Category Archives: Astronomy

Confirmation of water on the Moon

The Moon
The Moon

The Clementine and Lunar Prospector spacecraft had detected lots of hydrogen on the Moon, which strongly argued for the existence of water. Traces of water was also found in moon rocks brought back by the Apollo mission. However, the detected hydrogen might have been from sources other than water or could just be unattached protons from the solar wind that somehow managed to stick to the Moon, and the water in the moon rocks might have been from contamination when they were brought back to Earth, so the existence of water on the Moon has continued to be in question.

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A Galileoscope for every child

As part of the International Year of Astronomy, some people came up with the idea of the Galileoscope™, which would be a telescope cheap enough to provide for every child. And at $20 per scope, it really is quite affordable. If you had wanted a telescope but couldn't afford one, this might be a nice one to have. And even if you don't want or need one, you could donate $15 per scope for children around the world to help promote science education. In fact, I have just donated funds for a couple myself.

If you happen to be a fan of Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, Battlestar Galactica, or Ghost Hunters International, then you also have the chance to donate funds for a bunch of Galileoscopes and get a nice souvenir. Pamela Gay of Astronomy Cast tells us about an auction for two Galileoscopes until October 1st, with the boxes signed by Felicia Day, the casts of Battlestar Galactica, and the casts of Ghost Hunters International. Even if you're not interested in the auction, you know you want a Galileoscope for yourself and even want to donate some ...

Galileoscope with Box and Order Bug

First light from Planck

The Planck spacecraft launched in May will give us much more detailed maps of the cosmic microwave background than ever before. So it is good news that its first light survey over a narrow strip through the sky indicates that its instruments are all working very well. The first light survey would probably not give us any exiting scientific results, but its success bodes well for its future. We could be looking towards tremendous discoveries in cosmology after the end of 2012, which is when Planck's data from the cosmic microwave background will be released.

Planck first light survey
Planck first light survey

New and improved Hubble

By now, you probably all know that the Hubble Space Telescope is back in business after its repairs in May. (Notwithstanding its imaging of the Jupiter impact in July, which was done by taking time out of its calibration phase.) The repairs did not merely replace aging instruments, but replaced them with better instruments incorporating advances in technology. It shows, with recently released images revealing more details than ever before. And what's more is that each image requires a lot less time to be taken, which means more observations can be done by Hubble.

As an example of how much the Hubble Space Telescope has improved, compare images of NGC 6302, the Butterfly Nebula, taken before and after the repairs:

Before

Before

After

After

Interstellar gas deforming baby systems

Although the vacuum of space is sparser than any vacuum we can yet create in the laboratory, it is not completely devoid of any matter, and I find it fascinating how interstellar gas can have real, observable effects. In fact, there can even be sound in the vacuum of space, even if they are the sort that our human ears could never hear.

Given my fascination, it is no surprise that my attention would be drawn to news that a debris disk around a young star may be deformed because of interstellar gas. A deformed debris disk might indicate the presence of a planet as was the case for Fomalhaut b. However, the debris disk around a star like HD 61005 may instead be deformed due to pressure from the interstellar gas as the young star system travels through interstellar space. It would be like how smoke trails behind as a steam locomotive speeds by.

If confirmed, this would be another example of how something any of us would call a vacuum is not quite a vacuum.