Monday, August 9, 2010

The Carnival of Space: Issue #166

Welcome one and all to Io and the Gish Bar Times for this week's Carnival of Space - a weekly series of articles highlighting the best space exploration blogs have to offer.  Each week a different blog hosts the festivities, and this week the Gish Bar Times was selected as the host.  The Carnival is organized by Universe Today, and you can check out their website for information on how to participate in future editions of the Carnival of Space and for back issues.

Now when Fraser selected my blog to host this week's Carnival of Space, I was in a quandary over how to organize the submitted articles.  Last time I hosted back in October, I faced a similar, perplexing problem.  How do I make it unique?  For that edition, I settled on ordering the subject planetary/stellar bodies by the amount of energy output, placing fairly inert bodies like the Moon and the asteroids first, then more energetic moons and planets next, then stars, and finally the universe in general.  So for this issue of the Carnival of Space, that just wouldn't do.  For this Carnival, let's try out the old tried and true, Chronological order.

So welcome, stay awhile, explore the Gish Bar Times and the great space articles discussed below.  And as always, don't feed the space bears! Yes, they are part of the carnival, but they have this special diet, I really don't want to get into it...  Anyways, enjoy!

We begin this journey through time, space, and space blogs by visiting the Rundetaarn, a nearly 400-year-old Danish observatory in Copenhagen, built during the waning years of the Thirty Years' War.  Ian Musgrave has posted a series of photos from his visit to the observatory on his blog, Astroblog.  The Rundetaarn was built in the early days of telescopic astronomy, only three decades after Galileo's discovery of Io and the other Galilean satellites.  One important task that the early astronomers at Rundetaarn and backyard astronomers today needed to perform was determining true north.  The Urban Astronomer has a treatise on a simple method for determining true north by using the Sun at local noon, a method simple enough to be possible on almost any solid surface in the Solar System.

Over the next few hundred years, telescopes were used to make a number of momentous discoveries, far too many to recount here.  One such revelation in the 19th Century was the connection drawn between short-period comets and meteor showers.  The story of the Perseids and their parent comet, 55P/Swift-Tuttle, is explored at Simostronomy.  Alan Boyle over at the Cosmic Log provides an observer's guide to this year's incarnation of the Perseid meteor shower, which peaks this week.

Also in the 19th Century, German astronomer Samuel Heinrich Schwabe and Swiss astronomer Rudolf Wolf discovered that solar activity waxed and waned with a period of 10.7 years.  This periodicity is known as the Solar cycle.  At solar minimum, the number of sunspots is low, approaching zero at times.  At solar maximum, as we are expected to reach in the next few years, solar activity is high with more than 100 sunspots at a time observed as well as severe coronal mass ejections (CMEs), which create concentrations of charged particles that seem like gusts and gales in the solar wind.  The Sun's activity at solar maximum can wreck havoc on the electrical systems of orbiting satellites.  The Chandra Blog explores the effects of the upcoming solar maximum on the X-ray space observatory, and how this Solar cycle maybe weaker than expected.  Of course, tell that to people in the mid-northern and mid-southern latitudes of our planet last week as a powerful CME touched off spectacular auroral displays.  PlanetBye presented a series of pictures from Scandinavia of the incredible aurora borealis that were visible last week.  Unfortunately, I live too far south in the United States to have seen them in person, so thanks to Bente Lilja Bye for hosting these great pictures.  As he and other aurora watchers waited for last week's display, Stuart Atkinson over at Cumbrian Sky recounted his experiences of amazing set of aurora borealis over the UK in April 2000.

We move on now to the 20th Century where a major development in our exploration of space was the commencement of manned spaceflight.  In 1961, US President John F. Kennedy committed his country to the goal of landing men on the Moon before the end of the decade.  The effort succeeded despite its champion's tragic death, but when it was initially proposed, there were several competing schemes for accomplishing this goal.  David Portree over at Beyond Apollo took at look at one such idea called Lunar-Surface Rendezvous (LSR) and presented by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory that would have included a number of unmanned probes for each manned landing site.  In the end, only Apollo 12 landed near an earlier unmanned landing site, visiting Surveyor 3.  The most recent manned spaceflight development, new equipment and capabilities continue to be added to the International Space Station, even as the Space Shuttle winds down.  Kentucky Space has a video showing the installation of the NanoRacks system on the station, a new platform that NASA says went from "concept to on-orbit capability in less than 10 months."  collectSPACE discussed a humanoid robot called Robonaut 2 that will be going to the space station with the Shuttle Discovery on STS-133 in November.  Perhaps the coming of even testing models of humanoid robots should go in the paragraph about the end of the world at the end of this post ;-)

Of course, humans are not the only ones exploring space, as our robotic emissaries beam back images of the planets and moons of our solar system.  This week, on my own blog, I discussed what we can learn at Jupiter's moon Io while the satellite is in eclipse, how Io is not quite as smelly as this summer's news reports suggest, and the volcanic history and geology of one of Io's volcanoes, Zal Patera.

Despite the doomsayers, the end of manned spaceflight is not nigh, as engineers and scientists are looking to the future of human exploration of the solar system and beyond.  One group is the Space Studies Institute, which is getting ready for the Space Manufacturing 14 conference on the technology and policy needed for space settlement.  Habitation Intention has an interview up with Dr. Lee Valentine, the executive vice-president of the Space Studies Institute.  Of course, getting to other places in the solar system is half the battle, and Next Big Future has a pair of articles on a study by high school student Erika DeBenedictis on low-energy trajectories and a video by Reaction Engines demonstrating their designs on a proposed Mars mission.

We may even find that we are not alone in this universe as we begin our exploration of our own little corner of it.   Centauri Dreams examines Project Argus, which would use quite a number of radio telescope to provide more continuous temporal coverage of the entire sky in order to look for short radio bursts from extraterrestrial civilizations.  WeirdWarp this week discussed the possibility of finding artifacts from aliens on nearby worlds in the solar system, particularly on the Moon (with shades of 2001: A Space Odyssey). Finally, Weird Sciences has a pair of posts suggesting that extraterrestrial contact is not a crazy idea, even given the vast distances to even the closest star systems.  They also discuss the possible evidence we have on hand for life elsewhere in the solar system.

All good things must eventually come to an end.  A pair of blogs this week looked at our end in the distant future.  StarryCritters examined a composite image of the Antennae Galaxies (NGC 4038 and 4039), created from data taken by the Hubble, Chandra, and Spitzer Space Telescopes.  These galaxies are in the process of colliding, creating spectacular displays at visible, X-ray, and infrared wavelengths, much as the Milky Way and Andromeda Galaxies will in a few billion years time.  It also doesn't help that our universe isn't getting any younger and that we are all headed toward a very dimly lit distant future, all thanks to entropy as discussed in a podcast [MP3 file] over at Cheap Astronomy.

Thanks everyone for coming out here to the best moon in the solar system for this Carnival of Space!  I hope everyone enjoys these wonderful articles.


  1. Very elegant presentation of this week of space events - in Carnival of Space! :-)

  2. Straight up and clear reporting this week. Thanks for your efforts!