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There’s an article of interest in the December 2009 National Geographic, “Worlds Apart: Seeking new earths”. Written for National Geographic by stargazer Timothy Ferris, the article discusses, in lay editorial style, the mission of NASA spacecraft Kepler (the launch image on this page).
Also discussed with excellent graphics is a foldout showing new planets that have been found so far. The newsprint magazine also presents thumbnail concepts of current detection techniques, including subtle changes in parent star luminosity, and doppler wobble.
For those of us who don’t have access to the current old-fashioned subscription magazine (which I prefer), here are current links to the National Geo articles:
- Worlds Apart: Seeking new earths – article by Timothy Ferris
- The known Planets – animated scrolling pictorial chart of found planets, sizes and distances.
The chart covers the 373 found planets (as of when the issue went to press). I didn’t realize we had identified orbiting planets out to 10,000 light years distance. At least one “planet” is really a failed star (17 times Jupiter’s mass) – it should have gone thermonuclear.
Since Andromeda is our nearest neighboring galaxy, some 2.5 million light years distant, the article doesn’t report any discoveries there, and most likely none have been observed. For ET hunters it might be somewhat unsettling to realize that there is no way Earth could be seen from Andromeda with what we consider state of the art technology. Newly launched Kepler will peer out 15 times farther than current sightings, that is, 6,000 lights years distance, as opposed to the current 400.
In that case, where exactly are the host stars for our 373 observations to date? They seem to all be in own Orion Spur of the Milky Way’s Sagittarius arm. Even Kepler is confining its search area to this spur.
For the seasoned amateur astronomer, there is perhaps not much content we haven’t read elsewhere, at some time or other, in astronomy magazines and websites. But the National Geo presentation is well-organized, as generations have come to expect from that publication, and well worth our review.
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When we wrote our two October postings on the “2012″ doom-and-gloomers, we debunked the myth, as many others have done. We also referenced the Sky & Telescope magazine’s impressive articles stating that the world is not going to end in any of the ways the movie or the Nostradamus and Mayan Calendar fetishists are predicting, at least, certainly not as the result of any known astronomical phenomenon expected in that year or century.
And we noted with regret that the S&T magazine’s website was “under construction” and we could not provide the customary link to document our sources.
The S&T editors have rectified that with a new November 11 online article and a couple of PDF downloads, free reprints from their magazine articles. They say:
If your friends and family are worried about the impending disaster — supposedly based on an ancient Mayan prophecy — we have the stuff you need to tell them …
November 11, 2009 | The world won’t end on December 21, 2012, no matter what ancient Mayan prophecies might imply. Noted archaeoastronomer E. C. Krupp explains the cause of this mania in November’s Sky & Telescope. But this issue is no longer available on newsstands, so we’re making Krupp’s article available as a free download.
The link to the article is here: The Great 2012 Scare
You should be able to download the PDF’s for yourself. Should you find the link broken at some future point, just reply to this posting, let me know. I downloaded them for myself and any friends who might want them by e-mail (they’re in my ‘Articles’ folder, Alex). I’ll post the PDF’s myself.
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The graphic below follows up on yesterday’s article Debunking the “2012″ Myth. The question is: how exactly is a supposed alignment of the sun with the core of the Milky Way supposed to cause catastropic destruction in 2012?
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On November 13, Sony Pictures International is releasing a new doomsday movie, “2012“. It’s about yet another end-of-the-world, Chicken Little “prediction” of the ancient Mayan Calendar (which the Mayans were not actually predicting). The movie will no doubt scare a lot of superstitious or uninformed people, and may even (grin) scare off sales of the Sony Playstation:
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Excerpted from the Sky&Telescope posting June 7, 2009, below. We know that binary star groups sometimes consume one partner with cataclysmic results, so this article should be no surprise. Still, the idea of invisible black holes that can tear a star apart in 200 days is something that boggles the mind:
Update on Hubble Mystery Object
Remember the Hubble Mystery Object? In 2006 it steadily brightened, then steadily faded over the course of 200 days total, in a way that resembled no known type of variable object. Even its spectrum was inscrutable, leaving no sign of whether it was a flare on a very faint star in our own Milky Way or some enormous eruption billions of light-years distant.
Now there’s a sign that it was the latter. And one new theory suggests that an odd, wandering, intergalactic black hole tore apart a star of unusual composition … Gaensicke and colleagues propose two scenarios that might explain the object. In one, a carbon-rich star swung too close to an intermediate-mass or heavyweight black hole, which pulled it apart. Some of the material made its way into the black hole, and some was blasted off in a flare that was seen from Earth as SCP 06F6.
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Tonight, the Discovery channel had an interesting “Mega-Builders” segment. You can also watch the segment on their web video.
Dome Over Houston
Houston is in peril. The country’s fourth most populous city faces heat, hurricanes, and other natural disasters. Only a radical engineering solution will save the city: a massive dome, 1,500 feet high and a mile in diameter, would protect the city.
Despite understandable initial skepticism, the idea has some merit. Building on Buckminster Fuller’s established concepts for the geodesic dome, Discovery advances the idea that a dome over the financial district of Houston could save billions of dollars in hurricane damage, create climate control, minimize the extremes of Gulf weather and humidity, reduce heating and air conditioning costs, and generally reduce the stress of downtown existence.
The technology is not all there, but it’s close. Continue reading
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This photo was taken June 20, 2006. I got around to posting it in Photos that August. It’s not that bad for a photo, and even though the light is interesting, it’s not the kind of photo I normally post to a gallery. I knew there was something special about it, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.
I should have asked Astronomy Mag’s Bob Berman, author of the Strange Universe column. Continue reading
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It’s not so much that I expect to be the first to detect signals from ET. In fact, as I’ve often joked, I’d rather that you detect them first, because then I get to stay at home and smoke my pipe, while you get to cope with the demands of the media.
What are the odds? We’ve only been listening for a few decades, hoping to detect coherent signals of any sort rising above the cosmic background noise. If we ever do detect a “signal”, the civilization that sent it might not even be around. Listening searches might be confined to local areas of interest, such as the Orion Nebula (1500 light years). Mighty “sister galaxy” Andromeda, on the other hand, is some 2.5 million light years distant.
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There’s rebellion in the ranks of amateur astronomy. Despite the IAU’s notorious demotion of Pluto in 2006, many refuse to accept the validity of their new definition. OK, when Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto in 1930, if he’d known what we know today about dwarf planet objects, perhaps we’d all be calling the ninth planet a “dwarf planet”. But we didn’t know anything about Eris, Quaoar or other near-planetary objects back then, and you don’t define a new class of objects based on knowledge of only one instance.
What constitutes a planet? The International Astronomical Union (IAU) developed some definitions in 2001, modified them again in 2003, and as of August 24, 2006, the IAU has come up with another definition. The IAU said in a statement that the definition for a planet is now officially known as “a celestial body that (a) is in orbit around the Sun, (b) has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape and (c) has cleared the neighborhood around its orbit.”
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