A Candle in the Dark

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Phoenix Landing

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This is an image the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter took of the the Phoenix spacecraft landing on Mars. WOW!!!

NASA phoneix landing


Written by parseval

May 27, 2008 at 2:10 am


with 5 comments

I had a really fun astronomy session yesterday, thanks to a monstorous 10 inch Newtonian reflector made by Celestron.

I had joined the assembly of curious astronomy enthusiasts sometime after sunset, when there was still some significant light pollution in the sky. Then, while trying to figure out the ecliptic by looking at Venus, Saturn and the Moon, I was able to see something unusual. It was a small, high speed light source which was visible as it passed the moon. After some initial confusion, we soon realised that it was an artifical communication satellite, and we had seen an Iridium flare.

Then, there was a lecture on the constellations, and some famous “landmarks” in the sky. Even now, I don’t understand how people claim Leo looks like a lion, by any strech of imagination. However much I try and imagine, it ends up looking suspiciously like a mouse. Anyway, after the lecturer pointed out some more constellations which I couldn’t visualize, it was finally time to play with the telescope.

The first object we looked at was Venus, which was in half phase. The planet was shimmering in greyish white and the surface was absolutely featureless, although I could make out the crescent shape. It was also scintilatting a lot, which must have been to the haze in the atmosphere.

After that, was the real treat of the night, when we pointed the telescope at Saturn. Wow! It was absolutely magnificent! It’s like a precious stone painted in a canvas of black. The rings are entirely visible and wonderful in color. You can even see the bands on the “surface” of the gas giant. And right next to Saturn is the dot that’s Cassini. Viewing Saturn through the telescope was the highlight of the night.

Next on the list was a very bright Jupiter. We had to wait a bit for the planet to rise from the horizon, but boy was it worth it! The view through the telescope was fantastic. Jupiter is visible as a giant squashed circular disc, and surrounding are 4 satellites (Io, Europa, Callisto, and Ganymede). Although the red spot was on the other side of the planet, the reddish cloud belts were clear to see.

Having completed this mini tour of the planets, we tried to see whatever deep sky objects that were visible over the city light. With the help of the more experienced enthusiasts in our group, we were able to focus on the M13 globular cluster. I found this a slight dissapointment, becuase I couldn’t make out much except an extremely fuzzy ball that was barely visible.

We also had a peek at the Beehive cluster (M44) and the optical binaries Mizar and Alcor in the Big Dipper (Ursa Major)

Finally, (on my insistence :p), we were able to point the telescope at the moon. I was dazzled by the brightness of the moon. We could see various craters near the terminator, and could even make out individual craters.

All in all, that was one of the most enjoyable evenings I’ve had.

Written by parseval

May 27, 2007 at 2:00 pm

Posted in astronomy, personal

Hubble’s successor

with 2 comments

Nasa unveils Hubble’s successor

The US space agency Nasa has unveiled a model of a space telescope that scientists say will be able to see to the farthest reaches of the Universe.

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is intended to replace the ageing Hubble telescope.

Officials said the JWST – named after a former Nasa administrator – was on course for launch in June 2013.

The full-scale model is being displayed outside the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in the US capital, Washington DC.

Yaay! I can’t wait for Nasa to launch this. It’s our window into the past, into the birth of our universe.

One of my friends pointed out that it costs as much as the age of the earth in years. Nice coincidence for something cosmic

Written by parseval

May 11, 2007 at 7:52 pm

Posted in astronomy, science