Rosetta and the comet

Computer model of the Rosetta spacecraft

Computer model of Rosetta

Rosetta is a robotic spacecraft built by the European Space Agency which is due to reach comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko in August. It’s the first mission designed to both orbit and land on a comet.

The Rosetta space probe orbiter, which features 12 instruments, will orbit 67P for 17 months and is designed to complete the most detailed study of a comet ever attempted. In November 2014 the Philae robotic lander, with an additional nine instruments, will approach Churyumov–Gerasimenko slowly, then fire two harpoons into the comet to prevent the lander from bouncing off. Both the orbiter and lander will stay with the comet as it goes around the sun.

Mockup of the Philae lander

Mockup of Philae

You can’t land on a comet core without knowing its shape, so Rosetta has been observing the comet core as it approaches. It’s a weird shape, even for a comet. Some people thought that it might be a binary – two comet cores rotating each other, and touching. Actually, it’s more like a rubber duck.

This is going to be fun.

comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko

comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko

RGO Photographer of the Year Shortlist

Auroras in Kattfjordeidet, Tromsø, Norway by Ole C. Salomonsen

Creature by Ole C. Salomonsen
Auroras in Kattfjordeidet, Tromsø, Norway.

The Royal Greenwich Observatory has announced the shortlist for the Astronomy Photographer of the year. They got 2,500 entries! As you can see fromt eh photo above, the standard is amazing. Go and see them at https://www.flickr.com/photos/royalobservatory/galleries/72157645060485867/

Summer Solstice 2014

El Verde archeological site at midsummer sunset (El Paso, La Palma, Canary Islands)

El Verde at midsummer sunset

Today is the summer solstice – the longest day of the year.

Several archeological sites on La Palma mark the solstice. El Verde, near El Paso cemetery, is a natural bowl where a natural notch in the rock sends a spotlight onto a carving at midsummer sunset. This was probably a sacred moment for the Awara.

If you’d like to see it, get to the car park at El Paso cemetery before 8 pm and follow the signpost or the (small) crowd.

The observatory in bloom

Some of the telescopes at the Roque de Los Muchachos

Some of the telescopes at the Roque de Los Muchachos

The whole hillside at the Roque de Los Muchachos is in bloom. But where heather moors go purple, The peaks of La Palma go yellow with sticky broom (Adenocarpus viscosus, or codeso in Spanish) and Frech broom (Genista benehoavensis or retamón palmero in Spanish)

Gran Telescopio Canarias  with codeso in bloom

Gran Telescopio Canarias with codeso in bloom

Carolyn Porco

Carolyn Porco is head of NASA’s Cassini mission to Saturn.

As a teenager in the Bronx she saw Saturn through a friend’s telescope, and was immediately addicted to astronomy. So that’s what she did at university. After graduating, she knew she wanted to study planets. NASA was sending unmanned ships to Mars and Venus, and she wanted to be part of it, and did her Ph.D. on the dynamics of Saturn’s rings, using data from NASA’s Voyager mission. Aged 30, she joined the Voyager team in time for the encounters with Uranus in 1986 and Neptune in 1989. She did the calculations for the famous Pale Blue Dot photograph.

Then she joined the team of the Cassini–Huygens mission as leader of the Imaging Team, so she’s responsible for some amazing photos. She’s also on the team for the New Horizons mission to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt.

A Photo of the Canaries wins Tournament: Earth 2014

The Canary Islands from NASA’s Terra satellite  on June 15, 2013

The Canary Islands from NASA’s Terra satellite on June 15, 2013

Every year NASA holds a competition to chose the best photo of Earth. The Canary Islands won this year’s Tournament: Earth is again. (Last year’s winner was a photo of the submarine eruption off El Hierro.)

The Canary Islands sit in the trade winds and the Canary current, both of which come from the north east. This photo, taken by NASA’s Terra satellite on June 15, 2013, shows long shiny areas of sea stretching downwind and downstream from each island. This is because the sea is either rougher or smoother (probably smoother) on the leeward of the islands.

You can also see a long trail of cloud coming off Tenerife, looking like smoke from a cigarette. That’s caused by Mt Teide, which is 3,718-metres (12,198 ft) high.

Our Solar System, to scale

Josh Worth has created what he calls a “tediously accurate scale model of the Solar System: If the moon were only 1 pixel

There’s lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of empty space out there.

A Supernova near Ursa Major

Galaxy M82 before (above) and after (below)  SN2014J.

Galaxy M82 before (above) and after (below) SN2014J. The bottom image was taken at 19:20 UT, 21st January 2014 using the automatic 35 cm telescope of the University of London Observatory.
Credit: UCL/University of London Observatory/Steve Fossey/Ben Cooke/Guy Pollack/Matthew Wilde/Thomas Wright

A new supernova has been spotted just 12 light years away in M 82, the Cigar galaxy, which is between Ursa Major (the Great Bear or Big Dipper) and Ursa Minor. It’s a type 1a supernova, which is what happens when a white dwarf sucks gas from a companion red giant, until the white dwarf reaches 1.4 solar masses (the Chandrasekhar mass) when the core becomes hot enough to fuse carbon, which starts a runaway reaction, and the whole star goes FOOM!

Since this is the 10th supernova spotted this year, its official name is SN 2014J (SN for supernova, 2014 for the year, and then the first supernova of the year is SN2014A, etc.). On Monday night it was magnitude 11 (easily visible through a small telescope), and it should reach maximum brightness on about January 31st. It might be visible through binoculars by then.

An astrophotography exhibition

The winners of the La Palma astrophotography competition getting their prizes in the island's museum

The winners getting their prizes

Every year La Palma holds an astrophotography contest, and the winning entries from the 2013 contest are now on display in the island’s museum. The inauguration was held on Friday night, and the winners received their prizes.

It’s well worth a visit, because the photos are wonderful, and the rest of the museum is interesting too.

The museum (and the exhibition) is open from 10 am – 8 pm Monday – Saturday, and 10 am – 2 pm on Sundays. The exhibition will be there until March 17th.

Invitation to the inauguration of the astrophotography exhibition

Invitation to the inauguration

Snow at the Observatory today

The MAGIC telescope this evening, with snow on the ground

The MAGIC telescope this evening