Category : Astronomy News

Life on Mars – Photo of Person?

Mars Figure taken by NASA Spirit

These amazing images were among many sent back to Earth by Spirit, Nasa’s Mars explorer vehicle which landed there four years ago.

Zoom image of Mars image

The images have been featured in the UK newspapers this week and are very interesting, but surely they are just rocks which have formed on the red planet into a human type form which we recognise as a female form sitting down with the outline of an arm and a leg.

UK to Track Asteroid Threat

The 300m-wide (984ft) rock, known as Apophis, will fly past Earth in April 2029 at a distance that is closer than many communications satellites.

The British design calls for a small, remote-sensing spacecraft, dubbed Apex, which could rendezvous with Apophis in January 2014.

It would spend three years tracking the rock, sending data back to Earth about the object’s size, spin, composition and temperature.

From this information, orbit modelling would enable a more accurate prediction of the risk of any future collision.

Apophis caused some consternation in 2004 when initial observations suggested it might hit Earth in 2029.

Further study by ground-based telescopes indicated there was virtually no chance of this happening, and the expectation is that the object will whiz past the Earth at a close but comfortable distance of just under 36,000km (22,370 miles).

Personally I can’t wait to be around to have a look at it in 2029, only 22 years left to wait! I can’t imagine the type of Telescope I may own then!

Google Sky a replacement for Starry Night?

Google have apparently launched Google Sky, I saw it on BBC Breakfast this morning when they spoke to Sir Patrick Moore about it.

The funny thing is I did not know the name of the product this morning so I searched in Google for many possible names including Google Galaxy, Google Solar System and others. But it’s actually called Google Sky. The problem is now I still can’t find the URL for it, is it released yet?

I also understand it is a plug-in/add-on for Google Earth and that the images are taken from Hubble.

Imagery for the system also came from six research institutions including the Digital Sky Survey Consortium, the Palomar Observatory in California and the United Kingdom Astronomy Technology Centre.

I can’t wait to give it a go and see if I need to stop using Starry Night. Somehow I don’t think it will replace Starry Night Pro. Especially after I looked at Google Mars and Google Moon which in my opinion were not that great.

The good thing about this launch is that it also allowed me to find other programs such as Stellarium, which is a free open source tool that gives people a chance to access more than 210 million stars, in addition to planets and moons.

I now need to download Stellarium and try it out, as the screenshots look very good.

Astrophysicists find coldest solitary brown dwarf

Astrophysicists have found a star-like object with a surface temperature just one tenth that of the Sun.

The cold object is known as a brown dwarf: a “failed” star that never achieved the mass required to begin nuclear fusion reactions in its core.

Artist's impression of a brown dwarf (Nasa)

This one – called J0034-00 – is thought to have a surface temperature of just 600-700 Kelvin (up to 430C/800F).

It is the coldest solitary brown dwarf ever seen, according to the British team that discovered it.

This find further tests the boundary between high-mass gas planets, like Jupiter, and the smallest brown dwarfs.

‘Needle in a haystack’

“Physically, stars, brown dwarfs and the gas planets are all the same thing – they’re just blobs of gas with different mass,” said Dr Steve Warren, of Imperial College London, who led the project.

“And as this work progresses, we’re going to start finding things between the stars which have the masses of planets, and what are we going to call them?”

The brown dwarf was first spotted by his colleague Dr Daniel Mortlock.

“Identifying an object like J0034-00 is a more challenging version of finding a needle in a haystack,” he said.

“In this case it was like looking for a piece of slightly reddish straw rather than a nice shiny needle.”


J0034-00 is the greenish object near the bottom

J0034-00, found in the constellation of Cetus, is a relative lightweight.

It has a mass of just 15-30 times that of Jupiter and a similar diameter.

It was spotted in the early stages of the world’s deepest ever near-infrared sky survey – using the UKIRT telescope in Hawaii.

Using four filters, the telescope produces 2,000 images a night – a vast amount of material to sift through.

The reason for the filters is to get an idea of the colour of objects in the sky.

‘Billion times nearer’

Dr Mortlock had been looking for distant quasars when he found the brown dwarf.

“One of the interesting objects that turned up there didn’t have quite the right colours for a quasar, and that was J0034-00,” he said.

“The peculiar thing was it was a billion times nearer than the quasars we were actually looking for, and it looks almost identical in terms of the colours,” added Dr Warren.

More observations, made at the Gemini South Telescope in Chile, were needed to work out its temperature and likely mass.

It is still too early to say exactly how far away it is from Earth, but the research team believes it could be about 50 light-years.

And that is not so far, compared with the distance from some of the stars that can be seen with the naked eye.

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