Saturday, August 1, 2015

Astronomical Calendar: 2015 August


File:Atomic bombing of Japan.jpg Seventy years ago this month, the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Japan on 1945 August 6 (left photograph) and Nagasaki, Japan on 1945 August 9 (right photograph) led to the end of World War II.
(Images Source: Wikipedia.org )

Astronomical Calendar for 2015 August:
Link >>> http://buhlplanetarium4.tripod.com/astrocalendar/2015.html#aug

Source: Friends of the Zeiss.

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Send request to < spacewatchtower@planetarium.cc >..

gaw

Glenn A. Walsh, Project Director,
Friends of the Zeiss < http://buhlplanetarium.tripod.com/fotz/ >
Electronic Mail - < gawalsh@planetarium.cc >
SpaceWatchtower Blog: < http://spacewatchtower.blogspot.com/ >
Also see: South Hills Backyard Astronomers Blog: < http://shbastronomers.blogspot.com/ >
Barnestormin: Writing, Essays, Pgh. News, & More: < http://www.barnestormin.blogspot.com/ >
About the SpaceWatchtower Editor / Author: < http://buhlplanetarium2.tripod.com/weblog/spacewatchtower/gaw/ >
SPACE & SCIENCE NEWS, ASTRONOMICAL CALENDAR:
< http://buhlplanetarium.tripod.com/#news >
Twitter: < https://twitter.com/spacewatchtower >
Facebook: < http://www.facebook.com/pages/SpaceWatchtower/238017839577841?sk=wall >
Author of History Web Sites on the Internet --
* Buhl Planetarium, Pittsburgh:
  < http://www.planetarium.cc >
* Adler Planetarium, Chicago:
  < http://adlerplanetarium.tripod.com >
* Astronomer, Educator, Optician John A. Brashear:
  < http://johnbrashear.tripod.com >
* Andrew Carnegie & Carnegie Libraries:
  < http://www.andrewcarnegie.cc >
* Civil War Museum of Andrew Carnegie Free Library:
  < http://garespypost.tripod.com >
* Duquesne Incline cable-car railway, Pittsburgh:
  < http://inclinedplane.tripod.com >
* Public Transit:
  < http://andrewcarnegie2.tripod.com/transit >

Friday, July 31, 2015

Friday's 'Blue Moon'


View, from Slobozia, Romania, of the "Blue Moon" on 2012 August 31.
(Image Source: Wikipedia.org)

By Glenn A. Walsh
Reporting for SpaceWatchtower

This year, the month of July has a second Full Moon, the first occurring on July 1. Hence, Friday's Full Moon is also a so-called “Blue Moon.”

The Full Moon / “Blue Moon” occurs on Friday Morning, 2015 July 31, at 6:43 a.m. Eastern Daylight Saving Time (EDT) / 10:43 Coordinated Universal Time (UTC).

There are, now, two definitions which classify a “Blue Moon.” The common and more popular definition, although not the original definition, is the second of two full moons in a calendar month. This is the definition used for today's “Blue Moon.”

The second definition of a “Blue Moon,” which was the original and more classical definition, is the third Full Moon in a calendar season which has four full moons. Each calendar season usually has only three full moons.

The last time we had a “Blue Moon” by the classical definition was on 2013 August 20.

Of course, by neither definition does the Moon actually appear in any shade of blue. Only during major volcanic activity, when the atmosphere includes a lot of volcanic ash and dust, might the Moon seem to have a blue tint--and, this could be any phase of the Moon, not just a Full Moon.

The reason, the third Full Moon in a season with four full moons was called a "Blue Moon," was so that the nicknames normally given to the three full moons of a season by the Native Americans, and later adopted by farmers who immigrated to America from Europe, could remain consistent for that particular season. In the 19th century, the Maine Farmers' Almanac started listing "Blue Moons," as an aid to farmers.

In March of 1946, Sky and Telescope Magazine misinterpreted the classical "Blue Moon" definition, by interpreting the 1937 Maine Farmers' Almanac as promoting eleven months with one full moon and one month with two full moons. Hence, started the more popularly-known definition of a "Blue Moon" being the second Full Moon in a calendar month. The daily radio program, StarDate, found the 1946 misinterpretation and popularized it in their broadcast of 1980 January 31.

Is one "Blue Moon" definition better than another? Folklorist Phillip Hiscock of Memorial University of Newfoundland wrote of the new definition in his article "Folklore of the 'Blue Moon'," for the 1993 December issue of the International Planetarium Society's quarterly journal Planetarian: "Old folklore it is not, but real folklore it is."

More on Friday's Blue Moon (NASA):
Link >>> http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2015/27jul_bluemoon/

More on a "Blue Moon":
Link 1 >>> http://earthsky.org/space/when-is-the-next-blue-moon
Link 2 >>> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blue_moon

More on the Full Moon: Link >>> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Full_moon

Related Blog Posts ---

"Today's "Black Moon."" 2015 Feb. 18.

Link >>> http://spacewatchtower.blogspot.com/2015/02/todays-black-moon.html


"'Blue Moon' Tuesday Night." 2013 Aug. 20.

Link >>> http://spacewatchtower.blogspot.com/2013/08/blue-moon-tuesday-night.html


"Will Friday's 'Blue' Moon be Blue?" 2012 Aug. 30.

 Link >>> http://spacewatchtower.blogspot.com/2012/08/will-fridays-blue-moon-be-blue.html

Source: Glenn A. Walsh Reporting for SpaceWatchtower, a project of Friends of the Zeiss.

Want to receive SpaceWatchtower blog posts in your inbox ?
Send request to < spacewatchtower@planetarium.cc >..

gaw

Glenn A. Walsh, Project Director,
Friends of the Zeiss < http://buhlplanetarium.tripod.com/fotz/ >
Electronic Mail - < gawalsh@planetarium.cc >
SpaceWatchtower Blog: < http://spacewatchtower.blogspot.com/ >
Also see: South Hills Backyard Astronomers Blog: < http://shbastronomers.blogspot.com/ >
Barnestormin: Writing, Essays, Pgh. News, & More: < http://www.barnestormin.blogspot.com/ >
About the SpaceWatchtower Editor / Author: < http://buhlplanetarium2.tripod.com/weblog/spacewatchtower/gaw/ >
SPACE & SCIENCE NEWS, ASTRONOMICAL CALENDAR:
http://buhlplanetarium.tripod.com/#news >
Twitter: < https://twitter.com/spacewatchtower >
Facebook: < http://www.facebook.com/pages/SpaceWatchtower/238017839577841?sk=wall >
Author of History Web Sites on the Internet --
* Buhl Planetarium, Pittsburgh:
  < http://www.planetarium.cc >
* Adler Planetarium, Chicago:
  < http://adlerplanetarium.tripod.com >
* Astronomer, Educator, Optician John A. Brashear:
  < http://johnbrashear.tripod.com >
* Andrew Carnegie & Carnegie Libraries:
  < http://www.andrewcarnegie.cc >
* Civil War Museum of Andrew Carnegie Free Library:
  < http://garespypost.tripod.com >
Duquesne Incline cable-car railway, Pittsburgh:
  < http://inclinedplane.tripod.com >
* Public Transit:
  < http://andrewcarnegie2.tripod.com/transit >

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Meteor Shower Peaks Tue. & Wed. Nights w/ Web-Cast


Comet 96P Machholz is the possible parent of the Delta Aquarids. This comet was discovered
on 1986 May 12 by Donald Maccholz. (Image Source: Wikimedia Commons)

By Glenn A. Walsh
Reporting for SpaceWatchtower

Although the Perseid Meteor Shower, next month, is considered the best meteor shower of the year, the month of July does have its own meteor shower: the Southern Delta Aquariid Meteor Shower. But if you do not have a good location to view meteors, or the weather is inclement during the peak, a special web-cast will allow you to view this meteor shower on the Internet.

The Southern Delta Aquariid Meteor Shower, generally visible from mid-July to mid-August and particularly over this week, peaks on Wednesday Morning, 2015 July 29 at 11:00 a.m. Eastern Daylight Saving Time (EDT) / 15:00 Coordinated Universal Time (UTC). Of course, this peak will not be seen in the Western Hemisphere, so look for the most meteors on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings.

This year, the peak of the Delta Aquariids may be more difficult to see, as a Full Moon occurs just two days later (in fact, a so-called Blue Moon !). The additional reflected sunlight from the nearly-Full Moon (known astronomically as a Waxing Gibbous Moon) may wash-out some of the dimmer meteors, that would otherwise be visible. This second Full Moon in the calendar month of July, known by some as a Blue Moon, occurs at 6:43 a.m. EDT / 10:43 UTC on the last day of the month: Friday Morning, 2015 July 31.

At its peak, if you would have ideal observing conditions (without the extra moonlight), you may be able to see about 20 meteors an hour during the Southern Delta Aquariid Meteor Shower.

However, to see these meteors you need to be away from city lights, as artificial lighting can also drown-out the dimmer meteors. The best time to see any meteor shower is between local midnight and morning twilight, when the Earth is actually turning-into the meteor shower.

Binoculars and telescopes are not very useful for finding meteors. Meteors streak across the sky in a very short period of time, too short to aim binoculars or a telescope. So, the best way to view a meteor shower is to lie on the ground, in an area with a good view of the entire sky (with few obstructions such as buildings, trees or hills), and keep scanning the entire sky.

Meteor showers appear to emanate from a radiant point in the sky. For the Southern Delta Aquariid Meteor Shower, the radiant appears to be the Star Delta Aquarii, the brightest star in the Constellation Aquarius. However, you should not, necessarily, be looking only at Aquarius, when looking for meteors in this shower. Meteors can appear in any part of the sky at any time.

Southern Hemisphere observers are a little favored during this meteor shower, as the radiant is higher in the sky south of the equator, during the peak of this meteor shower.

Of course meteor showers, like all celestial observations, are weather-permitting. If the weather in your area does not permit direct viewing outdoors of this meteor shower, it can be viewed during a special web-cast on the Internet.

However, do not expect to see as many meteors during an Internet web-cast. By necessity, a web-cast video camera can only aim at one part of the sky at a time. However, you are likely to see more meteors with your own eyes when you can scan over the entire visible sky, outside, during a meteor shower event.

Internet Site to View Southern Delta Aquariid Meteor Shower Near Peak, Wednesday Evening, 2015 July 28 at 9:00 p.m. EDT / July 29, 1:00 UTC ---
Slooh Community Observatory: Link >>> http://main.slooh.com/event/delta-aquarid-meteor-shower-peaks-july-28/?event_date=2015-07-28

More on the Southern Delta Aquariid Meteor Shower:
Link >>> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Southern_Delta_Aquarids

Source: Glenn A. Walsh Reporting for SpaceWatchtower, a project of Friends of the Zeiss.

Want to receive SpaceWatchtower blog posts in your inbox ?
Send request to < spacewatchtower@planetarium.cc >..

gaw

Glenn A. Walsh, Project Director,
Friends of the Zeiss < http://buhlplanetarium.tripod.com/fotz/ >
Electronic Mail - < gawalsh@planetarium.cc >
SpaceWatchtower Blog: < http://spacewatchtower.blogspot.com/ >
Also see: South Hills Backyard Astronomers Blog: < http://shbastronomers.blogspot.com/ >
Barnestormin: Writing, Essays, Pgh. News, & More: < http://www.barnestormin.blogspot.com/ >
About the SpaceWatchtower Editor / Author: < http://buhlplanetarium2.tripod.com/weblog/spacewatchtower/gaw/ >
SPACE & SCIENCE NEWS, ASTRONOMICAL CALENDAR:
http://buhlplanetarium.tripod.com/#news >
Twitter: < https://twitter.com/spacewatchtower >
Facebook: < http://www.facebook.com/pages/SpaceWatchtower/238017839577841?sk=wall >
Author of History Web Sites on the Internet --
* Buhl Planetarium, Pittsburgh:
  < http://www.planetarium.cc >
* Adler Planetarium, Chicago:
  < http://adlerplanetarium.tripod.com >
* Astronomer, Educator, Optician John A. Brashear:
  < http://johnbrashear.tripod.com >
* Andrew Carnegie & Carnegie Libraries:
  < http://www.andrewcarnegie.cc >
* Civil War Museum of Andrew Carnegie Free Library:
  < http://garespypost.tripod.com >
Duquesne Incline cable-car railway, Pittsburgh:
  < http://inclinedplane.tripod.com >
* Public Transit:
  < http://andrewcarnegie2.tripod.com/transit >

Proposed PAT ConnectCard Fee

By Glenn A. Walsh
Reporting for SpaceWatchtower

In 2012, Port Authority of Allegheny County Transit (PAT), Pittsburgh's public transit system, started rolling-out a new, automated payment system. Known as "ConnectCard," it is similar to smart card systems used in other cities, such as the "Breeze" card used by the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA).

The ConnectCard is a plastic card which contains a computer chip, which holds the dollar value to pay for transit rides. The transit rider uses a special vending machine, at Light Rail Transit and Incline stations and other locations, to pay for the value held on the card. Then, with a "tap" of the card on a special automated fare box, at Light Rail and Incline stations and on Light Rail cars and buses, the payment is automatically made.

The ConnectCard can be used by the transit rider as an Annual Transit Pass, Monthly Transit Pass, or Weekly Transit Pass, so individual cardboard passes no longer have to be distributed. This also prevents counterfeit cardboard passes, which have been a problem for PAT. The ConnectCard can also be used to pay for individual transit trips.

Until now, PAT has provided the ConnectCard to riders free-of-charge. This one card is expected to last several years, before it needs to be replaced. In June, PAT proposed to start charging for each new and replacement ConnectCard issued to riders. To defray the cost of the card and the ConnectCard operating system, PAT proposed a three-dollar or five-dollar charge for each new ConnectCard issued.

On June 30, PAT held a public hearing on the proposed ConnectCard charge. The majority of people testifying at the hearing opposed the new charge. At PAT's Planning and Stakeholder Relations Committee meeting on July 16, where committee members were expected to preliminarily approve a ConnectCard charge, the committee members deferred a decision until September to allow for additional consideration of the proposal.

The following are public statements (from the June 30 public hearing and the July 24 monthly PAT Board meeting) by Glenn A. Walsh, regarding the proposed ConnectCard charge.


Statement before                                     Glenn A. Walsh
Board of Directors of                        P.O. Box 1041
Port Authority of                                     Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15230-1041 U.S.A.
Allegheny County:               Telephone: 412-561-7876
Proposed                                Electronic Mail: < gawalsh@planetarium.cc >
ConnectCard Fee                  Internet Web Site: < http://www.planetarium.cc >
                                                                                Space Blog: < http://spacewatchtower.blogspot.com/ >
                                                                                2015 July 24

Good morning. I am Glenn A. Walsh, 633 Royce Avenue, Mt. Lebanon, a regular Light Rail and bus rider who has chosen not to drive a motor vehicle since 1985, to help save energy, protect the environment, and reduce city traffic congestion. I have been an active transit advocate for more than 37 years, including 3 terms (1984 to 1989) on the Allegheny County Transit Council as a Charter Member. My comments today are my own and do not reflect those of any organization.

First, I want to applaud the members of PAT’s Planning & Stakeholder Relations Committee for truly listening to the public’s opposition to applying a fee to the ConnectCard. The delay in approving such a fee will allow further consideration of this important issue.

At last week’s meeting, I learned that PAT plans to dispense ConnectCards at the automated machines at rail stations and other locations, as other transit systems do. Dispensing ConnectCards for free at automated machines was not considered feasible by the PAT staff, which is quite understandable.

So, I suggest a one dollar fee for a ConnectCard at an automated machine, due to the added convenience of obtaining the card at the machine. In 2009, I bought a similar “Breeze” card at an Atlanta subway station’s automated machine for just one dollar; the Breeze card is still just one dollar.

However, ConnectCards should continue to be free-of-charge at the PAT Service Center. So, people have a choice. If they want or need a free ConnectCard, they can get one at the PAT Service Center.

Thank you.

gaw

Statement before                                  Glenn A. Walsh
Public Hearing of                                 P.O. Box 1041
Port Authority of                                  Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15230-1041 U.S.A.
Allegheny County:              Telephone: 412-561-7876
Proposed                               Electronic Mail: < gawalsh@planetarium.cc >
ConnectCard Fee                 Internet Web Site: < http://www.planetarium.cc >
                                                                              Space Blog: < http://spacewatchtower.blogspot.com/ >
                                                                              2015 June 30

Good morning. I am Glenn A. Walsh, 633 Royce Avenue, Mt. Lebanon, a regular Light Rail and bus rider who has chosen not to drive a motor vehicle since 1985, to help save energy, protect the environment, and reduce city traffic congestion. I have been an active transit advocate for more than 37 years, including 3 terms (1984 to 1989) on the Allegheny County Transit Council as a Charter Member. My comments today are my own and do not reflect those of any organization.

The Port Authority of Allegheny County Public Transit System (PAT) proposes to start charging a $5 fee for both new and replacement ConnectCards, beginning on August 1. Such an action would be short-sighted.

ConnectCards are valuable for three reasons: 1) Faster and more convenient payment system for transit riders; 2) Improves transit system efficiency; 3) Improves security for both the transit rider and PAT. To introduce any disincentive for transit riders, particularly new riders not familiar with the transit system, to obtain a ConnectCard would reduce the value of the ConnectCard system—a system that PAT has spent a lot of money to implement!

Any charge for new ConnectCards, particularly a charge as exorbitant as $5, would be a great disincentive to persuading new and occasional riders to pay via ConnectCard. It could also discourage ridership by new and occasional riders.

I could understand a fee to replace a lost ConnectCard, but such a fee should be nominal. Carnegie Library only charges $1 to replace a lost library card. Certainly, PAT should not charge more than a dollar to replace a ConnectCard.

New ConnectCards should remain free-of-charge, to incentivize new and occasional riders to pay using this more efficient system. Replacements for lost ConnectCards should cost no more than a dollar.

Thank you.


gaw

More about the ConnectCard: Link >>> http://www.connectcard.org/

ConnectCard Public Hearing Notice:
Link >>> http://www.portauthority.org/paac/NewsEvents/LatestNews/tabid/96/nnpg731/2/cmd731/arch/archDt731/062015/~/Default.aspx?tabid=96&mid=731&newsid731=1546&Port-Authority-Public-Comment-Period--Hearing-Scheduled

Glenn A. Walsh was interviewed on this issue by Elaine Effort on KQV-AM 1410 NewsRadio (July 16), as well being quoted in the following articles:

Schmitz, Jo. "$5 Port Authority ConnectCard fee runs into opposition."
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 2015 June 30.
Link >>> http://www.post-gazette.com/news/transportation/2015/06/30/Port-Authority-plan-to-charge-a-ConnectCard-fee-meets-opposition/stories/201506300244

Schneider, Sarah. "Plan To Charge For ConnectCard Postponed."
WESA-FM 90.5 Pittsburgh 2015 July 24.
Link >>> http://wesa.fm/post/plan-charge-connectcard-postponed

Chafin, Casey. "PAT Holds Public Hearing on Proposed ConnectCard Fee."
WESA-FM 90.5 Pittsburgh 2015 June 30.
Link >>> http://wesa.fm/post/pat-holds-public-hearing-proposed-connectcard-fee

Source: Glenn A. Walsh Reporting for SpaceWatchtower, a project of Friends of the Zeiss.

Want to receive SpaceWatchtower blog posts in your inbox ?
Send request to < spacewatchtower@planetarium.cc >..

gaw

Glenn A. Walsh, Project Director,
Friends of the Zeiss < http://buhlplanetarium.tripod.com/fotz/ >
Electronic Mail - < gawalsh@planetarium.cc >
SpaceWatchtower Blog: < http://spacewatchtower.blogspot.com/ >
Also see: South Hills Backyard Astronomers Blog: < http://shbastronomers.blogspot.com/ >
Barnestormin: Writing, Essays, Pgh. News, & More: < http://www.barnestormin.blogspot.com/ >
About the SpaceWatchtower Editor / Author: < http://buhlplanetarium2.tripod.com/weblog/spacewatchtower/gaw/ >
SPACE & SCIENCE NEWS, ASTRONOMICAL CALENDAR:
http://buhlplanetarium.tripod.com/#news >
Twitter: < https://twitter.com/spacewatchtower >
Facebook: < http://www.facebook.com/pages/SpaceWatchtower/238017839577841?sk=wall >
Author of History Web Sites on the Internet --
* Buhl Planetarium, Pittsburgh:
  < http://www.planetarium.cc >
* Adler Planetarium, Chicago:
  < http://adlerplanetarium.tripod.com >
* Astronomer, Educator, Optician John A. Brashear:
  < http://johnbrashear.tripod.com >
* Andrew Carnegie & Carnegie Libraries:
  < http://www.andrewcarnegie.cc >
* Civil War Museum of Andrew Carnegie Free Library:
  < http://garespypost.tripod.com >
Duquesne Incline cable-car railway, Pittsburgh:
  < http://inclinedplane.tripod.com >
* Public Transit:
  < http://andrewcarnegie2.tripod.com/transit >

Thursday, July 23, 2015

NASA Finds Earth-like 'Cousin' Planet

This artist’s conception of a planetary lineup shows habitable-zone planets with similarities to Earth

NASA's Kepler mission has confirmed the first near-Earth-size planet in the “habitable zone” around a sun-like star. This discovery and the introduction of 11 other new small habitable zone candidate planets mark another milestone in the journey to finding another “Earth.”

The newly discovered Kepler-452b is the smallest planet to date discovered orbiting in the habitable zone -- the area around a star where liquid water could pool on the surface of an orbiting planet -- of a G2-type star, like our sun. The confirmation of Kepler-452b brings the total number of confirmed planets to 1,030.

"On the 20th anniversary year of the discovery that proved other suns host planets, the Kepler exoplanet explorer has discovered a planet and star which most closely resemble the Earth and our Sun," said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. “This exciting result brings us one step closer to finding an Earth 2.0."

Kepler-452b is 60 percent larger in diameter than Earth and is considered a super-Earth-size planet. While its mass and composition are not yet determined, previous research suggests that planets the size of Kepler-452b have a good chance of being rocky.

While Kepler-452b is larger than Earth, its 385-day orbit is only 5 percent longer. The planet is 5 percent farther from its parent star Kepler-452 than Earth is from the Sun. Kepler-452 is 6 billion years old, 1.5 billion years older than our sun, has the same temperature, and is 20 percent brighter and has a diameter 10 percent larger.

More - Link >>> http://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-kepler-mission-discovers-bigger-older-cousin-to-earth

Also See: "Finding Another Earth." - Link >>> http://www.nasa.gov/jpl/finding-another-earth

Source: NASA.

Want to receive SpaceWatchtower blog posts in your inbox ?
Send request to < spacewatchtower@planetarium.cc >..

gaw

Glenn A. Walsh, Project Director,
Friends of the Zeiss < http://buhlplanetarium.tripod.com/fotz/ >
Electronic Mail - < gawalsh@planetarium.cc >
SpaceWatchtower Blog: < http://spacewatchtower.blogspot.com/ >
Also see: South Hills Backyard Astronomers Blog: < http://shbastronomers.blogspot.com/ >
Barnestormin: Writing, Essays, Pgh. News, & More: < http://www.barnestormin.blogspot.com/ >
About the SpaceWatchtower Editor / Author: < http://buhlplanetarium2.tripod.com/weblog/spacewatchtower/gaw/ >
SPACE & SCIENCE NEWS, ASTRONOMICAL CALENDAR:
http://buhlplanetarium.tripod.com/#news >
Twitter: < https://twitter.com/spacewatchtower >
Facebook: < http://www.facebook.com/pages/SpaceWatchtower/238017839577841?sk=wall >
Author of History Web Sites on the Internet --
* Buhl Planetarium, Pittsburgh:
  < http://www.planetarium.cc >
* Adler Planetarium, Chicago:
  < http://adlerplanetarium.tripod.com >
* Astronomer, Educator, Optician John A. Brashear:
  < http://johnbrashear.tripod.com >
* Andrew Carnegie & Carnegie Libraries:
  < http://www.andrewcarnegie.cc >
* Civil War Museum of Andrew Carnegie Free Library:
  < http://garespypost.tripod.com >
Duquesne Incline cable-car railway, Pittsburgh:
  < http://inclinedplane.tripod.com >
* Public Transit:
  < http://andrewcarnegie2.tripod.com/transit >

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Pluto & Moon Charon Close-Up Pix & Early Findings

Pluto surface scale



One of the early close-up views of Pluto from NASA's New Horizons spacecraft. Surprisingly, these mountains are much younger than expected, only about 100 million years-old, as opposed to the age of the Solar System: 4.56 billion years-old. And, it seems the mountains may still be growing,
(Image Sources: NASA, Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory)
Links to more images at the end of this blog post.



 View larger. | The New Horizons spacecraft captured this image about 1.5 hours before closest approach to Pluto on July 14, from a range of 49,000 miles (79,000 km). Image via NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

This is a photograph of Charon, the largest of Pluto's five moons. Some scientists really consider this the Pluto - Charon two-planet system, as both planetary bodies orbit around a common point located beyond both objects. In the upper left corner of the close-up image can be seen, what NASA refers to as, a "Mountain in a Moat." A huge mountain exists inside, what looks like, some type of crater, although it is still not known if it is an impact crater. The close-up image, from top-to-bottom, scans 390 kilometers / 240 miles.
(Image Sources: NASA, Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, EarthSky.org)
Links to more images at the end of this blog post.

By Glenn A. Walsh
Reporting for SpaceWatchtower

On July 14, NASA completed the first, close-up survey of all major planetary objects in our Solar System. On this date, NASA's New Horizons spacecraft flew-by Pluto and its five moons, the last time NASA has had the opportunity to get first-time impressions and the first close-up photographs of one of the Solar System's major planetary bodies.

At the time of launch of the New Horizons spacecraft, 2006 January 19 from Cape Canaveral, Florida, Pluto was still considered the ninth and farthest known major planet from the Sun, in our Solar System. At that time the NASA goal was to, finally, have started the beginning of close-up exploration of all Solar System planets.

Later in 2006, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) reclassified Pluto as a Dwarf Planet, one of several such objects in the Kuiper Belt section of the Solar System. For both astronomers and the general public, this quickly became a very controversial action, which continues in controversy to this day.

The previous first fly-by of a planet occurred in August of 1989 when the Voyager 2 spacecraft, as the last part of the “Grand Tour of the Planets” (begun in the 1970s, due to a unique configuration of the outer planets that allowed one or two unmanned spacecraft to visit several planets) flew by the Planet Neptune. At that time, many planetaria and science museums, including Pittsburgh's original Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science (a.k.a. Buhl Science Center) held special observing programs for the public, often utilizing a satellite receiving dish to receive direct images from NASA from their satellite channel, “NASA Select.”

As the Internet's World Wide Web was still two years from activation, the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) provided wall-to-wall coverage of the Neptune fly-by from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. Not all PBS affiliates carried this wall-to-wall coverage, not wanting to pre-empt a great deal of regular programming. However, as some of the larger cities in the country had two PBS affiliates, this wall-to-wall coverage was often seen on a city's second PBS affiliate (almost always a UHF television channel), including Pittsburgh's WQEX-TV 16 (in 1959, Pittsburgh became the first city to have two educational television channels).

As with all of these “first fly-bys of a planet,” including the first successful fly-by of Mars which Mariner 4 accomplished exactly fifty years before the New Horizons fly-by of Pluto, the fly-by of Pluto has already required the rewriting of Astronomy and Planetary Science textbooks!

Vast icy, frozen plains exist next to Pluto's rugged mountains of ice, some mountains similar in height to North America's Rocky Mountains. Scientists did not expect that much complexity on such a small and cold world. The Pluto landscape has been described as, “just astoundingly amazing.”

The plains are located in the bright, heart-shaped area of Pluto. Like the 11,000-foot mountains, the plains, which are almost completely devoid of impact craters, are probably not much older than 100 million years-old. This is quite young for a planet that is likely 4.5 billion years-old. Yet, Jeff Moore, head of the New Horizons Geology team at NASA's Ames Research Center in California, said, “This could be only a week old for all we know.”

Dr. Moore was speaking at a Friday (July 17), NASA news conference, when the New Horizons spacecraft was already 2 million miles past Pluto and operating nominally. On July 14, New Horizons had flown within just 7,700 miles of Pluto's surface, after a journey lasting 9 and one-half years.

For now, scientists believe the fallout from icy volcanoes and / or geysers may be remaking the Pluto landscape and, thus, the reason for icy plains and the lack of major craters. Although Dr. Moore stressed that, as of now, they have no hard evidence of volcanoes or geysers on Pluto.

Pluto's atmosphere was also surprising, as the temperature of the atmosphere was cooler than expected. Even more surprising is the fact that part of the Pluto atmosphere acts as a long plasma tail, similar to a comet's ion tail. This "atmosphere tail" was measured as 77,000 to 109,000 kilometers / 48,000 to 68,000 miles long. Although Pluto is extremely far from the Sun, the solar wind still affects Pluto's atmosphere, causing this tail effect!

Like Pluto, scientists are surprised that Pluto's largest natural satellite, Charon, also seems to have a fairly-young surface in appearance, with few visible impact craters. Cliffs and troughs stretching about 600 miles suggest widespread fracturing of Charon's crust, perhaps due to geologic activity. Also seen was a canyon about 7-to-9 kilometers / 4-to-6 miles deep.

Although now well past the Pluto system, the New Horizons spacecraft will continue making observations of Pluto and its moons until January. And, it could take up-to 16 months to have all of the collected data received on Earth, due to the great distance between Earth and New Horizons and the slow data tranmission speed available at that great distance.

But, that still will not mean the end of the New Horizons mission. Now that New Horizons has entered the Kuiper Belt, scientists hope that the spacecraft can fly-by at least one more planetary object, which will likely be much smaller than Pluto. The two most likely candidates are objects known as Kuiper Belt Object 2014 MU69 and Kuiper Belt Object 2014 PN70. Both objects are about 1.6 billion kilometers / 1 billion miles beyond Pluto; at the present time, Pluto is about 4.8 billion kilometers / 3 billion miles from the Earth. Both objects are only about several dozen miles across, while Pluto has been measured by New Horizons as 2,370 kilometers / 1,473 miles in diameter.

A decision regarding which object to target for the next fly-by mission will probably be made by the Autumn. At that time, to minimize fuel consumption, a firing of the spacecraft's engunes will be necessary to aim for the targeted object.

Although, this will likely occur before the NASA bureaucracy is able to officially approve and fund the the extended New Horizons mission. The additional funding will be needed for staff and ground operations in support of New Horizons. The approval and funding is expected to come next year, with the new mission beginning in 2017 and the fly-by likely occurring in 2019.

More Images of Pluto and Charon:
Link 1 >>> http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/newhorizons/images/index.html
Link 2 >>> http://www.nasa.gov/newhorizons/lorri-gallery
Link 3 >>> http://pluto.jhuapl.edu/soc/Pluto-Encounter/index.php?page=1
Link 4 >>> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Horizons#Gallery

Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory Web Site on New Horizons:
Link >>> http://pluto.jhuapl.edu/

NASA Web Site on New Horizons:
Link >>> http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/newhorizons/main/index.html

More on New Horizons: Link >>> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Horizons 

More on Pluto: Link >>> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pluto

More on Charon: Link >>> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charon_%28moon%29

More on the Kuiper Belt: Link >>> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kuiper_belt 

Related Blog Posts ---

"Tuesday's Pluto Flyby: How to Follow Mission." 2015 July 13.

Link >>> http://spacewatchtower.blogspot.com/2015/07/tuesdays-pluto-flyby-how-to-follow.html


"Pluto's Moons Spin Unpredictably in Orbit." 2015 June 9.

 Link >>> http://spacewatchtower.blogspot.com/2015/06/plutos-moons-spin-unpredictably-in-orbit.html

 

"Public: Help Name Pluto & Charon Surface Features, New U.S. Rocket." 2015 March 30.

Link >>> http://spacewatchtower.blogspot.com/2015/03/public-help-name-pluto-charon-surface.html 

 

"NASA Visits Pluto in 2015, Plans Visit to Jupiter Moon Europa." 2014 July 15.

Link >>> http://spacewatchtower.blogspot.com/2014/07/nasa-visits-pluto-in-2015-plans-visit.html

 

"Pluto's Smallest Moons Receive Official Names." 2013 July 3.

Link >>> http://spacewatchtower.blogspot.com/2013/07/plutos-smallest-moons-receive-official.html

 

"Captain Kirk: Name Pluto Moons 'Vulcan' & 'Romulus'." 2013 Feb. 14.

Link >>> http://spacewatchtower.blogspot.com/2013/02/captain-kirk-name-pluto-moons-vulcan.html

 

"Contest to Name Pluto's Newly-Found Moons." 2013 Feb. 12.

Link >>> http://spacewatchtower.blogspot.com/2013/02/contest-to-name-plutos-newly-found-moons.html

"Pluto Discoverer's Wife Dies at 99." 2012 Jan. 16.

Link >>> http://spacewatchtower.blogspot.com/2012/01/pluto-discoverers-wife-dies-at-99.html


Source: Glenn A. Walsh Reporting for SpaceWatchtower, a project of Friends of the Zeiss.

Want to receive SpaceWatchtower blog posts in your inbox ?
Send request to < spacewatchtower@planetarium.cc >..

gaw

Glenn A. Walsh, Project Director,
Friends of the Zeiss < http://buhlplanetarium.tripod.com/fotz/ >
Electronic Mail - < gawalsh@planetarium.cc >
SpaceWatchtower Blog: < http://spacewatchtower.blogspot.com/ >
Also see: South Hills Backyard Astronomers Blog: < http://shbastronomers.blogspot.com/ >
Barnestormin: Writing, Essays, Pgh. News, & More: < http://www.barnestormin.blogspot.com/ >
About the SpaceWatchtower Editor / Author: < http://buhlplanetarium2.tripod.com/weblog/spacewatchtower/gaw/ >
SPACE & SCIENCE NEWS, ASTRONOMICAL CALENDAR:
http://buhlplanetarium.tripod.com/#news >
Twitter: < https://twitter.com/spacewatchtower >
Facebook: < http://www.facebook.com/pages/SpaceWatchtower/238017839577841?sk=wall >
Author of History Web Sites on the Internet --
* Buhl Planetarium, Pittsburgh:
  < http://www.planetarium.cc >
* Adler Planetarium, Chicago:
  < http://adlerplanetarium.tripod.com >
* Astronomer, Educator, Optician John A. Brashear:
  < http://johnbrashear.tripod.com >
* Andrew Carnegie & Carnegie Libraries:
  < http://www.andrewcarnegie.cc >
* Civil War Museum of Andrew Carnegie Free Library:
  < http://garespypost.tripod.com >
Duquesne Incline cable-car railway, Pittsburgh:
  < http://inclinedplane.tripod.com >
* Public Transit:
  < http://andrewcarnegie2.tripod.com/transit >

Monday, July 13, 2015

Tuesday's Pluto Flyby: How to Follow Mission



The most recent image of Pluto, taken at a distance of two and one-half million miles by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft, shows four dark spots of unknown origin on the side of Pluto which always faces the largest moon, Charon.
(Image Sources: NASA, Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory)

By Glenn A. Walsh
Reporting for SpaceWatchtower

Civilization's first close-up exploration of Pluto occurs this week. NASA's “New Horizons” spacecraft is expected to make its closest approach to Pluto on Tuesday Morning, 2015 July 14 at 7:49:57 a.m. Eastern Daylight Saving Time (EDT) / 11:49:57 Coordinated Universal Time (UTC).

New Horizons' flyby of Pluto comes exactly fifty years after the first successful spacecraft flyby of the Planet Mars, by NASA's Mariner 4 on 1965 July 14. This was the second successful planetary flyby mission, the first being a flyby of Venus in 1962 by NASA's Mariner 2.

New Horizons launched, as the first space probe to Pluto, from Cape Canaveral on 2006 January 19. At an Earth-and-solar-escape trajectory of 16.26 kilometers per second / 36,373 miles per hour, New Horizons' Atlas V rocket set the record for the highest launch speed of any human-made object sent into outer space.

Due to this great speed, New Horizons passed the orbit of our Moon in just nine hours! It took three days for the Apollo astronauts to reach the Moon in the late 1960s and early 1970s. New Horizons also passed the orbit of Mars in less than three months. It normally takes spacecraft between five and  ten months to reach Mars from Earth, depending on the speed of the launch and how close Mars is at the time of launch.

Serious consideration for an unmanned probe to fly by Pluto began 25 years ago with a project called “Pluto 350.” This was followed two years later by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory's “Pluto Fast Flyby,” inspired by a U.S. Post Office stamp that called Pluto, “Not Yet Explored.” This mission again evolved into the “Pluto Kuiper Express,” to explore Pluto and other Kuiper Belt objects (objects in a region beyond the known planets, home to small asteroid-like bodies and other remnants of the Solar System's formation). However, funding for all of these attempts was elusive.

Finally, after NASA established a New Frontiers space research program in 2001, the following year the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory was given the go-ahead to prepare a New Horizons spacecraft for a mission to fly by Pluto, as well as seek other nearby Kuiper Belt objects to explore.

After leaving Pluto, it is hoped to find other Kuiper Belt objects to explore within New Horizons' flight path. However, which other planetary objects, which are close enough to the flight path to be explored, has yet to be determined.

After launch, New Horizons first encountered the small Asteroid 132524 APL, which the spacecraft determined was an S-type asteroid. Then, in 2007, New Horizons was sent to Jupiter, for a gravity-assist from the Solar System's largest planet that increased the spacecraft's speed by 4 kilometers per second / 9,000 miles per hour. Additionally, New Horizons' scientific equipment was used to send back data regarding Jupiter's atmosphere, magnetosphere, and natural satellites.

After spending some years in hibernation, New Horizons began its approach to Pluto in January. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, using a supercomputer called “Enlil,” has tracked the motions of solar storms since January, to predict the space weather in the Pluto region for this month. According to their prediction, Pluto should have very low solar wind densities this month, while this could be followed by a more dense solar wind which could “significantly compress Pluto's atmosphere.” The problem is that this is the first attempt at a space weather prediction so far away from Earth, so the prediction could be off by a few weeks.

On American Independence Day, nine days ago, the New Horizons spacecraft experienced a computer overload and automatically shut-down. Although this situation seemed critical at first, it turned-out that the spacecraft's computer did exactly what it was programmed to do. When it experienced an anomaly, it went into a "safe mode" which includes ensuring that the antenna is facing Earth and communicating the problem to ground controllers. Within a few days, the New Horizons computer was back to normal operation. During the two and one-half days of "safe mode," about 30 scientific observations were lost, of the 500 observations expected during the Pluto encounter.

Discovered by Clyde Tombaugh (about 30 grams / 1 ounce of ashes of his remains are on the New Horizons spacecraft) in 1930, as a consequence of the Lowell Observatory's decades-long search for “Planet X,” Pluto was named after a suggestion offered by an 11-year-old school girl in Oxford, England, Venetia Burney (1918 to 2009). It was soon determined that Pluto was too small to be the “Planet X” that disturbed the orbit of Uranus.

It is said that Walt Disney was inspired by the planet, to name Mickey Mouse's canine companion Pluto. The 1951 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry, Glenn T. Seaborg, had named, in 1941, the newly created element, plutonium [which actually is used to power the New Horizons spacecraft in a Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator (RTG)], after Pluto, in keeping with a tradition of naming new elements after newly-discovered planets.

Upon its discovery, Pluto was named the Solar System's ninth planet. However, with the discovery of other sizable objects in the Kuiper Belt such as Eris and Makemake, in 2006 the International Astronomical Union (IAU) defined the word “planet” for the first time, consequently reclassifying Pluto, Eris, and Makemake as a new kind of Minor Planet called a “Dwarf Planet.” Reclassifying Pluto as a Dwarf Planet, after all these years since discovery, caused a great deal of controversy among both astronomers and the general public, a controversy which continues to this day.

The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, which administers the New Horizons spacecraft for NASA, as well as NASA itself, have good web sites for following New Horizons during the spacecraft's encounter with Pluto.

Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory Web Site on New Horizons:
Link >>> http://pluto.jhuapl.edu/

NASA Web Site on New Horizons:
Link >>> http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/newhorizons/main/index.html

NASA New Horizons Blog:
Link >>> http://www.nasa.gov/feature/one-million-miles-to-go-pluto-is-more-intriguing-than-ever

More on New Horizons: Link >>> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Horizons 

More on Pluto: Link >>> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pluto

More on the Kuiper Belt: Link >>> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kuiper_belt 

Related Blog Posts ---

"Pluto & Moon Charon Close-Up Pix & Early Findings." 2015 July 21.

 Link >>> http://spacewatchtower.blogspot.com/2015/07/pluto-moon-charon-close-up-pix-early.html

 

"Pluto's Moons Spin Unpredictably in Orbit." 2015 June 9.

 Link >>> http://spacewatchtower.blogspot.com/2015/06/plutos-moons-spin-unpredictably-in-orbit.html

 

"Public: Help Name Pluto & Charon Surface Features, New U.S. Rocket." 2015 March 30.

Link >>> http://spacewatchtower.blogspot.com/2015/03/public-help-name-pluto-charon-surface.html 

 

"NASA Visits Pluto in 2015, Plans Visit to Jupiter Moon Europa." 2014 July 15.

Link >>> http://spacewatchtower.blogspot.com/2014/07/nasa-visits-pluto-in-2015-plans-visit.html

 

"Pluto's Smallest Moons Receive Official Names." 2013 July 3.

Link >>> http://spacewatchtower.blogspot.com/2013/07/plutos-smallest-moons-receive-official.html

 

"Captain Kirk: Name Pluto Moons 'Vulcan' & 'Romulus'." 2013 Feb. 14.

Link >>> http://spacewatchtower.blogspot.com/2013/02/captain-kirk-name-pluto-moons-vulcan.html

 

"Contest to Name Pluto's Newly-Found Moons." 2013 Feb. 12.

Link >>> http://spacewatchtower.blogspot.com/2013/02/contest-to-name-plutos-newly-found-moons.html

"Pluto Discoverer's Wife Dies at 99." 2012 Jan. 16.

Link >>> http://spacewatchtower.blogspot.com/2012/01/pluto-discoverers-wife-dies-at-99.html


Source: Glenn A. Walsh Reporting for SpaceWatchtower, a project of Friends of the Zeiss.

Want to receive SpaceWatchtower blog posts in your inbox ?
Send request to < spacewatchtower@planetarium.cc >..

gaw

Glenn A. Walsh, Project Director,
Friends of the Zeiss < http://buhlplanetarium.tripod.com/fotz/ >
Electronic Mail - < gawalsh@planetarium.cc >
SpaceWatchtower Blog: < http://spacewatchtower.blogspot.com/ >
Also see: South Hills Backyard Astronomers Blog: < http://shbastronomers.blogspot.com/ >
Barnestormin: Writing, Essays, Pgh. News, & More: < http://www.barnestormin.blogspot.com/ >
About the SpaceWatchtower Editor / Author: < http://buhlplanetarium2.tripod.com/weblog/spacewatchtower/gaw/ >
SPACE & SCIENCE NEWS, ASTRONOMICAL CALENDAR:
< http://buhlplanetarium.tripod.com/#news >
Twitter: < https://twitter.com/spacewatchtower >
Facebook: < http://www.facebook.com/pages/SpaceWatchtower/238017839577841?sk=wall >
Author of History Web Sites on the Internet --
* Buhl Planetarium, Pittsburgh:
  < http://www.planetarium.cc >
* Adler Planetarium, Chicago:
  < http://adlerplanetarium.tripod.com >
* Astronomer, Educator, Optician John A. Brashear:
  < http://johnbrashear.tripod.com >
* Andrew Carnegie & Carnegie Libraries:
  < http://www.andrewcarnegie.cc >
* Civil War Museum of Andrew Carnegie Free Library:
  < http://garespypost.tripod.com >
* Duquesne Incline cable-car railway, Pittsburgh:
  < http://inclinedplane.tripod.com >
* Public Transit:
  < http://andrewcarnegie2.tripod.com/transit >