Today, we think of Mars as having a cold, dry, and desolate environment (because it does).
But that was not always the case. Four billion years ago, while our Sun was still in its infancy, Mars was covered with water.
Back then, it had a much thicker atmosphere, which kept the planet warm enough for water to exist in its liquid form. Some estimates say that at one point, up to 1640 ft (about half a kilometer) of water covered the whole planet.
Once a year, Earth experiences the Lyrid meteor shower as it passes through a region of cosmic debris left behind by a comet known as Comet Thatcher, which orbits the sun once every 415 years leaving behind fresh debris each time.
This year, that’ll be happening tonight. The shower is expected to be at its peak in the early morning hours of Tuesday (4/22/14). If you’re in an area where the weather inhibits sky visibility, Space.com will be providing two webcasts of the event via NASA and slooh.com.
No word yet on whether or not you can wish on a shooting star you see via live stream…
Here’s some pictures of last year’s Lyrid meteor shower (click an image to enlarge):
In a few short weeks, engineers in the Chilean Coastal Ranges of the Andes Mountains in South America will be blowing off the top of Cerro Armazones. Standing at 10,000 feet, it’s one of the tallest peaks in the region. Here’s Gird Hudepohl, the head engineer for the project:
“We will take about 80ft off the top of the mountain to create a plateau – and when we have done that, we will build the world’s biggest telescope there.”
The Coastal Ranges region is extremely arid, which increases visibility since water vapor in the air obscures a telescope’s vision (this is also why telescopes at high elevations have much better vision than those closer to sea level).
This isn’t Hudepohl’s first rodeo. He works for the European Southern Observatory and was in charge of the demolition of another nearby peak (Cerro Paranal) which is now home to one of the world’s most advanced observatories.
The observatory at Cerro Paranal is equipped with four VLTs (Very Large Telescopes), each the size of “a block of flats” and each equipped with an 8m wide primary mirror (thats more than 24 feet).
Here’s some pictures of the European Southern Observatory (click an image to enlarge):
The new telescope, however, will be bigger than all four of those VLTs combined. The E-ELT (European Extremely Large Telescope- they’re not very creative with the names obviously) will be equipped with a massive 39m (128ft) primary mirror made up 800 segments, each 1.4 meters in diameter but only a few centimeters thick. Each segment must be calibrated with microscopic precision for the telescope to function correctly.
When it’s finished (projected completion is 2025), the telescope will be housed in a 74m (~243ft) dome and weigh in at almost 3,000 tons. The project has a price tag of $1.34 billion.
The telescope is obviously extremely expensive, but the potential benefits it will provide are well worth it. Here’s Cambridge University astronomer Professor Gerry Gilmore explaining why the E-ELT will be such a major breakthrough:
“[Right now] we can see exoplanets but we cannot study them in detail because – from our distant perspective – they appear so close to their parent stars. However, the magnification which the E-ELT will provide will mean we will be able to look at them directly and clearly. In 15 years, we should have a picture of a planet around another star and that picture could show its surface changing colour just as Earth does as the seasons change – indicating that vegetation exists on that world. We will then have found alien life.”
“the explosion of a star, possibly caused by gravitational collapse, during which the star’s luminosity increases by as much as 20 magnitudes and most of the star’s mass is blown away at very high velocity, sometimes leaving behind an extremely dense core.”
Not only are supernovas an interesting and cool concept but, supernovas are an important process in our solar system, galaxy, and universe. In fact, supernovas have had a large influence in shaping our solar system and galaxy.
Below is a simple video by NASA that helps explain and show the concept behind why supernovas create such a high velocity explosion.
Rosetta is a spacecraft that was launched in 2004 by the European Space Agency with aid from NASA. Rosetta’s mission is to rendezvous with Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, orbit the comet, and launch and land a robot lander called Philae onto the comet. If the launch and landing for robot lander Philae are successful, Philae will be the first ever controlled landing on a comet.
Rosetta has been in hibernation since November and has recently been awoken successfully (turned back on) and is now expected to rendezvous with its nearby target — Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko — in May, and then enter orbit around the icy body (Comet) in August. Check Out the video below to see the journey that Rosetta has experienced through our Solar System so far.
If all goes well, Rosetta will release a piggyback probe — Philae — in November. Philae will study comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko up close with its 10 science instruments, one of which is a drill that will snag samples up to 8 inches beneath the comet’s surface.
Below is a video animation of the expected upcoming Philae landing.
The studies will be the first of their kind considering we have never landed on a comet before. This mission has high expectations and will hopefully bring in priceless information about comets, the origin of our solar system, and possibly more of the origin of life.
Rosetta is named for the Rosetta Stone, a block of black basalt that was inscribed with a royal decree in three languages — Egyptian hieroglyphics, Egyptian Demotic and Greek. The spacecraft’s robotic lander is called Philae, named after a similarly inscribed obelisk found on an island in the Nile River. Both the stone and the obelisk were key to deciphering ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. Scientists hope the mission will provide a key to many questions about the origins of the solar system and, perhaps, life on Earth.” -According to Space.com
The Sun is composed of a number of different compounds and elements which exist at different temperatures and therefore emit radiation with different wavelengths (this is explained in more depth below the video).
All of the light we see with our eyes is electromagnetic radiation that falls within the “visible spectrum”, meaning that the photons, or light particles, have a wavelength between 400 and 700 nanometers (a nanometer is 1 billionth of a meter).
The range of wavelengths within the sun in 250-2500 nanometers. This video shows you all of the the other forms of radiation that our eyes can’t see.
Since all photons travel at the speed of light (roughly 30million m/s or 670,616,629mph), a photon with a longer wavelength must have a shorter frequency (how many waves pass a point in a given time).
For example, imagine you have two waves traveling past a line you have drawn: one wave that has a wavelength of one meter and another that has a wavelength of two meters. If they travel at the same speed, two of the one-meter waves will pass your line in the time it takes one full two-meter wave to pass it, so we say the shorter one has twice the frequency. In fact, multiplying the wavelength and frequency of any photon will give you the speed of light.
Frequency and temperature are directly proportional so different materials release photons with different frequencies, depending on how hot the material is. Here’s a great chart that shows the relationships between wavelength, frequency and temperature. Click to see full size.
For more information, visit the project’s page on NASA’s website by clicking the image below.