Monday, June 4, 2012

Space and astronomy stories for the week of Memorial Day

In Sustainability news from commericial sources for the week before Memorial Day I wrote "Time to move on to the next installment of space news!" And so it is. Here are the space and astronomy stories from Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (Venus Transit, Partial Eclipse, and Total Recall edition) on Daily Kos.

First up, a summary of this week's events involving NASA, including three successful tests of vehicles for the Commercial Crew Development Program.

NASA Television on YouTube: Dragon's Back on This Week @NASA

The first commercial spacecraft to journey to the International Space Station returns safely to Earth. Also, new milestones for other commercial crew/cargo spacecraft; John Glenn awarded Presidential Medal of Freedom at White House; and more!
Darksyde on Daily Kos had even more to say about Dragon's return, along with other space and science news, in This week in science: Spin me round.

Join me over the jump for news about the upcoming partial lunar eclipse, the transit of Venus, and other space and astronomy news.

NASA Television on YouTube: ScienceCasts: Partial Eclipse of the Strawberry Moon
On Monday, June 4th, the Moon will pass through the shadow of Earth, producing a partial lunar eclipse visible across the Pacific from China to the United States.
I first mentioned this eclipse in The Wolf Moon, the first full moon of 2012, is tonight, in which I quoted Joe Rao of
June 4, 7:12 a.m. EDT — Full Strawberry Moon...Europeans called it the Rose Moon. A partial eclipse of the moon will be visible chiefly favoring those living around the Pacific Rim. Observers in Japan and Australia for instance, can see it at, or soon after, moonrise, while those in the western United States and western Canada see it at, or just before, moonset. At maximum, about 37 percent of the moon’s diameter will be immersed in the dark umbra shadow of the Earth.
Speaking of Joe Rao, here's what he wrote for about the eclipse last week, as seen on MSNBC.

Check out the partial lunar eclipse on Monday
Pacific Rim residents will have best shot at seeing event — weather permitting
By Joe Rao
updated 6/1/2012 1:38:51 PM ET
The full moon of June will dip through Earth's shadow early Monday in a partial lunar eclipse that promises to impress skywatchers graced with good weather.

Eclipses of the sun and moon always come in groups. A solar eclipse is always accompanied by a lunar eclipse two weeks before or after it, since over those two weeks the moon travels halfway around in its orbit and is likely to form another almost straight line with the Earth and sun. If the solar eclipse is a “central” one — that is, either total or annular — the lunar eclipse is likely to be one where the moon will only partially interact with the shadow of the Earth.

And so it is that two weeks after casting its shadow over eastern Asia and western North America in the annular solar eclipse of May 20-21, next Monday’s full moon will swing around to skim through the northern edge of the earth’s own shadow. Those regions of our globe that enjoyed views of the solar eclipse will again be favored for a view of the upcoming lunar eclipse.

Put simply: if you missed out on the eclipse of the sun, you’re probably going to have to take a pass on the upcoming moon show as well. For North America, keep in mind that this is a pre-sunrise happening, coming during the early morning hours of Monday morning.
That's overnight tonight. Tuesday will be even more eventful, as a much rarer pheonomenon occurs then.

University of Texas at Dallas: Sky Watchers Await a Rare Celestial Experience
Venus Won't Make a Similar Pass Between Sun and Earth Again for Another 105 Years
May 31, 2012
On June 5, sky watchers will be in for a rare treat as Venus passes directly between Earth and the sun, an astronomical alignment that won’t occur again for another 105 years.

During the transit of Venus – the astronomical term for the event – the silhouette of the planet will appear as a tiny black spot moving across the disk of the sun. It’s an event that scientists and astronomy enthusiasts worldwide will watch closely.

“Astronomical phenomena like this transit and eclipses are events that ordinary people can see, it’s not just a chosen few who have access to them,” said Dr. Mary Urquhart, a planetary scientist and head of the Department of Science and Mathematics Education at UT Dallas. “The Web makes it possible for people to participate regardless of location or local weather.”
Observing events are also being held at Texas A&M and University of Wisconsin. None of them will have as good a view as Don Petit, as detailed in ScienceCasts: ISS Transit of Venus.

High above Earth, astronaut Don Pettit is about to become the first human to witness and photograph a transit of Venus from space. His images and commentary will be streamed to Earth during the crossing.
As if that's not enough, there's more news.

University of Texas at Austin: Astronomers Probe ‘Evaporating’ Planet Around Nearby Star with Hobby-Eberly Telescope
May 31, 2012
FORT DAVIS, Texas — Astronomers from The University of Texas at Austin and Wesleyan University have used the Hobby-Eberly Telescope at UT Austin’s McDonald Observatory to confirm that a Jupiter-size planet in a nearby solar system is dissolving, albeit excruciatingly slowly, because of interactions with its parent star. Their findings could help astronomers better understand star-planet interactions in other star systems that might involve life.

The work will be published in the June 1 edition of The Astrophysical Journal in a paper led by Wesleyan University postdoctoral researcher Adam Jensen. The team includes University of Texas astronomers Michael Endl and Bill Cochran, as well as Wesleyan professor Seth Redfield.

The star, HD 189733, lies about 63 light-years away in the constellation Vulpecula, the little fox.
University of California: Astronomer wins prestigious Kavli and Shaw prizes
May 31, 2012
UCLA's David Jewitt, who earlier this week was awarded the Shaw Prize in astronomy, has also won the 2012 Kavli Prize in astrophysics for his role in the 1993 discovery of the Kuiper Belt beyond Neptune, it was announced today. Each prize comes with a $1 million award.

The discovery of the Kuiper Belt, which contains more than a billion objects and was once believed to be empty space, has fundamentally changed the modern perception of the solar system.

That the Shaw and Kavli prize committees independently made the same choice in the same week is "pretty excellent," Jewitt said.
University of California: Meteorite hunt goes on, needs public's help
May 25, 2012
A University of California, Davis, geologist is appealing for public help in tracking down pieces of the meteorite that blew up over El Dorado County on April 22.

The meteorite, about the size of a minivan, was the rarest type to hit the Earth — a "carbonaceous chondrite" containing dust and grains, thrown from nearby stars, that went on to form the planets of our solar system billions of years ago, said Professor Qing-Zhu Yin of the UC Davis Department of Geology.

By studying fragments of the meteorite, Yin hopes to learn more about exactly how and when the Earth, Mars and other planets formed. His lab at UC Davis is one of a few in the country equipped to make the most accurate measurements of the age and composition of meteorites.

Studying the meteorite could also give insight into the origins of life on Earth, as this type of meteorite is known to contain amino acids, sugars and other organic molecules that are the basic building blocks of life.
Montana State University: MSU students earn medals, kudos for robot's showing at Kennedy Space Center
May 30, 2012
BOZEMAN - Eight Montana State University students who built a robot for a national competition at the Kennedy Space Center returned to Montana with two medals, as well as praise for last-minute adjustments said to be risky and bold.

One of 60 teams in NASA's Lunabotics Mining Competition May 21-26, MSU took first place in the Systems Engineering Paper category, earning $750 and an all-expense-paid trip for one MSU student to present the paper at an American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics conference.

NASA's annual Lunabotics Mining Competition involves student-built robots vying to collect the most simulated moon dirt in an arena sprinkled with boulders and craters. Student teams are also judged on their robot's mining performance, team spirit, a slide presentation, an engineering paper and public outreach. MSU won the inaugural competition in 2010.
At the conclusion of the previous edition, I "wish[ed] all of the installments were this full and this fun!" Looks like I got my wish!

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