Brian Cogdell of Celestron stopped by the broadcast table at the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas to show off some of the company’s latest products.
If you are not familiar with the name then perhaps you can gleen a bit of information from it none-the-less. Celestron manufactures telescopes and, for the amateur astronomer — and we are all space fans here at GNC, the company makes some of the better ones on the market.
The latest lineup contains robotic devices that make finding that illusive object a whole lot easier. The new lineup contains cameras for photographing that amazing image and even a remote control for pointing the telescope to whatever area of the night sky you wish to examine. The camera also works to align the device by calculating where it is pointed and moving to where you want to go.
There is a lot more to learn, but you will need to watch the video below. Given the technology involved in all of this the prices are fairly reasonable.
You know that those of us at GNC love space and astronomy almost as much as we love computers and technology. While we all use different operating systems — Windows, Mac, and even Linux, we can all agree that a good space theme is cool. There isn’t any shortage of those available either.
In fact, you don’t even have to look far to find one. Microsoft and other sites make them available. Even NASA themselves posts one now and again. So, it’s the weekend and news is slow. With that in mind, it’s a great time to do a quick roundup of these themes that are floating around out there.
Microsoft does a great job of making themes for all occasions — movie and game releases, seasons, holidays and just cool photography. The latter is the category we are looking for. Head to the personalization gallery where you can browse or do a keyword search.
Richard Hay, who runs the great Windows Observer site and podcast, has created several space-based themes. Thanks to NASA images being in the public domain, anyone can do this, but thanks to Richard you don’t need to. He also posts idividual wallpapers and has even begun breaking down themes specifically for both Windows 7 and Windows 8. You can browse the themes here.
Windows 7 Themes
Another great web site for finding themes and wallpapers, although it’s a bit confusing to navigate. If you want to take a look then head over to this site.
There are many other sources for wallpaper and themes around the internet, just be careful of fakes when downloading anything from a web site that you aren’t familiar with.
Most of us have spent the past couple of months being completely fascinated with Curiosity, the latest and largest lander to roam the surface of Mars. NASA has been regularly posting images snapped by the multiple cameras on board the rover, but the one it snapped on October 31st may be the best so far.
Astronomer Phil Plait, who pointed this image out, dubbed it “the single greatest vacation picture ever taken” and I can’t argue one bit. After all, how would you like to send this image home to friends and family? The incredible self-portrait took some work. It’s actually a composite made up of 55 different high-resolution images taken by a camera mounted at the end of a two meter long arm (the arm was edited out to improve the image).
You can get much more detailed information by visiting Phil’s Bad Astronomy blog over at Discover Magazine. The image looks much like any desert on earth, but it’s a much starker and colder location than the images belie. You can view the full resolution at the link below the image.
Yesterday Austrian daredevil Felix Baumgartner ascended to the dizzying height of 128,100 feet (24.2 miles) above the earth in a two hour balloon ride. He then came back down in a considerably faster way by stepping out of his capsule onto a tiny platform, giving a salute, and jumping. The event broke many records, including highest jump, longest distance freefall and highest speed, as he broke the sound barrier by hitting Mach 1.24. He also shattered internet viewing records as YouTube reported over 8 million simultaneous live streams.
If you watched the event live then you probably noticed what appeared to be an almost out-of-control spin during the descent. Now new footage has appeared on Austrian TV (Baumgartner’s native country) that shows the view from the camera mounted to his helmet, and it’s a dizzying descent indeed.
Previous record holder, Colonel Joe Kittinger who jumped from 19 miles way back in 1960, was front and center at Mission Control and was the voice in Felix’s ear throughout the event. You can watch the entire 2.5 hour Odyssey condensed down to a minute and a half here. The footage from the headcam can seen below, but it’s not for the faint of heart.
If you haven’t heard, a new comet was recently spotted. Even better, it’s expected to pass ridiculously close to earth in 2013 and, if those predictions prove true, it will put on quite a show in our night sky. The new object goes by the catchy name of of C/2012 S1, but is generally being called ISON.
The projected orbit should take ISON directly towards the sun in November 2013, causing melting which will result in a very defined tail. By January 2014 it should pass 60 million kilometers from Earth, and that combination of large tail and proximity to earth could result in a night sky object approximately as bright as the moon. That would make ISON the brightest comet ever seen.
According to a NASA report, “comet researcher John Bortle has pointed out a curious similarity between the orbit of Comet ISON and that of the Great Comet of 1680. ‘Purely as speculation,’ he says, ‘perhaps the two bodies could have been one a few revolutions ago.’”
All of this is still somewhat unknown because, for one thing, the brightness will depend on the composition of materials making up the comet and how much melting actually occurs. However, the best estimates at this point are leaning towards a best-case scenario for anyone interested in the night sky.
Nearly 700 pictures were submitted to Flickr for 2012 and you can see them all in the Flickr Group Pool for the Astronomy Photographer of the Year. There’s an endless supply of background images when you include the previous year’s entrants.
Photograph by Rick Whiteacre. Licensed under Creative Commons.
The BBC is showing off some of the photographs from the competition in a narrated presentation that’s well worth a watch as well.
The photographs are on show at the Royal Observatory through to 17 February 2013.
I won’t try to write a eulogy or a tribute. I will leave that up to people who know more than me, but I did want to take a moment to post a tribute of some sort to the man who inspired a whole new generation of explorers. Without Neil Armstrong so many things we take for granted now may never have happened. He had the courage to take that “first step”, in more ways than just the obvious one.
“In space… no one can hear you scream….” Or, maybe they can. Scientists from the University of Michigan have been able to detect an oscillating signal that occurs as a star is devoured by a previously dormant supermassive black hole.
The event was documented with the Suzaku and XMM-Newton orbiting X-ray telescopes. They picked up semi-regular “blips” in the light from a galaxy located 3.9 billion light years away from the constellation known as Draco the dragon. The proper name for the “blips” is “quasiperiodic oscillations”. The scientists noted that the quasiperiodic oscillations were happening every 200 seconds, and occasionally would disappear.
The cause of the “blips” was due to a black hole eating a star that has had its gravity broken apart. In short, the star forms an accretion disk that surrounds the black hole. The scientists looked at x-rays that allowed them to see emissions coming from the disk extremely close to the black hole. This is what produces a quasiperiodic wobble. The researchers compare it to the sound of an ultra-low D-sharp note.
John Miller is an astronomy professor at the University of Michigan, and a co-author of the paper about the quasiperiodic oscillations that was recently published in Science Express. He said:
“You can think of it as hearing the star scream as it gets devoured, if you like”.
Personally, that isn’t something I want to think about. There is something inherently creepy about the concept of a star “screaming” as it is being devoured by a black hole. Imagine the sound of that ultra-low D-sharp as you watch this NASA animation of a black hole devouring a star.
More than a decade ago the Hubble Space Telescope snapped an image that has since been referred to as “the most important picture ever taken”. It’s real name is the Hubble Deep Field (you may want to watch this video before reading on). While the image may seem old in this fast moving world of technology, it’s not even an eye-blink when compared to it’s subject matter – the farthest astronomers have seen in the universe, and into the past.
The folks at the Max Planck Institute have been studying the image almost since it was taken in 1995. Mostly they have been focusing on the brightest galaxy in the picture, known by the catchy name of HDF850.1. That galaxy represents the furthest object, and consequently the oldest, ever seen. The fact is, HDF850.1 is 12.6 billion light years away, meaning that in the Hubble image we see the galaxy as it was 12.6 billion years ago, which is a mere 1.1 billion years after the universe began.
The galaxy, known as a starburst galaxy, is (or was) producing stars at the staggering rate of about a thousand suns per year. The Register points out that the Planck institute, “had to use IRAM interferometer, and the Jansky Very Large Array, a giant compound radio telescope in New Mexico, USA” to verify their findings. The official announcement of the discovery will be published in the next issues of Nature.
Mysterious and Massive Radiation Event 1200 1200 Years Ago
Japanese physicists have identified a mysterious blast of high-energy radiation that struck Planet Earth more than 1,200 years ago – some 20 times larger than normal variations. The cosmic origins of this ancient and massive radiation event, however, are still unknown.
Cosmic-ray physicists from Japan’s Nagoya University, led by Fusa Miyake, discovered the radioactive event – said to have occurred between 774 and 773 AD – based on carbon dating performed on ancient trees.
Their investigation of tree rings from that era show a 20% increase in levels of the 14C isotope over the course of a year. Those isotopes, according Nature.com, are formed “when highly energetic radiation from outer space hits atoms in the upper atmosphere, producing neutrons. These collide with nitrogen-14, which then decays to 14C.”
What happened is clear, but why it happened seems anything but. The usual suspects for this radioactive spike are supernova explosions or solar flares. According to Miyake and his team, both are unlikely culprits considering no other recorded evidence exists of such massive events.
The search for the cause behind this massive cosmic event will likely send scientists to pore through historical data to find any correlative events that might clear things up. Either way – the trees don’t lie (they can’t). Something huge happened 1,200 years ago.