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Alan Shepard, the First American in Space -- Sixty Years Ago Today

Posted by Guy Pirro 05/05/2021 03:27PM

Alan Shepard, the First American in Space -- Sixty Years Ago Today

Sixty years ago today, astronaut Alan B. Shepard, Jr. became the first American in space. At exactly 9:34 AM EST on May 5, 1961, about 45 million Americans sat tensely in front of their black and white television sets and watched a slim Redstone booster rocket with a small and cramped Mercury spacecraft manned by Alan Shepard, lift off its pad at Cape Canaveral and go roaring upward through the clear blue sky. Shepard's capsule, named Freedom 7, made an historic 15 minute suborbital flight, officially kicking off manned Project Mercury flights. With six manned flights from 1961 to 1963, Project Mercury's objectives were very specific: 1) to orbit a manned spacecraft around Earth, 2) to investigate man's ability to function in space, and 3) to recover both man and spacecraft safely -- a set of objectives it achieved with flying colors, thus opening the door for Projects Gemini and Apollo later in the decade.

Kiss the Sky Tonight -- Month of May 2021

Posted by Guy Pirro 05/03/2021 01:24AM

Kiss the Sky Tonight -- Month of May 2021

Welcome to the night sky report for May 2021 -- Your guide to the constellations, deep sky objects, planets, and celestial events that are observable during the month. In May, we are looking away from the crowded, dusty plane of our own galaxy, toward a region where the sky is brimming with distant galaxies. Locate Virgo to find a concentration of roughly 2000 galaxies and search for Coma Berenices to identify many more. Key deep sky objects this month are galaxies like M104 (the Sombrero Galaxy), M87, and M64 (the Black Eye Galaxy). At the beginning of the month, the bright planet Saturn will appear to the left of the half-lit Moon and the Moon will form a large triangle with the bright planets Saturn and Jupiter. Around the middle of May you will have an opportunity to see all three of the rocky inner planets (Mercury, Venus, and Mars) at the same time. At the end of the month, look for a total lunar eclipse.

The Standard Model of Physics is Incomplete – New Undiscovered Physics May be Just Around the Corner

Posted by Guy Pirro 04/24/2021 05:44PM

The Standard Model of Physics is Incomplete – New Undiscovered Physics May be Just Around the Corner

Combined results from Fermilab and Brookhaven show strong evidence that our best theoretical model of the subatomic world, the Standard Model of Particle Physics, is incomplete. The Standard Model took a long time to build. Physicist J.J. Thomson discovered the electron in 1897 and scientists at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) found the final piece of the puzzle, the Higgs boson, in 2012. According to the Standard Model, all ordinary matter, including every atom in the periodic table of elements, consists of only three types of matter particles: up and down quarks (which make up the protons and neutrons in the nucleus) and leptons (which include the electrons that surround the nucleus). The model also explains how force carrying particles, which belong to a broader group of bosons, influence the quarks and leptons. That’s basically it. Despite its success at explaining the Universe, the Standard Model does have limits. For example, the Higgs boson gives mass to quarks, charged leptons (like electrons), and the W and Z bosons, however, we do not yet know whether the Higgs boson also gives mass to neutrinos, those ghostly particles that interact very rarely with other matter in the Universe. Now, results from the “Muon g-2 Experiment” at Fermilab seem to indicate that a new particle (or force) is showing itself by interacting with muons in an unexpected way.

The World Celebrates 60 Years of Human Space Flight

Posted by Guy Pirro 04/20/2021 08:28PM

The World Celebrates 60 Years of Human Space Flight

Sixty Years ago, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Alexseyevich Gagarin became the first human in space. On April 12, 1961, his remotely controlled Vostok 1 spacecraft lofted him to an altitude of about 200 miles and carried him once around the planet. The world learned about the first manned flight into space through a brief communiqué from the Soviet TASS News Agency. Mercury astronaut Alan Shepard became the first American in space less than a month later.

NASA Rules Out Possibility of Impacts in 2036 and 2068 for Asteroid Apophis

Posted by Guy Pirro 04/09/2021 05:28PM

NASA Rules Out Possibility of Impacts in 2036 and 2068 for Asteroid Apophis

Apophis was discovered on June 19, 2004, by astronomers at the Kitt Peak National Observatory in Tucson, Arizona. Estimated to be about 1,100 feet (340 meters) across, Apophis quickly gained notoriety as an asteroid that could pose a serious threat to Earth, when astronomers predicted that it would come uncomfortably close in 2029. Thanks to additional observations of the Near-Earth Object (NEO), the risk of an impact in 2029 was later ruled out, as was the potential impact risk posed by another close approach in 2036. Until this month, however, a small chance of impact in 2068 still remained. But when Apophis made a distant flyby of Earth around March 5, 2021, astronomers took the opportunity to use powerful radar observations to refine the estimate of its orbit around the Sun with extreme precision, enabling them to confidently rule out any impact risk in 2068. Now, there is no risk of Apophis impacting our planet for at least a century.

Kiss the Sky Tonight -- Month of April 2021

Posted by Guy Pirro 04/02/2021 10:07PM

Kiss the Sky Tonight -- Month of April 2021

Welcome to the night sky report for April 2021 -- Your guide to the constellations, deep sky objects, planets, and celestial events that are observable during the month. Clear April nights are filled with starry creatures. Near the Big Dipper, you will find several interesting binary stars. You can also spot galaxies like the Pinwheel Galaxy, M82, and M96—the last of which is an asymmetric galaxy that may have been gravitationally disrupted by encounters with its neighbors.

Interstellar Object ‘Oumuamua is Likely a Piece of a Planet from Another Solar System

Posted by Guy Pirro 03/24/2021 06:18PM

Interstellar Object ‘Oumuamua is Likely a Piece of a Planet from Another Solar System

In 2017, the first interstellar object from beyond our solar system was discovered via the Pan-STARRS astronomical observatory in Hawaii. It was named ‘Oumuamua, meaning "scout" or "messenger" in Hawaiian. The object was like a comet, but with features that were just odd enough to defy classification. Two Arizona State University astrophysicists, Steven Desch and Alan Jackson of the School of Earth and Space Exploration, set out to explain the odd features of ‘Oumuamua and have determined that it is likely a piece of a Pluto-like planet from another solar system.

Astronomers Detect a Black Hole on the Move

Posted by Guy Pirro 03/15/2021 12:23AM

Astronomers Detect a Black Hole on the Move

Scientists have long theorized that supermassive black holes can wander through space, but catching them in the act has proven difficult. Now, researchers at the Center for Astrophysics - Harvard & Smithsonian have identified the clearest case to date of a supermassive black hole in motion. Further observations will ultimately be needed to pin down the true cause of this supermassive black hole's unusual motion.

Kiss the Sky Tonight -- Month of March 2021

Posted by Guy Pirro 03/04/2021 12:50AM

Kiss the Sky Tonight -- Month of March 2021

Welcome to the night sky report for March 2021 -- Your guide to the constellations, deep sky objects, planets, and celestial events that are observable during the month. In March, the stars of Spring lie eastward. Look for the constellations Gemini and Cancer to spot interesting celestial features like star clusters M35 and the Beehive Cluster (M44), as well as NGC 3923, an oblong elliptical galaxy with an interesting ripple pattern. Look for Mars close to the Pleiades in the first couple of weeks of March. Then wake up early to observe the giant planets Jupiter and Saturn, which return as morning planets this month.

Global Environmental Crisis of 42,000 Years Ago Linked to Breakdown in Earth’s Magnetic Field

Posted by Guy Pirro 02/22/2021 07:52PM

Global Environmental Crisis of 42,000 Years Ago Linked to Breakdown in Earth’s Magnetic Field

Scientists understand that Earth's magnetic field has flipped its polarity many times over the millennia. Many doomsday theorists have tried to take this natural geological occurrence and suggest it could lead to Earth's destruction. But really, would there be any dramatic effects? Well, yes -- The temporary breakdown of Earth’s magnetic field 42,000 years ago sparked major climate shifts that led to global environmental change and mass extinctions, according to a new international study co-led by the University of New South Wales (UNSW) Sydney and the South Australian Museum. This dramatic turning point in Earth’s history – laced with electrical storms, widespread auroras, and cosmic radiation – was triggered by the reversal of Earth’s magnetic poles and changing solar winds. While the magnetic poles often wander, some scientists are particularly concerned about the current rapid movement of the north magnetic pole across the Northern Hemisphere. The speed – along with the weakening of Earth’s magnetic field by around nine percent in the past 170 years – could indicate an upcoming reversal. If a similar event happened today, the consequences would be huge for modern society. Beyond the obvious dangers like sharp increases in UV levels affecting all land-based life forms, a flood of incoming cosmic radiation would destroy our electric power grids and satellite networks.

There is a Reason Why We are Warped

Posted by Guy Pirro 02/09/2021 05:13PM

There is a Reason Why We are Warped

When most of us picture the shape of the Milky Way, the galaxy that contains our own Sun and hundreds of billions of other stars, we think of a central mass surrounded by a flat disc of stars that spiral around it. But astronomers have known since 1957 that the Milky Way’s disc – where most of its hundreds of billions of stars reside – is not flat but somewhat curved upwards on one side and downwards on the other -- More like the brim of a fedora. And the warped edges seem to be constantly moving around the outer rim of the galaxy. For years, they have debated what could be causing this warp. They have proposed various theories including the influence of nearby galaxies, earlier galaxy collisions, and even the old favorite standby reason that is used to explain everything that we don’t know or understand about astronomy -- the venerable effects of an imaginary dark matter halo.

Kiss the Sky Tonight -- February 2021

Posted by Guy Pirro 02/04/2021 04:10PM

Kiss the Sky Tonight -- February 2021

Welcome to the night sky report for February 2021 -- Your guide to the constellations, deep sky objects, planets, and celestial events that are observable during the month. The brightly starred winter sky beckons on clear, cold nights. In February, the Winter Triangle is your guide to the night sky. The northern hemisphere treats an observer to views of the stars Procyon, Sirius, and Betelgeuse (which together make up the Winter Triangle) and to awe-inspiring views of the Orion Nebula, which is sculpted by the stellar winds of central bright stars. See the bright star Regulus near the Moon and look for Mercury in the first days of February. You'll need a clear view toward the west, as Mercury will appear just a few degrees above the horizon.

Kiss the Sky Tonight -- Month of February 2021

Posted by Guy Pirro 02/02/2021 08:12PM

Kiss the Sky Tonight -- Month of February 2021

Welcome to the night sky report for February 2021 -- Your guide to the constellations, deep sky objects, planets, and celestial events that are observable during the month. The brightly starred winter sky beckons on clear, cold nights. In February, the Winter Triangle is your guide to the night sky. The northern hemisphere treats an observer to views of the stars Procyon, Sirius, and Betelgeuse (which together make up the Winter Triangle) and to awe-inspiring views of the Orion Nebula, which is sculpted by the stellar winds of central bright stars. See the bright star Regulus near the Moon and look for Mercury in the first days of February. You'll need a clear view toward the west, as Mercury will appear just a few degrees above the horizon.

NASA’s Ingenuity Helicopter is on Its Way to Mars With the Perseverance Rover

Posted by Guy Pirro 01/24/2021 04:06AM

NASA’s Ingenuity Helicopter is on Its Way to Mars With the Perseverance Rover

When NASA’s Perseverance rover lands on Mars on February 18, 2021, it will be carrying a small but mighty passenger: Ingenuity, the Mars Helicopter. Ingenuity is a technology experiment and will be the first aircraft to attempt controlled flight on another planet. Perseverance will deploy Ingenuity onto the surface of Mars, and Ingenuity is expected to attempt its first flight test in the spring of this year.

Roman Space Telescope – The Resolution of Hubble with a 100 Times Larger Field of View

Posted by Guy Pirro 01/12/2021 07:59PM

Roman Space Telescope – The Resolution of Hubble with a 100 Times Larger Field of View

In 1995, the Hubble Space Telescope stared at a blank patch of the sky for 10 straight days. The resulting Deep Field image captured thousands of previously unseen, distant galaxies. Similar observations have followed since then, including the longest and deepest exposures, the Hubble Ultra Deep Field and the eXtreme Deep Field. Now, astronomers are looking ahead to the future, and the possibilities enabled by NASA’s upcoming Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope, scheduled for launch in 2025. The Roman Space Telescope will be able to photograph an area of sky 100 times larger than Hubble with the same exquisite sharpness. As a result, a Roman Ultra Deep Field would collect millions of galaxies, including hundreds that date back to just a few hundred million years after the big bang. Such an observation would fuel new investigations into multiple science areas, from the structure and evolution of the universe to star formation over cosmic time.