August Astronomy


Space fans should get their binoculars and telescopes dusted off for August. There will be lots to see with the aid of machine or the trusty naked eye. The gringa will share a cosmic calendar for the month ahead so everyone schedule their dinners and bedtimes accordingly if you want to enjoy some breathtaking galactic events rather than hunker down for digital entertainment indoors.

August 2 – New Moon:  Without the interference of moonlight this is the perfect night to explore other galaxies and nearby star clusters who will be shining in all their glory with no competition from our little satellite.

August 11,12 – Perseids Meteor Shower: At its peak, this little baby (pictured above) has the potential to create up to 60 meteors per hour (gives a whole new meaning to MPH). We can all thank comet Swift-Tuttle for this fantastic light show. Discovered in 1862. it has consistently provided entertainment for Earthlings through July and August. The event will peak on these two days in August. The best time to watch is right after the moon sets around midnight. Or, for those early to bed and early to rise, a pre-dawn show is also prime time for Perseids observation.

August 16 – Mercury:  This is the best time to view Mercury as it reaches it greatest eastern elongation from the Sun. Look for it in the evening sky at the highest point of the horizon or at a low point in the western sky just after sunset.

August 18 – Full Moon:  This is the best time to get a great look at our pockmarked neighbor. Full illumination will occur between 9-10pm  UTC. A bit of full Moon trivia: some Native American tribes call the full Moon a Full Sturgeon Moon because these nights are the best times to catch this type of fish that populates the Great Lakes. Other tribes also called the full Moon the Green Corn Moon or the Grain Moon.

August 27 – Venus & Jupiter:  These two planets are going to join together in close proximity for a spectacular opportunity to see them both. Look for them in the western sky soon after sunset.  They will be shining very brightly and close together.

Source: www.seasky.org

Image Credit: nasa.gov

 

Buzzed By Space Junk or ET’s?


In 2017 Earth is expected to be “buzzed” by a mysterious object being tracked by satellites and called “1991 VG” because in 1991 it did its first recorded fly-by of our planet. In December of that year the object, which is about 30 feet (10 meters) across, buzzed past Earth as it continued in its orbit around the Sun (called a heliocentric orbit in fancy Science-speak). Stargazer James Scotti at University of Arizona’s Kitt Peak observatory, using the Spacewatch telescope, spotted VG in November and continued to track it as it passed by.

Observers noted that it shone brightly but this brightness would often go through rapid fluctuations. Scientists argued that this was indicative of it not being an organic object like an asteroid. Could it be a man-made piece of space junk that has been destined to orbiting the Sun until it disintegrates? Well, let’s see just how much space junk is out there in a heliocentric orbit:

American Space Junk

  • Pioneer 4 (1959)
  • Ranger 3 (1961)
  • Mariner 2 (1962)
  • Ranger 5 (1963)
  • Mariner 3 & 4 (1964)
  • Mariner 5 (1967)
  • Pioneer 5, 6, 7, 8, & 9 (1966-1969)
  • S-IVB upper stage panels of Apollo 8 (1968)
  • S-IVB upper stage panels of Apollo 10, 11 & 12, & #10s ascent stage panel LM Snoopy (1969)
  • Mariner 6 & 7 (1969)
  • Mariner 10 & Mercury (1974, 1975)
  • Mars Observer (1992)
  • CONTOUR (2002)
  • Genesis, Spitzer Space Telescope, Kepler Telescope, STEREO-A & STEREO-B

Russian Space Junk

  • Luna 1 (1959)
  • Venera 1 (1961)
  • Mars 1 (1962)
  • Zond 2 (1964)
  • Zond 3 (1965)
  • Venera 2 (1966)
  • Mars 4, 6 & 7 (1974)
  • Venera 11 & 12 cruise stage (1978)
  • Venera 13 & 14 cruise stage (1982)
  • Vega 1 & 2 (1984-1986)
  • Phobos 1 (1988)

European Space Junk

  • Helios 1 (1975)
  • Helios 2 (1976)
  • Giotto (1986)
  • Ulysses (1990)
  • Herschel Space Observatory & Planck Observatory

Japanese Space Junk

  • Sakigake (1985-1999)
  • Suisei (1985-1991)
  • Nozomi (1998-2003)
  • MINERVA mini-lander (2005)
  • DCAM1 & DCAM2 (2010)
  • ARTSAT2:DESPATCH (2014)
  • IKAROS, SHIN-EN, & SHIN-EN2

Chinese Space Junk

  • Chang’e2

India Space Junk

  • Mangalayaan (2013-2014)

Despite the number of man-made objects orbiting the Sun, there are some space enthusiasts who eagerly await 1991 VG’s arrival, wondering if it might be an alien space probe sent to observe our planet. Scientists don’t know exactly what it is… yet. Here are some of the details they are certain of through telescopic and satellite observations:

  • It has a strange rotation.
  • It has existed a very long time in outer space.
  • It rotates rapidly
  • It has reflective fluctuations

Here are the theories bandied about as to what it could be:

  • Alien space probe
  • Small meteorite
  • Apollo 12 rocket

However, after researching each man-made possibility, they have ruled them all out. So, we are left with the possibilities of a small meteorite or an alien-made object. It’s reflective properties has scientists leaning toward a non-organic object which then leaves only an alien-made object left on the list. However, scientists also do not rule out the possibility of a Russian-made object that the science community is simply unaware of. During the years of the Soviet space program, they were very secretive. Information about failed space missions that resulted in space junk left floating about into infinity and beyond was often suppressed. So, there is the possibility that it is a bit of old, secret Soviet space history.

In tracking the trajectory of the object’s orbit, it can be determined that 1991 was not the first fly-by of VG. It also would have passed near the Earth in March of 1975. Repeat visits are another reason scientists rule out an asteroid or meteor because typically if such an object neared Earth like 1991 VG, it would either be trapped by our planet’s gravitational pull and either burn up in the atmosphere or crash (worst case scenario) or have its own trajectory affected and changed by Earth’s gravity. This object’s trajectory remains unaffected by Earth’s pull.

Because its orbit is very similar to Earth’s path around the Sun, some scientists speculate on the alien observation probe theory. Next summer Earthlings will get another up close opportunity to peek at the object as it skims over the planet’s southern hemisphere.

Edinburgh mathematicians have calculated the very real possibility that extra-terrestrials could be successful at launching observation space probes across vast galactic distances to spy on humans. Their work, published in the Journal of Astrobiology, asserts that by taking advantage of gravitational fields surrounding stars they could achieve the necessary speeds for an observation probe to travel to Earth from the far reaches of space of which humans are completely ignorant of and incapable of exploring. In fact, humans are already using this technology in the Voyager probes zipping about the universe.

Regardless of whether it’s a big space rock, hunk of junk or extra-terrestrial peeping Tom tool, the gringa has her calendar marked for the Summer of 2017. I expect interesting things to happen.

 

Sources & Image Credit:

www.motherboard.vice.com

en.wikipedia.org

www.ewao.com

Allow Me To Introduce You To JAXA


Who is JAXA? JAXA is the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and they have been very busy. In 2010 JAXA was disappointed when their orbiter “Akatsuki”, which, in  English, means “dawn”, failed in its mission to orbit Venus. However, JAXA is not one to give up. The agency kept at it for five years and finally, in December, accomplished its mission.

Now that Akatsuki is orbiting Venus its cameras are transmitting a steady stream of images. One orbit cycle takes about thirteen and one-half Earth days. JAXA is tweaking its orbit path to eventually get its orbit cycle to nine Earth days. That will result in Akatsuki being closer to Venus which will improve the clarity of the images it sends back to JAXA.

Venus is a hot, volcanic planet that is about the same size as Earth. And, when I say hot, the gringa means hot enough to melt lead. Akatsuki will gather data on the weather and atmosphere of this steamy planet. Scientists are interested in the volcanoes.

JAXA operates all missions with the purpose to help create a safe society that can utilize space. The agency seeks to be a leader in technology and have technology used wisely for the benefit of society. The Japanese believe that as humans evolve, happiness should increase. JAXA is inspired to overcome the difficulties facing mankind. They intend to act responsibly to meet the expectations society has for the work the Agency performs. The slogan JAXA operates under is “Explore to Realize”.

JAXA desires to contribute to the well being of all people on Earth through their research and development. They believe this can be achieved by improving quality of life, providing safety and security, developing sustainable methods for living, and expanding the knowledge of all peoples.

JAXA was established in October of 2003. The following Spring the agency successfully performed its first series of flight tests for their Stratosphere Stationary Platform. Since their first successful test flights, JAXA has continued to perform successfully. Just a few of their many accomplishments throughout the years:

  • July, 2005, the agency launched “Suzaku”, an X-ray astronomy satellite.
  • July through August of 2005 Japanese Astronaut Souichi Noguchi joined the NASA Space Shuttle “Discovery” mission.
  • December, 2005, JAXA made history with the first EVER optical inter-satellite communication between Optical Inter-orbit Communications Engineering (OICETS) and the Advanced Relay and Technology Mission “ARTEMIS” of the European Space Agency (ESA)
  • 2006-2007, successfully launched eight different space vehicles
  • March, 2008, Astronaut Takao Doi served aboard NASA Space Shuttle “Endeavor” on mission to attach Experiment Logistics Module-Pressurized Section (ELM-PS) of JAXA’s Experiment Module “Kibo” to the International Space Station (ISS)
  • June, 2008, Astronaut Akihiko Hoshide served aboard NASA Space Shuttle “Discovery” on mission to attach Pressurized Module (PM) and Remote Manipulator System of JAXA’s Experiment Module “Kibo” to the ISS.
  • July, 2009, Astronaut Koichi Wakata attached Exposed Facility of JAXA’s Experiment Module “Kibo” to ISS. First Japanese Astronaut to complete a long-stay mission and returned home aboard NASA Space Shuttle “Endeavour”
  • December, 2009, Astronaut Souichi Noguchi served aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft on mission to ISS, completed long-stay mission, returning to Earth June, 2010
  • June, 2011, Astronaut Satoshi Furukawa served aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft on mission to ISS and returned to Earth November, 2011
  • July, 2012, Astronaut Akihiko Hoshide served aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft on mission to ISS, returning to Earth November, 2012
  • November, 2013, Astronaut Wakata served aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft on mission to ISS. March, 2014, Astronaut Wakata became first Asian commander of ISS. Returned to Earth May, 2014

JAXA has big plans for 2016. It expects to launch the Mercury Magnetosphere Orbiter (MMO) after it successfully completes a round of tests performed by the European Space Agency (ESA). It will launch from the Guiana Space Center in French Guiana.

It is also committed to being an active world partner in resolving the many issues humanity must resolve that are related to climate change. JAXA will use the ALOS-2 satellite to monitor and collect data related to deforestation. All data will be available to everyone worldwide through open access on the Internet.

JAXA aims to develop a tracking system for tropical forests. JAXA will be joined in its efforts by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and many private corporations. By constantly monitoring worldwide forest loss, the agency hopes that this initiative will lead to successful conservation solutions. A public access website should be up and running by March, 2017 and will be updated every six weeks with the latest findings.

Goals are to restrain illegal logging and conserve forests that are critical to help reduce the effects of climate change. During 2009-2012 Brazil was cooperating with monitoring efforts. Over 2,000 incidents were revealed and action was taken that helped reduce the destruction of forests by forty percent. It is clear that this effort and mission JAXA is undertaking is a significant contribution to the future security of humanity by helping to minimize the effects of climate change.

With agencies like JAXA looking out for the interests of people all over the world, the gringa is confident that this place we all call home has a future where there is great hope. The international cooperation of so many space agencies is an inspiration that we can become a global community where our differences are not obstacles, but, rather, strengths. Because the gringa thinks the world would be a very boring place if we were all alike.

Source & Photo Credit: www.global.jaxa.jp