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kottke.org posts about space

Man in Backyard Talks to Orbiting Astronaut Using Homemade Antenna

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 21, 2024

A Michigan ham radio operator used a homemade setup with a handheld antenna to talk to an astronaut orbiting the Earth on the International Space Station. I didn’t know this was a thing! The astronaut even sent him a QSL card acknowledging the conversation (included at the end of the video). There’s more info on Reddit about the radio, antenna, and conversation.

The ISS even has an unofficial program that allows students to talk to astronauts on the station via ham radio.

An almost-all-volunteer organization called Amateur Radio on the International Space Station, or ARISS, now helps arrange contact between students and astronauts on the space station. Students prepare to ask questions rapid-fire, one after another, into the ham radio microphone for the brief 10-minute window before the space station flies out of range.

“We try to think of ourselves as planting seeds and hoping that we get some mighty oaks to grow,” said Kenneth G. Ransom, the ISS Ham project coordinator at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

That this is even possible with low-powered communication devices underscores just how close the ISS is to Earth: 200-250 miles above the surface. That’s the distance between Dallas & Houston or NYC to Boston.

Meet Venus’s Newly Named Quasi-Moon: Zoozve

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 08, 2024

a portion of a solar system map showing an object called Zoozve orbiting Venus

A couple of weeks ago, Radiolab aired an episode about a puzzling object on a children’s poster of the solar system: a Venusian moon called Zoozve. Venus doesn’t have any moons and “Zoozve” didn’t show up on Google at all, so co-host Latif Nasser went on a bit of a mission to find out what the heck this object was. He talked to someone at NASA, the poster’s designer, and various astronomers and physicists, including the person who had discovered Zoozve (aka 2002 VE68).

So begins a tiny mystery that leads to a newly discovered kind of object in our solar system, one that is simultaneously a moon, but also not a moon, and one that waltzes its way into asking one of the most profound questions about our universe: How predictable is it, really? And what does that mean for our place in it?

It’s an entertaining listen and you’ll want to catch the follow-up as well, which I won’t spoil for you. And if you’re a reader rather than a listener, this piece at space.com recaps the whole thing.

Spectacular JWST Photos Adorn New USPS Stamps

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 06, 2024

USPS stamp of the Pillars of Creation astronomy image

USPS stamp of the Cosmic Cliffs astronomy image

The USPS has released two new Priority Post stamps featuring imagery captured by the JWST: Pillars of Creation (NASA original) and Cosmic Cliffs (NASA original). From the USPS press release:

Captured by the James Webb Space Telescope, this extremely high-definition infrared image shows the magnificent Pillars of Creation formation within the Eagle Nebula. By assigning color to various wavelengths, the digitized image allows us to see a landscape otherwise invisible to the human eye. Red areas toward the end of the pillars show burgeoning stars ejecting raw materials as they form, while the relatively small red orbs scattered throughout the image show newly born stars.

This remarkable image from the James Webb Space Telescope is a digitally colored depiction of the invisible bands of mid-infrared light emitted by the Cosmic Cliffs of the Carina Nebula. Red and yellow flares scattered throughout the cliffs show developing and newly born stars. The orange-and-brown clouds in the lower third of the image are swirls of dust and gas. Additional stars, in our Milky Way and in distant galaxies, appear in the blue and black regions above and beyond the nebula.

Mars in 4K

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 02, 2024

This is a video slideshow of some of the best images from the Mars missions — Spirit, Opportunity, Curiosity, and Perseverance — presented in 4K resolution at 60fps. These look amazing on the biggest hi-res screen you can find. (via open culture)

Vintage Space Age Playing Cards (1964)

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 26, 2024

six of diamonds playing card with GO and NO GO printed on it

jack of clubs playing card with a space monkey eating a banana on it

two of spades playing card with a red hot air balloon on it

joker playing card with a picture of Superman

queen of hearts playing card with Amelia Earhart on it

nine of diamonds playing card with a Earth/Moon diagram on it

The General Dynamics Astronautics Space Cards were printed up in 1964 to celebrate the American space program. This Flickr account has scans of every card in the deck, including both jokers. Each suit corresponds to a different aspect of the program:

These space cards tell a story — the story of America’s man-in-space programs. The hearts deal with the human element, the clubs portray the sciences, the spades show products, and the diamonds depict modern aerospace management without which the other three elements could not be successful…

If you’d like your own factory-sealed deck, you can buy one on eBay for $249. (thx, mark)

NASA: The Ingenuity Helicopter’s Mission Comes to an End

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 26, 2024

the Ingenuity helicopter on the surfce of Mars

NASA has announced that the mission of the Ingenuity helicopter has come to an end on the surface of Mars.

While the helicopter remains upright and in communication with ground controllers, imagery of its Jan. 18 flight sent to Earth this week indicates one or more of its rotor blades sustained damage during landing and it is no longer capable of flight.

Originally designed as a technology demonstration to perform up to five experimental test flights over 30 days, the first aircraft on another world operated from the Martian surface for almost three years, performed 72 flights, and flew more than 14 times farther than planned while logging more than two hours of total flight time.

Nice job, little flying rover! Rest well.

The Eye of the Universe Looking Back at Us

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 17, 2023

a circular map of the universe

From illustrator Pablo Carlos Budassi, this is a circular map of the universe.

The solar system is located in the center. Towards the edges, the scale is progressively reduced to show in detail the most distant and biggest structures of the observable universe sphere.

There are several other representations of the universe on Budassi’s site, including links to prints, posters, and other products.

The Official Trailer for Season Four of For All Mankind

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 13, 2023

Last month we got a glimpse of the newest season of the Apple+ series For All Mankind (“Imagine a world where the global space race never ended.”) in the form of a teaser trailer that did not give a whole lot away. Well, a proper trailer has dropped and it looks like the gang will be colonizing Mars and harvesting precious metals from asteroids. as I wrote last month:

Is it just me or, if you tilt your head and squint, can you see For All Mankind as a prequel/origin story for The Expanse?

It is maybe too much to ask of a prestige drama these days, but it would be cool to see the birth & development of a Belter-like language a la the beginnings of an Antarctic accent.

One Revolution Per Minute

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 04, 2023

Erik Wernquist made his short film One Revolution Per Minute to explore his “fascination with artificial gravity in space”. The film shows what it would be like to travel on a large, circular space station, 900 meters (0.56 miles) in diameter that rotates a 1 rpm. Even at that slow speed, which generates 0.5 g at the outermost shell, I was surprised to see how quickly the scenery (aka the Earth, Moon, etc.) was rotating and how disorienting it would be as a passenger.

Realistically - and admittedly somewhat reluctantly — I assume that while building a structure like this is very much possible, it would be quite impractical for human passengers.

Putting aside the perhaps most obvious problem with those wide windows being a security hazard, I believe that the perpetually spinning views would be extremely nauseating for most humans, even for short visits. Even worse, I suspect — when it comes to the comfort of the experience — would be the constantly moving light and shadows from the sun.

I calculated that the outer ring of the space station is moving at 105.4 mph with respect to the center. That’s motoring right along — no wonder everything outside is spinning so quickly.

Some Stunning Shots From the Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2023 Competition

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 18, 2023

a colorful shot of The Running Chicken Nebula

what looks like a question mark on the surface of the sun

purple sprites in the upper reaches of the atmosphere

a photo of the whole sun

the Andromeda galaxy next to a giant blue plasma arc

The Royal Observatory Greenwich in London has announced the winners of the Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2023 competition and as you can see from the selection above, there were some amazing shots. From top to bottom:

  1. Runwei Xu and Binyu Wang for their photo of The Running Chicken Nebula.
  2. Eduardo Schaberger Poupeau for capturing a question mark on the Sun. I will never tire of looking at the detail of the Sun’s surface.
  3. Angel An. “This is not, as it might first appear, an enormous extraterrestrial, but the lower tendrils of a sprite (red lightning)! This rarely seen electrical discharge occurs much higher in the atmosphere than normal lightning (and indeed, despite the name, is created by a different mechanism), giving the image an intriguingly misleading sense of scale.”
  4. Mehmet Ergün. More Sun!
  5. Marcel Drechsler, Xavier Strottner and Yann Sainty for their shot of the Andromeda galaxy.

The last shot was the overall winner. While not as dramatic as some of the others, it documented the discovery of a previously unknown feature of a nearby cosmic neighbor:

The Andromeda galaxy is the closest spiral galaxy to our own Milky Way, and one of the most photographed deep-sky objects. Yet this particular photo, captured by an international trio of amateur astronomers, revealed a feature that had never been seen before: a huge plasma arc, stretching out across space right next to the Andromeda galaxy.

“Scientists are now investigating the newly discovered giant in a transnational collaboration,” explain the photographers. “It could be the largest such structure nearest to us in the Universe.”

You can see the rest of the winning images on the Royal Observatory site as well as coverage from the BBC, the Guardian, Colossal, and Universe Today.

A Teaser Trailer for Season Four of For All Mankind

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 14, 2023

The first teaser trailer for season four of the Apple TV+ series For All Mankind takes the form of a recruitment video encouraging people to join the burgeoning workforce in space. It doesn’t give us much in the way of plot or character updates, but here’s the season synopsis (spoilers if you’re not caught up to the end of season three):

Rocketing into the new millennium in the eight years since Season 3, Happy Valley has rapidly expanded its footprint on Mars by turning former foes into partners. Now 2003, the focus of the space program has turned to the capture and mining of extremely valuable, mineral-rich asteroids that could change the future of both Earth and Mars. But simmering tensions between the residents of the now-sprawling international base threaten to undo everything they are working towards.

I have to admit my interest in the show waned a bit after the first season, but it’s still a pretty great show and I will be tuning in for season four on November 10. And is it just me or, if you tilt your head and squint, can you see For All Mankind as a prequel/origin story for The Expanse? (via gizmodo)

Stunning JWST Image of a Grand-Design Spiral Galaxy

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 12, 2023

image of spiral galaxy M51

Love this recent JWST shot of the M51 spiral galaxy.

The graceful winding arms of the grand-design spiral galaxy M51 stretch across this image from the NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope. Unlike the menagerie of weird and wonderful spiral galaxies with ragged or disrupted spiral arms, grand-design spiral galaxies boast prominent, well-developed spiral arms like the ones showcased in this image. This galactic portrait was captured by Webb’s Mid-InfraRed Instrument (MIRI).

In this image the reprocessed stellar light by dust grains and molecules in the medium of the galaxy illuminate a dramatic filamentary medium. Empty cavities and bright filaments alternate and give the impression of ripples propagating from the spiral arms. The yellow compact regions indicate the newly formed star clusters in the galaxy.

(via bad astronomy)

Chaos, Reconsidered: A Spectacular Flyover of Martian Volcanic Terrain

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 08, 2023

This short, relaxing, mesmerizing video of an Martian impact crater called Aram Chaos was taken by the HiRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The images were run through an enhanced color red-green-blue filter, which tends to highlight the structure and geology rather than the true color. For example, the blue in the video often represents basalt, an igneous rock of volcanic origin.

Watch 1969’s Apollo 11 Moon Landing “Live!”

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 20, 2023

Apollo 11 TV Coverage

54 years ago today, on July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong & Buzz Aldrin landed on the Moon and went for a little walk. For the 15th year in a row, you can watch the original CBS News coverage of Walter Cronkite reporting on the Moon landing and the first Moon walk on a small B&W television, synced to the present-day time. Just open this page in your browser today, July 20th, and the coverage will start playing at the proper time. Here’s the schedule (all times EDT):

4:10:30 pm: Moon landing broadcast starts
4:17:40 pm: Lunar module lands on the Moon

4:20:15 pm - 10:51:26 pm: Break in coverage

10:51:27 pm: Moon walk broadcast starts
10:56:15 pm: First step on Moon
11:51:30 pm: Nixon speaks to the Eagle crew
12:00:30 am: Broadcast end (on July 21)

Set an alarm on your phone or calendar! Also, this works best on an actual computer but I think it functions ok on phones and tablets if necessary.

Back in 2018, I wrote a bit about what to look out for when you’re watching the landing:

The radio voices you hear are mostly Mission Control in Houston (specifically Apollo astronaut Charlie Duke, who acted as the spacecraft communicator for this mission) and Buzz Aldrin, whose job during the landing was to keep an eye on the LM’s altitude and speed — you can hear him calling it out, “3 1/2 down, 220 feet, 13 forward.” Armstrong doesn’t say a whole lot…he’s busy flying and furiously searching for a suitable landing site. But it’s Armstrong that says after they land, “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”. Note the change in call sign from “Eagle” to “Tranquility Base”. :)

Two things to listen for on the broadcast: the 1201/1202 program alarms I mentioned above and two quick callouts by Charlie Duke about the remaining fuel towards the end: “60 seconds” and “30 seconds”. Armstrong is taking all this information in through his earpiece — the 1202s, the altitude and speed from Aldrin, and the remaining fuel — and using it to figure out where to land.

Enhanced Color Mars

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 15, 2023

an enhanced color photo of Mars

Using data from the ESA’s Mars Express probe, the German Aerospace Center has released an enhanced color image of Mars that shows off the planet’s geology and mineral content better than the usual dusty red photos do. Here’s part of what you’re seeing:

It is well known that most of Mars is reddish in colour, due to the high amount of oxidised iron in the dust on its surface, earning it the nickname the ‘Red Planet’. But it is also immediately noticeable that a considerable region of Mars is rather dark, appearing bluish in colour in image 1. These regions represent greyish-blackish-bluish sands, which are volcanic in origin and form large, dark sand layers on Mars. They were primarily piled up by the wind to form imposing sand dunes or enormous dune fields on the floor of impact craters. These unweathered sands consist of dark, basaltic minerals, of which volcanic lava on Earth is also composed. Basalt is the most widespread volcanic rock on Earth — and in the Solar System. Earth’s ocean floor is made of basalt, as are the extinct volcanoes of the Eifel, Mount Etna in Sicily and volcanoes of the Hawaiian archipelago.

In my mind, the best bit is how much clearer you can see the various geographical features of the planet. (via bad astronomy)

Apollo Remastered

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 14, 2023

lunar rover on the Moon

Earth rising over the surface of the Moon

boot foorprint on the Moon

NASA keeps the original film negatives from the Apollo program sealed in a frozen vault in Houston, TX and rarely grants access to them. As a result, nearly all of the photos we see of those historic missions were made decades ago or are copies of copies. Recently, the film was cleaned and digitally scanned at “an unprecedented resolution”.

Using these new high-res scans, image specialist Andy Saunders remastered each of the 35,000 photographs, resulting in this incredible-looking book, Apollo Remastered: The Ultimate Photographic Record. From the book’s website:

The photographs from the lunar surface are as close as we can get to standing on the Moon ourselves, and for the first time, we were able to look back at Earth from afar, experiencing the “overview effect” — the cognitive shift that elicits an intense emotional experience upon seeing our home planet from space for the first time. The “Blue Marble” photograph, taken as Apollo 17 set course for the Moon, depicts the whole sunlit Earth, and is the most reproduced photograph of all time. Along with Apollo 8’s “Earthrise,” which depicts Earth above the lunar horizon, it was a catalyst for the environmental movement that continues today.

Saunders is also selling prints of some of these remastered photos, which look absolutely stunning.

A Massive 5.7 Terapixel Mosaic of the Surface of Mars

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 13, 2023

part of a crater on the surface of Mars

Using imagery from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, the Bruce Murray Laboratory for Planetary Visualization at Caltech has created a 5.7 terapixel mosaic image that covers 99.5% of the surface of Mars. The whole image is available to navigate with a 3D viewer in your browser.

The Black Hole That Kills Galaxies

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 12, 2023

Astronomers believe that there’s a black hole at the center of almost every large galaxy in the universe. Some of those black holes are particularly energetic, chewing up the galaxies in which they reside and releasing massive amounts of energy out into the cosmos. Those black holes and the energy emitted from matter and gas falling towards their centers are what astronomers call quasars.

But if we look closely, we see who is actually in charge. Small as a grain of sand compared to the filaments, the centers of some of these galaxies shine with the power of a trillion stars, blasting out huge jets of matter, completely reshaping the cosmos around them. Quasars, the single most powerful objects in existence, so powerful that they can kill a galaxy.

Blackstar — The Sun In A New Light

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 06, 2023

Blackstar is a relaxing and meditative 45-minute video of the Sun made by Seán Doran using footage from the Solar Dynamics Observatory. Instead of the familiar yellow, Doran has chosen to outfit our star in vivid blue and black, which lends the video a sort of alien familiarity. This looks absolutely stunning in 4K.

The Sun, as Seen by the World’s Largest Solar Telescope

posted by Jason Kottke   May 30, 2023

closeup shot of a sunspot taken with the Inouye Solar Telescope

closeup shot of a sunspot taken with the Inouye Solar Telescope

closeup shot of a sunspot taken with the Inouye Solar Telescope

closeup shot of the surface of the Sun taken with the Inouye Solar Telescope

The Inouye Solar Telescope is the largest and most powerful solar telescope in the world. The telescope is still in a “learning and transitioning period” and not up to full operational speed, but scientists at the National Solar Observatory recently released a batch of images that hint at what it’s capable of. Several of the photos feature sunspots, cooler regions of the Sun with strong magnetic fields.

The sunspots pictured are dark and cool regions on the Sun’s “surface”, known as the photosphere, where strong magnetic fields persist. Sunspots vary in size, but many are often the size of Earth, if not larger. Complex sunspots or groups of sunspots can be the source of explosive events like flares and coronal mass ejections that generate solar storms. These energetic and eruptive phenomena influence the outermost atmospheric layer of the Sun, the heliosphere, with the potential to impact Earth and our critical infrastructure.

In the quiet regions of the Sun, the images show convection cells in the photosphere displaying a bright pattern of hot, upward-flowing plasma (granules) surrounded by darker lanes of cooler, down-flowing solar plasma. In the atmospheric layer above the photosphere, called the chromosphere, we see dark, elongated fibrils originating from locations of small-scale magnetic field accumulations.

(via petapixel)

The Sun, In All Its Glory

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 23, 2023

astounding image of the Sun

detail of an astounding image of the Sun

Good morning, sunshines! Well, amateur astrophotographer Andrew McCarthy has done it again. Collaborating with Jason Guenzel, he has produced this absolutely gobsmacking image of the Sun.

The aptly named “Fusion of Helios” is a fusion from the minds of two astrophotographers, Andrew McCarthy and Jason Guenzel. Using a custom-modified hydrogen alpha solar telescope, the combined data from over 90,000 individual images was jointly processed to reveal the layers of intricate details within the solar chromosphere. A geometrically altered image of the 2017 eclipse as an artistic element in this composition to display an otherwise invisible structure. Great care was taken to align the two atmospheric layers in a scientifically plausible way using NASA’s SOHO data as a reference.

I’ve included the full image and my favorite crop (the solar tornado the height of 14 Earths was a close second) above, but do yourself a big favor and check out the largest image available (which is still way smaller than the 140 megapixel final image they produced). If you’re curious about the process, here’s how McCarthy gets his Sun photos:

So how do I resolve atmospheric details, like spicules, prominences, and filaments? The trick is tuning the telescope to an emission line where these objects aren’t drown out by the bright photosphere. Specifically, I’m shooting in the Hydrogen-alpha band of the visible spectrum (656.28nm). Hydrogen Alpha (HA) filters are common in astrophotography, but just adding one to your already filtered telescope will just reduce the sun’s light to a dim pink disk, and using it without the aperture filter we use to observe the details on the photosphere will blind you by not filtering enough light. If you just stack filters, you still can’t see details. So what’s the solution?

A series of precisely-manufactured filters that can be tuned to the appropriate emission line, built right into the telescope’s image train does the trick! While scopes built for this purpose do exist (look up “coronado solarmax” or “lunt solar telescope” I employ a heat-tuned hydrogen alpha filter (daystar quark) with an energy rejection filter (ERF) on a simple 5” doublet refractor. That gives me a details up close look at our sun’s atmosphere SAFELY. I’ve made a few custom modifications that have helped me produce a more seamless final image, but am not *quite* yet ready to share them, but just the ERF+Quark on a refractor will get you great views.

Photography has always been a combination of technology, artistry, and wrangling whatever light you can get to best express the feeling that you’re going for — astrophotography certainly dials that wrangling up to 11.

Prints of this image (and some digital downloads) are available in various sizes from McCarthy and Guenzel.

A Prelude to a Supernova

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 16, 2023

The luminous, hot star Wolf-Rayet 124 (WR 124) is prominent at the center of the James Webb Space Telescope's composite image combining near-infrared and mid-infrared wavelengths of light from Webb's Near-Infrared Camera and Mid-Infrared Instrument

Folks, I told you that this was going to become a JWST fan blog and if you didn’t hear me the first time, consider yourself notified. NASA’s newest space telescope is still stretching its legs, but even back in its early days last summer, it captured this breathtaking near-infrared and mid-infrared image of a star preparing to go supernova.

The 10 light-years-wide nebula is made of material cast off from the aging star in random ejections, and from dust produced in the ensuing turbulence. This brilliant stage of mass loss precedes the star’s eventual supernova, when nuclear fusion in its core stops and the pressure of gravity causes it to collapse in on itself and then explode.

Images like these are useful for studying dust, which sounds a little boring but actually is fascinating (italics mine):

The origin of cosmic dust that can survive a supernova blast and contribute to the universe’s overall “dust budget” is of great interest to astronomers for multiple reasons. Dust is integral to the workings of the universe: It shelters forming stars, gathers together to help form planets, and serves as a platform for molecules to form and clump together — including the building blocks of life on Earth. Despite the many essential roles that dust plays, there is still more dust in the universe than astronomers’ current dust-formation theories can explain. The universe is operating with a dust budget surplus.

Currently imagining a sci-fi office dramedy about the dust budget surplus — someone over at HBO Max or Apple+ get on this.

Unprecedented Infrared Photos of Nearby Galaxies

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 22, 2023

a top-down view of a galaxy

a top-down view of a galaxy

I don’t know how kottke.org isn’t going to turn into a JWST-only blog — it seems like there’s some never-before-seen imagery released every other week that just absolutely knocks my socks off. Like these unprecedented images of nearby galaxies that were taken to help study how individual stars affect galactic structure.

The saying goes, ‘From a tiny acorn grows the mighty oak.’ This is accurate not just here on Earth, but in our solar system and beyond. Even on a galactic scale, where individual stars and star clusters can sculpt a galaxy’s overall structure. Scientists say NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope is perfectly primed to study these phenomena, and the first data is astounding astronomers.

New imagery from Webb’s Mid-Infrared Instrument is revealing never-before-seen details into how young, newly forming stars influence the structure of the gas and dust of nearby galaxies, and therefore how they evolve over time. Areas of galaxies that once appeared dim and dark in visible light, now under Webb’s infrared eye, are glowing cavities and huge cavernous bubbles of gas and dust.

Supermassive Black Holes: A Possible Source of Dark Energy

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 16, 2023

A group of astronomers say they have evidence that links supermassive black holes at galactic centers with dark energy, the mysterious force that accounts for roughly 68% of the energy in the universe. Here’s the news release and the paper. From the Guardian:

Instead of dark energy being smeared out across spacetime, as many physicists have assumed, the scientists suggest that it is created and remains inside black holes, which form in the crushing forces of collapsing stars.

“We propose that black holes are the source for dark energy,” said Duncan Farrah, an astronomer at the University of Hawaii. “This dark energy is produced when normal matter is compressed during the death and collapse of large stars.”

The claim was met with raised eyebrows from some independent experts, with one noting that while the idea deserved scrutiny, it was far too early to link black holes and dark energy. “There’s a number of counter-arguments and facts that need to be understood if this claim is going to live more than a few months,” said Vitor Cardoso, a professor of physics at the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen.

And here’s a short video explainer:

It’s a radical claim to be sure — it’ll be interesting to see how it shakes out in the weeks and months to come as other scientists interpret the results.

New Massive Image of the Milky Way with 3.32 Billion Individual Objects

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 10, 2023

image of part of the Milky Way with 3.32 billion individually identifiable objects

small portion of an image of part of the Milky Way with 3.32 billion individually identifiable objects

Thanks to a planet-wide collaboration, scientists have released an image of the Milky Way that contains 3.32 billion individually identifiable objects, most of which are stars.

Gathering the data required to cover this much of the night sky was a Herculean task; the DECaPS2 survey identified 3.32 billion objects from over 21,400 individual exposures. Its two-year run, which involved about 260 hours of observations, produced more than 10 terabytes of data.

Most of the stars and dust in the Milky Way are located in its spiral disk — the bright band stretching across this image. While this profusion of stars and dust makes for beautiful images, it also makes the galactic plane challenging to observe. The dark tendrils of dust seen threading through this image absorb starlight and blot out fainter stars entirely, and the light from diffuse nebulae interferes with any attempts to measure the brightness of individual objects. Another challenge arises from the sheer number of stars, which can overlap in the image and make it difficult to disentangle individual stars from their neighbors.

It’s worth checking out the largest size of the image published on the web (which is actually much smaller than the image’s actual size) as well as a tiny portion of the full image (second image above) that shows just how much detail is there. A zoomable interface for the entire image is available here.

James Webb Telescope’s Incredibly Deep View of the Universe

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 06, 2023

an image of thousands of galaxies taken by the James Webb Space Telescope

The European Space Agency has released a gobsmacking deep field image of thousands of galaxies taken by the James Webb Space Telescope.

A crowded field of galaxies throngs this Picture of the Month from the NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope, along with bright stars crowned with Webb’s signature six-pointed diffraction spikes. The large spiral galaxy at the base of this image is accompanied by a profusion of smaller, more distant galaxies which range from fully-fledged spirals to mere bright smudges. Named LEDA 2046648, it is situated a little over a billion light-years from Earth, in the constellation Hercules.

I know we’ve seen deep field images from the Hubble, but I don’t know how you can tire of looking at actual images created by human technology that shows thousands of galaxies, billions of years, trillions of stars, quadrillions of planets, untold numbers of potential intelligences & civilizations, and who really knows what else. It boggles the mind, every time.

You can download/view a massive high-res copy of this image right here.

Update: Here’s a video that zooms in from a wide view of the Milky Way all the way into galaxy LEDA 2046648 pictured above.

Wow. (via @cparnot)

Apollo, As Seen by Young Girls

posted by Tim Carmody   Feb 01, 2023

Three girls quoted in a 1971 Billings Gazette article about the Apollo program — Betsy Longo, Amy Ponich, Jennifer Dettmann

On February 7, 1971, the Billings Gazette, a local Montana newspaper, ran a story by Carol Perkins titled “Apollo — As Kids See It.” They interviewed young kids, from 5 to 11, and a range of boys and girls, to get their opinion about NASA’s then-current manned moon missions. Paleofuture’s Matt Novak zeroes in on the girls:

“I wouldn’t like to go to the moon. It’s not really a place for girls,” said 7-year-old Joan Anderson, who would be about 58 years old now.

“I think it would be fun to marry an astronaut. He would be rich and famous,” said 5-year-old Gail Standard.

“He’d be gone away a lot, so I would go with him. I’d wear a girl’s astronaut uniform and cook a lot of potatoes,” said 6-year-old Jennifer Dettmann, speaking of her potential astronaut husband.

There are a lot of myths about the Apollo space program. Chief among them is that most Americans fervently supported the space program’s enormous costs. In reality, most Americans of the 1960s thought the Apollo space program wasn’t a good use of taxpayer funds, with many people asking why that money wasn’t being spent to fight homelessness or hunger in the U.S.—the same criticisms you hear today.

In fact, one of the girls quoted in the article, 11-year-old Betsy Longo, expressed a similar sentiment.

“I don’t think they should use so much money to go to the moon,” Longo said. “They should use it to stop cancer and help people here on Earth.”

One 10-year-old, Amy Ponich, was the only girl in the article who seemed receptive to the idea that she could have a role to play in America’s exploration of space, telling the reporter that she wanted to be a scientist to “discover more frontiers.”

“We need to know what the moon is made of and how it related to the Earth,” Ponich said.

The US Apollo program only included men, but the USSR’s Valentina Tereshkova was the first woman in space in 1963. Sally Ride was the first American woman in space in 1983, twelve years after this article. Since the Apollo program ended in 1972, no human beings have landed on the moon.

How to Find the Rare Green Comet in the Night Skies

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 24, 2023

photo of Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF)

A comet called Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) is currently visible in northern skies with the naked eye and here’s how you can catch a glimpse for yourself.

Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) is currently making its way through the northern skies and should reach its brightest magnitude in early February, according to In-The-Sky.org as it approaches perigee on Feb. 1. To see the comet for yourself, look to the north just after sunset and look for a faint greenish glow. Under the right dark sky conditions, the comet could be visible to the unaided eye, but binoculars will certainly make the job easier.

The comet last visited the Earth about 50,000 years ago and this may be its last visit before it leaves the solar system for good. The unusual green color results from a rare chemical reaction:

The comet itself isn’t green, but its head does appear to glow green thanks to a somewhat rare chemical reaction. The glow likely comes from diatomic carbon (C2) — a simple molecule made of two carbon atoms bonded together. When ultraviolet light from the sun breaks this molecule down, it emits a greenish glow that can last for several days, according to a 2021 study in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

This eerie light disappears before making its way to the comet’s tail, or coma, which is made of gas. That gas is once again a result of solar radiation - in this case, sunlight causes part of the comet to sublimate, or transition from a solid into a gas without entering a liquid state. That gas streaks behind the comet, often glowing blue from the ultraviolet light.

The best, brightest views of the comet will be right around Feb 1, when it will be near the constellation Camelopardalis (almost due north, in the general vicinity of the Big and Little Dippers) right after sunset — use an app like Sky Guide to help find it. It’s cloudy here in Vermont until Friday…I’m going to try to catch a glimpse of it then.

Amazing photo of Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) above by Dan Bartlett.

Magnificent Black & White Photos of the Earth Rising Over the Moon

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 20, 2023

black and white photo of the Earth rising over the surface of the Moon

black and white photo of the Earth rising over the surface of the Moon

South Korea currently has a probe called Danuri orbiting the Moon at an altitude of about 62 miles above the surface. It’s just begun its mission but has already sent back some black & white photos of the Moon and the Earth, including the two above. Over at EarthSky, Dave Adalian says these shots “rival the work of legendary nature photographer Ansel Adams” and it’s difficult to disagree.

Also worth a look: Danuri’s shot of the Earth and Moon from a distance, hanging in the blackness of space like a pair of pearls. (via petapixel)

Detailed Martian Geologic Maps from the USGS

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 13, 2023

geologic map of the Olympus Mons caldera on Mars

geologic map of the Aeolis Dorsa region of Mars

The USGS Astrogeology Science Center recently released a series of detailed geological maps of Mars that detail features from the red planet’s past like volcanos and flowing water. If you’re thinking, “hey that looks a lot like a river in that second image”, you’re not far off.

One particularly interesting feature that hints at Mars’ watery past is the sinuous ridge, which is a winding, narrow ridge that looks like an inverted river channel. These ridges are interpreted to be aqueous (formed by water), making them possible clues about the history of water on Mars.

The scale of the maps is useful for identifying geologic changes over time:

The new map of Aeolis Dorsa adds to the hypothesis that Mars was once wet and had abundant active river systems in the past before aqueous activity decreased over time. This change caused the primary depositional methods in the region to shift from rivers (fluvial) to sediment fans with intermittent deposition (alluvial) and eventually to a dry and wind-driven (aeolian) system. This local pattern mimics our current understanding of the global environmental history of Mars.

Lovely aesthetics as well. (via @geoffmanaugh)