Saturday, 27 June 2015

Stars of a Summer's Triangle

Rising at the start of a northern summer's night, these three bright stars form the familiar asterism known as the Summer Triangle. Altair, Deneb, and Vega are the alpha stars of their respective constellations, Aquila, Cygnus, and Lyra, nestled near the Milky Way. Close in apparent brightness the three do look similar in these telescopic portraits, but all have their own stellar stories. Their similar appearance hides the fact that the Summer Triangle stars actually span a large range in intrinsic luminosity and distance. A main sequence dwarf star, Altair is some 10 times brighter than the Sun and 17 light-years away, while Vega, also a hydrogen-fusing dwarf, is around 30 times brighter than the Sun and lies 25 light-years away. Supergiant Deneb, at about 54,000 times the solar luminosity, lies some 1,400 light-years distant. Of course, with a whitish blue hue, the stars of the Summer Triangle are all hotter than the Sun.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

The Times Square Time Traveler - Rudolph Fentz Jumped to 1950 from 1876

In 1950, a man with mutton chop sideburns and Victorian-era duds popped up in Times Square. Witnesses said he looked startled, and then a minute later, he was hit by a car and killed.

The officials at the morgue searched his body and found the following items in his pockets:

A copper token for a beer worth 5 cents, bearing the name of a saloon, which was unknown, even to older residents of the area
A bill for the care of a horse and the washing of a carriage, drawn by a livery stable on Lexington Avenue that was not listed in any address book
About 70 dollars in old banknotes
Business cards with the name Rudolph Fentz and an address on Fifth Avenue
A letter sent to this address, in June 1876 from Philadelphia
None of these objects showed any signs of aging.

Captain Hubert V. Rihm of the Missing Persons Department of NYPD tried using this information to identify the man. He found that the address on Fifth Avenue was part of a business; its current owner did not know Rudolph Fentz. Fentz’s name was not listed in the address book, his fingerprints were not recorded anywhere, and no one had reported him missing.

Rihm continued the investigation and finally found a Rudolph Fentz Jr. in a telephone book of 1939. Rihm spoke to the residents of the apartment building at the listed address who remembered Fentz and described him as a man about 60 years who had worked nearby. After his retirement, he moved to an unknown location in 1940.

Contacting the bank, Rihm was told that Fentz died five years before, but his widow was still alive but lived in Florida. Rihm contacted her and learned that her husband’s father had disappeared in 1876 aged 29. He had left the house for an evening walk and never returned

The facts:

The story was published a number of times in the 70’s and 80’s as fact,  until 2000, after the Spanish magazine ‘Más Allá’ published a representation of the events as a factual report, folklore researcher Chris Aubeck investigated the description to check the veracity. His research led to the conclusion that the people and events of the story invented all were fictional, although he could not find the original source.

Pastor George Murphy claimed in 2002 that the original source was  from either a 1952 Robert Heinlein science fiction anthology, entitled ‘Tomorrow, The Stars’ or the Collier’s magazine from 15 September 1951. The true author was the renowned science fiction writer Jack Finney (1911–1995), and the Fentz episode was part of the short story I’m Scared, which was published in Collier’s first. This meant that the fictional character and the source of the story were finally identified – so everyone thought. No copies of the story have ever been found, and Finney died before he could be questioned.

The Twist

in 2007 a researcher working for the then Berlin News Archive, found a  newspaper story in the archives from April 1951 reporting the story almost as it reported today. This newspaper archive was printed some 5 months before the short story sourced as the origin.  Whats  even odder, a number of researchers have claimed to have found evidence of the real Rudolph Fentz, and proof of his disappearance aged 29 in 1876.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

New Horizons At The Pluto System

In a long series of images obtained by New Horizons’ telescopic Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) May 29-June 19, Pluto and its largest moon, Charon, appear to more than double in size. From this rapidly improving imagery, scientists on the New Horizons team have found that the “close approach hemisphere” on Pluto that New Horizons will fly over has the greatest variety of terrain types seen on the planet so far. They have also discovered that Charon has a “dark pole” – a mysterious dark region that forms a kind of anti-polar cap.

"This system is just amazing," said Alan Stern, New Horizons Principal Investigator, from the Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, Colorado. "The science team is just ecstatic with what we see on Pluto’s close approach hemisphere: Every terrain type we see on the planet—including both the brightest and darkest surface areas —are represented there, it’s a wonderland!

"And about Charon—wow—I don’t think anyone expected Charon to reveal a mystery like dark terrains at its pole," he continued. "Who ordered that?"

These images, taken by New Horizons' Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI), show numerous large-scale features on Pluto's surface. When various large, dark and bright regions appear near limbs, they give Pluto a distinct, but false, non-spherical appearance. Pluto is known to be almost perfectly spherical from previous data. These images are displayed at four times the native LORRI image size, and have been processed using a method called deconvolution, which sharpens the original images to enhance features on Pluto.
Credits: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute
New Horizons scientists use a technique called deconvolution to sharpen the raw, unprocessed pictures that the spacecraft beams back to Earth; the contrast in these latest images has also been stretched to bring out additional details. Deconvolution can occasionally produce artifacts, so the team will be carefully reviewing newer images taken from closer range to determine whether some of the tantalizing details seen in these images persist. Pluto’s non-spherical appearance in these images is not real; it results from a combination of the image-processing technique and Pluto’s large variations in surface brightness.

"The unambiguous detection of bright and dark terrain units on both Pluto and Charon indicates a wide range of diverse landscapes across the pair," said science team co-investigator and imaging lead Jeff Moore, of NASA Ames Research Center, Mountain View, California. “For example, the bright fringe we see on Pluto may represent frost deposited from an evaporating polar cap, which is now in summer sun.”

These recent images show the discovery of significant surface details on Pluto’s largest moon, Charon. They were taken by the New Horizons Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) on June 18, 2015. The image on the left is the original image, displayed at four times the native LORRI image size. After applying a technique that sharpens an image called deconvolution, details become visible on Charon, including a distinct dark pole. Deconvolution can occasionally introduce "false" details, so the finest details in these pictures will need to be confirmed by images taken from closer range in the next few weeks.
Credits: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute
New Horizons is approximately 2.9 billion miles (4.7 billion kilometers) from Earth and just 16 million miles (25 million kilometers) from Pluto. The spacecraft and payload are in good health and operating normally.  

Monday, 22 June 2015

Ceres Spots Continue To Bewilder Earth Observers - Dawn At Ceres

A cluster of mysterious bright spots on dwarf planet Ceres can be seen in this image, taken by NASA's Dawn spacecraft from an altitude of 2,700 miles (4,400 kilometers). The image, with a resolution of 1,400 feet (410 meters) per pixel, was taken on June 9, 2015.

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Night-Shining Clouds

In the late spring and summer, unusual clouds form high in the atmosphere above the polar regions of the world. As the lower atmosphere warms, the upper atmosphere gets coooler, and ice crystals form on meteor dust and other particles high in the sky. The result is noctilucent or “night-shining” clouds (NLCs)—electric blue wisps that grow on the edge of space.

NASA’s Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere (AIM) spacecraft observed noctilucent clouds on June 10, 2015. This image is a composite of several satellite passes over the Arctic, and the clouds appear in various shades of light blue to white, depending on the density of the ice particles. The instrument measures albedo—how much light is reflected back to space by the high-altitude clouds.

Noctilucent clouds were first described in the mid-19th century after the eruption of the Krakatau volcano. Volcanic ash spread through the atmosphere, making for vivid sunsets around the world and provoking the first known observations of NLCs. At first people thought they were a side-effect of the volcano, but long after Krakatau’s ash settled, the wispy, glowing clouds remained.

In the past decade, AIM has been observing and measuring these seasonal, high-altitude cloud formations. Researchers have found that they are appearing earlier and stretching to lower latitudes with greater frequency. There is some evidence that this is a result of increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Though they were not thick enough to appear in AIM imagery, some noctilucent clouds were visible to ground-based observers in the continental United States on June 9 and 10.

Human Eyes And Telescopes

Human eyes can see long distances. In fact the Andromeda Galaxy can be seen with the naked eye and that's 2.5 million light-years away. But even a massive galaxy, like Andromeda, appears to us as a tiny point in the sky.

It makes sense that as an object gets further away it becomes harder to see. But why this happens helps us understand how vital telescopes have been in exploring the universe.

Hubble's Messier 5

"Beautiful Nebula discovered between the Balance [Libra] & the Serpent [Serpens] ..." begins the description of the 5th entry in 18th century astronomer Charles Messier's famous catalog of nebulae and star clusters. Though it appeared to Messier to be fuzzy and round and without stars, Messier 5 (M5) is now known to be a globular star cluster, 100,000 stars or more, bound by gravity and packed into a region around 165 light-years in diameter. It lies some 25,000 light-years away. Roaming the halo of our galaxy, globular star clusters are ancient members of the Milky Way. M5 is one of the oldest globulars, its stars estimated to be nearly 13 billion years old. The beautiful star cluster is a popular target for Earthbound telescopes. Of course, deployed in low Earth orbit on April 25, 1990, the Hubble Space Telescope has also captured its own stunning close-up view that spans about 20 light-years near the central region of M5. Even close to its dense core at the left, the cluster's aging red and blue giant stars and rejuvenated blue stragglers stand out in yellow and blue hues in the sharp color image.
Stargazer Nation

Friday, 19 June 2015

Galaxies Beyond the Heart: Maffei 1 and 2

The two galaxies on the far left were unknown until 1968. Although they would have appeared as two of the brighter galaxies on the night sky, the opaque dust of the central band of our Milky Way Galaxy had obscured them from being seen in visible light. This image in infrared light taken recently by the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE), however, finds these galaxies in great detail far behind -- but seemingly next to -- the photogenic Heart nebula (IC 1805). The spiral galaxy near the top is the easiest to spot and is known as Maffei 2. Just below and to its right is fuzzy-looking Maffei 1, the closest giant elliptical galaxy to Earth. This colored image spans three full moons from top to bottom. The Maffei galaxies each span about 15,000 light years across and lie about 10 million light years away toward the constellation of the Queen of Ethiopia (Cassiopeia). On the image right, stars, gaseous filaments, and warm dust highlight a detailed infrared view of the Heart nebula.

LightSail A - The Planetary Society

Hitching a ride to low Earth orbit, LightSail A accomplished a challenging test mission, unfurling its 32 square meter mylar solar sail on June 7. This dramatic image from one of the bread loaf sized spacecraft's fisheye cameras captures the deployed sail glinting in sunlight. Sail out and visible to Earthbound observers before its final orbit, LightSail A reentered the atmosphere last weekend. Its succesful demonstration paves the way for the LightSail B spacecraft, scheduled for launch in April 2016. Once considered the stuff of science fiction, sailing through space was suggested 400 years ago by astronomer Johannes Kepler who observed comet tails blown by the solar wind. But modern solar sail designs, like the one tested by LightSail A rely on the small but continuous pressure from sunlight itself for thrust.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Old Moon and Sister Stars

An old crescent Moon shares the eastern sky over Menton, France with the sister stars of the Pleiades cluster in this early morning skyscape,
(Bright Venus was also near the eastern horizon, but is not pictured here.) Astronomical images of the well-known Pleiades often show the cluster's alluring blue reflection nebulae, but they are washed out here by the bright moonlight. Still, while the crescent Moon is overexposed, surface features can be seen on the dim lunar night side illuminated by earthshine - light from sunlit planet Earth. Of course, you can spot planets Mars, Saturn, and Mercury along the solar system's ecliptic plane.

The Black Eye Galaxy

This big, bright, beautiful spiral galaxy is Messier 64, often called the Black Eye Galaxy or the Sleeping Beauty Galaxy for its heavy-lidded appearance in telescopic views. M64 is about 17 million light-years distant in the otherwise well-groomed northern constellation Coma Berenices. In fact, the Red Eye Galaxy might also be an appropriate moniker in this colorful composition. The enormous dust clouds obscuring the near-side of M64's central region are laced with the telltale reddish glow of hydrogen associated with star forming regions. But they are not this galaxy's only peculiar feature. Observations show that M64 is actually composed of two concentric, counter-rotating systems. While all the stars in M64 rotate in the same direction as the interstellar gas in the galaxy's central region, gas in the outer regions, extending to about 40,000 light-years, rotates in the opposite direction. The dusty eye and bizarre rotation is likely the result of a billion year old merger of two different galaxies.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Rho Ophiuchi Wide Field

The clouds surrounding the star system Rho Ophiuchi compose one of the closest star forming regions. Rho Ophiuchi itself is a binary star system visible in the light-colored region on the image right. The star system, located only 400 light years away, is distinguished by its colorful surroundings, which include a red emission nebula and numerous light and dark brown dust lanes. Near the upper right of the Rho Ophiuchi molecular cloud system is the yellow star Antares, while a distant but coincidently-superposed globular cluster of stars, M4, is visible between Antares and the red emission nebula. Near the image bottom lies IC 4592, the Blue Horsehead nebula. The blue glow that surrounds the Blue Horsehead's eye -- and other stars around the image -- is a reflection nebula composed of fine dust. In this image (left) is a geometrically angled reflection nebula cataloged as Sharpless 1. Here, the bright star near the dust vortex creates the light of surrounding reflection nebula. Although most of these features are visible through a small telescope pointed toward the constellations of Ophiuchus, Scorpius, and Sagittarius, the only way to see the intricate details of the dust swirls, as featured above, is to use a long exposure camera.

Stars And Stripes On The ISS

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly took this photograph in the cupola of the International Space Station., Kelly and Russian Cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko launched to the International Space Station on March 27, 2015, beginning their one-year mission in space. Most expeditions to the space station last four to six months. By doubling the length of this mission, researchers hope to better understand how the human body reacts and adapts to long-duration spaceflight. This knowledge is critical as NASA looks toward human journeys deeper into the solar system, including to and from Mars, which could last 500 days or longer

Intergalactic Wanderer

Three objects stand out in this thoughtful telescopic image, a view toward the mostly stealthy constellation Lynx. The two brightest (the spiky ones) are nearby stars. The third is the remote globular star cluster NGC 2419, at distance of nearly 300,000 light-years. NGC 2419 is sometimes called "the Intergalactic Wanderer", an appropriate title considering that the distance to the Milky Way's satellite galaxy, the Large Magellanic Cloud, is only about 160,000 light-years. Roughly similar to other large globular star clusters like Omega Centauri, NGC 2419 is itself intrinsically bright, but appears faint because it is so far away. NGC 2419 may really have an extragalactic origin as, for example, the remains of a small galaxy captured and disrupted by the Milky Way. But its extreme distance makes it difficult to study and compare its properties with other globular clusters that roam the halo of our Milky Way galaxy.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

A City Upon The Sea

In a haunting vista you can never see, bright stars and the central Milky Way rise over the dark skyline of metropolitan Pudong in Shanghai, China. Looking east across the Huangpu River, the cityscape includes Pudong's 470 meter tall Oriental Pearl Tower. The night sky stretches from Antares and the stars of Scorpius at the far right, to Altair in Aquila at the left. To create the vision of an unseen reality, part of a series of Darkened Cities, photographer Thierry Cohen has combined a daytime image of the city skyline with an image matched in orientation from a dark sky region at the same latitude, just west of Merzouga, Morocco. The result finds the night sky that hours earlier also arced over Shanghai, but drowned in the lights of a city upon the sea.

Monday, 15 June 2015

M101 The Pinwheel Galaxy

Why do many galaxies appear as spirals? A striking example is M101, shown above, whose relatively close distance of about 27 million light years allows it to be studied in some detail. Observational evidence indicates that a close gravitational interaction with a neighboring galaxy created waves of high mass and condensed gas which continue to orbit the galaxy center. These waves compress existing gas and cause star formation. One result is that M101, also called the Pinwheel Galaxy, has several extremely bright star-forming regions (called HII regions) spread across its spiral arms. M101 is so large that its immense gravity distorts smaller nearby galaxies.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Lonely Galaxy Lost in Space

Most galaxies are clumped together in groups or clusters. A neighboring galaxy is never far away. But this galaxy, known as NGC 6503, has found itself in a lonely position, at the edge of a strangely empty patch of space called the Local Void.    The Local Void is a huge stretch of space that is at least 150 million light-years across. It seems completely empty of stars or galaxies. The galaxy’s odd location on the edge of this never-land led stargazer Stephen James O’Meara to dub it the “Lost-In-Space galaxy” in his 2007 book, Hidden Treasures.

NGC 6503 is 18 million light-years away from us in the northern circumpolar constellation of Draco. NGC 6503 spans some 30,000 light-years, about a third of the size of the Milky Way.

This Hubble Space Telescope image shows NGC 6503 in striking detail and with a rich set of colors. Bright red patches of gas can be seen scattered through its swirling spiral arms, mixed with bright blue regions that contain newly forming stars. Dark brown dust lanes snake across the galaxy’s bright arms and center, giving it a mottled appearance.

The Hubble Advanced Camera for Surveys data for NGC 6503 were taken in April 2003, and the Wide Field Camera 3 data were taken in August 2013.

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore conducts Hubble science operations. STScI is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc., in Washington, D.C.

Photo Credit: NASA, ESA, D. Calzetti (University of Massachusetts), H. Ford (Johns Hopkins University), and the Hubble Heritage Team