Category Archives: News
What a year for space exploration! With 2013 coming to a close I thought I would look back on some of the biggest news in space that I’ve featured here on Lights in the Dark. Rather than a “top ten” list, as is common with these year-end reviews, I’m going to do more of a month-by-month (hence the 12) to help recollect some of the amazing stories and sights that 2013 has brought us. And with some of the big headliners we’ve seen this year it’s easy to lose sight of the smaller (but no less fascinating) discoveries — so I’ll be sure to include some of those too. After all, when it comes to learning about the Universe there’s no “little” news!
Ready? Let’s go!
Yesterday sure was interesting. As the astronomical world, from scientists to journalists to enthusiasts alike, watched online in near real time as ISON came within its closest pass of the Sun — in literally ever — the comet, having spent the previous several hours brightening steadily, suddenly went dim as it traveled deep into the Sun’s outer corona. It appeared that it had fallen apart, disintegrating* into a smear of bright particles just as it began to round the Sun. Even as astronomers looked to spot a sungrazing ISON in several of NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory’s imaging fields, nothing was to be found, leading many to pronounce the billion-year-old icy visitor from the Oort Cloud dead on arrival.
But then, just as the Twitterverse was lamenting the loss of this year’s most famous comet, something reappeared… and even now, a full day later, they’re still not quite sure what.
So did you get out and Wave at Saturn on The Day the Earth Smiled? If you did (and even if you didn’t) here’s how you — and everyone else on Earth — looked to the Cassini spacecraft in orbit around Saturn, 898.4 million miles away.
As Carl Sagan famously said, “That’s here, that’s home, that’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives.” On that bright point of light, the entirety of our world — past and present — resides. And just below it and to the left is the Moon… still to date the farthest that humans have ever physically ventured.
It’s a sobering image, but also quite beautiful… as well as deceiving in its simplicity as only now do humans have the technology to witness the entire planet and its lone moon as such tiny specks of distant light. Still, during the exploration of our solar system, it’s important to take a moment to look back home.
Holy Tunguska flashback*! Early this morning a meteor entered the atmosphere above the Chelyabinsk region of Russia, disintegrating at altitude of
50-60 km (18-32 miles) 14-20 km (12-15 miles) and creating an explosion and shockwave that shattered glass and blew in doors across the area, injuring hundreds. The space rock is estimated to have weighed about 10 7,000 metric tons.
The meteor has been captured in many amateur videos that were quickly uploaded to YouTube — watch below and see more here.
Find out more about this event on Universe Today here.
*The 1908 Tunguska event was vastly more powerful than this. But still… rocks from space!
Yesterday I buried my father.
To be exact, yesterday was the funeral for my father. It was with military honors, as he served four years in the Navy during the Vietnam War, mostly aboard the heavy cruiser U.S.S. Newport News. Family and friends were in attendance, my younger brother as well as his older and younger brothers… rifles were fired, “Taps” was played and a flag was folded, which now sits on a shelf behind me as I write this. I exchanged my father in a box for that flag and a handful of empty rifle shells yesterday, December 13, 2012. He was 64 years old. Tomorrow would have been his 65th birthday.
He passed away at home sometime Sunday morning of heart failure, most likely brought on by a recent round of intensive chemotherapy. A diagnosis of acute myeloid leukemia forced him to retire in June, although he never really got to enjoy his time out of work as most of his days were spent either in hospitals or clinics or else maintaining a regimen of tongue-twisting medications too numerous to count and planning for an uncertain future — which, this week, became suddenly very much certain.
His few and brief “good days” were spent, however, with family and friends, and he did make sure to do things he liked (and was physically able) to do. I got the opportunity to share time with him, and actually that was part of the reason that I moved back to Rhode Island from Texas after eight years away. I realize that many people don’t get to spend that kind of “extra” time with their family members before death takes them away, and for that I’m glad. Still, it’s hard to know that from now on I’ll be referring to my father in the past tense.
Today, tens of thousands of people are gathering in northeastern Australia to witness one of the most amazing and dramatic astronomical events known: a total solar eclipse. At 2:39 p.m. EDT (19:39 UT) the Moon will begin to pass in front of the Sun for viewers around Cairns, Australia, leading up to a brief period of totality at 5:12 p.m. EDT (22:12 UT). At this time, the Sun will be completely blocked by the disk of the Moon, revealing the wispy strands of the Sun’s outer corona. It will be a spectacular view that’s possible at no other time, and will give scientists a chance to study some curious aspectsof the Sun’s atmosphere.
“On a scale of one to ten, a total solar eclipse is a MILLION.” – Fred Espenak, aka “Mr. Eclipse“