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A Flying Visit to the Berkeley Synchrotron

By Rachel

Earlier this year I was lucky enough to get to go over to California for a few days all in the name of science.  We stayed up in the hills behind Berkeley, a short walk away from the instrument we were using.  The view from our hotel room was pretty amazing with views across San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge and the Pacific Ocean.

Continue reading “A Flying Visit to the Berkeley Synchrotron”

Communication Breakdown

By Thomas

Over the last week space science got a lot of publicity thanks to Rosetta and its sidekick Philae. ESAs successful attempt to land a spacecraft on a comet was all over the news. Apart from the news coverage, which the mission got thanks to the landing, you could and can follow Rosetta on Twitter or on the Rosetta blog, ESA is providing detailed information about the mission on their website and last but not least the use of videos explaining Rosettas mission and the ingenious short-movie Ambition got a lot of people excited about the mission. A pathetic hysteria raging over a scientists sense of fashion aside, it was an excellent example for science communication well-done. Or was it?

Continue reading “Communication Breakdown”

Does My Moon Look Big In This?

By Adi

It happens at least once every month. Sometimes, rarely, it happens twice a month. It’s when lunatics roam the streets and when drivers get distracted by what they see up there in the sky. It’s a bird. It’s a plane. No, it’s a FULL MOON.

Yesterday, inspired by the beautiful sight of the Moon outside my window and soon after reading Thomas’s post about impact craters on the different hemispheres of the Moon, I wanted to find out if there were others around the world who were also thinking about the Moon. It turned out there were lots of people tweeting about the Moon (hashtag analysis suggested atleast hundreds of tweets per hour). Historical statistics suggested the around this time of each month, the webosphere goes wild about the Moon and so I began digger deeper. I plotted data from Google Trends and noticed how periodic peaks in searches for the keywords “Big Moon” coincided with the days around a full moon. Over the last few years, since social media took over the world, annual Supermoon events sparked the most interest with about 4 times as many Google searches than a typical day in the year.

2013 Google Search Trends for the term 'Big Moon'.

So, what’s the fascination with the size of the Moon?
Continue reading “Does My Moon Look Big In This?”

Barefooted astrobiologist spreads ideas on intelligence

Disappointed by the US gov’t. shutdown? Hmm… intelligence can be hard to find these days on Earth. But surely there is intelligent life in space?

ANU astrobiologist Charley Lineweaver wants us to rethink our place in the universe. In this entertaining talk from the 2013 TEDxCanberra, Charley explores what he sees as the flawed logic of much of what we think about our evolution, and asks the big question: is there anybody (else) out there?

Watch it on YouTube: Science, humility and the fallacy of the planet of the apes

LADEE and the Lunar Atmosphere

lunar1
Fig. 1: Launch of the the Minotaur V rocket carrying LADEE.

By Thomas (guest blogger)

On the 6th of September NASA launched their LADEE mission (Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer) into space (Fig. 1). You might have heard of the launch as a frog photo-bombed a picture of the start (Fig. 2). So far the mission is fully on track. The mission will take about 30 days to travel to the Moon, 30 days for checkout and then around 100 days for science operations (Fig. 3).

So what`s hidden in that featureless term “science operations”?

The LADEE spacecraft contains three science instruments: The Ultraviolet and Visible Light Spectrometer (UVS), the Neutral Mass Spectrometer (NMS) and the Lunar Dust Experiment (LDEX). The instruments will analyse the light signatures of atmospheric materials, the variations in the composition of the lunar atmosphere in different heights over the Moon and dust particles in the atmosphere.

Fig. 2: Photo bombed LADEE launch.  http://www.boredpanda.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/frog-photobomb-nasa-launch-2.jpg
Fig. 2: Photo bombed LADEE launch.

Furthermore LADEE carries the Lunar Laser Communications Demonstration (LLCD) which will not be used to investigate the lunar atmosphere. The purpose of the LLCD is to demonstrate the possibility to use lasers for communication with satellites and spacecrafts instead of the conventionally used radio transmitters. This will allow broadband speed in the communications between future satellites/spacecrafts and Earth. LADEE therefore does not only have research goals but also aims to make a major improvement in space flights from the engineering point of view. Continue reading “LADEE and the Lunar Atmosphere”

Stunning Satellite Visualizations

By Adi

In today’s post, I was planning to tell you all about my trip in the last few weeks to Germany where I attended the 63rd Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting. This was an incredible opportunity to be inspired by 34 Nobel Laureates, discuss the latest in science and it’s role in our society, and meet other passionate early-career researchers from around the world. However, I would like to share some of the highlights from lectures at the meeting in this post, which are currently being processed by the media technicians at the meeting and so my post on my experiences at Lindau will happen at a later date (soon, I hope).

Instead, today I’d like to share with you a video that caught my attention last week as it offers stunning visuals that highlight the complexity and beauty of the Earth’s climate system. The 11-minute video, worthy I think of a re-post in our blog, was created by folks at the Youtube channel SpaceRip using material created at NASA from satellite observations. It is a good demonstration of how effective visuals can be to communicate science but also do interesting science by picking out signals which only become apparent when the datasets are viewed at different scales in time and space.

I encourage you to view the video in high resolution on your computer and share it with others. Then read this Scienctific American blog post for clarification of the science presented within the video by Eric Snodgrass (Department of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign).

Hidden connections on the moon

Figure 1 The three major lunar terrains. The map shows the difference of the terrains in their FeO and Th concentration. Data obtained by the Lunar Prospector Gamma-Ray Spectrometer. Diamonds indicate Apollo and Luna Landing Sites. Figure from Taylor, G. J., 2009. Ancient Lunar Crust: Origin, Composition, and Implications. Elements 5, 17-22.
Figure 1 The three major lunar terrains. The map shows the difference of the terrains in their FeO and Th concentration. Data obtained by the Lunar Prospector Gamma-Ray Spectrometer. Diamonds indicate Apollo and Luna Landing Sites. Figure from Taylor, G. J., 2009. Ancient Lunar Crust: Origin, Composition, and Implications. Elements 5, 17-22.

By Thomas

The Moon has many mysteries. One of the biggest is the Procellarum KREEP Terrain (PKT) (see Fig. 1) in the north west of the lunar nearside (the one you can see from Earth).

This areas main characteristic is that it has high concentrations in iron, thorium and the so called KREEP components (potassium (K), rare earth elements (REE) and phosphorous (P)). It also contains a lot of the lunar maria (the dark patches you can see on the Moon) which are basalts that flooded big impact basins. The KREEP components are incompatible elements, which means, if you have a crystallizing magma they tend to stay in the residual magma. This is because they do not fit very well in the first crystallizing minerals (such as olivine or plagioclase) due to their size and/or electron configuration. Continue reading “Hidden connections on the moon”

Random Sample: Periodic

By Adi

We begin this week with what might seem to be a collection of random videos and stories that lead us from earthly elements to stellar spectacles. Individually, they are all interesting but there is also a common thread… Can you identify the “periodic” feature in all the stories?

The NEW Periodic Table Song (In Order)
You have probably heard the Elements song by Tom Lehrer or heard a rendition of that song by Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter). There have been a number of other interesting takes on it but this new attempt by ASAP SCIENCE to sing the Period Table in order of the elements for the 21st century audience is awesome!

Continue reading “Random Sample: Periodic”

Sledding down sand dunes on surfboards made of dry ice, on Mars

By Nick,

Its been a busy week for Martian discoveries. And all of the stories here are from the Martian geologists that aren’t Curiosity. Remember Opportunity, a rover that landed on the red planet, over nine years ago. Well, despite its initial 90 martian day working lifespan, after 3300 martian days it’s still running, and still producing some great new science.

With all of Curiosity’s success in finding clues as to past water on Mars, Opportunity has discovered this rock, called Esperance. It has lower calcium and iron than any other rock so far analysed by the rover, and far higher quantities of aluminium and silica. Chemically, this means its highly likely to be a clay rich rock. And clay rich rocks can only form where there is high pH (ie. not acid) water.

Opportunity meanwhile, is off on a 2.2km trek for some winter sun, moving 25m on its first day as it trundles off in search of more science!

The pale rock in the middle of the image is believed to contain clays. Image: Nasa/JPL/Caltech/Cornell/ArizonaState
The pale rock in the middle of the image is believed to contain clays.
Image: Nasa/JPL/Caltech/Cornell/ArizonaState

But its not just the old rover’s that continue to function, the satellites are producing some stunning results and images of their own.

Continue reading “Sledding down sand dunes on surfboards made of dry ice, on Mars”

A new way to see the good old views

By Adi

I have always wondered if there will ever be a day when we shall be able to control time and space. You know, fast forward things we experience, then slow them down… Zoom into our world and then zoom back out simply with a two-finger pinch? For the time being at least, such control of our everyday experience seems to be in the realms of science fiction. But I recently discovered three new web-based visualization apps that can give us a feel for how useful such control would be for scientists.

Satellite imagery lets you follow terrain changes over time.
Google Earth enters the fourth dimension.

I invite you to try out these novel ways of looking at the Earth, the planets and the stars! Continue reading “A new way to see the good old views”

Chris Hadfield-Bowie; a Space Oddity

By Kelly

Normally I might put a piece like this as a ‘Not-so-serious-Sunday‘ post. But Chris Hadfield‘s recent recording from his studio in space is worth featuring mid week.  His rendition of David Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’ has gone viral, with even the original singer, the legendary chameleon eyed Daved Bowie, describing the cover as ‘possibly the most poignant version of the song ever created.‘ Quite possibly.

Yesterday Chris Hadfild arrived home to planet Earth after 146 days in space, where the social media outlet Twitter has made him the most famous astronaut since Neil Armstrong.

Continue reading “Chris Hadfield-Bowie; a Space Oddity”

Giant rose discovered on Saturn!

A false color image of Saturn's giant hurricane, which closely resembles a rose.
A false color image of Saturn’s giant hurricane, which closely resembles a rose.

By Claire

Now before we all resort to name calling, I realise that a giant rose wasn’t actually discovered on Saturn on Monday. What was discovered however, is a giant hurricane centred on the planet’s north pole – an equally as exciting discovery!

It has been known for a number of years that a strange hexagonal shaped weather phenomenon was located on Saturn’s north pole. However, the orientation of the planet relative to the sun has meant that this feature has remained in darkness since its discovery in 2004. In August of 2009, Saturn finally transitioned into spring, bathing this weather anomaly in light for the first time, allowing the Cassini spacecraft, which is currently orbiting the planet, to properly study it. Continue reading “Giant rose discovered on Saturn!”

The argument for life on Mars strengthens

This image from NASA's Curiosity rover shows the first sample of powdered rock extracted by the rover's drill. The image was taken after the sample was transferred from the drill to the rover's scoop. In planned subsequent steps, the sample will be sieved, and portions of it delivered to the Chemistry and Mineralogy instrument and the Sample Analysis at Mars instrument.
This image from NASA’s Curiosity rover shows the first sample of powdered rock extracted by the rover’s drill. The image was taken after the sample was transferred from the drill to the rover’s scoop. In planned subsequent steps, the sample will be sieved, and portions of it delivered to the Chemistry and Mineralogy instrument and the Sample Analysis at Mars instrument.

By Claire

New analyses carried out by the Curiosity Rover on Mars provides more evidence that conditions on Mars were suitable for life.

The Curiosity Rover has been working in an area known as “Yellow Knife Bay”, which has been identified as an ancient stream bed.

Analyses of the composition of rock powder from the stream bed indicate “the rock is made up of a fine-grained mudstone containing clay minerals, sulfate minerals and other chemicals. This ancient wet environment, unlike some others on Mars, was not harshly oxidizing, acidic or extremely salty.”

The sample contained “sulfur, nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and carbon — some of the key chemical ingredients for life.” Scientists have concluded that this environment could have supported microbial life.  Continue reading “The argument for life on Mars strengthens”

Galactic Collisions and Radiocarbon

collisionBy Evan

Several of the regular contributors to this blog deal with radiocarbon dating on a regular basis. The concentration of radiocarbon in the atmosphere is not constant – something that proves to be a major headache when trying to precisely find the age of your sample. For example, events that happened during the cold period known as the Younger Dryas (which happened between 12,900 and 11,500 years ago) cannot be precisely dated using radiocarbon because the concentration in the atmosphere increased rapidly. Potential causes of changes in atmospheric radiocarbon concentration include increases in carbon dioxide due to vegetation changes and ocean-atmosphere interactions, changes in the production rate (radiocarbon is produced by the bombardment of nitrogen gas in the upper atmosphere by cosmic rays), changes in the earth’s magnetic field (the magnetic field protects the Earth from cosmic rays), and more recently, nuclear weapons testing and fossil fuel burning. Changes in the concentration of radiocarbon for the past 12,400 years or so is fairly well known from measuring it in trees preserved in swamps. This allows for matching the concentration of radiocarbon through time with tree rings, an absolute chronology.

Apparent radiocarbon age versus real age (top plot), and the atmospheric concentration of radiocarbon during the Younger Dryas.
Apparent radiocarbon age versus real age (top plot), and the concentration of radiocarbon (bottom) during the Younger Dryas (from the INTCAL09 calibration curve). Note that a sample that grew any time between 12,200 and 12,600 years ago would give an apparent radiocarbon age of about 10,400 years.

Continue reading “Galactic Collisions and Radiocarbon”

Mars’ Glacial Past

Topographical relief of the stream-like feature on Mars.
Topographical relief of the river-like feature on Mars.

By Evan

The National Post has put up some of the latest ESA pictures that reveal Mars’ glacial past. Included is a large, 7 km wide river valley, and what appears to be a cirque, a mountain scooped out by a glacier. The river valley shows evidence of braided streams, which are common in glaciated regions. As noted by some of the commentators, this feature is relatively young on the Martian surface, and there are few craters that have damaged the geomorphology.

Martian cirque?
Martian cirque?
A cirque near Jasper, Alberta (I apologize for the darkness, I need a better camera!).
A cirque near Jasper, Alberta (I apologize for the darkness, I need a better camera!).
A braided stream bed on Mars?
A glacially related river bed on Mars? The ESA scientists believe the linear-style features formed long after water flowed to create the valley, possibly by glacial activity.
A braided stream in the Icefields Parkway in Alberta. These are broad, sinuating rivers that are constantly evolving.
A braided stream in the Icefields Parkway in Alberta (if you ever get the chance to go to Alberta, it is one of the most amazing places on Earth). These are broad, sinuating rivers that originate from melting glaciers, and are constantly evolving.

 

Diatoms from Space and Why bushfires aren’t causing global warming: A round-up of the week’s Earth Science News

By Nick

It is indeed a diatom. But is it from space?
It is indeed a diatom. But is it from space?

One of my more frequent procrastination methods is reading various popular science articles. I find them interesting and informative and feel they would be great for the readership of OnCirculation. But then I realise I have little original content or perspective to add to the topic.  Copying and pasting, would of course, be illegal; with acknowledgements is still a grey area. So here’s my round-up of some recent Earth Sciences news, complete with some links so you can read the full story for yourself.

Continue reading “Diatoms from Space and Why bushfires aren’t causing global warming: A round-up of the week’s Earth Science News”

Bushfires spare major ANU Observatory

siding_spring_observatoryBy Evan

In what is sure to be a major relief to our friends in the Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics, the ANU-run Siding Spring Observatory has been spared from a major bushfire that raged near Warrumbungle National Park in New South Wales last night. This event is reminiscent of the bush fires in Canberra in 2003, which destroyed a large part of the Mt Stromlo Observatory. Certainly, our thoughts go out to the employees who lost their homes in the fire.

The location of the Siding Spring Observatory was selected due to its distance from major sources of light polution and dry climate. One of the major projects ongoing at the facility is SkyMapper, which is mapping the entire southern hemisphere sky. The observatory is also used by researchers and hidden cameras who are searching for planets that orbit other stars, and of course the pursuit of alien life.

Relive the Landing of Year

By Adi

Scientists compare models to observations to better understand their
system. Here is a beautiful example where a computer simulation is
compared to observations literally out of this world!

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