Astronomy news update


This video says about itself:

15 August 2016

As soon as you learn about the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way, your next thought is: is that thing going to destroy our galaxy? In the short term, no, in the long term… maybe?

Milky Way’s black hole may hurl galactic spitballs our way. Giant gas blobs are what’s left of gravity-shredded stars. By Christopher Crockett, 9:00am, January 10, 2017: here.

Earliest galaxies got the green light. Emission of key color wavelength points to superhot first generation stars. By Christopher Crockett, 5:26pm, January 9, 2017: here.

Moon made of small moons?


This video from the USA says about itself:

A 2015 remastered edit of Dr Harrison Schmitt’s lecture, ‘Apollo and the Geology of the Moon’, first delivered 19 December 1973.

Dr Harrison Schmitt was part of the three man crew of Apollo 17 which launched on 7 December 1972, returning to Earth on 19 December. Apollo 17 was the final of NASA’s manned lunar landing missions and therefore Schmitt remains the first and only geologist ever to walk on the Moon.

The following year, Dr Schmitt delivered a lecture on his experiences before a packed audience in the newly refurbished lecture theatre at the Geological Society. Indeed such was the demand for tickets that the lecture was relayed to the British Academy where extra seating had to be provided for another 130 attendees.

This video is a remastered edit of Dr Schmitt’s lecture, created in 2015 by the Geological Society Library. To find out more visit here.

Copyright 1973 & 2015 Geological Society of London
Stills copyright NASA

From Science News:

Many tiny moons came together to form moon, simulations suggest

One giant impact may not be responsible for Earth’s satellite

By Thomas Sumner

11:00am, January 9, 2017

The moon is made of moons, new simulations suggest. Instead of a single colossal collision forming Earth’s cosmic companion, researchers propose that a series of medium to large impacts created mini moons that eventually coalesced to form one giant moon.

This mini-moon amalgamation explains why the moon has an Earthlike chemical makeup, the researchers propose January 9 in Nature Geoscience.

“I think this is a real contender in with the other moon-forming scenarios,” says Robin Canup, a planetary scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo., who was not involved in the new work. “This out-of-the-box idea isn’t any less probable — and it might be more probable — than the other existing scenarios.”

A collision between Earth and a Mars-sized object called Theia around 4.5 billion years ago is the current leading candidate for how the moon formed. This impact would have been a glancing blow rather than a dead-on collision, with most of the resulting building materials for the moon coming from Theia. But the moon and Earth are compositional dead ringers for one another, casting doubts on a mostly extraterrestrial origin of lunar material and thus the single impact explanation.

Planetary scientist Raluca Rufu of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, and colleagues dusted off a decades-old, largely disregarded hypothesis that the moon instead formed from multiple impacts. In this scenario, the early Earth was hit by a series of objects a hundredth to a tenth of Earth’s mass. Each impact could have created a disk of debris around Earth that assembled into a moonlet, the researchers’ simulations show. Over tens of millions of years, about 20 moonlets could have ultimately combined to form the moon.

Multiple impacts help explain why Earth and the moon are chemically similar. For example, each impact may have hit Earth at a different angle, excavating more earthly material into space than a singular impact would.

The single impact hypothesis has about a 1 to 2 percent chance of yielding the right lunar mix based on the makeup of potential impactors in the solar system. In the researchers’ simulations, the multiple impact scenario is correct tens of percent of the time. Further investigation of the interiors and composition of the Earth and moon, the researchers say, should reveal whether this explanation is correct.

The moon is still old. More precise dating of Apollo 14 moon rocks pegs age at 4.51 billion years. By Christopher Crockett, 2:00pm, January 11, 2017: here.

2017 science news predictions


This video series from the USA says about itself:

Looking ahead to 2017 | Science News

20 December 2016

From CRISPR to Cassini, science stories on the horizon in 2017 won’t disappoint. We asked our intrepid beat writers what they’ll be looking forward to covering next year. Read more here.

Filming, Production & Editing
Helen Thompson

Additional Video & Images

Physics
Matt Heintze/Caltech/MIT/LIGO Lab
Caltech/MIT/LIGO Lab
ESO/Digital Sky Survey 2

CRISPR
McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT
Rita Elena Serda,/Baylor College of Medicine/NCI/NIH
Donald Bliss/NLM
Sriram Subramaniam/NCI/NIH
Betty Partin/CDC

Earth
ECORD
IODP

Zika
Sarah C. Ogden/Florida State University, Tallahassee
NIAID
NIH

Brains
Stephen McNally
Roxanne Makasdjian
UC Berkeley

Space
NASA/JPL/SwRI/ASI/INAF/JIRAM
NASA/JPL-Caltech

Music
“Climbing The Mountain” by Podington Bear
CC BY-NC 3.0

2016 scientific discoveries, still unconfirmed


This video from the USA says about itself:

Planet 9 Explained and Explored with Astronomer Konstantin Batygin

27 January 2016

Planet 9 is the biggest astronomical “discovery” of recent memory, and the process of calculating its existence is revealed with astronomer Konstantin Batygin. When speculation of a large body of mass with an usual orbital alignment was detected, astronomers took to computer simulations, mathematical equations and a call to the public to discover the small gassous giant on the fringes of our solar system. Batygin breaks down this hypothesized planet that is estimated to be between 1 to 10 times the mass of the Earth, along with the Kuiper Belt, the discovery of Neptune, and why Dr. Mike Brown deemed Pluto no longer a planet in this episode of Antidote hosted by Michael Parker.

GUEST BIO:

Coined the next “physics rock star” by Forbes, Konstantin Batygin immigrated to the U.S. from Russia at age 13 and currently works as an Assistant Professor of Planetary Sciences at Caltech. Batygin landed on the 2015 Forbes list of 30 scientists under 30 who are changing the world with an unprecedented record of publishing 21 papers as first author. He’s discovered planets in other solar systems and solved a centuries-old puzzle: yes, it turns out eventually the planets in the solar system will careen away from the sun. Batygin also plays in a rock band.

From Science News:

These 2016 stories could be really big — if they’re true

Some scientific findings this year made a big splash but require more evidence

By Cassie Martin

10:00am, December 23, 2016

These findings would have rocked the scientific world, if only the evidence had been more convincing.

New Planet 9 clues

A giant planet lurking at the outskirts of the solar system could explain the odd orbits of far-flung hunks of icy debris (SN: 2/20/16, p. 6). If the planet exists, its average distance from the sun would be between 500 and 600 times Earth’s distance (SN: 7/23/16, p. 7).

Signs of ancient life

Mounds of minerals discovered in Greenland appear to have been deposited by clusters of microbes 3.7 billion years ago. If so, these stromatolites represent the oldest fossilized evidence of life on Earth (SN: 10/1/16, p. 7).

Lucy’s big fall

A controversial study claims that Lucy, the most famous fossil in the study of human evolution, died after falling from high up in a tree (SN: 9/17/16, p. 16). The autopsy supports the hypothesis that Australopithecus afarensis split its time between the ground and the trees.

Nucleus with no charge

Researchers have spotted signs of a “tetraneutron,” an atomic nucleus with four neutrons but no protons (SN: 3/5/16, p. 10). If confirmed, this first-of-its-kind nucleus might be explained by a new, interneutron force.

African American women at NASA


This video from the USA says about itself:

14 August 2016

Watch the new trailer for Hidden Figures, based on the incredible untold true story. Starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer & Janelle Monáe. In theaters this January.

HIDDEN FIGURES is the incredible untold story of Katherine G. Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe)—brilliant African-American women working at NASA, who served as the brains behind one of the greatest operations in history: the launch of astronaut John Glenn into orbit, a stunning achievement that restored the nation’s confidence, turned around the Space Race, and galvanized the world. The visionary trio crossed all gender and race lines to inspire generations to dream big.

In Theaters – January 6, 2017

From Science News:

Hidden Figures highlights three black women who were vital to the U.S. space program

Despite racism and sexism, female “computers” put John Glenn into orbit

By Emily Conover

6:00am, December 23, 2016

Hollywood space flicks typically feature one type of hero: astronauts who defy the odds to soar into space and back again. But now a group of behind-the-scenes heroes from the early days of the U.S. space program are getting their due. Black female mathematicians performed essential calculations to safely send astronauts to and from Earth’s surface — in defiance of flagrant racism and sexism.

These “computers” — as they were known before the electronic computer came into widespread use — are the subject of Hidden Figures. The film focuses on three black women — Katherine Johnson (played by Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) — and their work at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., during the run-up to John Glenn’s orbit of the Earth in 1962.

A mathematics virtuoso, Katherine Johnson calculated or verified the flight trajectories for many of the nation’s space milestones. The film showcases her work on two: the first American in space (Alan Shepard), and the first American to orbit the Earth (John Glenn). But Johnson also had a hand in sending the first men to the moon, during the Apollo 11 mission, and when the Apollo 13 astronauts ran into trouble, Johnson worked on the calculations that helped them get home safely.

Mary Jackson worked on wind tunnel experiments at Langley, where she tested how spacecraft performed under high winds. The film follows Jackson as she overcomes obstacles of the Jim Crow era to become NASA’s first black female engineer. Though the movie focuses on her triumphant rise, after decades in that role, Jackson grew frustrated with the remaining glass ceilings and moved into an administrative role, helping women and minorities to advance their careers at NASA.

Johnson and Jackson got their start under the leadership of Dorothy Vaughan, who led the segregated group of “colored computers,” assigning black women to assist with calculations in various departments. As electronic computers became more essential Vaughan recognized their importance and became an expert programmer. A scene where she surreptitiously takes a book from whites-only section of a public library — a guide to the computing language FORTRAN — is a nod to Vaughan’s prowess with the language.

Electronic computers were so unfamiliar in the 1960s that everyone from engineers to astronauts felt more confident when a human computer calculated the numbers. After a room-sized IBM mainframe spits out figures for his trajectory, John Glenn requests, “Get the girl to check the numbers” — meaning Johnson. In the film, that request culminates in Johnson running a frantic last-minute check of the numbers and sprinting across the Langley campus while Glenn waits. In reality, that process took a day and a half.

For spaceflight fans, Hidden Figures provides an opportunity to be immersed in a neglected perspective. The women’s stories are uplifting, their resilience impressive and their retorts in response to those who underestimate them, witty.

But viewers should be aware that, although the main facts underpinning the plot are correct, liberties have been taken. Some of the NASA higher-ups in the film — including Johnson’s supervisor Al Harrison (Kevin Costner) — are not real people. And presumably because number crunching tends to be a bit thin in the suspense department, the filmmakers have dramatized some scenes — Johnson is pictured in Mission Control during Glenn’s flight, but in reality she watched it on television — which seems a shame because the contributions of these women don’t need to be exaggerated to sound momentous.

Dwarf planet Ceres, new research


This video says about itself:

15 December 2016

This video shows the intriguing Occator Crater on Ceres, home to the dwarf planet’s brightest area. It may have been produced by upwelling of salt-rich liquids after the impact that formed the crater. The animated flyover includes topographic and enhanced-color views of the crater, highlighting the central dome feature. The animation was produced by the German Aerospace Center (DLR). Original music by Stefan Elgner, DLR.

From Science News:

Dawn spacecraft maps water beneath the surface of Ceres

Evidence builds for abundant water ice on the dwarf planet

By Christopher Crockett

1:30pm, December 15, 2016

Water ice lies just beneath the cratered surface of dwarf planet Ceres and in shadowy pockets within those craters, new studies report. Observations from NASA’s Dawn spacecraft add to the growing body of evidence that Ceres, the largest object in the asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, has held on to a considerable amount of water for billions of years.

“We’ve seen ice in different contexts throughout the solar system,” says Thomas Prettyman, a planetary scientist at the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson and coauthor of one of the studies, published online December 15 in Science. “Now we see the same thing on Ceres.” Ice accumulates in craters on Mercury and the moon, an icy layer sits below the surface of Mars, and water ice slathers the landscape of several moons of the outer planets. Each new sighting of H2O contributes to the story of how the solar system formed and how water was delivered to a young Earth.

A layer of ice mixed with rock sits within about one meter of the surface concentrated near the poles, Prettyman and colleagues report. And images of inside some craters around the polar regions, from spots that never see sunlight, show bright patches, at least one of which is made of water ice, a separate team reports online December 15 in Nature Astronomy.

“Ceres was always believed to contain lots of water ice,” says Michael Küppers, a planetary scientist at the European Space Astronomy Center in Madrid, who was not involved with either study. Its overall density is lower than pure rock, implying that some low-density material such as ice is mixed in. The Herschel Space Observatory has seen water vapor escaping from the dwarf planet (SN Online: 1/22/14), and the Dawn probe, in orbit around Ceres since 2015, spied a patch of water ice in Oxo crater, though the amount of direct sunlight there implies the ice has survived for only dozens of years (SN Online: 9/1/16). The spacecraft has also found minerals on the surface that formed in the presence of water.

But researchers would like to know where Ceres’ water is. Knowing whether it is blended throughout the interior or segregated from the rock could help piece together the story of where Ceres formed and how the tiny world was put together. That, in turn, could provide insight into how diverse the worlds around other stars might be.

To map the subsurface ice, Prettyman and colleagues used a neutron and gamma-ray detector onboard Dawn. As Ceres is bombarded with cosmic rays — highly energetic particles that originate outside the solar system — atoms in the dwarf planet spray out neutrons. The amount and energy of the neutrons can provide a clue to the abundance of hydrogen, presumably locked up in water molecules and hydrated minerals.

Finding patches of ice was a bit more straightforward. Planetary scientist Thomas Platz and colleagues pinpointed permanently shadowed spots on Ceres, typically in crater floors near the north and south poles. The team then scoured images of those locations for bright patches. Out of the more than 600 darkened craters they identified, the researchers found 10 with bright deposits that could be surface ice. One had a chunk sticking out into just enough sunlight for Dawn to measure the spectrum of the reflected light and detect signs of water.

Water vapor escaping from inside the dwarf planet likely falls back to Ceres, where some of it gets trapped in these cold spots, says Platz, of the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Göttingen, Germany.

Just because there is water doesn’t mean Ceres is a good place for life to take hold. Temperatures in the shadows don’t get above  –216° Celsius. “It’s pretty cold, there’s no sunlight. We don’t think that’s a habitable environment,” Platz says. Although, he adds, “one could mine for future missions to get fuel.”

Ceres is now the third major heavily cratered body, along with Mercury and the moon, with permanently shadowed regions where ice builds up. “All the ones we’ve got info on to test this show you’ve accumulated something,” says Peter Thomas, a planetary scientist at Cornell University, who is not a part of either research team. Those details improve researchers’ understanding of how water interacts with a variety of planetary environments.

Supermoon, Geminid meteor shower tonight


This video says about itself:

Supermoon In December 2016 Will Complete Trifecta

On Dec. 13, 2016, the full moon will be at perigee causing it to look brighter and slightly larger than a usual full moon. This is the third straight month where the full moon can be considered a “Supermoon“. — When, Where and How To See It: here.

From eNatureBlog in the USA:

Don’t Miss Tuesday Night’s Supermoon And Geminid Meteor Shower

Sunday, December 11, 2016 by eNature

December’s skies are busy whether you’re looking for meteors or want to enjoy the bright light of the supermoon. Here’s a quick summary of some exciting end-of-year goings on in this month’s night sky.

Tuesday’s Supermoon

The full moons in October, November and December of this year all are supermoons. According to EarthSky, astrologer Richard Nolle developed the term supermoon more than 30 years ago. The term only began to be used recently, however. Nolle defined a supermoon as “a new or full moon which occurs with the moon at or near (within 90 percent of) its closest approach to Earth in a given orbit.”

The last segment of this year’s supermoon trifecta happens on Tuesday, Dec. 13th. The moon technically will reach its peak fullness at 7:05 p.m. EST, but it will appear full when you look in the sky the night before and shortly after the peak experience.

Geminids Meteor Shower

This month’s supermoon is happening the same night as the peak of the Geminids meteor shower— which is the night of Dec. 13-14. According to NASA, the Geminids are “typically one of the best and most reliable of the annual meteor showers.” The metors usually start to be noticeable around 9 or 10 p.m., making them a favorite for kids to watch because they get going before bedtime.

But because they coincide with the bright, full moon this year, the light of the moon will reduce visibility “five to ten fold,” according to NASA.

Ursids Meteor Shower

The Ursids radiate from the Big Dipper [no, the Little Dipper] or Ursa Minor. They run this year from Dec. 17-23, but the best time to catch meteors according to NASA, will be from midnight on Dec. 21 until about 1 a.m. on Dec. 22. There’s a good, but not guaranteed, chance they’ll also be active on Dec. 23 and Dec. 24 as well.

Are you planning to catch the Supermoon or the Geminids? Let us know how you make out!

EarthSky has a good, in-depth story on the Geminids and how to best see them.

Moon’s lava tubes could be colossal. Caverns might make spacious home for moon colonists. By Thomas Sumner, 9:00am, December 15, 2016: here.