Cluster galaxies to be subject of January 13 meeting lecture

The first club meeting of the New Year will take place this coming Monday (January 13), 7:30 PM, at the Rocky River Nature Center.

As usual, our speaker’s lecture will come first at 7:30. We will welcome Dr. Chris Mihos, professor of astronomy at Case Western Reserve University, who will discuss “The Violent Lives of Cluster Galaxies.”

The business portion of the meeting will take place following the lecture and a brief intermission.

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Busy 2013 for CAA educational outreach

CAA President Bill Murmann recently reported on the club’s efforts in programming activity to the membership.

“Thanks to our members,” Murmann wrote, “we have done a great job meeting this goal in 2013. During this year, we have presented a total of 25 public programs that include:

  • 13 programs for the Cleveland MetroParks.
  • 6 programs for the Medina County Park District
  • 4 programs for the Cuyahoga County Public Library System
  • 1 program for the State of Ohio at Findley State Park
  • 1 program for the Avon Public School System

“In addition, thanks to Jay Reynolds and Suzie Dills we have made great strides this year in improving our club observatory at Letha House Park. If our plans work out, we possibly may have three working telescopes in our observatory in 2014.

“Our success has been made possible through the help of our members who have been generous in giving their time, their experience, and the use of their telescopes for our programs. Many thanks to all!”

He concluded, “Best wishes for the New Year!”

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Saturn: rings, moons, Earth, and more

Photo: Planet Saturn, backlit. On July 19, 2013, in an event celebrated the world over, NASA's Cassini spacecraft slipped into Saturn's shadow and turned to image the planet, seven of its moons, its inner rings -- and, in the background, our home planet, Earth. With the sun's powerful and potentially damaging rays eclipsed by Saturn itself, Cassini's onboard cameras were able to take advantage of this unique viewing geometry. They acquired a panoramic mosaic of the Saturn system that allows scientists to see details in the rings and throughout the system as they are backlit by the sun. This mosaic is special as it marks the third time our home planet was imaged from the outer solar system; the second time it was imaged by Cassini from Saturn's orbit; and the first time ever that inhabitants of Earth were made aware in advance that their photo would be taken from such a great distance.  With both Cassini's wide-angle and narrow-angle cameras aimed at Saturn, Cassini was able to capture 323 images in just over four hours. This final mosaic uses 141 of those wide-angle images. Images taken using the red, green and blue spectral filters of the wide-angle camera were combined and mosaicked together to create this natural-color view. A brightened version with contrast and color enhanced (Figure 1), a version with just the planets annotated (Figure 2), and an annotated version (Figure 3) are shown above.  This image spans about 404,880 miles (651,591 kilometers) across.  The outermost ring shown here is Saturn's E ring, the core of which is situated about 149,000 miles (240,000 kilometers) from Saturn. The geysers erupting from the south polar terrain of the moon Enceladus supply the fine icy particles that comprise the E ring; diffraction by sunlight gives the ring its blue color. Enceladus (313 miles, or 504 kilometers, across) and the extended plume formed by its jets are visible, embedded in the E ring on the left side of the mosaic.  At the 12 o'clock position and a bit inward from the E ring lies the barely discernible ring created by the tiny, Cassini-discovered moon, Pallene (3 miles, or 4 kilometers, across). (For more on structures like Pallene's ring, see PIA08328). The next narrow and easily seen ring inward is the G ring. Interior to the G ring, near the 11 o'clock position, one can barely see the more diffuse ring created by the co-orbital moons, Janus (111 miles, or 179 kilometers, across) and Epimetheus (70 miles, or 113 kilometers, across). Farther inward, we see the very bright F ring closely encircling the main rings of Saturn.  Following the outermost E ring counter-clockwise from Enceladus, the moon Tethys (662 miles, or 1,066 kilometers, across) appears as a large yellow orb just outside of the E ring. Tethys is positioned on the illuminated side of Saturn; its icy surface is shining brightly from yellow sunlight reflected by Saturn. Continuing to about the 2 o'clock position is a dark pixel just outside of the G ring; this dark pixel is Saturn's Death Star moon, Mimas (246 miles, or 396 kilometers, across). Mimas appears, upon close inspection, as a very thin crescent because Cassini is looking mostly at its non-illuminated face.  The moons Prometheus, Pandora, Janus and Epimetheus are also visible in the mosaic near Saturn's bright narrow F ring. Prometheus (53 miles, or 86 kilometers, across) is visible as a faint black dot just inside the F ring and at the 9 o'clock position. On the opposite side of the rings, just outside the F ring, Pandora (50 miles, or 81 kilometers, across) can be seen as a bright white dot. Pandora and Prometheus are shepherd moons and gravitational interactions between the ring and the moons keep the F ring narrowly confined. At the 11 o'clock position in between the F ring and the G ring, Janus (111 miles, or 179 kilometers, across) appears as a faint black dot. Janus and Prometheus are dark for the same reason Mimas is mostly dark: we are looking at their non-illuminated sides in this mosaic. Midway between the F ring and the G ring, at about the 8 o'clock position, is a single bright pixel, Epimetheus. Looking more closely at Enceladus, Mimas and Tethys, especially in the brightened version of the mosaic, one can see these moons casting shadows through the E ring like a telephone pole might cast a shadow through a fog.  In the non-brightened version of the mosaic, one can see bright clumps of ring material orbiting within the Encke gap near the outer edge of the main rings and immediately to the lower left of the globe of Saturn. Also, in the dark B ring within the main rings, at the 9 o'clock position, one can see the faint outlines of two spoke features, first sighted by NASA's Voyager spacecraft in the early 1980s and extensively studied by Cassini.  Finally, in the lower right of the mosaic, in between the bright blue E ring and the faint but defined G ring, is the pale blue dot of our planet, Earth. Look closely and you can see the moon protruding from the Earth's lower right. (For a higher resolution view of the Earth and moon taken during this campaign, see PIA14949.) Earth's twin, Venus, appears as a bright white dot in the upper left quadrant of the mosaic, also between the G and E rings. Mars also appears as a faint red dot embedded in the outer edge of the E ring, above and to the left of Venus.  For ease of visibility, Earth, Venus, Mars, Enceladus, Epimetheus and Pandora were all brightened by a factor of eight and a half relative to Saturn. Tethys was brightened by a factor of four. In total, 809 background stars are visible and were brightened by a factor ranging from six, for the brightest stars, to 16, for the faintest. The faint outer rings (from the G ring to the E ring) were also brightened relative to the already bright main rings by factors ranging from two to eight, with the lower-phase-angle (and therefore fainter) regions of these rings brightened the most. The brightened version of the mosaic was further brightened and contrast-enhanced all over to accommodate print applications and a wide range of computer-screen viewing conditions.  Some ring features -- such as full rings traced out by tiny moons -- do not appear in this version of the mosaic because they require extreme computer enhancement, which would adversely affect the rest of the mosaic. This version was processed for balance and beauty.  This view looks toward the unlit side of the rings from about 17 degrees below the ring plane. Cassini was approximately 746,000 miles (1.2 million kilometers) from Saturn when the images in this mosaic were taken. Image scale on Saturn is about 45 miles (72 kilometers) per pixel.  This mosaic was made from pictures taken over a span of more than four hours while the planets, moons and stars were all moving relative to Cassini. Thus, due to spacecraft motion, these objects in the locations shown here were not in these specific places over the entire duration of the imaging campaign. Note also that Venus appears far from Earth, as does Mars, because they were on the opposite side of the sun from Earth.   Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI

July 2013 Image: Backlit Saturn with Other Worlds

On July 19, 2013 NASA’s Cassini spacecraft slipped into Saturn’s shadow and turned to image the planet, seven of its moons, its inner rings — and, in the background, our home planet, Earth. Wait, there’s more!

With the sun’s powerful and potentially damaging rays eclipsed by Saturn itself, Cassini’s onboard cameras were able to take advantage of this unique viewing geometry. They acquired a panoramic mosaic of the Saturn system that allows scientists to see details in the rings and throughout the system as they are backlit by the sun. This mosaic is special as it marks the third time our home planet was imaged from the outer solar system; the second time it was imaged by Cassini from Saturn’s orbit; and the first time ever that inhabitants of Earth were made aware in advance that their photo would be taken from such a great distance.

With both Cassini’s wide-angle and narrow-angle cameras aimed at Saturn, Cassini was able to capture 323 images in just over four hours. This final mosaic uses 141 of those wide-angle images. Images taken using the red, green and blue spectral filters of the wide-angle camera were combined and mosaicked together to create this natural-color view. An annotated version is shown here:

Photo: Backlit Saturn, with labels. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI

Labeled Version of Backlit Image of Saturn. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI

This image spans about 404,880 miles (651,591 kilometers) across.

The outermost ring shown here is Saturn’s E ring, the core of which is situated about 149,000 miles (240,000 kilometers) from Saturn. The geysers erupting from the south polar terrain of the moon Enceladus supply the fine icy particles that comprise the E ring; diffraction by sunlight gives the ring its blue color. Enceladus (313 miles, or 504 kilometers, across) and the extended plume formed by its jets are visible, embedded in the E ring on the left side of the mosaic.

At the 12 o’clock position and a bit inward from the E ring lies the barely discernible ring created by the tiny, Cassini-discovered moon, Pallene (3 miles, or 4 kilometers, across). The next narrow and easily seen ring inward is the G ring. Interior to the G ring, near the 11 o’clock position, one can barely see the more diffuse ring created by the co-orbital moons, Janus (111 miles, or 179 kilometers, across) and Epimetheus (70 miles, or 113 kilometers, across). Farther inward, we see the very bright F ring closely encircling the main rings of Saturn.

Following the outermost E ring counter-clockwise from Enceladus, the moon Tethys (662 miles, or 1,066 kilometers, across) appears as a large yellow orb just outside of the E ring. Tethys is positioned on the illuminated side of Saturn; its icy surface is shining brightly from yellow sunlight reflected by Saturn. Continuing to about the 2 o’clock position is a dark pixel just outside of the G ring; this dark pixel is Saturn’s Death Star moon, Mimas (246 miles, or 396 kilometers, across). Mimas appears, upon close inspection, as a very thin crescent because Cassini is looking mostly at its non-illuminated face.

The moons Prometheus, Pandora, Janus and Epimetheus are also visible in the mosaic near Saturn’s bright narrow F ring. Prometheus (53 miles, or 86 kilometers, across) is visible as a faint black dot just inside the F ring and at the 9 o’clock position. On the opposite side of the rings, just outside the F ring, Pandora (50 miles, or 81 kilometers, across) can be seen as a bright white dot. Pandora and Prometheus are shepherd moons and gravitational interactions between the ring and the moons keep the F ring narrowly confined. At the 11 o’clock position in between the F ring and the G ring, Janus (111 miles, or 179 kilometers, across) appears as a faint black dot. Janus and Prometheus are dark for the same reason Mimas is mostly dark: we are looking at their non-illuminated sides in this mosaic. Midway between the F ring and the G ring, at about the 8 o’clock position, is a single bright pixel, Epimetheus. Looking more closely at Enceladus, Mimas and Tethys, especially in the brightened version of the mosaic, one can see these moons casting shadows through the E ring like a telephone pole might cast a shadow through a fog.

In the non-brightened version of the mosaic, one can see bright clumps of ring material orbiting within the Encke gap near the outer edge of the main rings and immediately to the lower left of the globe of Saturn. Also, in the dark B ring within the main rings, at the 9 o’clock position, one can see the faint outlines of two spoke features, first sighted by NASA’s Voyager spacecraft in the early 1980s and extensively studied by Cassini.

Finally, in the lower right of the mosaic, in between the bright blue E ring and the faint but defined G ring, is the pale blue dot of our planet, Earth. Look closely and you can see the moon protruding from the Earth’s lower right. Earth’s twin, Venus, appears as a bright white dot in the upper left quadrant of the mosaic, also between the G and E rings. Mars also appears as a faint red dot embedded in the outer edge of the E ring, above and to the left of Venus.

For ease of visibility, Earth, Venus, Mars, Enceladus, Epimetheus and Pandora were all brightened by a factor of eight and a half relative to Saturn. Tethys was brightened by a factor of four. In total, 809 background stars are visible and were brightened by a factor ranging from six, for the brightest stars, to 16, for the faintest. The faint outer rings (from the G ring to the E ring) were also brightened relative to the already bright main rings by factors ranging from two to eight, with the lower-phase-angle (and therefore fainter) regions of these rings brightened the most. The brightened version of the mosaic was further brightened and contrast-enhanced all over to accommodate print applications and a wide range of computer-screen viewing conditions.

Some ring features — such as full rings traced out by tiny moons — do not appear in this version of the mosaic because they require extreme computer enhancement, which would adversely affect the rest of the mosaic. This version was processed for balance and beauty.

This view looks toward the unlit side of the rings from about 17 degrees below the ring plane. Cassini was approximately 746,000 miles (1.2 million kilometers) from Saturn when the images in this mosaic were taken. Image scale on Saturn is about 45 miles (72 kilometers) per pixel.

This mosaic was made from pictures taken over a span of more than four hours while the planets, moons and stars were all moving relative to Cassini. Thus, due to spacecraft motion, these objects in the locations shown here were not in these specific places over the entire duration of the imaging campaign. Note also that Venus appears far from Earth, as does Mars, because they were on the opposite side of the sun from Earth.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI

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Crucial data gained from Chelyabinsk meteor fall

News from NASA….

A team of NASA and international scientists for the first time have gathered a detailed understanding of the effects on Earth from a small asteroid impact.

The unprecedented data obtained as the result of the airburst of a meteoroid over the Russian city of Chelyabinsk on Feb. 15, has revolutionized scientists’ understanding of this natural phenomenon.

The Chelyabinsk incident was well observed by citizen cameras and other assets. This factor provided a unique opportunity for researchers to calibrate the event, with implications for the study of near-Earth objects (NEOs) and the development of hazard mitigation strategies for planetary defense. Scientists from nine countries now have established a new benchmark for future asteroid impact modeling.

“Our goal was to understand all circumstances that resulted in the shock wave,” said meteor expert Peter Jenniskens, co-lead author of a report published in the journal Science.

Jenniskens, a meteor astronomer at NASA’s Ames Research Center and the SETI Institute, participated in a field study led by Olga Popova of the Institute for Dynamics of Geospheres of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow in the weeks following the event.

“It was important that we followed up with the many citizens who had firsthand accounts of the event and recorded incredible video while the experience was still fresh in their minds,” said Popova.

By calibrating the video images from the position of the stars in the night sky, Jenniskens and Popova calculated the impact speed of the meteor at 42,500 mph (19 kilometers per second). As the meteor penetrated through the atmosphere, it fragmented into pieces, peaking at 19 miles (30 kilometers) above the surface. At that point the superheated meteor appeared brighter than the sun, even for people 62 miles (100 kilometers) away.

Because of the extreme heat, many pieces of the meteor vaporized before reaching Earth. Scientists believe that between 9,000 to 13,000 pounds (4,000 to 6,000 kilograms) of meteorites fell to the ground. This amount included one fragment weighing approximately 1,400 pounds (650 kilograms). This fragment was recovered from Lake Chebarkul on Oct. 16 by professional divers guided by Ural Federal University researchers in Yekaterinburg, Russia.

NASA researchers participating in the 59-member consortium study suspect the abundance of shock fractures in the rock contributed its breakup in the upper atmosphere. Meteorites made available by Chelyabinsk State University researchers were analyzed to learn about the origin of the shock veins and their physical properties. Shock veins are caused by asteroid collisions. When asteroid collide with each other, heat generated by the impact causes iron and nickel components of the objects to melt. These melts cool into thin masses, forming metal veins – shock veins – in the objects.

“One of these meteorites broke along one of these shock veins when we pressed on it during our analysis,” said Derek Sears, a meteoriticist at Ames.

Mike Zolensky, a cosmochemist at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, may have found why these shock veins (or shock fractures), were so frail. They contained layers of small iron grains just inside the vein, which had precipitated out of the glassy material when it cooled.

“There are cases where impact melt increases a meteorite’s mechanical strength, but Chelyabinsk was weakened by it,” said Zolensky.

The impact that created the shock veins may have occurred as long ago as 4.4 billion years. This would have been 115 million years after the formation of the solar system, according to the research team, who found the meteorites had experienced a significant impact event at that time.

“Events that long ago affected how the Chelyabinsk meteoroid broke up in the atmosphere, influencing the damaging shockwave,” said Jenniskens.

NASA’s Near-Earth Object Program sponsors research to better understand the origin and nature of NEOs. These essential studies are needed to inform our approach to preparing for the potential discovery and deflection of an object on a collision course with the Earth.

NASA’s recently announced asteroid initiative includes the first mission to capture and relocate an asteroid, as well as a grand challenge to find and characterize all asteroid threats to human population. It represents an unprecedented technological feat that will lead to new scientific discoveries and technological capabilities that will help protect our home planet.

Aside from representing a potential threat, the study of asteroids and comets represent a valuable opportunity to learn more about the origins of our solar system, the source of water on the Earth, and even the origin of organic molecules that lead to the development of life.

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Astounding view from Medina

Photo: Herbig-Haro Region of Pelican Nebula. Image by Joe Golias, all rights reserved.

Herbig-Haro 555 by Joe Golias

Joe Golias is a long-time member of the CAA and owner of Astrozap, maker of telescope dew shields and other accessories. Golias is also an accomplished astro-imager who has shared with us many beautiful pictures of galaxies, star clusters, and nebulas. His most recent image is quite astounding in its detail, beauty, and technique: an area if the “Pelican Nebula” (IC5070) called the Herbig-Haro 555. Here’s Golias’ description of his imaging process:

“I wanted to share one of my first attempts at narrowband imaging.  My target was an area found in the Pelican Nebula IC5070 called the Herbig-Haro 555 region.

Image details:

  • Telescope: Takahashi TOA 150 working at F/7
  • Camera: SBIG STT 8300 Pro
  • Guiding: Custom Zapahashi guide scope with SBIG ST4
  • Mount: Losmandy G11
  • Total exposure: 15 hours, three nights through HA, OIII, SII filters. 20 minute subs each channel.
  • Location: Granger Township, Medina, Ohio.
  • Sky conditions: Waxing Gibbous Moon

This was my first attempt to do any type of “real” imaging from my backyard.” Golias usually images from a personal dark-sky site in Central Ohio.

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Not viewable from Earth

Photo: Image of Saturn from above a polar region.  Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute/G. Ugarkovic

Saturn from Above

High Above Saturn: This portrait, looking down on Saturn and its rings, was created from images obtained by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft on Oct. 10, 2013. It is a view we can never see from Earth. The picture was made by amateur image processor and Cassini fan Gordan Ugarkovic. This image has not been geometrically corrected for shifts in the spacecraft perspective and still has some camera artifacts.The mosaic was created from 12 image footprints with red, blue and green filters from Cassini’s imaging science subsystem. Ugarkovic used full color sets for 11 of the footprints and red and blue images for one footprint.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute/G. Ugarkovic

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Confirmed: Earth’s “Martian meteorites” really are from Mars

PASADENA, Calif. — Examination of the Martian atmosphere by NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover confirms that some meteorites that have dropped to Earth really are from the Red Planet.

A key new measurement of the inert gas argon in Mars’ atmosphere by Curiosity’s laboratory provides the most definitive evidence yet of the origin of Mars meteorites while at the same time providing a way to rule out Martian origin of other meteorites.

The new measurement is a high-precision count of two forms of argon — argon-36 and argon-38 — accomplished by the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument inside the rover. These lighter and heavier forms, or isotopes, of argon exist naturally throughout the solar system. On Mars the ratio of light to heavy argon is skewed because much of that planet’s original atmosphere was lost to space. The lighter form of argon was taken away more readily because it rises to the top of the atmosphere more easily and requires less energy to escape. That left the Martian atmosphere relatively enriched in the heavier isotope, argon-38.

Years of past analyses by Earth-bound scientists of gas bubbles trapped inside Martian meteorites had already narrowed the Martian argon ratio to between 3.6 and 4.5 (that is 3.6 to 4.5 atoms of argon-36 to every one of argon-38). Measurements by NASA’s Viking landers in the 1970s put the Martian atmospheric ratio in the range of four to seven. The new SAM direct measurement on Mars now pins down the correct argon ratio at 4.2.

“We really nailed it,” said Sushil Atreya of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, lead author of an Oct. 16 paper reporting the finding in Geophysical Research Letters. “This direct reading from Mars settles the case with all Martian meteorites.”

One reason scientists have been so interested in the argon ratio in Martian meteorites is that it was — before Curiosity — the best measure of how much atmosphere Mars has lost since the planet’s wetter, warmer days billions of years ago. Figuring out the planet’s atmospheric loss would enable scientists to better understand how Mars transformed from a once water-rich planet, more like our own, into today’s drier, colder and less-hospitable world.

Had Mars held onto all of its atmosphere and its original argon, its ratio of the gas would be the same as that of the sun and Jupiter. Those bodies have so much gravity that isotopes can’t preferentially escape, so their argon ratio — which is 5.5 — represents that of the primordial solar system.

While argon makes up only a tiny fraction of the gas lost to space from Mars, it is special because it’s a noble gas. That means the gas is inert, not reacting with other elements or compounds, and therefore a more straightforward tracer of the history of the Martian atmosphere.

“Other isotopes measured by SAM on Curiosity also support the loss of atmosphere, but none so directly as argon,” said Atreya. “Argon is the clearest signature of atmospheric loss because it’s chemically inert and does not interact or exchange with the Martian surface or the interior. This was a key measurement that we wanted to carry out on SAM.”

The Curiosity measurements do not directly measure the current rate of atmospheric escape, but NASA’s next mission to Mars, the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission (MAVEN), is designed to do so. That mission is being prepared at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida for a launch-opportunity period that begins on Nov. 18.

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