And the Award Goes To…

Last night was the biggest night for movies and actors.  So today I am giving the award for best planet hunter to…..Kepler!

kepler

Kepler is like the gift that keeps on giving.  The Kepler team analyzing the data captured by the now disabled spacecraft have found another 715 exo-planets.

715!

That is almost as many planets  that have been identified in the past decade!  Kepler had previously identified 246 planets.  Over the past 20 years, Kepler is responsible for more than 1/2 of all exo-planets found.

Kepler_mission

I know that Kepler cannot be fixed, but for the $600M price-tag, and the continued discoveries, I think we should consider putting another Kepler up.  This time point it at a different part of the sky, with a wider field and a better camera.

File:James Webb Telescope Design.jpg

Considering the $8Billion dollar price tag of the James Webb space telescope, Kepler was a bargain.  Don’t get me wrong, I do want to see the results from the Webb telescope, but that is years away (if ever).

File:Mtv moon man.jpg

Although last night was the Academy Awards, I think the trophy for the MTV music awards is more appropriate for Kepler’s big win.

– Ex astris, scientia –

I am and avid amateur astronomer and intellectual property attorney in Pasadena, California and I am a Rising Star as rated by Super Lawyers Magazine.  As a former Chief Petty Officer in the U.S. Navy, I am a proud member of the Armed Service Committee of the Los Angeles County Bar Association working to aid all active duty and veterans in our communities. Connect with me on Google +

Norman

Gaia Is Go!

Gaia, the European Space Agency’s (ESA) unmanned astrometry spacecraft has taken its first image.

As I told you before, Gaia’s mission is make a 3D space catalogue of approximately 1 billion astronomical objects.  It sounds like a lot, but that is only about 1% of the Milky Way!

File:Gaia observatory trajectory.svg

Gaia will monitor each of its target stars about 70 times over a period of five years from its L2 vantage point.

So what does a billion pixel image look like?

LMC

Pretty good for a warmup.  The final results should be spectacular.  Not the pictures (this isn’t that kind of mission), but the data collected giving us the accurate distances and relative motions of the tracked objects.  But some of the images may be spruced up a bit to make good copy.

And, if you remember my post from a few days ago, Gaia will be using parallax trigonometric techniques (like a parsec!) to measure the objects distance from us.  See! There is a madness to my method, or

– Ex astris, scientia –

I am and avid amateur astronomer and intellectual property attorney in Pasadena, California and I am a Rising Star as rated by Super Lawyers Magazine.  As a former Chief Petty Officer in the U.S. Navy, I am a proud member of the Armed Service Committee of the Los Angeles County Bar Association working to aid all active duty and veterans in our communities. Connect with me on Google +

Norman

ISON Update.

ISON is currently passing by Mars and headed toward us.

If you want to try and get a look, ISON is currently about 2 degrees above and to the left of Mars in the constellation of Leo (as shown above).

However, you will probably need a large telescope (at least 6inches, but bigger is always better) to see ISON as it is currently 12th magnitude (about 12 time dimmer than the star Vega).


Hopefully, ISON will ‘come alive’ soon (start sublimating), otherwise it could be another not so spectacular comet in the “year of the comets.”

– Ex astris, scientia –

I am and avid amateur astronomer and intellectual property attorney in Pasadena, California and I am a Rising Star as rated by Super Lawyers Magazine.  As a former Chief Petty Officer in the U.S. Navy, I am a proud member of the Armed Service Committee of the Los Angeles County Bar Association working to aid all active duty and veterans in our communities. Connect with me on Google +

Norman

Cloudy With A Chance Of Science For Kepler-7b

The data collected from the Kepler spacecraft is still producing spectacular results even after the spacecraft can no longer function in its exo-planet hunt.

 

One of the first five exo-planets discovered was Kepler-7b.  Which was confirmed in a rather short 33.5 day period after it was declared a candidate.

 

Now, thanks to the data Kepler collected a team from the University of Bern, we have maps of the clouds swirling around a planet around a star over 2,000 light years away in the constellation Lyra.

 

So why Kepler-7b?  It orbits its host star every five days at a distance of approximately 0.06 AU (closer than Mercury).  But it is one unusual property of Kepler-7b, that caught the eye of exo-climatologists.  Kepler-7b reflects about 50% of the visible light hitting its atmosphere.

Using Kepler data, the team measured the amount of reflected starlight for the entire orbit of Kepler-7b around its star to produce a “phase curve”.  This is similar to how the shapes of asteroids are determined using light curves.  The phase curve as transformed into a crude map (with only east-west information) of the reflectivity on Kepler-7b. The results implied the existence of clouds.  There was sufficient data to even determine the size of particles in the clouds.

Of course, not everyone sees a silver lining concerning these clouds.  Kevin Heng a team member involved in all three studies regarding the clouds around exo-planets said:  “Clouds are a nuisance, because they hinder us from performing a unique interpretation of an exoplanet atmosphere.”

Of course, since he is really interested in finding signs of life on these exo-planets, I can understand his frustration.  I feel the same way when I am trying to observe the night sky and clouds come rolling in to block my view.  So all Kevin really needs to do is invent a cloud filter that can see through the obstructions.  I’d buy one!

P.S. While doing research for this post, I came across an amazing resource for those of you interested in exo-planes.  You can find all the information known about all the exo-planets discovered so far at the Open Exoplanet Catalogue.  They even have animated orbital plots of the stars and the planets that orbit them.  Also exoplanet apps for the tablet of your choice.  Very nicely done.

– Ex astris, scientia –

I am and avid amateur astronomer and intellectual property attorney in Pasadena, California and I am a Rising Star as rated by Super Lawyers Magazine.  As a former Chief Petty Officer in the U.S. Navy, I am a proud member of the Armed Service Committee of the Los Angeles County Bar Association working to aid all active duty and veterans in our communities. Connect with me on Google +

Norman

How did I miss this?

Planetary Resources started this Kickstarter campaign to make the first publicly available space telescope.

The project has already reached its initial goal of $1,000,000 and is looking to extend the Kickstarter to expand the scope of the mission.

According to their mission statement, Planetary Resources is in part interested in: “Harnessing valuable minerals from a practically infinite source will provide stability on Earth, increase humanity’s prosperity, and help establish and maintain human presence in space.”

So, basically, this is one of the first commercial attempts at space mining.  I think this is a good idea and will help spur commercial interest in space.

The goals for the space telescope are:

  • To give students access to space capabilities
  • To support important research and discovery
  • To build excitement about space and all of its potential
  • To give YOU a say

All of these are worthy goals, so if you feel like contributing follow the link above.

This gives me an idea for making a Kickstarter to purchase and maintain the ISS before it is crash landed.  Now all I need to figure out is how to get several governments to let us buy it!

– Ex astris, scientia –

I am and avid amateur astronomer and intellectual property attorney in Pasadena, California. As a former Chief Petty Officer in the U.S. Navy, I am a proud member of the Armed Service Committee of the Los Angeles County Bar Association working to aid all active duty and veterans in our communities. Connect with me on Google +

Norman

 

 

Can You Help Find Holes?

In the Clouds of dust in the Milky Way of course.  The difficult and complex shapes make it too difficult for computers to analyze images from NASA’s infrared Spitzer Space Telescope.

So far, the human eye is the only thing available that can spot these holes and astronomers are once again turning to citizen scientists for help.


“We were surprised to find that some of these dark clouds were simply not there, appearing dark in Herschel’s images as well,” Derek Ward-Thompson, director of the Jeremiah Horrocks Institute for Astrophysics in England, said in a statement. Finding these unexpected holes is tricky. “The problem is that clouds of interstellar dust don’t come in handy easy-to-recognise shapes,” he added. “The images are too messy for computers to analyze, and there are too many for us to go through ourselves.”

Astronomers who use the Hershel space telescope teamed up with citizen science portal Zooniverse to make images of our galaxy available online for the public to comb through.

Please note that the site to help is not on the Zooninverse projects page, but is located at http://www.milkywayproject.org/clouds.  A tutorial shows how to tell the difference between a hole and a cloud.  The volunteer decides if an image is a glowing cloud, a hole in the sky or something in between.  The site gives examples of each.
The Milky Way Project, which has already created astronomy’s largest catalog of star-forming bubbles since its inception two years ago.

– Ex astris, scientia –

I am and avid amateur astronomer and intellectual property attorney.  As a former Chief Petty Officer in the U.S. Navy, I am a proud member of the Armed Service Committee of the Los Angeles County Bar Association working to aid all active duty and veterans in our communities.  Connect with me on Google +

Norman