K3LTC.com Science

Astronomy Report Nov 25, 2020

Wed, Nov 25, 8:27 PM

The Great Conjunction is happening! Jupiter and Saturn are moving closer together each night and will appear to “merge” on Dec 21. Look in the SW just after sunset. https://www.timeanddate.com/astronomy/planets/great-conjunction

The Aricebo Observatory Radtio Telescope in Puerto Rico has been deemed damaged beyond repair and so it will be closing after 57 years http://www.arrl.org/news/damaged-giant-radio-telescope-at-arecibo-observatory-deemed-beyond-repair

The Chinese launched an unmanned rocket to the moon on Monday which seems to be following the Apollo plan (the lander looks very similar) and will attempt to bring back 2kg of moon rocks for the first time in 40 years. The mission is named Cheng-e 5 after the Chinese folk tale of Cheng'e, the Woman who lives in the moon.

Nate, K3LTC

Astronomy Report Dec 2, 2020

Wed, Dec 2, 8:18 PM

Astronomy Report 201202

Its hasn’t been clear all that much lately but tonight I could see that Saturn and Jupiter continue to appear closer and closer together as they approach the Great Convergence which will happen on Dec 21. Look to the SW just after sunset, but don’t wait too long because they set before 8pm https://skyandtelescope.org/observing/this-weeks-sky-at-a-glance-november-27-december-5-2/

The last cable holding up the receiver platform over the Aricebo Telescope dish in PR has snapped sending the 900 ton platform 450 feet onto the radio dish below. https://www.sciencealert.com/the-arecibo-telescope-platform-has-collapsed

China’s 8 ton Chang-e' 5 has landed on the moon and sent back its first color pictures from the surface and could be sending rock samples back as early as tomorrow. https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-55160768

NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts Program provides funding awards for new and promising space science, and one interesting concept approved for Phase 1 program (usually a 125K grant) which is the construction of a Lunar Crater Radio Telescope on the far side of the moon. As hams we’re familiar with how low frequency radio waves get bounced off the ionosphere and the same happens in the reverse and these frequencies are difficult to receive on earth, so something like this could provide a very sensitive instrument to pick up these low freqs. https://www.nasa.gov/directorates/spacetech/niac/2020_Phase_I_Phase_II/lunar_crater_radio_telescope/

Astronomy Report 201209

To start off I just wanted to mention a couple observations. I’ve been checking on Jupiter and Saturn every night that is clear just after dark and they’re really starting to get close together now. It looks like by Dec 21 you might even be able to get both in view in a telescope which would be amazing. While these conjunctions happen once every 20 years or so, this event they will appear closer than they have for about 800 years - since the 1200s!

Last week Someone had asked about whether it is possible to see the ISS with the naked eye during a pass and I said yes it is! I hadn’t caught a pass in some time at that point but it just happened I was outside during passes on Monday and Tuesday night and caught both of these and it was super bright.

Chang'e 5 set to start journey to Earth

The ascent vehicle lifted off from atop the Chang’e-5 lander last Thursday Dec. 3 with around two kilograms of lunar samples collected by the Chang’e-5 lander. On Saturday December 5 the spacecraft successfully completed a robotic rendezvous and docking in lunar orbit. The lunar samples were then transferred to a reentry capsule attached to the Chang’e-5 orbiter. On Monday Dec 7 the assent vehicle was commanded to crash into the moon Monday after completing its role in the mission. The Chang’e-5 orbiter remains in lunar orbit awaiting a window to start reentry with a planned landing of the reentry capsule in Inner Mongolia about 4 and half ays later. Chinese state media state the burn is scheduled for the next few days but is expected for Saturday Dec 12.


The big news this week: A Powerful Solar Flare Brings Bright Aurora And Disruptions To Earth This Week

On Monday, a C7-class flare erupted from a sunspot on the sun. Solar flares are categorized as A, B, C, M and X-class flares, with A being the weakest and X the strongest. The flare hurled x-rays that hit Earth in a matter of minutes, causing minor shortwave blackouts. Ham radio operators may have heard a ‘roar’ of solar static during the blackout. Material from the companion CME (Coronal Mass Ejection) travels slower and will begin to arrive at Earth late Wednesday (thats tonight!). NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center is forecasting a minor G1 storm for later Wednesday, increasing to a strong G3 storm Thursday. In addition to auroras at relatively low latitudes, some malfunctioning electronic systems can be expected, including high-frequency radios, GPS, false alarms and satellite orientation issues. There is a chance that we may be able to see aurora at the peak of the event which looks like it will be between 4pm and 7pm tomorrow night, Thu Dec 10.


Astronomy Report 201216

Once again I want to remind everyone about the Great Conjunction coming Dec 21 as Saturn and Jupiter continue to appear closer and closer together. Look to the SW just after sunset but before 6pm when this storm has blown through.

The Hubble telescope turned 30 this year and for the occassion NASA has released dozens of newly processed Hubble images, galaxies, star clusters and nebulae. All 30 of these new images released are objects that can be seen with a backyard telescope and some even with just binoculars, but of course none of them will look as good as the Hubble images!

All of these celestial objects belong to a collection known to amateur astronomers as the Caldwell catalog. Compiled by British amateur astronomer and science communicator Sir Patrick Caldwell-Moore



Astronomy Report 201223

Astronomers behind the most extensive search yet for alien life are investigating an intriguing radio wave emission that appears to have come from the direction of Proxima Centauri, the nearest star to the sun.

The narrow beam of radio waves was picked up during 30 hours of observations by the Parkes telescope in Australia in April and May last year, the Guardian understands. Analysis of the beam has been under way for some time and scientists have yet to identify a terrestrial culprit such as ground-based equipment or a passing satellite.

It is usual for astronomers on the $100m (£70m) Breakthrough Listen project to spot strange blasts of radio waves with the Parkes telescope or the Green Bank Observatory in West Virginia, but all so far have been attributed to human-made interference or natural sources.

The latest “signal” is likely to have a mundane explanation too, but the direction of the narrow beam, around 980MHz, and an apparent shift in its frequency said to be consistent with the movement of a planet have added to the tantalising nature of the finding. - Guardian

Most curiously, it occupies a very narrow band of the radio spectrum: 982 megahertz, specifically, which is a region typically bereft of transmissions from human-made satellites and spacecraft. “We don’t know of any natural way to compress electromagnetic energy into a single bin in frequency” such as this one, Siemion says. Perhaps, he says, some as-yet-unknown exotic quirk of plasma physics could be a natural explanation for the tantalizingly concentrated radio waves. But “for the moment, the only source that we know of is technological.”

For the time being, months of further analysis are in store to definitively rule out other potential sources. And BLC1 itself, while seeming to come from Proxima Centauri, does not quite fit expectations for a technosignature from that system. First, the signal bears no trace of modulation—tweaks to its properties that can be used to convey information. “BLC1 is, for all intents and purposes, just a tone, just one note,” Siemion says. “It has absolutely no additional features that we can discern at this point.” And second, the signal “drifts,” meaning that it appears to be changing very slightly in frequency—an effect that could be due to the motion of our planet, or of a moving extraterrestrial source such as a transmitter on the surface of one of Proxima Centauri’s worlds. But the drift is the reverse of what one would naively expect for a signal originating from a world twirling around our sun’s nearest neighboring star. “We would expect the signal to be going down in frequency like a trombone,” Sheikh says. “What we see instead is like a slide whistle—the frequency goes up.” - Sci Am


Astronomy Report 201230

The sky this week

Tonight is forecast to be cloudy and rainy but you’ll get another chance for viewing on Thursday night which should be partly cloudy. Just after sunset the moon dominates the eastern sky now just past full, Mars is high in the South easily identified by its slightly reddish tinge (and being brighter than almost anything other than the moon), and Jupiter and Saturn are moving apart now in the southwest but are so close to the horizon that you only get a short time to catch them before they disappear behind trees or houses in that direction.

As we enter the new year, the constellation Orion begins rising higher in the southeast. This is one of the most easily identified constellations in the sky but I shouldn’t assume everyone is familiar with it. If you’re not, take a minute and google it up! Ths is the first constellations I learned as a kid (note: well, the first grouping of stars I learned was probably “the Big Dipper” but that isn’t a constellation, its whats called an “asterism”). An asterism is any easily identified grouping of stars which is not a named constellation.

One of the more famous stars in Orion is the star at Orion’s “left shoulder”, Betlegeuse! At a minimum you’ve heard of this star name as the title of the 1988 film of that name but there were also two American Navy ships named after Betelgeuse that served in the second world war. Betelguese is huge. If this red supergiant were at the center of our own galaxy its surface would lie beyond the asteroid belt and engluf the orbits of Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars and possibly Jupiter.

The three stars of Orion’s “belt” are another “asterism”. We can use these three starts within Orion as a reference to locate other objects in the sky. Early in the night Orion is tilted to the left. At about 11pm he’ll be standing up straight in the south. Hanging from Orion’s “belt”, just below the center star is Orion’s sword (yet another asterism) which is comprised of another three stars and a nebula, the famous Orion nebula, M42. Orion’s nebula is the closest region of massive star formation to earth and is one of the brightest nebulae, visible even to the naked eye. Well, maybe your eyes! A pair of binocs will bring it into view, but don’t expect to see any colors - most of the color you see in pictures of nebulae are false color to show spectral differences due to chemical composition which is invisible to the human eye since we can only see a very narrow band of frequencies which we call “visible light”.

If you follow the three stars of Orion’s belt as a guide from left to right, they will point upward toward the bright star Aldebaran. The name Aldeberan derives, as many star names do, from the arabic and means “the follower” because it appears to follow the Pleides star cluster across the sky. If you line up Orion’s belt with Aldebaran, and follow that imaginary line again as far past Aldebaran, you might be able to make out the group of stars that make up the Pleides, also known as the “Seven Sisters” (although there are many more than seven in that cluster!), also known as M45. Some of you may know that the Pleides star cluster is called Subaru in Japanese and the Subaru automobile symbol is actually a graphic representation of the six brightest stars in that star cluster. If your eyes are like mine without glasses or binocs the Pleides will look like just a grey fuzzy spot - definitely worth a look with a pair of binocs though!

Satellites out of wood?

Some of the major components in most satellites include aluminum, Kevlar and aluminum alloys, which are able to withstand both temperature extremes and constant bombardment by radiation—all in a vacuum. Unfortunately, these characteristics also allow satellites to remain in orbit long after their usefulness has ended, resulting in constant additions to the space junk orbiting the planet.

A Japanese company and Kyoto University have joined forces to develop what they hope will be the world’s first satellites made out of wood by 2023. “We are very concerned with the fact that all the satellites which re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere burn and create tiny alumina particles which will float in the upper atmosphere for many years, a professor at Kyoto University and Japanese astronaut, told the BBC.

There are nearly 6,000 satellites circling Earth, according to the World Economic Forum (WEF). About 60% of them are defunct (space junk). Research firm Euroconsult estimates that 990 satellites will be launched every year this decade, which means that by 2028, there could be 15,000 satellites in orbit. Elon Musk’s SpaceX has already launched more than 900 Starlink satellites and has plans to deploy thousands more. Space junk travels at an incredibly fast speed of more than 22,300 mph, so can have cause considerable damage to any objects it hits.

The major benefit of wood-based satellites is they would burn up completely when returning to Earth. But another major bonus of using wood to create the outer shell of a satellite is that electromagnetic waves would pass right through it, which means antennas could be placed inside of satellite structures, making them simpler to design and deploy.


Odd radio circles stump astronomers

They’re blobs of radio emission, they’re almost perfectly circular and they’re very odd, because they can’t really be explained by any known source or object. The oddities showed up in radio images as clear circles, but don’t appear to give off any optical, infrared or X-ray emissions. As of yet there’s no telling how big they are or how far away they are – the team says they could be several-light-year-wide spots within the Milky Way, or blobs spanning millions of light-years across, much further away in the universe.

The researchers conclude that these odd radio circles are a brand new astronomical object


Unexpected circular radio objects at high galactic latitude

We have found a class of circular radio objects in the Evolutionary Map of the Universe Pilot Survey, using the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder telescope. The objects appear in radio images as circular edge-brightened discs, about one arcmin diameter, that are unlike other objects previously reported in the literature. We explore several possible mechanisms that might cause these objects, but none seems to be a compelling explanation.


Astronomy Report Apr 7, 2021

Mars Ingenuity

NASA is one step closer to achieving the first-ever flight on another planet. Over the weekend, the space agency successfully deployed the Ingenuity helicopter onto the surface of Mars — just days away from its historic takeoff.

Scientists were concerned about Ingenuity’s ability to survive the frigid Martian night, which reaches temperatures as low as minus-130 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s been connected to the rover, using its heater to stay warm — now, it’s exposed to the elements.

While scientists have operated plenty of rovers on Mars over the years, Ingenuity will be their first attempt at flight. The first of up to five test flights could come as early as Thursday, depending on winds and weather.

Flight controllers at JPL won’t be able to control Ingenuity while it’s actually flying. Due to significant communication delays, commands will be sent in advance of flights, and the team won’t know how the flight went until it’s over. Ingenuity will be able to make its own decisions about how to fly and keep itself warm.


SpaceX and Starlink

On Sunday SpaceX launched another 60 satellites into orbit around the Earth, this might sound like a lot its only a tiny portion of the total launched so far and that are planned to launch in SpaceX’s StarLink program. The goal of the project is to provide superfast global internet coverage with very low latency, even in rural or remote areas that may normally lack reliable connectivity.

In order to do this, the company is planning to deploy tens of thousands of mass-produced broadband satellites in low Earth orbit, creating a “mega-constellation” that will communicate with receivers on the ground. Traditional internet satellites struggle to provide fast coverage because many are in very high geostationary orbits—around 22,000 miles above the Earth’s equator. This means latency is high - or in other words, data takes a relatively long time to travel between the surface and back.

Starlink satellites are being deployed much closer to Earth than traditional satellites. In 2018 SpaceX decided to expedite its plans and announced that the first batch would be launched to an altitude of about 340 mi, starting in May of 2019. The company also indicated that this batch would have a simplified design and transmit only in the Ku-band (about 12 to 18 GHz). Ku stands for “Kurz unten” which, in German means “under short”, the short band is the original NATO K band.

SpaceX has received regulatory approval from the FCC to deploy up to 12,000 satellites, and is planning to launch around 30,000 more. The company’s initial constellation will consist of 1,440 satellites, which they hope will provide “near-global coverage of the populated world in 2021.” A beta program in the US offers internet access primarily to rural customers at $99/mo

And, its important to remember that while this might be a boon for folks in rural areas of the country that can’t get reliable broadband, it does have many Astronomers up in arms. The sheer volume of satellites reflecting light in the sky not only make backyard astronomy more difficult, it interferes with professional astronomy and will make it more difficult, or impossible, to get clean images of areas under study. It also may make it more difficult to spot deadly earth bound asteroids.


Astronomy Report Apr 14, 2021

Ingenuity maiden flight delayed

The long-awaited maiden flight of an experimental $80 million mini helicopter carried to Mars by the Perseverance rover is on hold while engineers test software to resolve a glitch that cropped up Friday during a pre-flight test, NASA announced Monday. During a test last Friday, as the copter’s 4-foot-long counter-rotating blades were in the process of being spun up, Ingenuity’s flight computer did not transition from one mode to another as expected. On board safety software, as programmed, shut the test down.

Over the weekend, the team considered and tested multiple potential solutions to this issue, concluding that minor modification and reinstallation of Ingenuity’s flight control software is the most robust path forward. While the development of the new software change is straightforward, the process of validating it and completing its uplink to Ingenuity will take some time

If all goes well, the team hopes to determine a new flight date next week.


weather It seems that star gazing will have to wait till the weekend as we expect heavy rain Thursday night and showers and gusty winds Friday night. Skies should begin to clear over the weekend so some viewing might be possible with party cloudy conditions.

The moon is a waxing crescent, which means it was just recently a new moon and now its appearing to grow more and more lit each night. Frequent listeners of the Astronomy Report might remember my rule of thumb to tell if the moon is waxing or waning? I remember it as DOC because when the moon looks like a D in the sky it is waxing as it is now.

Mars and Aldebaran

Astronomy Report Apr 21, 2021

ingenuity Since its been mentioned in the last few astronomy reports I wanted to just mention that Ingenuity, the rotocraft or helicopter brought to Mars on the Perseverance rover has completed its initial test flight successfully! But since this has been extensively covered in the news I think we’ll just leave that topic for now.

weather Mostly clear skies expected Thu and Fri night provides an opportunity for some observing. However, the moon is waxing and will be full again on the 26th which will make sky brighter than we might wish.

meteor shower The Lyrid meteor shower peaks this morning, although the bright Moon will hinder your viewing until shortly before sunrise. Prime time for viewing is early, around 4 A.M. after the moon has set and when the Lyrids’ radiant will be relatively high (nearly 80°) in the east, to the upper right of the bright star Vega. The shower is expected to produce about 18 meteors per hour at its maximum (which is not a lot compared to the Perseids which typically produce 60 to 100 meteors per hour); The Lyrids will last until the end of the month, so you might continue to see more shooting stars than average as the shower winds down over the next week.

I’ll include a link to a list of meteor showers for 2021 in the groups.io email

Each particular annual meteor shower typically last weeks, and while their meteors can appear anywhere in the night sky, they are often seen in the same region of sky associated with a particular constellation. This region is known as the radiant. The Perseid meteor shower, for instance, produces meteors that appear to originate from a point within the constellation of Perseus.

The Lyrids are named after the Constellation Lyra which is in the region of the sky where the meteors appear to originate. Lyra is named for the lyre and here we mean the musical instrument lyre spelled l y r e which is like a harp. The constellation represents the instrument given to Orpheus, a greek musician, by Apollo and taught to use it by the muses. According to Greek mythology Orpheus was the greatest of all musicians and was said to charm even the stones with his music. The brightest star in the Constellation of Lyra is Vega.