Prominent cosmologist Simon D.M. White has written a provocative paper
posted to the astrophysics arxiv complaining that too much time is being devoted to the quest to understand the nature of the elusive dark energy
: "Dark Energy is undeniably an interesting problem to attack through astronomical observation, but it is one of many and not necessarily the one where significant progress is most likely to follow a major investment of resources."
He worries generally that observational cosmology/astrophysics/astronomy may turn away from the construction of instruments of general utility (such as the Hubble Space Telescope
), to concentrate on a small number of massive experiments narrowly focused on solving particular problems (such as WMAP
and the Large Hadron Collider
), to the detriment of the "quirky small-science"
type of astronomy.
posted by snoktruix
on Apr 21, 2007 -
It's like Google Maps...for space.
Wikisky is a draggable, zoomable, web-based star map. And if you click on a star or other object, it brings up a page with all the information you could want on it, including recent articles and astrophotos that contain that object. And it does lots more. Go explore.
posted by Jimbob
on Mar 22, 2007 -
Titan Sea and Lake Superior
This movie, comprised of several detailed images taken by Cassini's radar instrument, shows bodies of liquid near Titan's north pole. These images show that many of the features commonly associated with lakes on Earth, such as islands, bays, inlets and channels, are also present on this cold Saturnian moon. They offer strong evidence that larger bodies seen in infrared images are, in fact, seas. These seas are most likely liquid methane and ethane. Radar Shows Evidence of Seas
posted by y2karl
on Mar 15, 2007 -
The Thirteen Towers of Chankillo
in Peru may be the Western Hemisphere's oldest known full-service
solar observatory, showing evidence of early, sophisticated Sun cults
, according to archaeoastronomy
professor Clive Ruggles
. The 2,300-year-old complex featured 13 towers running north to south along a ridge and spread across 980 feet to form a toothed horizon that spans the solar arc
. Last year, another ancient observatory was discovered in Peru by Robert Benfer
. The Temple of the Fox
is 4,200 years old, making it 1,900 years older
than the Chankillo site, but wasn't a complete calendar.
posted by homunculus
on Mar 3, 2007 -
Hubble's ACS Has Died.
Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys
has apparently gone into safe mode, with little hope of return. The ACS was installed in 2002, and added amazing upgrades to Hubble's imaging capabilities. Though its lifespan was only projected at five years, scientists had hoped it would hold out longer. Though a final shuttle servicing mission is scheduled for 2008, the mission objectives plate
is already too full to consider its repair. Alas, more of those beautiful pictures (as well as extended research capabilities) will have to wait until the James Webb Space Telescope
is launched in 2013.
posted by Brak
on Jan 29, 2007 -
- an introduction to Solar System Astronomy. These are a set of lectures in progress now at Ohio State University. All materials are available on line - audio
resources (direct or podcast through iTunes), movies
and lecture notes
. If you are interested in where you live, these beautifully delivered lectures are excellent.
posted by grahamwell
on Nov 25, 2006 -
...amateur astronomers have seen puffs or flashes of light coming from the moon's surface. Although most professional observers have upheld the conclusion that the moon was inactive, such sightings have kept open a window of doubt. A gas release itself would not be visible for more than a second or so, but the dust it kicked up might stay suspended for up to 30 seconds. Nature article (subscription).
posted by 445supermag
on Nov 9, 2006 -
Transit of Mercury again. here
Transit of Mercury again. Today -- and not for another seven years or so -- Mercury passes between the Earth and the Sun, shwoing up a speck-like black circle. But don't look. Starting times, real-time visual, ways to see it and another caution are here. rotoman
posted by rotoman
on Nov 7, 2006 -
The Worlds of David Darling.
British astronomer and science writer David Darling has written over 10,000 articles for three massive online efforts: the Encyclopedia of Astrobiology, Astronomy, and Spaceflight
, the Encyclopedia of Alternative Energy and Sustainable Living
, and a related encyclopedia of concept vehicles
. Though the diversity of entries can be eccentric, and some are quite short, the science seems solid: learn about the illicit corned beef sandwich
of Gus Grissom, peruse a comprehensive set of advanced space propulsion concepts
, and see a terrific illustrated listing of strange land and air vehicles
(don't miss the Peel P50
microcar and the Volvo Gravity Car
posted by blahblahblah
on Oct 16, 2006 -
The annual Perseid meteor shower
will peak in intensity tonight. The product of Earth intersecting with the debris trail from Comet Swift-Tuttle, the shower should be most dramatic shortly before dawn. More information on the shower can be found in various places
Those living far away from cities will have the best view, but there are lots of good photos
from past showers online for those immersed in city light, or blanketed under cloud.
posted by sindark
on Aug 12, 2006 -
Life (Briefly) Near a Supernova
(pdf, Google cache
) by Steven Dutch (UW-Green Bay). What might it be like on a planet orbiting a star that went supernova? "It would take on the order of 100,000 seconds, or about a day, to receive enough energy to vaporize the Earth." Yes, Arthur C. Clarke and Larry Niven are name-checked. (And yes, the Sun is too small to actually go supernova, killjoy.) Via the nonist
posted by languagehat
on Jul 17, 2006 -
Today, astronomically speaking, is one of the four Cross-Quarter days
, exactly midway between the solstices and equinoxes. To some people, that makes today the start of summer
- after all, why would you begin the season that's supposed to be bright and hot on the day when the only direction to go is darker? (Yes, I know they say May 1 - the first site I linked to figures out the exact dates and times mathematically, so I'm more inclined to trust it).
posted by wanderingmind
on May 5, 2006 -
A direct detection of a brown dwarf
only 12.7 light years away (practically next door in interstellar terms)
adds another substellar object to the list of those relatively close by. While not quite the closest such object yet detected,
it’s notable for being pinpointed with a combination of ground-based adaptive optics
and Simultaneous Differential Imaging,
a special set of filters designed to subtract out starlight while leaving the light from substellar objects. This could be an important milestone in the ongoing quest to directly detect extrasolar planets,
as opposed to finding their traces indirectly via methods such as stellar wobble or gravitational microlensing.
Direct detection, among other things, makes it much easier to analyze planetary atmospheres for traces of life.
An object that could be as small as 9 Jupiter masses, less than 13 light years away, is a heck of a good step forward, especially considering that the very first indirect detections of extrasolar planets weren't made until the 1990’s,
and I recall serious arguments being made in the 1980’s that they did not, in fact, exist.
posted by kyrademon
on Mar 22, 2006 -
Amateur and professional astronomers rejoice , point your telescopes at RA: 03:21:39.71 Dec: +16:52:02.6 to watch a new phenomenon that could turn into a supernova explosion
posted by elpapacito
on Feb 24, 2006 -