A ring around Venus.

Researchers from The Open University and the University of Central Lancashire in the U.K., have found a ring of dust following the orbit of Venus.

Using data from the STEREO (Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory) spacecraft, researchers found the ring dust trailing behind the second planet for about 137 million miles (220 million kilometers).

The ring is similar to the one found about 20 years ago trailing our own planet.  The dust is part of the zodiacal dust that permeates the Solar system.

As the name implies, the dust is responsible for the zodiacal light that you can catch at sunset and sunrise.

The dust is not relevant to planetary formation, because it is only about 100,000 years old.  However, the ring is very important in understanding what happens to interplanetary dust, which forms from asteroid collisions and cometary dust.

– 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

Faster and Faster.

We all know about the massive dust and wind storms on Mars (and Earth for that matter), but what about our evil twin Venus?

It turns our that the winds on Venus, at over 180Mph (300Km/h) are getting faster!

Over the past six years wind speeds in Venus' atmosphere have been steadily rising (ESA)

After analyzing more than six years of data collected by the Venus Express has shown that the winds on Venus are getting faster.

Long-term studies based on tracking the motions of several hundred thousand cloud features, indicated here with arrows and ovals, reveal that the average wind speeds on Venus have increased from roughly 300 km/h to 400 km/h over the first six years of the mission. (Khatuntsev et al.)

Two different groups studied the data and came to similar conclusions.  It seems that the winds on Venus have increase 30% to 400km/h.  Although Venus is already one of the most inhospitable places in the solar system, the high winds and sulphuric acid atmosphere aren’t going to make it into a garden spot resort destination any time soon.

Venus is unusual for more than just its wind increase.  A day on Venus is longer than its year.  A Venusian year is about 225 days and it takes 243 days to complete a single rotation on its axis (one day).  So a day on Venus is longer than a year on Venus.  So in this case, watching the clock does make time seem to go slower.  And it runs backwards, Venus rotates in the opposite direction of Earth.

The other unusual fact about Venus is that its atmosphere spins around it much more quickly than its surface rotates (known as super-rotation).  It only takes four days for something in the atmosphere to go all the way around the planet, thanks to those high winds.

Saturn’s moon Titan is the only other place in the solar system that has atmospheric superrotation.

All in all, Venus is a very strange planet.  It would be great to explore it more, but the heat, pressure and caustic atmosphere are bound to keep it a secret for a long time.

– 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

 

 

Good photo op in tonight’s sky.

If you missed the last conjunction between Jupiter, Mercury and Venus this past month, you’ll get another chance at a good photo tonight.

This time it is the Moon, Venus and Mercury.  If you look to the west-northwest horizon tonight you will see all three.

The show will last for about 45 minutes after sunset (Venus sets right after that).

You should be able to see all three with the naked eye and you might even want to try and take a photograph.  You shouldn’t need anything fancier than your cell phone and a steady hand.  Orion even makes devices for holding your cellphone in place for you.

I am going to try my hand at getting a few images and I will post the results (provided the weather cooperates).  Let me know if you take any images, I would love to see your shots!

– 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

Images of our closest planet.

Earth of course.  We couldn’t be much closer if we tried.  And you thought it was going to be Venus, Mars or Mercury.

What's that dark spot on planet Earth? It's the shadow of the moon

A lovely view of Earth, with a Moon shadow in the north.  (Not to be confused with Moon Shadow by Cat Stevens).

Our planet is very interesting to say the least.  Luckily for us, we know almost as much about our planet as we do about the other planets in the Solar system.  In fact, in some respects we don’t know as much about our planet as we do others.

Why is that you ask?

Most of the planet is covered in water.  It really seems like a lot of water until you put it into perspective.

(1) All water (sphere over western U.S., 860 miles in diameter)
(2) Fresh liquid water in the ground, lakes, swamps, and rivers (sphere over Kentucky, 169.5 miles in diameter), and
(3) Fresh-water lakes and rivers (sphere over Georgia, 34.9 miles in diameter).
Credit: Howard Perlman, USGS; globe illustration by Jack Cook, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (©); Adam Nieman.

The picture above from the USGS shows how much water of various kinds are one our planet. It doesn’t look like much now, does it?  But, it does make the planet very nice to live on.

Lake Erie. Though Lake Erie looks beautiful in this image, the green swirls in the water are evidence of the worst toxic algae bloom the lake has suffered in decades. Image taken by Landsat 5 on October 5, 2011. (Photo by USGS/NASA)

An image of Lake Eerie in North America.

Mergui Archipelago, Myanmar. The Mergui Archipelago in the Andaman Sea consists of more than 800 islands. This natural-color image of the center portion of the archipelago was captured by Landsat 5 on December 14, 2004. (Photo by USGS/NASA)

The beautifully blue and green Mergui Archipelago, Myanmar.

Erg Iguidi, Algeria. What look like pale yellow paint streaks slashing through a mosaic of mottled colors are ridges of wind-blown sand that make up Erg Iguidi, an area of ever-shifting sand dunes extending from Algeria into Mauritania in northwestern Africa. Erg Iguidi is one of several Saharan ergs, or sand seas, where individual dunes often surpass 500 meters – nearly one-third of a mile – in both width and height. Image taken by Landsat 5 on April 8, 1985. (Photo by USGS/NASA)

The pale yellow streaks are ridges of sand that make up Erg Iguidi in Algeria. Some of the dunes surpass 500 meters, nearly 1/3 of a mile, in both width and height.

Typhoon Bopha moves toward the Philippines, observed from the ISS, on December 2, 2012. (Photo by AP Photo/NASA/The Atlantic)

An angry planet sometimes, this is an image of Typhoon Bopha covering a lot of the earth as it heads toward landfall in the Philippines in 2012.

Dasht-e Kavir, Iran. The Dasht-e Kavir, or Great Salt Desert, is the larger of Iran's two major deserts, which occupy most of the country's central plateau. Located in north-central Iran, the mostly uninhabited desert is about 800km long and 320km wide. Once situated beneath an ancient inland sea, the arid region is now covered with salt deposits and is known for its salt marshes (kavirs), which can act like quicksand. From wild sheep and leopards to gazelles and lizards, there is a range of wildlife in the mountainous areas and parts of the steppe and desert areas of the central plateau. This 2000 Landsat 7 image shows the intricately folded sediments and colourful formations that now blanket the surface of this barren landscape. (Photo by NASA/GSFC/USGS EROS Data Center)

The Dasht-e Kavir, or Great Salt Desert, in Iran.  The most uninhabited area of the planet (that we know of).

Natural selection at its best.  Please review the Darwin Awards for a complete list.

The Milky Way above the telescopes

Today, we took a look down on our planet, but take the opportunity every once and a while to look up into the night sky.  There are some pretty amazing things up there as well.

– 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

 

 

Next up, the closest star to us.

That’s right, Sol our very own sun.  Like Terra for Earth, Sol is the Latin name of the Sun. That’s why we live in the Sol(ar) System.  The Sun is big compared to us, really big.  Actually, it is big compared to everything else in our system.  The Sun alone accounts for about 99.86% of all the mass in the neighborhood.  All the planets, asteroids and other cosmic visitors, like those comets, all together make up the other 0.14% of the Solar system.  Don’t you feel special now?

And, as you can see above, our sun is easily dwarfed by other stars in the Milkyway galaxy.  By the way, Antares isn’t the largest star we found that honor goes to:

Even bigger than that is all the space in between the stars and galaxies.  Technically, the Sun is is designated as a yellow dwarf star.  Sheesh, its enough to give you an inferiority complex!

But, it is our star and it is quite lovely.  All sorts of things happen on our sun that we are not even sure how or why.  Solar tsunamis, Solar quakes, coronal mass ejections, sun spots.

 

File:Sun projection with spotting-scope.jpg

It is interesting to note that although they appear black, sun spots are in fact about 3000–4500 K (2727–4227 °C).  But, because the surrounding material is at about 5,780 K (5,510 °C) they look black.

This is what we think how the Sun is made and operates, but until we can develop the technology to actually withstand the pressure and the heat, we will not know.

Compared to the Sun, landing on Venus is a walk in the park!

– 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

Our Evil Twin.

Venus is roughly the same size as the Earth, formed in the “Goldilocks” zone like Earth, but so completely different than Earth.

In 2006, the European Space Agency launched the Venus Express mission to answer some of the questions hidden beneath the cloudy veil of our sister planet.  It took less than three years from approval to launch of the Venus Express mission.  The ESA re-used the same design that was used in the Mars Express mission launched in 2003.

Scientists have been particularly interested in why Venus is the hottest planet in the solar system.  Even though Mercury is much closer to the Sun, Venus is far hotter.

Other questions range from volcanic activity to the big one: Is there life on Venus?

File:AtmosphereofVenus.svg

Before you pooh-pooh the idea just because a cool day on Venus is over four times hotter than boiling water, and with winds of 220 mph and a crushing atmosphere 90 times that of Earths made mostly up of carbon dioxide (the same stuff that comes out of the tail-pipe of your car).  Consider this:

At the very bottom of Earths deepest oceans, with no sunlight, a crushing amount of pressure near volcanic vents, there is a vast ecosystem teaming with life (for a more in depth article go here).

see caption

Most of the plant and animal life down this far use chemosynthesis instead of photosynthesis to survive.  The life here is similar to life higher up, because they both use carbon dioxide and water to produce sugars.  Photosynthesis gives off oxygen gas as a byproduct, while chemosynthesis produces sulfur.  Luckily, I don’t believe anything has a sense of smell down there.  Pheeewww!

File:Arkea.jpg

Scientists are now recognizing that even life on Earth isn’t necessarily life as we know it.  New classifications for life such as thermophiles and hyperthermophiles (shown above) thrive at temperatures above the boiling point of water, acidophiles thrive at a pH level of 3 or below, polyextremophiles can survive a varied number of extreme conditions, and many other types of extremophiles exist here on Earth.  So, by drawing some parallels with this Terran ecosystem, you could actually find life on Venus.

Spacecraft Launch Date Type of Mission
Mariner 2 1962 Flyby; first to fly by Venus
Venera 4 1967 Hard-lander; first to descend through atmosphere
Mariner 5 1967 Flyby
Venera 5 1969 Hard-lander
Venera 6 1969 Hard-lander
Venera 7 1970 Soft-lander; first to soft land on surface
Venera 8 1972 Soft-lander
Mariner 10 1973 Flyby en route to Mercury
Venera 9 1975 Orbiter, soft-lander; first to return photos of surface
Venera 10 1975 Orbiter, soft-lander
Pioneer-Venus 1 1978 Orbiter with radar altimeter; first detailed radar mapping of surface
Pioneer-Venus 2 1978 Four hard-landers
Venera 11 1978 Flyby, soft-lander
Venera 12 1978 Flyby, soft-lander
Venera 13 1981 Orbiter, soft-lander; first color images of surface
Venera 14 1981 Orbiter, soft-lander
Venera 15 1983 Orbiter with radar mapper
Venera 16 1983 Orbiter with radar mapper
Vega 1 1984 Flyby, atmospheric balloon probe
Vega 2 1984 Flyby, atmospheric balloon probe
Magellan 1989 Orbiter with radar mapper; first high-resolution global map of Venus
Venus Express 2005 Orbiter studying the atmosphere, plasma environment, and surface of Venus

However, the exploration of the Venusian surface will have to wait until we can develop compounds that can withstand the extreme conditions on Venus.

The Russians have sent the most probes to Venus and have landed, albeit briefly, on the surface.  The probes don’t last too long, but they have reveled amazing data about our evilly hot twin.  And at one point they claimed to have found life on the hot planet.  Alas, it was not true, but it did make for good tabloid fodder.

With the discovery of past water on Mars and the potential for life on Venus, we may not need to look to far to find E.T., even if he is just a microbe.

– 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 +.  If you need help with any patent, trademark, or copyright issue, or know someone that can use my help, please contact me for a free 30 minute consultation by sending me an email or call TOLL FREE at 1-855-UR IDEAS (1-855-874-3327) and ask for Norman.

Norman