Wednesday, December 31, 2008

MacBook / MacBook Pro ideas

Here's a few ideas that I came up with for the next generation of MacBooks / MacBooks Pros.
  • Intel Quad Core Processors
  • Same case thickness with more room for key travel.
  • Don't have keys touching screen when case is closed
  • Larger Hardrive
  • faster hardrives
  • faster GPU
  • USB 3.0 ports
  • More sensitive wi-fi receiver
  • Better batteries (9 cell instead of 6 cell for the regular MacBooks, 12 cell for the MacBook pros)
  • 3G in the MacBook Pros
  • More Bass in the speakers (too much Treble)
  • support for multi-touch finger swipes in iTunes, Control Panel, smoother and more responsive in iPhoto, integrate into Microsoft Office
  • Higher definition displays for the MacBook Pros (at least!) 720p?
  • allow for dimmer screen brightness and brighter screen brightness so it is possibly to use them at night without burning your eyes out or so you can use them at day without having to shade the screen from glare
  • make the MacBooks and MacBook Pros lighter
  • HD DVD support and make the DVD drive a bit faster
  • allow for more RAM in MacBook and MacBook Pros (8GB for Pros)
  • make 4GB minimum in MacBook Pros
  • make the WHOLE trackpad clickable instead of just the lower 75% of it.
  • 2.0 megapixel webcam instead of 1.3 megapixels
  • include a cleaning solution for cleaning the MacBook / MacBook Pros glossy displays - they are really fingerprint magnets and it can really ruin the beautiful glossy effect
  • backlit keyboard on all MacBook / Pro / Air models
  • swapable hardrive slot in MacBook pro 17"

Monday, December 8, 2008

What's Up? - A new brightening source of pollution

Welcome back to What's Up?

During the last Athena Community Astronomy Club meeting one of our club members gave a presentation on light pollution. It's a very important issue and it must be brought to attention.

Light pollution is the brightening of the sky caused by excessive light being emitted from streetlights and other (mostly) man-made lighting. This has been a growing problem ever since the beginning of the industrial era.


Just by looking at a picture of the Earth taken at night (above image - NASA) it's easy to tell that a lot of light is shining upwards. Anyone who lives in or near a large city is very unaware of the many stars that are hidden by the bright city lights. Many people have never seen more than a handful of stars in their lifetimes and have never seen the beauty of the Milky Way.

Astronomers aren't the only ones that have a problem with light pollution. All this extra light can affect people's sleeping cycles and cause a loss of sleep. Medical research suggests that excessive light can cause an assortment of adverse health effects such as increased headache incidence, worker fatigue, increased levels of stress, increase anxiety, and possibly other unknown effects.

Animals are also affected by light pollution. It can confuse animal navigation, change relations between predator and prey, alter competitive interactions, and change animal physiology. Migrating birds can be confused by lights on tall building and other structures. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have estimated that four to five million birds die per year because they are attracted to the lights. This can simply be prevented by turning out lights during migration periods.

When sea turtles hatch from eggs in nests on beaches they head away from the dark outline of dunes and vegetation. When there is artificial lighting they don't know which direction to move in and either die on the beach or get eaten by other animals. Baby seabirds can also be confused by lights as they move out of their nests and fly out to sea.

Lighting used to deter criminals from entering buildings are often enabling criminals. Inadequately placed lighting can remove shadows that would be cast by the criminal and create glare that can hide criminals from sight. Glare from streetlights can also be a hazard to motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians.

All of this light that is pointed in any direction other than down is wasted. Over-illumination, the excessive use of light, is another cause of light pollution. The U.S. Department of Energy claims that about two million barrels of oil worth of energy are wasted every day (based on the U.S. consuming 50 million barrels of oil per day) because of over-illumination.

Prevention of light pollution can be very simple. Instead of installing incandescent or mercury-vapor bulbs that are currently very popular, low pressure sodium lights can be installed. Low pressure sodium lights are up to ten times more efficient than incandescent light bulbs and low pressure sodium lights are only directed downwards and are shielded so that no light escapes upwards. It also emits only one colour of light which is easy to remove from astronomer's images using computer software. By using less electricity there will be less pollution and money can be saved.


Better shielding (above right versus above left that has very little shielding) for other types of lights can be installed at anytime and can greatly reduce light pollution.

To learn more about light pollution on the web, go to www.darksky.org. Also check out Earth Hour at www.earthhour.org and learn more about this yearly event that raises awareness of light pollution and global warming.

While we can still see through the light pollution, lets take a look at what's up this month.

The moon will be full on Dec. 14 which will shrink to a new moon by Dec. 27.

Venus and Jupiter will be nearby each other low in the western horizon at the start of the month. Venus is the brilliant yellow star-like object. Jupiter is also brilliant but not quite as bright. They will be the two brightest objects in the night sky other than the moon. Moving further into the month, Venus will climb higher into the sky while Jupiter creeps lower and lower towards the horizon. They will be best viewed shortly after sunset.

Mercury will make a brief appearance near the end of the month. It will appear slightly below Jupiter in the western sky. Mercury will be best on Dec. 29 but can be viewed for a few days on either side of that date.

Mars will be heading near the sun and it will be hidden during the month.

At the same time Saturn will be rising in the night sky at about 1 a.m. Saturn will be a dull yellow colour and won't be anything special to look at with the naked eye. If you have the opportunity to use a telescope it will be an entirely different story. The rings will be close to being edge-on to our line of sight. They will appear like a thin golden band around this gaseous planet. By early September 2009 the rings will be perfectly edge-on for the first time in 14 years and disappear from sight since they are so thin.

Until next month, just look up!


Hey Kids...

Last month a large space rock flew into the Earth's atmosphere and exploded! This was a very special event because most space rocks are just pebble sized. They burn up in the atmosphere and create a little trail as they burn up – you may know these as shooting stars. This big space rock is guessed to have weighed 10 tons! It may sound huge but most of it burned up on the way down. A few small pieces have been found in Saskatchewan near a little pond. This may have been the brightest shooting star in Canada in the last 10 years and was completely unexpected. Keep looking up, you never know what you may see!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

What's Up? Space isn't so empty after all

Welcome back to What's Up?

Last month, the Hubble Space Telescope was scheduled to be serviced for the fourth time in its eighteen-year history.

Just a few weeks before this mission was due to leave, one of Hubble's main computers failed. That computer controls the majority of communications with Earth. On October 16, engineers working with the telescope successfully rebooted the backup system. They were about to resume normal scientific operations when problems with the backup system caused it to suddenly go into "safe mode".

The mission to repair Hubble has been delayed until February 2009 or maybe longer, depending on whether the backup system can be up-and-running. If not, they may replace it with a spare that has been in storage for over 20 years.

Everyone will have to hold their breath and see how this turns out.

Since no science is currently being done with the Hubble, let's look at the vacuum of empty space. Is it really empty?

At first glance it may seem like that's the case, but it actually isn't. Let us take a closer look.

Flying in every direction through the universe are photons (particles of light) emitted from stars, quasars, and supernovae, just to name a few. Some photons have been flying through space since nearly the beginning of time. These early photons form what is called the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB).

The CMB was created about 380,000 years after the universe was created in the Big Bang. The reason all these photons were released at that time is because that's when the universe became transparent to light. Before that time, the universe was so dense that as soon as a photon was given off it hit another particle and was absorbed. The moment the universe became transparent to light was when all this light was released and it now flies through space at the speed of light in all directions.

The CMB has been mapped just to see what the brightness differences in different parts of the sky is like. It was found that it is nearly completely smooth. This shows that the universe was nearly perfectly smooth when it formed. Thankfully there were some small, very slightly denser regions. These regions ended up forming galaxies which allowed us to form over 13 billion years later.

Also shooting through "empty" space are weird little particles called neutrinos. Neutrinos are nearly weightless and rarely interact with other matter. They are mainly formed in nuclear reactions within stars. In fact, you have billions of neutrinos pass through your body every second.

Neutrinos are detected using special neutrino detectors. Neutrino detectors are essentially giant containers of a dense liquid filled with very sensitive light detectors. Every time a neutrino hits one of the liquid particles in the container a flash is given off, and this is detected by one of the light detectors. These neutrino detectors are buried deep below the ground to prevent them from interference with cosmic rays (particles that fly through space and sometimes make it through the atmosphere and would cause a false detection). There is one of these detectors in Canada. It is buried 6800 feet below ground and is located near Sudbury, Ontario.

Imagine an empty box that is impervious to photons and neutrinos. Would it be empty? No. Gravitons are still everywhere.

Gravitons are particles that carry the force of gravity. At this point they're still hypothetical, since they have never been detected. It is impossible to find an area of space where there are no gravitons when we are contained within a universe full of matter (all matter emits gravitons).

Let's imagine that box again except in a universe where there is no matter or anything else mentioned so far. It appears to be finally empty. But it's not yet empty! How can this be?

In the vacuum of space, there is something called vacuum energy. Within every cubic inch of space are millions of particles popping in and out of existence. It is composed of pairs of particles that form because of quantum fluctuations in space. These pairs of particles usually consist of one particle and one antiparticle (made of antimatter - essentially particles that have charges exactly opposite to that in normal matter).

Antimatter and normal matter annihilate themselves when they get near each other. In other words, the two particles vanish, in a flash of energy. This energy is so small that it is nearly undetectable. This was proven in the lab back in 1948 by Dutch physicists Hendrik B. G. Casimir and Dirk Polder. The two scientists placed two small metal plates next to each other and there was a small force of attraction between the two plates. This was caused by vacuum energy.

If all of this doesn't make much sense, don't worry, very few scientists actually understand how this works. Just remember: particles are popping in and out of existence everywhere.

Let's take a look at what is happening with some of the objects among all this "empty space".

On Nov. 13 there will be a full moon and on Nov. 27 will be a new moon.

Space Shuttle Endeavor is scheduled for launch on Nov. 14. It will carry various equipment to the International Space Station.

Until next month, just look up!


Hey Kids...

Did you know that other planets have different amounts of gravity than the Earth? If you were able to stand on Jupiter's surface you would weigh over two times what you weigh on Earth. If you stood on the surface of the moon, you would weigh six times less than what you weigh on Earth. The denser (density is the amount of mass in a certain amount of space) the planet you're standing on, the heavier you will feel. This is because denser objects have a stronger gravitational pull. Go to www.exploratorium.edu/ronh/weight/ to see what you would weigh on other worlds. Just enter your weight in the box provided and click the "calculate" button. Then scroll down and it will say what you weigh on other planets and even what you would weigh on a few stars!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

My New MacBook!


On October 14, 2008, the new line of MacBooks were released. With new manufacturing methods, upgraded components (check the specs at the bottom of this article), and the slimmest frame yet, the new MacBooks are true beauty (except they don't have FireWire ports).

It has a beautiful glossy 13.3 inch LCD widescreen display. With support for millions of colors, a LCD back-light (uses 30% less power than the old back-light), and a native resolution of 1280 by 800 pixels make for a stunning display. The black glass around the screen also adds great contrast and beauty (I may over-use that word, after all, it is beautiful, isn't it?).

Enough about that screen. Look at that case!!! Carved out of a single block of aluminum using lasers. Not a single crack or seam to be seen. Actually, there is one - on the bottom hatch that you can slide off to access the hard drive, batteries, and another components. All this is opened up with one simple tab on the bottom.

Here's some pics and a quick description of the features of each one:

Here's a view from an angle to show off the glossy display and thinness of the casing.

Here's a picture of the top portion of the MacBook. In the center you can see the built-in iSight camera and the indicator light to the immediate right of it. The microphone is hidden near the upper left corner above the keyboard.

Apple advertises up to "5 hours wireless productivity". This means, once you fully charge the batteries, you should be able to unplug the laptop and use it nonstop for up to 5 hours. I've tested this out and it seems to be fairly accurate.

The new MacBooks come with the Intel Core 2 Duo processor. My MacBook came with a 2.0 Ghz version of one of these puppies.

Yay! It comes with Blue-tooth! And look, I honestly don't care! I'm never gonna use it. At least it will hep drain my batteries - more money for the electric company when I recharge! I'll just turn it off so it won't be draining my batteries.

Side view of the MacBook showing off the SuperDrive. The drive creates a bit of noise when in use, but that is the nature of a spinning drive. Otherwise, the MacBook is rediculously quiet. In order to hear the fan you have to place your ears right against the keyboard. Sometimes if overheating starts to occur the fans will go full blast for a few seconds or so to clear out the overheated air within the laptop. The hard drive occasionally makes sounds, like when the laptop is opened it makes a small sound for a second or two, but during normal use I rarely ever hear anything from it. This is truly a quiet laptop.


Here's the dimensions of the new MacBook. In the middle is the spot where you open the magnetic latch. To the right is the infrared receiver for the Apple remote (optional, I didn't bother to purchase it). To the left of the notch is small hidden light that can only be seen when the computer goes into sleep mode - the light slowly brightens and dims, as if the laptop is breathing slowly during a good nap.


With the new NVidia GeForce 9400M integrated graphics processors, the new MacBooks achieve up to 6.2 times faster graphics performance (when tested with Call of Duty 4) compared with the Intel processors that were in the old MacBooks.


A quick side view of the ports. There is the MagSafe power port for recharging the MacBook, a Gigabit Ethernet port for wired high-speed internet, two USB 2.0 ports, a Mini DisplayPort for connecting to an external display, a audio-in port (for microphones), an audio-out port (for external speakers or headphones), and a Kensington lock port for connecting to a Kensington lock to secure your laptop to something to prevent it from being stolen. To the right of all these ports is the battering indicator lights. Press the button and the lights will light up indicating how much battery charge is left for use.

The new trackpad is larger than in the old MacBook. This was achieved by building the button into the trackpad. Multi-Touch has been introduced into this trackpad for a greatly enhanced user experience. Scroll through pages by placing to fingers on the trackpad and moving them up and down, resize images by "pinching" with two fingers on the trackpad, use three finger swipes to slide to the next photo in an album (or to flip through items in coverflow), and even more. Definitely one of my favorite features on the new MacBooks.


Finally, the built in Wi-Fi allows me to work anywheres within my house or anywheres outside, as long as I'm fairly close to the wireless router.

Here's the specs of my new MacBook:
WebID: 10111215
Mfr. Part Number: MB466LL/A
Processor Type Intel Core 2 Duo
Screen Size 13.3"
RAM (Preloaded / Maximum) 2GB DDR3
Hard Drive 160GB (5400RPM)
Optical Drives 8X SuperDrive (DVD±R DL/DVD±RW/CD-RW)
Graphics NVIDIA GeForce 9400M
Average Battery Life 5 Hours
Product Weight 2.04 kg
Audio Type Stereo
Battery Type Lithium-Ion
Cache 3MB On-Chip Shared L2
Fax/Modem No
I/O Ports USB 2.0, VGA Output, Composite Output
Included In Box AC Adapter, Manual
Network Card Built-In 10/100/1000BASE-T Gigabit
Other Software iLife '08, QuickTime, Time Machine
PC Card Slots No
Pointing Device Solid-State scrolling Trackpad
Preloaded Operating System Mac OS X v10.5 Leopard
Processor Speed 2.0GHz
Product Dimensions 32.5(W) x 2.41(H) x 22.7(D) cm
Removable Storage No
Screen Type Widescreen LCD
Speakers Yes
System Bus 1066MHz
Warranty 1 Year Limited Parts & Labour

reevesAstronomy

Monday, October 13, 2008

What's Up? Hubble opened a door to the stars

Welcome back to What's Up?

The final servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope is planned for Oct. 14. This mission will repair and/or replace Hubble's instruments and components to allow it to operate into the year 2014.

Let's take a look at what the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) is, what it does, and why it is so important to astronomy.

The HST was first approved by NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) back in 1969 and was referred to as the Large Space Telescope project. Due to budget restrictions, the original proposal was downsized a bit, decreasing the size of the main mirror and a few of the instruments aboard the telescope.

In 1975 the European Space Agency (ESA) joined the project and was to supply solar panels and various instruments with the promise that European astronomers would get a certain percentage of time on the telescope. In 1977 US Congress approved funding for this telescope.

In 1981 it was named after Edwin P. Hubble, an American astronomer (1889-1953). He's the person who confirmed the fact that the Universe is expanding and provided the foundation for the theory of the "Big Bang".
The Hubble Space Telescope was finally launched into space on April 24, 1990, aboard the space shuttle Discovery.

Why would anyone in their right mind want to put a telescope in space? The answer is simple: turbulence.
The Earth's atmosphere is always moving around and bending light. This causes objects viewed in a telescope to be blurry. This is what causes stars to twinkle and is similar to looking across the top of a car on a hot day and seeing the objects in the background to be bent around and giving a blurry image.
To fix this problem you need to get above the atmosphere where there is none of this annoying distortion. This is where the HST comes in.

The HST has a main mirror with a diameter of 2.4 meters (94.5 inches). This is considered small compared with today's giant, ground-based telescopes, but it still is at the forefront of research because of its unique observing location. This primary mirror was made to such great precision that if it were scaled up to the diameter of the Earth, the biggest bump would only be six inches tall.
After its deployment in space it was expected to take the greatest images of space ever taken. After the first few images came in and were examined, it was realized that Hubble's mirror was ground to the wrong curvature! This resulted in terribly blurry images. HST was called by some to be one of NASA's biggest financial blunders.
Luckily, this mistake was fixable. In December, 1993, a servicing mission was sent up to correct this error and upgrade a few instruments. After this "eye surgery", Hubble operated almost exactly like it was expected to!
Now operating to its full abilities, Hubble quickly became an essential component of modern astronomy. It began taking images of the very distant Universe, seeing faint objects never seen before and looking at objects that have been observed in the past except in greater detail than ever before. It has mapped out dark matter in 3D by seeing which way dark matter was tugging galaxies, pinned the age of our Universe at about 13.7 billion years old (much better than the previous estimate of between 10 and 20 billion years old), help us understand how galaxies form, that gamma-ray bursts come from distant galaxies when a giant star collapses in a supernova, and much more. That's just starting to scratch the surface of its many discoveries. All in all, more than 6,000 scientific articles have been published using data from the Hubble Space Telescope!
Hubble's successor, the James Webb Space Telescope, is scheduled for launch in 2013. It will have a special mirror made of many segments that will unfurl itself to the correct shape in space. It has an enormous main mirror, about 6.5 meters (21.3 feet) in diameter!

The James Webb Space Telescope will orbit the sun keeping its distance from Earth at about 1.5 million kilometers (1 million miles), so that it doesn't have to work as hard to keep itself locked on an object like the Hubble does. Since the Hubble flies around the Earth at a speed of 8 kilometers per second (5 miles/sec), it needs to be able to lock onto objects accurately. It can lock on to an object without deviating more than 7/1000th of an arc second (about the width of a hair seen at a distance of 1 mile).
To see where Hubble is orbiting above, go to: http://hubblesite.org/the_telescope/where.a.s_hubble_now/.
Once you're done checking that out, let's take a look at what's going on in the skies this month.

On Oct. 14 there will be a full moon, which will dwindle down to a new moon by Oct. 28.
On Oct. 21 will be the peak of the Orionids Meteor Shower. It will produce about 20 meters per hour at their peak but are very irregular and could give a good show on any morning between Oct. 20-24.

Until next month, just look up!

Hey Kids...

You can build your own model of the Hubble Space Telescope. Just go to http://hubblesite.org/the_telescope/hand-held_hubble/pvc.php for details on supplies and details on how to make it. Make sure to ask for help from parents when it comes to using the drill or the saw. It can be done in 1-3 hours for under $20. Have fun!

Friday, September 19, 2008

First planet imaged around a sun-like star

The enormous 8 meter North Gemini telescope in Hawaii captured what appears to be the first image of a planet orbiting a sun-like star(the planet is circled in the image shown).

According to spectra obtained from the image, the dim object is a planet and not a background star like it may seem at first glance.  The planet weighs in at a whopping 8 Jupiter masses and was 330 AU (Earth's distance from sun: 93 million miles = 1 AU)  from its parent star which was 500 light years away from Earth when this image was taken.

Astronomers are hoping to get a follow-up study on this planet to determine an orbit and learn more about this large world.

Normally, Astronomers take careful measurements of a star's movement as it gets tugged by a nearby planet by seeing if the light is slightly blue or slightly red shifted (called a Doppler shift).  This method works best for very large Jupiter-like planets that orbit really close to their star.  The reason Astronomers haven't been able to image planets like this with ease is not just because they're all too faint, it's because the light from their parent star outshines them and blocks out the light.   It's similar to detecting a spotlight and a firefly a few feet apart on the moon.  Planets are similar to that firefly, they're really hard to see!

Using infrared imaging we can see warm planets like this (it has a temperature of around 1800K or 1500°C) next to a star easily since stars give off less light in the infrared than the visible part of the spectrum.

The star - which was creatively named 1RXS J160929.1-210524 - and its planet are very young, astronomically speaking, at only 5 million years old.  This leaves the planet nice and warm and easy to detect since it gives off a lot of infrared light.

Jupiter sized planets aren't supposed to form so far out from their parent star, according to our current theories, so it's most likely that it formed in closer to its parent star and then slowly migrated outward into the orbit it has today.  Van Kerkwijk (one of the authors of the paper announcing the discovery) thinks that this Jupiter-like planet is uncommon and may only be found in one in every 100 stars.

If you want to read more into this interesting find, click here to read the paper announcing the discovery.  The paper is called "Direct Imaging and Spectroscopy of a Planetary Mass Candidate Companion to a Young Solar Analog" and was written by David Lafrenière, Ray Jayawardhana, and Marten H. Van Kerkwijk.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Dust devils around Phoenix

Recently, with temperatures around the Phoenix Mars Lander changing as Winter on Mars approaches, dust devils have started forming.  Scientists working on the Phoenix mission have noticed that they are steadily increasing in number.  They believe this is caused by the growing difference of day and night temperatures which are currently around -30C and -90C, respectively.  The following animated image is composed of 10 images taken during a Martian night and clearly illustrates the moving clouds that are swirling in the night sky and moves in a westerly direction.  Just click the image below to see the animated image.


Phoenix has photographed several of these dust devils (below image, click for animated image) and has even recorded a drop in air pressure as one passed over the Lander .


One of these dust devils had recorded wind speeds that exceeded 5 meters per second (about 11 miles per hour) and range in size from 2 meters (7 feet) to 5 meters (16 feet).  This was recorded with the telltale during the Martian night and is shown in the below image (those blurs moving in the background are clouds, click for animated image).


The winds from these dust devils are now strong enough to stir up dust and shake the solar panels on the Phoenix lander, moving them up about half a centimeter (0.19 in).  In the below image this effect is shown well as you will see on part of the panel, it was blurred in the image as it moved during an exposure in the image below (the white spikey patch is caused by a few overexposed pixels in the camera, it may be a reflection from the sun).

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Eyeing up Stellar Oddballs

Welcome back to What's Up?

Finishing up on a quick overview of stars, this month will be all about the stellar oddballs.

You may remember white dwarfs from last month, but let's take a closer look into these weird stars.

A white dwarf is the core of a star left over from when a star like our sun sheds off its outer layers and dies.  A white dwarf that weighs as much as our sun would be the size of the Earth which makes it so dense that if you were to take a sugar cube sized portion it would weigh as much as a hippo!

Stars that are less massive than the sun will leave behind a white dwarf mostly composed of helium, the second lightest element.

Stars that weigh around the same as our sun will leave behind a core made of heavier elements since they have the mass to fuse the lighter elements into somewhat heavier ones.  White dwarfs left over from these sun-like stars will be composed mainly of carbon (sixth lightest element) with some oxygen (eighth lightest) mixed in.  The intense gravity of these little stars causes the atoms to get squished together very closely.  This creates a crystalline structure of carbon.  We call this carbon structure a diamond.

Don't think about putting one of these suckers on a ring quite yet.  They are extremely hot.  They are a little over 100,000 degrees Celsius and take billions upon billions of years to cool down to reasonable temperatures.  

If a white dwarf star gathers up enough material to increase to over 1.4 times the sun's mass it will completely explode, leaving nothing behind.  If the remnant from a star is over that 1.4 solar mass limit at the time of death in a star, it will collapse down even further than a white dwarf.  The little negative electrons will combine with the positive protons creating neutrons.  All of the neutrons in the star will be squished together very tightly so that if you took a teaspoon of this material it would weigh as much as a mountain!

Astronomers, using the creativity they are well known for, gave these stars made of neutrons this name: neutron stars.

Neutron stars are very bizarre stars.  If they spin fast enough they will create immense magnetic fields which get twisted and occasionally release enormous amounts of energy.  These neutron stars are called Magnetars.

Some neutron stars have jets that shoot high energy particles out of their north and south poles and as they spin around the jets point in different directions just like a lighthouse.  When these cosmic lighthouses are pointing their beams in Earth's direction we see them brighten and they appear to pulse as the beam appears and disappears.  These stars are called Pulsars.

When stars get larger than about 3 or 4 solar masses the neutrons stars will collapse down even further.  This is where we get a black hole.

Black holes are truly the weirdest things that exist in our universe.  According to theoretical models (lots of juicy mathematical equations) they are infinitely dense points of mass.  Anything that falls into a black hole can't escape unless it travels faster than the speed of light, which is impossible according to Einstein's Theory of General Relativity.

If someone were to fall into the black hole they would become "spaghettified".  The gravity at their feet would be pulling on them so much more than on their head that they would get stretched out into a long noodle shape and then get torn apart.  If they were somehow able to survive being torn apart they would experience a very interesting effect.

According to Einstein's theory of General Relativity, gravity slows down time.  A clock on Earth actually ticks very slightly slower than it would if it were in space.  This has been tested very accurately with satellites.  If there was someone falling into a black hole and they were sending a signal back to us every second we would see this poor bloke's signal separated by longer and longer time spans.  One second between signals... two seconds between... 3... 4...5... and so on until they were spaced by apart by very large amounts of time and the person just faded away and the signals wouldn't get received anymore.

Before time nearly comes to a stop lets see what's up in this month's sky.

Mercury is at greatest eastern elongation on Sept. 11 which means the best time to observe Mercury would be a few days around that date.

Mars and Venus are also in the western horizon this month.  They will be less than a hand width held at arm's length above Mercury in the sky.

On Sept. 15 will be the full moon and on Sept. 29 will be a new moon.

Finally, on Sept. 22 is the Autumnal Equinox, the first day of fall.

Until next month just look up!

Hey Kids...
Remember about the Phoenix mars lander?  It landed on Mars a little more than three months ago and has been digging around in the dirt to see what's in the soil.  It dug down a few inches and hit ice.  Looking at the ice scientists on Earth found out that the ice used to be liquid.  This means tons of liquid water used to be on Mars!  Sadly, it has gotten so cold that all water has since frozen.  Temperatures on Mars where the Phoenix lander is can dip lower than -80 degrees Celsius!  Hopefully the lander brought a winter coat!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Send your name into space aboard NASA's Kepler mission

NASA's Kepler mission (shown in image at left) is offering the chance for anyone who wishes to send their name into space in a mini-DVD that will be attached to this spacecraft. Kepler will orbit the sun instead of the Earth so that it can constantly monitor the stars in a small patch of the sky about the size of a human hand held at arm's length.

To send your name and an answer to the question (optional) "Why do you think the Kepler Mission is important?" (500 words or less) just go to http://namesinspace.seti.org/ . Once you've submitted your name you have to choice to save or print off a certificate to prove your name will be in space (to save: File->Save As… from your browser).

This mission will launch sometime in 2009 and is the first mission capable of detecting Earth-size and smaller objects. This is when your name will be shot into space and will drift in space among the planets...

Name in Space is in celebration of the International Year of Astronomy in 2009. 2009 is the 400th anniversary of Kepler's publication of Kepler's first two laws of planetary motion. A copy of the mini-DVD with all of the names and messages will be given to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Phoenix Mars Weather Summary for Sols 1 to 63

Over 63 Sols (martian days) the Martian weather has changed slightly. Here is a quick summary from data taken from NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander for its days spent on Mars.

The temperature increased by about 4°C with an average max temperature of -30°C and an average low of -79°C. The winds were southerly during the day and easterly at night. The average wind speed over the 63 Sols of wind measurements was 14.4 km/h.

The atmosphere varied from clear to clear with dust haze and the atmospheric pressure steadily decreased from 8.5 to 7.85 millibars over the 63 Sol period.

Here's a graph of this summary over this 63 Sol period (click image for a larger view):


reevesAstronomy

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Laptop idea revisions

Looking at my cash in hand I'm thinking just a simple white MacBook (why does the black version have to cost an extra 100 bucks?!?) will be better choice than the MacBook Pro. I'll still be getting similar specs on it (smaller screen and one less USB port - sigh...). Thinking logically, I'm going to wait until apple updates their line of computers, which should be happening in a month or two.


My laptop will run on an Intel Core 2 Duo processor running at 2.4Ghz or more (depends on price at the time of purchase), will have 4 GB of RAM (600mhz or faster), a graphics processor (cheap ol' apple can't even give you a graphics card...tsk, tsk). It will have a 13 inch monitor, a full keyboard, trackpad, Wi-Fi, etc. For more details check out: http://www.apple.com/macbook/


Tech Specs at a glance:
  • 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo
  • 4GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM - 2x2GB
  • 160GB Serial ATA Drive @ 5400 rpm
  • SuperDrive 8x (DVD±R DL/DVD±RW/CD-RW)
  • Keyboard (English) / User's Guide
  • 13" High Gloss Screen
I will have Mac OS X Leopard (10.5) with Linux (PCLinux or Ubuntu) and Windows Vista as alternative boot options (see my last laptop update to see more about my planned OS's) for when I need them. I also plan on getting a cheap ( possibly a few hundred dollars) CCD for imaging with my telescope.

That's all my laptop ideas for now, I'll make sure to keep you posted.

reevesAstronomy

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Phoenix Confirms Presence of Water and Finds "Toxic" Substance in Martian Soil


NASA's Phoenix lander found an unexpected "toxic" substance while analyzing icy soil samples taken near Mars' north pole. This announcement comes just after the announcement confirming water (in ice form) exists on Mars.

The scientists working with the Phoenix mission made the two finds after analyzing the data from the Thermal and Evolved Gas Analyzer which can heat samples up to 1800 degrees Fahrenheit. Phoenix then "sniffs" the gasses given off to see what the sample is composed of.

In this case, a soil sample containing scrapings of ice (sampling area shown in above image) were heated and tested to see what the sample contained. Water was found in large amounts indicating the the hard white substance they sampled was in fact water ice. They also made the surprising find of Perchlorate.

The highly reactive salt called Perchlorate in the soil was thought to have possibly been from the rocket fuel used by Phoenix to land on the surface of Mars. But it turns out that this is not contamination since Phoenix's rockets used hydrazine not chlorine as a fuel.

Perchlorate is toxic enough that it could prevent any life from living. Other scientists believe it would have a positive effect for life and could be used as a possible energy source.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Life - and Death - Among the Stars

Welcome back to What's Up?

Continuing from last month's topic of dwarf stars we'll look at the other end of the stellar spectrum, the giant stars.

Sometime, around four or five billion years from now our sun will start to expand becoming larger and larger until it is about the size of Earth's orbit to become a red giant. There happens to be one problem for Earth here, the orbit of the Earth will be inside the sun which means the Earth will completely melt and disintegrate, mixing into the sun.

By this time the sun will have changed to a red colour due to a lower surface temperature.

The sun will run out of hydrogen fuel and will start fusing helium for a few million years. Then it will start burning heavier and heavier elements like carbon and oxygen until it starts burning iron. In order to fuse iron more energy is needed to fuse it than the fusing process creates.

Once the sun is fusing iron it will no longer produce enough energy to keep it from contracting under its own gravity it will begin pulsating and shedding off its outer layers. Eventually, all that will be left is the core of the sun: a small dense white dwarf that may weigh half as much as the sun's original mass, yet be as small as the size of the Earth!

Larger stars live much different lives than the small yellow dwarf star we orbit around that we call the sun.Large stars live much faster paced lives. These giant stars are up to a thousand times brighter and have diameters 10 to 100 times that of the sun. Since they're so large their insides are extremely hot and this causes these stars to burn their hydrogen fuel extremely quickly.

Most stars smaller than 8 solar masses will live a few hundred million years or longer. These smaller stars will have a much longer life. Nearing the end these smaller stars' lives they will expand into a red giant star and shed off its layers just like the sun will. Stars larger than this most likely will expand to even bigger diameters and possibly become a red or blue supergiant, depending on how hot it is. These stars that are larger than 8 solar masses have life expectancies of only a few tens of millions of years.

When you look up into the night sky, many of the bright stars you see are actually giant stars.

Stars that are dozens of times the sun's mass are usually called supergiant or hypergiants depending on their physical size and luminosity. They usually are twenty to several hundred times the sun's diameter and have 10,000 to 100,000 solar luminosities. Supergiants only last a few million years or so before they explode in a supernova, an explosion where the core of the star collapses and then the star explodes leaving behind either a small, dense star called a neutron star (just a few miles across but with as much mass as two or three suns, one teaspoonful of this star would have as much mass as a mountain) or a black hole (very small dense object with gravity so strong that light can't even escape).

Finally, hypergiants, the largest of all stars, are constantly on the verge of instability since they weigh in at over 100 solar masses. They only last a few hundred thousand up to a few million years. Since they last such a short period of time they are very rare. Only about a dozen are known to exist in our galaxy.

One of the better known hypergiants is Eta Carinae. In the 1800's it was the second brightest star in the sky. But it dimmed quickly out of sight. It's now only visible with the aid of a telescope. This star could explode at any time since it is so unstable.

Since it is in the southern hemisphere's sky, most people in the northern hemisphere won't get to see it explode even if it does so within our lifetimes, so let's check out the northern sky for this month.

On Aug. 1 there was a new moon. There was a total solar eclipse visible from northern Canada and Greenland that day. Only a partial solar eclipse was visible to Islanders if they got up early enough in the morning. Don't forget to wear eye protection such as welder's goggles or use a pinhole camera (check "Hey Kids" section) if you ever plan to observe the sun.

Two weeks later on Aug. 16 there will be a full moon and this will also be a partial lunar eclipse. Don't get too excited though, the moon will barely be in the Earth's shadow so not much difference may be noticed.

Finally, on Aug. 30, there will be a new moon, the last of the summer.

Until next month, just look up!

Hey Kids...

If you want to view the sun safely without fancy goggles during solar eclipses you can make what's called a pinhole camera. All you need are two pieces of cardboard and one needle. You poke the needle through the center of the first piece of cardboard making sure that the hole isn't too big and that it's nice and round. That's all there is to making it! To use it all you have to do is face away from the sun while holding one piece of cardboard a few inches or so apart (you may want to experiment a little bit) from the first piece of cardboard the closest to the sun. You will see a little image of the sun projected on the second piece of cardboard. And there you go! If you really like to experiment you can use a cheese grater to project many little images of the sun onto a piece of cardboard or paper. Now you know how to view the next solar eclipse!

reevesAstronomy

Dwarfs Hiding in the Sky

Welcome back to What's Up?

Last month the Phoenix Mars Lander found water ice on Mars. This is the first time that any form of water has been observed directly on the surface of Mars up close. As of writing this the Lander has just found that the soil is not toxic in any way and that it is similar to soil that would be found in a garden (minus the organic substances). It also found the soil is somewhat salty, not acidic, and has interacted with liquid water at some point in its past.

Looking at the sky, Mars is barely above the western horizon at the start of this month, and it will be sinking even lower along with Spring's constellations. Let's look at the stars within these constellations. More specifically, let's look at the hidden stars that actually make up the vast majority of stars in our galaxy.

The stars being referred to are called red dwarfs and brown dwarfs. And yes, they are very small stars like their name suggests. Let's look at the red dwarf stars first.

Red dwarfs are the most common type of star that we know of by far. Out of the nearest thirty stars to our sun, twenty-one of them are red dwarfs!These small stars are less than one half of our sun's mass (our sun is called a yellow dwarf) but more than 0.08 solar masses (80 Jupiter masses). Any objects smaller than this are called brown dwarfs.

Since red dwarfs are so small they don't give off very much light - the smallest of these stars give off 10,000 times less light than the sun!Considering their minute size, most people would think at first thought that these little stars would burn out quickly since they have less fuel (hydrogen).

In reality, they actually burn their supply of hydrogen so slow that they can keep burning for over a trillion years! Normal stars can only burn for billions of years and the largest of stars may only last a few million!Even smaller than the dim little red dwarfs are the brown dwarfs. These are the smallest and dimmest type of star. They mainly give off infrared light so they can only be seen with special telescopes.

It is difficult to tell where the dividing line can be drawn as to what is a planet and what is a brown dwarf. It's usually somewhere around 0.013 solar masses (about 13 Jupiter masses).The main difference between planets and brown dwarfs is how they form. Brown dwarfs form in the same way as regular stars, in a collapsing cloud of dust and gas with them at the center. Planets form when that cloud of dust and gas collapses into a rotating pancake shape and the planets form within this disk around the star at the center.

Brown dwarfs generate light and heat in two ways: deuterium (heavy form of hydrogen) fusion and through the slow contraction of all the material within these objects due to their gravity trying to pull everything inwards. Their deuterium supply usually runs out after ten million years and the gravitational contraction mainly creates heat so it can be nearly impossible to see these objects against the darkness of space.

The first brown dwarf was discovered in 1995 and is called Gliese 229B. Many others have been discovered since.

Since these are so difficult to see and detect, let's look for something which we can see with a little more ease.

This month there was a full moon on July 3rd and the moon will reach its full phase by the 18th.Jupiter is at opposition on July 9th. This would be the best time to view or photograph the planet since this is when the planet is closest to the Earth for this year, but Jupiter is favoring the southern latitudes this year so we won't get a good view since it's low on the horizon. By naked eye, it will be a fine sight. Just look towards the Southern sky this month. It will be by far the brightest object in the sky.

Until next month, just look up!

Hey Kids...
If you can't get out to see the skies due to those annoying clouds, you can explore the sky on the web at www.google.com/sky . Click and drag around to move around, double-click to zoom or use the middle scroll wheel on your mouse. There are buttons at the bottom to help you find certain objects like planets, constellations, or images taken by the famous Hubble space telescope. Also, at the top left hand corner of the page are three links: Sky, Moon, and Mars. Click on "Moon" to view the Moon or click on "Mars" to view Mars in high detail. Don't forget about the search box at the top, it can really be a help. Enjoy!

reevesAstronomy

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Telescope Opens Up the Universe

Welcome back to What's Up?

Summer solstice, the first official day of Summer, is approaching on June 21. That means the nights will be getting shorter, and warmer weather will be moving in to make the Summer constellations more enjoyable.

June is my favorite month of the year for one main reason: it's the month when I got my first telescope a few years ago. It was a refractor, the same type as the one invented 400 years ago.

The telescope appears to have been invented way back in 1608 by Hans Lippershey. He was also the first person to create binoculars. Immediately, the military forces found use for it in battle. Word spread quickly across Europe (just like gossip here on the Island!) via word of mouth and mail. Within one year an Italian man, named Galileo Galilei, heard of this miraculous invention.

The name for "telescope" comes from "tele" - meaning far - and "skopein", meaning "to look or see". It was given to Galileo's first scope and has stuck ever since.

Galileo was curious about this odd device, so he built his own and pointed it towards the heavens above. What he saw bewildered him. The moon is covered in thousands of craters. The planets are visible as discs and aren't just points of light. Venus goes through phases like the moon. Jupiter has its own moons. Saturn has a ring-like structure around it. That's just to name a few of his discoveries!

He actually proved that the moon and planets are other worlds, like Earth.

Since then, telescope technology has advanced dramatically with telescopes getting larger and larger. The objective mirrors, the main mirrors in reflecting telescopes, are now up to about ten meters (30 feet) in diameter! This craving for aperture increase is commonly referred to as "aperture fever".

Telescopes that have mirrors ten meters in diameter require extremely well grinded mirrors. These mirrors are so smooth that if they were blown up to the size of the earth, the largest bump or "hill" on them would be no higher than a doorstop!

A plan for a telescope about one hundred meters across (328 feet) - about the size of an NFL football - has been proposed to the European Space Agency (ESA). The telescope has been named the Over-Whelmingly Large Telescope - OWL for short. It is so huge that the mirrors have mechanical "fingers" that hold the mirror in shape.

With these new telescopes incredible detail can be seen, but size comes with a downside. The atmosphere is turbulent and distorts images just like the fluctuating hot air over a hot paved road. But now, the advanced technology called "adaptive optics" allows astronomers to see through our turbulent atmosphere and use these telescopes to their full potential.

The idea around adaptive optics is fairly simple. The telescope shoots a few lasers into the atmosphere, and computers then monitor how the light beams move around. Then the computers change the shape of the mirror to reverse these effects. This hasn't been possible until now, thanks to the huge amount of processing power in today's computers.

With this computer power astronomers are "linking" telescopes together. This allows much better resolution, which means more detail is visible.

With adaptive optics being incorporated into telescopes, space-based tools like the Hubble telescope won't be needed as much since we are now able to see clearly through the atmosphere. Space based telescopes will still be useful, however, to see types of light that can't be seen through the atmosphere because the atmosphere absorbs them. A few examples of light that can't be seen through our atmosphere are gamma-rays, X-rays, UV-rays, infra-red, and some radio waves.

By sending telescopes that can see these bizarre types of light, we can see things our eyes normally can't see. These include galaxies that are normally hidden behind the Milky Way's dust clouds, baby stars inside nebula, and bursts of gamma-rays and X-rays from black holes.

Now let's peer skyward and see what's up.

The new moon was on the 3rd this month, and so the full moon will be on the 18th.

Summer Solstice, the first day of Summer, is on June 20th.

June 10th is the fifth anniversary of the launch of the Spirit rover. Originally designed to last only a few months, this rover has lasted years and is still operational! Its twin, the Opportunity rover, was launched within a few months of Spirit and is also still operational.

Speaking of Mars, you probably have heard that late last month the Phoenix lander landed on Mars. It carries a disk containing the names of the present and past members of the Athena Community Astronomy Club. This lander will be digging for ice, organic compounds, and signs of past or present life. You can keep track of its progress on the web at "phoenix.lpl.arizona.edu/".

This lander also contains a weather monitoring station and you can also keep updated on recent Martian weather reports here too. At a typical high temperature of -30 degrees Celsius, Mars doesn't seem that far away from home!

Until next month, just look up!

Hey Kids...
You, too, can send your names to another world - the Moon. A mission to the moon, called LRO, which is being run by NASA, will be bringing along a disc containing the names of many people like you and me. All you have to do is go to their web site "lro.jhuapl.edu/NameToMoon/index.php" and type in your first name and last name in the spaces provided. Then click the "Add Name" button and your name will be added to the disc and your name will be sent to the moon!

Monday, June 2, 2008

MacBook Pro with OS X, Vista, Linux








In a few months, I plan on buying a laptop computer. This computer will be for astrophotography, games, work, computer fiddling, programming, and casual internet surfing/emailing.

I've put a good deal of research into this and I've came up with a great idea: A Mac
Book Pro (picture below) with a suite of operating systems.
My laptop will run on an Intel Core 2 Duo processor running at 2.4Ghz or more (depends on price at the time of purchase), will have 3 or 4 GB of RAM (600mhz or faster), a NVidea graphics card with at least 256MB of VRAM. Depending on money, I will either get a 15 inch monitor or a 17 inch (more money, extra USB port). Most likely I will get the 15 inch which features a full keyboard, multi-touch trackpad, wireless, etc. For more details check out: http://www.apple.com/macbookpro/specs.html

Below is a labelled image showing all of the ports feature on the MacBook Pro. Please note that there are only two USB 2.0 ports on the 15 inch model (Click for a bigger image view).

Tech Specs at a glance:
Specifications
spacer.gif
  • Accessory Kit
  • MacBook Pro 15[17] -inch Glossy Widescreen Display
  • 2.4[2.6]GHz Intel Core 2 Duo
  • 200GB Serial ATA Drive @ 5400 rpm
  • Backlit Keyboard (English) / User's Guide
  • SuperDrive 8x (DVD±R DL/DVD±RW/CD-RW)
  • 4GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM - 2x2GB
(in the "[]" are the specs I hope to get if I can afford to get them)










My operating system for my sexy MacBook Pro will be the best OS available on a Mac: Mac OS X 10.5 "Leopard". I will use the "Boot Camp" feature in Mac to create partitions for Windows Vista Home Premium (possibly Ultimate) and Linux (Most likely PC Linux '07 from a home-made liveCD disk).

But rebooting is annoying and takes time! Isn't there a way to run them simultaneously, side-by-side?

Yes, it's called a Virtual Machine program. Two prominent programs are Parallels 3.0 and VMware Fusion 1.0 (2.0 will be released in a few months). I've heard so much praise for VMware fusion and so much criticism for Parallels that first thing I'll do when I get Vista, will be to try the trial of VMware Fusion. If it's good, I'll go for it.

Any criticisms, advice, or ideas? Leave a comment and I'll try to make sure I read it.

Here are a few pics of the desktop of the OS's I will be using on my laptop:

Mac OS X 10.5 "Leopard" image showing the Dock and Mac Finder.



Image of the PC Linux 2007 environment showing off its cool 3D effects and multiple desktops.





Screen-shot of windows Vista's new 3D flip and its sidebar.

If I have any new ideas, I will keep you posted.

reevesAstronomy

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Phoenix and Athena Astronomy Club land on Mars!

After many months traveling through the loneliness of space, the $400 million Phoenix lander has landed on Mars. It landed successfully around 8pm EST on May 25, 2008 after the seven minutes of terror coming down through the Martian atmosphere.

Phoenix is in great condition with all instruments working. The digger had a little problem being deployed but should be fine for use. It is on an eight foot long arm that will dig down up to 30 centimeters in search of ice, organic compounds, and evidence for present or past ice.

Before launch a disc that contained numerous works of literature, music, etc about the Martian planet was firmly attached to the lander. This disc also contains the names of about 250,000 earthlings including present and past members of the Athena Astronomy Club in Summerside, PEI, Canada, of which I am proudly a present member.
The image shown is of the disk that contains our names, which is entitled "Messages From Earth, Phoenix, 2007".

Another similar NASA project, the LRO (Lunar CRater Observation) moon lander features a program called "Send Your Name to the Moon". At the upper right hand side of the page there is a link "Send your name to the moon >" , click on this link, type in your first and last names in the spaces provided, press the button "Add Name", and your name will be added to the disk that will be on the lander. When the lander lands on the moon in 2009 you can say, "Hey, I'm on the moon!" (philosophically speaking).

This mission, like Phoenix, will be looking for ice and water. It will target the south pole of the moon to see how much, if any, ice resides on the moon to see if a lunar base would be possible.

This lander also features a very large Canadian contribution. A $37 million meteorological station will monitor weather on Mars over the next few months. This weather station also features the first laser on another planet. The laser will be shot into the upper atmosphere toward the clouds above and it will receive some of the scattered light and analyze it to determine what Mars' clouds are made of.

For the latest updates from the Phoenix lander go to the Phoenix Mission - Home page or go to the Phoenix Mars Lander page at NASA.gov.

reevesAstronomy

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Galaxies, Dwarfs, and Hobbits

Welcome back to What's Up?

Now that Spring has finally arrived it will be easier to spend more time outside to take a peek at the sky and see what's up.

Continuing on the theme of galaxies from last month, I'll be talking about the small, unnoticed galaxies; the Dwarf Galaxies.

It may be very surprising to find that galaxies like ours containing billions of stars that appear in the majority of space images and attract most of the attention are outnumbered by up to ten times as many dwarf galaxies!

For example, in our own local group of galaxies, there are forty-five galaxies total. Out of those forty-five galaxies only five aren't dwarf galaxies!

Dwarf galaxies are simply just small galaxies containing only millions of stars instead of billions that are somewhere in between globular clusters(hundreds of thousands of stars clumped together) and galaxies like ours and the Andromeda galaxy in size.

Omega Centauri is now being considered as a dwarf galaxy instead of a globular cluster due to its enormous size compared with other globular clusters. It even has a black hole that weighs millions of times as much as our own sun!

Very recently astronomers have coined the term, "Hobbit Galaxy", to any galaxy smaller than a dwarf galaxy. These galaxies are hardly a mist of stars, dust, and dark matter - a substance that can be observed only by its gravitational effect - mixed together. Seeing them is like reading white text on a white background.

There are two main types of dwarfs, irregular and elliptical. Irregular galaxies have no particular shape or pattern and elliptical galaxies are elliptical(oval) in shape. Also, there is another type, which is very rare, the spiral dwarf galaxy.

Another interesting type of dwarf galaxy are the extremely low surface brightness galaxies. These galaxies are so dim that only recently with ultra powerful telescopes and sophisticated computer processing have astronomers been able to pull them out of the darkness.

Also being pulled out of the darkness are dwarfs that are interacting with our galaxy that we've never seen before. Some of these galaxies are essentially being ripped apart by gravitational forces within our galaxy. These galaxies get ripped into streams and are stretched into a long ribbon which wraps around our own Milky Way. This ribbon eventually dissolves into our galaxy. That's why it is so difficult to detect them; these little galaxies' stars are commingled with our galaxies stars making them hard to tell apart.

Some astronomers believe that dwarf galaxies play a large role in large galaxy formation. They believe our galaxy and many other galaxies formed as a result as many of these minute galaxies merging together to form larger and larger galaxies.

Eventually you would end up with a galaxy about as large as ours after these many mergers and after a great amount of time spinning a spiral shape shows up just like a spiraling vortex shows up when you pull the plug out of a bath tub. After all this mixing and mashing we end up with our beautiful Milky Way galaxy where we have been born since. Now that we're here we might as well examine the sky for a few events that are going on in our wonderful sky.

The moon this month will be new on May 5th and this month you can attempt to see opposite crescent moons on consecutive days. On May 4th, 35 minutes before sunrise look to the East-North-East with binoculars and you should be able to spot it. Watch out for the rising sun! On the next day, May 5th, look around very close to the horizon in the West-North-West about 30 minutes after sunset with binoculars. The moon will appear as an extremely faint and a very thin sliver. This will be a terribly difficult hunt, so if you don't quite find the moon on the 5th don't worry!

The moon will be full by May 19th and will be the farthest full moon from earth this year. This means that the moon may appear smaller in the sky than usual. It is also what is called a "Blue Moon"(third full moon in a season). The next blue moon will be November 21st, 2010.

Also Mercury will pop in and will be best viewed within a few days of May 10th.

A few markable notes things to be noted from NASA: on May 25th the Phoenix Mars lander will land on Mars to drill into the soil and measure atmospheric conditions. On May 30th will be the launch of the Space Shuttle mission STS-124 and will deliver the final parts for the Japanese Kibo Module for the International Space Station.

On the last Sunday of this month, as usual, is the Athena Community Astronomy Club's monthly meeting.

Until next month, just look up!


Hey Kids...
Astronomers and engineers are working on a solar sail. This solar sail will act just like a sail on a boat to propel a spacecraft forward except for one difference: it will use the solar wind instead of wind here on earth. This solar sail may be put a little spacecraft which will use the solar wind to glide quickly outside the solar system to see what space is like out there. Who knows? Maybe in the future people will use these solar sails to glide out into the outer solar system away from earth to settle on other planets. Those people may even be you!

reevesAstronomy