Space news roundup

Photographic observations by Australian amateur astronomer Anthony Wesley show that an impacting object left a scar on Jupiter similar to the ones left by Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 in 1993. While SL9 was the only direct observation of an object coming in and making the scars, such scars have been observed before, by the likes of Giovanni Cassini, Robert Hooke, and William Herschel.


Here’s a smaller-scale impact. It’s not news, but it’s worth reminding folks of what happens if you tell Buzz Aldrin that he never walked on the Moon.


And if all the Apollo anniversary excitement wasn’t enough for you, there will be a total solar eclipse in a few hours.

It’ll be happening on the morning of the 22nd for those in the same time zones as totality (which will pass through India, China, and points between, and then out into the Pacific). For western Europe it’ll be starting around midnightish, and for the Americas it starts early this evening.

Here are a few sites that will be showing live webcasts. The best time to tune in and catch the start of totality, since these are from east Asia, will be around 01:30 UT. (Convert to your local time here so you know when to log in.)

http://sems1.cs.und.edu/~sems/index.php (from Wuhan, China)
http://www.atlaspost.com/2009tse (from mainland China)
http://www.live-eclipse.org/ (from Kyushu Island, Japan)

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No, they did not laugh at Galileo

It’s like a junk science equivalent of Godwin’s Law. Pseudoscientific theories are defended with “Well, they laughed at Galileo too!”, as if the only reason these ideas were being rejected by scientists was that they were new and different. There are two big problems with this defense. Read the rest of this entry »

The scientists next door

For Ada Lovelace Day, since it’s all about this idea that women are statistically likely to benefit from having female role models, I’m going to talk about a bunch of friends of mine.

Read the rest of this entry »

Warm slippery facts about cold hard Pluto

A teacher wrote a letter to one of my favourite magazines this month, expressing a wish that the International Astronomical Union would make up its mind on Pluto once and for all, because it’s hard to teach kids about the solar system when this stuff keeps changing. Is it a planet or not? Do we tell them there are nine planets, or eight (or even twelve or thirteen, given that a couple of main belt asteroids were called planets when they were first discovered)? The cold hard facts are lukewarm and slippery right now. Read the rest of this entry »

The Antikythera Mechanism

While I try to formulate something to say about it, have a look at this thing.

The corroded remains of the Antikythera Mechanism were discovered in the early 20th century in an ancient shipwreck off the Greek island of Antikythera. It’s an orrery — a device to simulate and predict the motions of the heavens — that dates back to about 150 BC. This video shows a modern working replica that shows how the device could have been used to predict the positions of the Sun and Moon (and eclipses, which happen when the Moon and Sun are oriented in particular ways with respect to each other), and of the five planets known to the ancient Greeks.

How do you know?

When I’m out stargazing I often have someone ask me ‘What’s that bright thing I’ve been seeing after sunset every evening?’ This month the answer to that question is either ‘Venus’ or ‘Jupiter’, and then they come back with ‘How do you know?’

I usually come up with some inane answer like ‘I looked it up’, but I’m really fumbling for more details. Here are all the answers I would give them if I had more time. Read the rest of this entry »