cool. Enjoy!
As I mentioned here, the Jules Verne automated supply craft has left the International Space Station to burn up upon re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere. As it spirals inward, it is visible from the ground - go here to find out when it passes overhead near you. Enjoy!
Posted by You'd Prefer an Astronaut at 12:12 PM
NASA has recently produced a large number of 5-10 minute video clips discussing its research and operation for all levels. To check out these "eClips", go here. The European Space Agency (ESA) is also actively involved in public outreach and science education, and has recently produced a DVD titled "Ingredients for Life: On Earth and in Space", available here. Enjoy!
European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Frank De Winne will be flying to the International Space Station next year for six months, and he will be bringing with him a t-shirt with a design possibly designed by you! For more information on this ESA competition, go here. And if any one you do submit an entry, please send me a copy - I'd love to post this image here. Good luck!
As many of you heard, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in CERN has recently turned on, and when it is running at full power (it isn't yet, and probably won't be for at least a year) it will be the most powerful particle accelerator/collider in the world. For more on some of the amazing science physicists are hoping to do with the LHC, check out this rap written and performed by physicists. It's really a lot better than it sounds. Hope you enjoy!
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
Today marks the one-year anniversary of this radio show / podcast, and I wanted to thank all of you who read this blog, and listen to the episodes and interviews I post here. I really appreciate it, and will do my best to make the upcoming year's content better than last year's. Again, thank you very much.
Available here is my interview with Prof. Allyson Sheffield of Vassar College on the relationship between the present structure of the Milky Way and its formation. For more information on her research, check out her webpage, or email me a question, or leave a comment below. Hope you enjoy, and thank you for listening!
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
Finally online here is the September 10th edition of this radio show. On this program, in addition to the usual news and calendar, Prof. Allyson Sheffield of Vassar College discusses her research on the structure of the Milky Way and how it relates to the formation of galaxies. I'll post a more detailed synopsis next week, but until then, enjoy. Thank you very much for listening.
Monday, September 15, 2008
I know it has long been available here, but below is a detailed description of the September 3rd radio show:
- Calendar of upcoming Astronomy/Science events in the greater New York City / Poughkeepsie area.
- Interview with Prof. Debra Elmegreen of Vassar College, available here.
- News: NASA's Mars rover Opportunity climbs out of Victoria crater (link 1, link 2); ESA's spacecraft Rosetta on track to rendezvous with asteroid (2867) Steins on September 5th (link) - rendezvous will be blogged live here; NASA announced new name for GLAST last week, now called Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope, released first image of gamma-ray sky from this telescope (link); IBEX spacecraft continues to go through final tests before October 5th launch; space shuttle Atlantis moved to launch pad was scheduled for September 2nd, but delayed due to Hurricane Hanna; mock-up of NASA's Orion crew vehicle crashed during test of parachute system; NASA announced new Carl Sagan postdoctoral fellowships; NASA signs agreement with Challenger Center for Space Science to develop educational activities designed to get more students to study math and science.
- Wednesday Morning Astronomer (an Astronomer's take on the astronomy content of Gregg Easterbook's Tuesday Morning Quarterback column): Gregg Easterbrook questions the wisdom of building the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) since he says that its main purpose is to give work to physicists especially given its supposedly non-zero possibility of destroying the Earth. I feel that society spends a lot more money on other endeavors that poses much more of a threat to humanity. Also, he advocated the closure of Fermilab, arguing that it has produced a groundbreaking science result in over a decade and is expensive. Fermilab cost the US government ~$160,000/employee, not an outrageous sum - especially since almost all of it spent in the surrounding area and goes back into the local economy. Additionally, it has produced lots of good science during this period, and is critical for any future US involvement in particle physics. And no, the Earth being swallowed by a black hole would not produce a gamma-ray burst.
- Galaxy Formation: The current thinking is that stars formed first, grouped together into proto-galaxies, which merged into galaxies. However, creating the first stars has always been difficult to understand due to lack of heavy elements in primordial gas believed to be critical for the formation of stars today, as I discussed on August 6th. Recently, a computer simulation of star formation in the early universe was able to make proto-stars, critical in understanding how stars formed in this period, and what their properties (e.g. mass) were (link, article). As Prof. Elmegreen discussed in her interview, to understand how galaxies formed it is extremely important to detect and determine the properties of these proto-galaxies. The Spitzer space telescope, which operates at the Infra-Red wavelengths where most of the light from these galaxies is now detected, has been very important for this. Spitzer observations have found that the clumping of galaxies at earlier times (high redshifts) supports the sketch of galaxy formation discussed above, and have measured the mass of galaxies at early times where a Gamma-Ray Burst (GRB) occurred and found they have masses much smaller than galaxies today too - also consistent with smaller galaxies merging to form bigger ones. In addition, to detect GRBs, it is possible to discover galaxies at high redshift by their absorption of light of even more distant quasars (link) or through gravitational lensing - a very massive object (like a galaxy cluster) between the Earth and the more distant galaxy will also focus the light from this distant galaxy onto the Earth just like a lense does, making it bright enough to detect (link)
As part of its 50th anniversary celebration, NASA is hosting a series of "Future Forums," where top NASA administrators discuss what they see as the future direction(s) of NASA. The first one of these is occurring this Thursday in Boston's Museum of Science. If interested, go here for more information.
Friday, September 12, 2008
Yesterday, one of ESA's automated Jules Verne cargo ships which bring supplies to the International Space Station undocked from the Space Station to "return" to Earth (read: burn up in the Earth's atmosphere, this particular kind is not reusable). The video of this undocking procedure is available here. Hope you enjoy!
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
According to spaceweather.com, yesterday morning all-sky cameras at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, recorded 25+ meteors, most as bright as Jupiter or Venus, which are believed to be an outburst of "September Perseids," a little-known shower that has erupted this way three times in the past century. I actually saw a shooting star this morning while driving from New York City to Poughkeepsie, so this rare meteor shower might be visible tonight as well. Happy meteor hunting!
As many of you probably know, this podcast is "really" a weekly Astronomy radio show that is broadcast live on Vassar College Radio in Poughkeepsie, NY. Even though it is affiliated with Vassar College, this radio station is largely listener supported, and this week is their pledge drive. When I decided to do an Astronomy radio show, I mailed demos to about twenty community and public radio stations in NY, NJ, and CT asking them if they were interested - and WVKR was the only one that said yes. If you are able to donate any amount, please visit this webpage or fill out this form and mail it to: WVKR, BOX 726, 124 Raymond Ave, Poughkeepsie, NY 12604-0726. For any pledges that list this podcast as the reason they are pledging, I will send you an Astronomy-related goody ranging from mouse pads to educations CDs to satellite DVDs. Thank you very much.
My interview with Prof. Debra Elmegreen of Vassar College on galaxy formation and early galaxies is now online and available here. For more information on her research, check out her personal webpage, her webpage on the Hubble Space Telescope Heritage website, as well as this Poughkeepsie Journal article from 2003 about her. As always, please leave below or email me any questions, comments, or concerns you might have. Thanks a lot for listening!
Tuesday, September 9, 2008
Tomorrow at 1 PM, NASA will hold a media teleconference to discuss new results regarding the gamma-ray burst GRB 080319B, which was visible to the naked eye. The burst's optical emission is the brightest seen to date and appears to have been aimed almost directly at Earth. Extensive observations from NASA's Swift satellite and ground-based observatories show the burst emission mechanism in unprecedented detail. Supporting information will be posted tomorrow at Noon EDT here, and the press conference will be streamed live here. For more information about Swift and GRBs, visit here and/or listen to my interview with Dr. Neil Gehrels of NASA's Goodard Space Flight Center and one of the lead scientists on Swift, available here. Enjoy!
On October 3rd and 4th, the Custer Institute and Observatory will be hosting its 30th Annual Astronomy Jamboree and Science Fair. They have a really impressive line-up of speakers and events, including Vatican astronomer and best-selling author, Brother Guy Consolmagno, award-winning author of Longitude and Galileo's Daughter, Dava Sobel, and Yale astronomer and observatory director, Dr. Michael Faison. For more information, go to the links above or call 631-765-2626. Sounds like a lot of fun!
Monday, September 8, 2008
The September 3rd radio show is now online and available here. In honor of the school year beginning (sorry, kids), and this show being broadcast on Vassar College Radio, this show featured an interview with Prof. Debra Elmegreen of Vassar College on her research concerning observations of the earliest galaxies and galaxy formation. A link to the interview, and a full description of this show, will be up soon. Hope you enjoy!
Friday, September 5, 2008
As promised, below is a description of the August 27th edition of this radio show, already available here. On this program, I discussed:
- News: Phoenix Mars Lander to get its deepest soil sample yet in the upcoming weeks; NASA's Mars Rover Opportunity climbs out of Victoria Crater where it had spent more than half of its time on Mars; Visual Monitoring Camera on ESA's Mars Express turned into a webcam (watch here); ESA's Rosetta spacecraft on-track to rendezvous with asteroid (2867) Steins on September 5th; ESA about to launch GOCE spacecraft to measure the Earth's gravitational field (link); ESA funds a team of engineers to develop mission-critical control systems for future robotic missions to Mars (link); NASA invites media to experience lunar life; NASA seeks input for a GPS-like system on the Moon (link); NASA and Alliant Tech Systems investigates rocket failure on August 22nd; leak shuts down Chinese PLATO observatory in Antarctica; JPL opened doors to students this summer, go here for details; CA high school students chat with NASA astronaut Greg Chamitoff who is currently on-board the International Space Station; NASA astronaut Garrett Reisman talks about life onboard the International Space Station at the American Museum of Natural History.
- Calendar of upcoming science events in the greater New York / Poughkeepsie area.
- Stars: Stars come in a very wide range of masses (by far the most important characteristic which determines the properties of a star), and have very different properties - brightness, evolution, lifetime - across this range. Brown dwarfs are very low mass stars, only slightly more massive than Jupiter, with a mass too low to trigger fusion in their core. There is increasing evidence that maybe brown dwarfs are formed differently than stars or planets (link). Sun-like star tau Bootis observed to flip the orientation of its magnetic field, just like the Sun does every sunspot cycle (link). Also, very bright flare observed from red dwarf EV Lacertae, 1000x more powerful than a normal Solar flare - believed to be produced by this stars very powerful magnetic fields (link). Massive stars burn much hotter than the Sun. As a result, one can get mixing between gas at the edge and gas in the core through convection (hot gas rises, cool gas falls.) A recent study of this process in massive stars found that more complicated than previously thought, possibly not due solely to rotation (link). Light echoes used to measure distance to Cepheid variable stars, a key link in the distance scale astronomers use to measured the distance to far-away galaxies and supernovae. New "brightest" star in Galaxy possibly discovered by Spitzer Space Telescope (link). ESO's VLT celebrates 10 year by imaging cloud of gas expelled by eta Carinae, one of the most massive stars in the Milky Way (link). Massive belt of gas and dust discovered around red supergiant WOH G64 in the Large Magellanic Cloud (link).
Today, ESA's spacecraft Rosetta is scheduled to fly by asteroid (2867) Steins. You can follow this event live here, and tomorrow morning, starting at 5 AM US EST, there will be a press conference to discuss the initial results that will be streamed live here. Enjoy!
NASA has announced a couple of new competitions for high school and college students. The first is an essay competition to describe a commercial, supersonic airplane to could be in use by 2020 (details here), and the second is a college scholarships for students interested in aeronautics (details here). Good luck!
Thursday, September 4, 2008
This Friday, starting at 4:30 PM, NASA TV will broadcast live the arrival of an unpiloted resupply craft, which will automatically dock to the aft port of the Zvezda service module on the International Space Station. Watch it live here. Enjoy!
Wednesday, September 3, 2008
The European Space Agency's spacecraft Rosetta is scheduled to rendezvous with asteroid (2867) Steins on September 5. As it gets closer, ESA is maintained a live blog of this events, which you can read here. Enjoy!
Formerly known as GLAST, NASA presented last week the first images from the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope (FGST -not the catchiest acronym). There are really incredible, as you can see here, showing diffuse gamma-ray emission from the Milky Way as well as pulsed gamma-ray emission from the Vela pulsar, which you can watch here. To listen to this telecom, go here. Exciting stuff! Definitely a great beginning for GLAST (oops, Fermi).
Available here is the August 27th edition of this radio show, where - in addition to the latest Astronomy news - I discuss recent research on stars of all masses, and how they evolve. A more detailed description will come later, but in the meantime, hope you enjoy!
Tuesday, September 2, 2008
I guess, since NASA has already emailed everyone about them, they've already been announced, but tomorrow at 10:30 AM ET NASA will hold a press conference at the Rose Center for Earth and Space in the American Museum of Natural History to announce the new Carl Sagan Postdoctoral Fellowship for Exoplanet Exploration. This press conference will be broadcast live here.
Much detailed, for which I apologize, is a detailed description of the August 20th radio show available here. On this program, I discussed:
- News: Phoenix Mars Lander takes first photograph of a Martian dust particle using an atomic force microscope (link); Cassini spacecraft starts transmitting data from flyby over Saturn's moon Enceladus, famous for its geysers (link) - information from this flyby determines these geysers originate from fractures in its surface (link); ESA spacecraft Rosetta tracks asteroid (2867) Steins for upcoming rendezvous; NASA moves up milestones for final Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission; NASA's IBEX mission fueled and testing continues for October 5th launch; series of key tests for a components of the J-2X engine on NASA's Ares rocket (successor to the space shuttle) completed; psychologists outline personal challenges astronauts might face on longer space missions (link); NASA astronaut Greg Chamitoff on board the International Space Station answering questions on a weekly basis (link); congratulations to students at Ohio State University who successfully built and launched a balloon-born cosmic ray detector to the edge of space (link); survey of supernovae (bright flashes of light caused by either the explosion of a white dwarf or the collapse of the core of a massive star) shows that ones which are further away get dimmer slower than ones which are nearer - as expected from general relativity; PAMELA satellite which measures the ratio of positrons to electrons at high energy might (only might) have detected indirect evidence for the existence of dark matter; swimsuit used by Michael Phelps and others at Beijing Olympics to break swimming records tested at NASA's Langley Research Center (link).
- Wednesday Morning Astronomer: (an astronomer's take on the Astronomy content of Gregg Easterbrook's ESPN column "Tuesday Morning Quaterback", available here) While "smithereens" isn't very technical, it does make sense to use it in a press release. And "bizarre" is a term astronomers often use to describe what they see...
- Astronomy Calender of upcoming Astronomy and science events in the greater New York City/Poughkeepsie area.
- Extrasolar Planets: While, as discussed on August 13th, a lot of work is going into discovering new extrasolar planets, a lot of science can be done by studying known systems. One major question is what role does the chemical composition of a star play in the formation of a planet. For example, it appears that stars with a higher concentration of elements heaving than Hydrogen and Helium (which astronomers lump together as "metals") are more likely to have a planet orbiting them. A recent discovery of a planet orbiting a metal rich star that drifted away from the Hyades cluster bolsters this claim (link). Additionally, astronomers are very interested in the properties of the extrasolar planets themselves, and not just the stars they orbit. For extrasolar planets which pass between their central star and the Earth, the so-called "transiting planets", the atmospheres of these planets absorb some of the light emitted by the central star. Since atoms absorb light at particular frequencies, one can use these "absorption lines" in the spectrum to determine the chemical composition of the planet's atmosphere. Also, the width and depth of these lines gives you an estimate of the velocity and amount of this particular elements in the atmosphere. A recent analysis of the spectrum of extrasolar planet HD 209458b discovered broad Hydrogen absorption lines - implying that fast moving Hydrogen is being ejected from this planet's atmosphere. It is thought that this is the result of the solar wind from the central star interacting with this planet's atmosphere - similar to the interaction between the Sun and the Earth. Also, using this technique methane has been detected in the atmosphere of another extrasolar planet, HD 189733b - the first time this has happened. It is possible to use Solar System meteorites to estimate the properties of the Solar System when planets formed because they were also formed during this time, and have not undergone the chemical changes planets have. A recent chemical analysis of meteorites suggest that the dust cloud if which the Earth and other planets formed was denser than previously thought (link). A major goal of extrasolar planet research is to detect Earth-like planets, a method to do this is being developed by astronomers at Penn State and University of Hawaii (link). What is not known is how common a Solar System like ours is (rocky planets close to the Sun, larger gaseous planets further away) since we currently can't detect Solar Systems like our own. As a result, almost all of the other Solar Systems we known of are very different, with large gas giants orbiting close to their central star. A recent computer simulation of the formation of a solar system suggests that our Solar System is rare indeed (link, article). This affects the odds of finding extraterresterial intelligent life, which a recent analysis predicts to be quite rare (link). Last, but not least, stars are expected to swell as they age, and swallow the surrounding planets. This process might already have been observed.
I realize that it is a little late for this year (I just found out about these programs myself), but NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory has approximately 20 different internship-type programs for students, recent graduates, and even faculty. If interested for next year, or just curious what is available, go here for more information.
Posted by You'd Prefer an Astronaut at 10:26 AM
Last week, NASA issued a request for information on how to develop a GPS-like system for the Moon, necessary if any moon-base or other more permanent human presence is to be established on the lunar surface. If interested, or just curious as to what they are asking for, go here.
Onboard of the European Space Agency's (ESA) Mars Express spacecraft is an instrument called the Visual Monitoring Camera - a small optical telescope initially used to monitor the separate of the Beagle lander from Mars Express when Mars Express first reached Mars. This instrument has now been turned on again as a "webcam" of the Mars surface, which you can watch from here. Enjoy!