Label: Science News

October 4, 2010


Happy World Space Week! In 1999 the United Nations General Assembly decreed that every year from October 4-10 should be the largest annual space event on our Planet Earth!

 What can you do in your home or your school to celebrate World Space Week? Well, the most important thing is to simply take the time to look at, read about, and celebrate the wonders of our Universe. Years ago, I published a book of poetry called STAR WALK, 

in which I juxtaposed color photographs of space with poems by a range of authors. (As we all know, poetry doesn’t sell. The book is long out of print, although you may find it in your library). I wrote this in the introduction to the book:

As far back as early Native Americans such as the Passamaquoddy, and even before that, people have looked to the stars in wonder and appreciation. They wrote stories and poetry about the fixed stars and the wandering planets, the bright Sun and the changing shapes of the Moon…..the glowing comets and streaking meteors. They also drew pictures of what they had seen and, in more recent times, photographed the amazing sights of space.

Take some time and look at the night sky this week. Jupiter remains the brightest “star” in the sky, other than the moon, and is visible to the west every night. If you look through binoculars, you may even see one or more of its moons.

Look up at the millions upon millions of stars that make up the Milky Way. To the naked eye, our galaxy looks like a hazy band of light that stretches across the night sky. The longer you look and allow your eyes to adjust to the dark, the more stars you will see. But still, we only see a fraction of the stars that are out there. After all, Alpha Centauri, the closest star to us after the Sun, is 4.3 light-years, or 25-trillion miles, away. Even a spaceship traveling ten miles per second would take more than seventy-thousand years to get to Alpha Centauri!

We are part of a vast, fascinating Universe, and with advances like the Hubble Space Telescope and other emerging exploration technologies, we are just at the beginning of a golden age of discovery.

I’m going to leave you with the words of one of my heroes, the great scientist and astronomer Sir Isaac Newton.


I seem to have been only a boy playing on the seashore,

and diverting myself in now and then

finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary,

whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.


Happy World Space Week to all my readers!

—- Seymour 


Posted by: Seymour Simon

(0) Comments  •   Labels: science news, Astronomy, Exploration, Space   •  Permalink (link to this article)

October 1, 2010

NASA has annnounced that a team of planet hunters including scientists from the NASA Astrobiology Institute’s teams has discovered a planet with three times the mass of Earth orbiting a nearby star at a distance that places it squarely in the middle of the star’s “habitable zone,” an area where liquid water could exist on the planet’s surface. If confirmed, this would be the most Earth-like exoplanet yet discovered, and the first strong case for a potentially habitable one.

What is a "Goldilocks" planet? A planet that is not too hot, not too cold, but JUST RIGHT for life as we know it to exist. This is the first exoplanet discovered that is just right!  This is very exciting news because it means that Goldilocks Planets may be very common in the Milky Way Galaxy. Just think: Science Fiction authors may have been right all along in their stories about life on distant stars. 

The large planet in the foreground of this artist’s image is the newly discovered GJ 581g.  Image Credit: Lynette Cook/NASA



Posted by: Seymour Simon

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September 28, 2010

Edwin Hubble, a great American astronomer, died 57 years ago today, September 28th in 1953. Hubble? Does his name ring a bell?         


Well for one thing, the Hubble Space Telescope was named after him, though he had nothing to do with its planning or construction. This photograph of the gigantic Pinwheel galaxy was shot by the Hubble Telescope. Space Age scientists wanted to honor Hubble because he made some of the most important discoveries in modern day astronomy. 

In the early decades of the Twentieth Century, Hubble was an astronomer  at the Mt. Wilson observatory which had the largest telescope in the world at that time. Hubble discovered and proved that some of the dim, fuzzy patches of light photographed through the Mt. Wilson telescope were actually entire galaxies, similar to our own Milky Way Galaxy. The recognition that the Milky Way was only one of billions upon billions of galaxies in the universe forever changed the way astronomers think of space.


The other great discovery he made was based on the “redshift.”


No, it has nothing to do with football or politics. An astronomer’s “redshift” has to do with the color spectrum of distant galaxies.  A spectrum of light is made up of the colors, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. It seems that the more distant a galaxy is, the faster it seems to move and the more its color spectrum shifts toward the red. This is the basis of the Big Bang theory, which proposes that the universe began with an intense explosion of energy at a single moment in time (about 13 billion years ago) and has been expanding ever since.

Hubble would have been proud that the Space Telescope was named after him. 


Posted by: Seymour Simon

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August 24, 2010

A very exciting discovery was announced today at the Observatoire de Haute-Provence, France.

Astronomers have detected a planetary system containing at least five  - and maybe seven - planets that orbit a star called HD 10180, which is much like our own Sun. They say this is the "richest" system of exoplanets - planets outside our own Solar System - ever found.

Up until now, astronomers had known of fifteen systems with at least three planets, but never one that was this similar to ours in terms of the number of planets (seven as compared to the Solar System’s eight planets). The team also has evidence that the distances of the planets from their star follow a regular pattern, as also seen in our Solar System (this is known as the Titius-Bode law).

The star is 127 light years away, in the southern constellation of Hydrus.

Researchers used the HARPS (High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher) instrument at the European Southern Observatory to monitor light emitted from the system. The lead author of the paper, Dr. Christophe Lovis, explained how the planet searcher works. "If there is one planet it will induce a little movement - the star will come towards us and move away….and what works for one [planet] works for many." Using HARP, Dr. Lovis and his team were able to measure this complicated mix of movements and break it down into individual planets, calculating the mass of each planet and the path of its orbit.

Martin Dominik, one of the researchers on the project, told reporters why this discovery is so important to us here on Earth. "[This] marks the way towards gathering the information that will put our own existence into cosmic context."

I have been an amateur astronomer all my life, and was President of the Junior Astronomy Club at the American Museum of Natural History when I was in high school. I love science news stories like these - I guess that is why I’ve written as many books as I have about space. Kids can read more about stars and the exoplanets that orbit them in my book STARS.











Photo Credits for this Science News story:

The first photograph shows a close-up of the sky around the star HD 10180. The picture was created from photographs taken through red and blue filters and forming part of the Digitized Sky Survey 2. Provided courtesy of ESO.

The second image is an artist’s impression of the new solar system, also courtesy of ESO.


Posted by: Seymour Simon

(0) Comments  •   Labels: science news, Solar System, Stars, Universe, Exoplanets   •  Permalink (link to this article)

August 21, 2010

This just in from one of my favorite sites, A coronal hole on the sun is turning to face Earth. Coronal holes are places in the sun’s atmosphere where the magnetic field opens up and allows solar wind to escape. Here is a magnetic map of the hole from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory:

  photo coronal hole


The magnetic field lines are color-coded in this very cool image. White lines are closed; they are holding the solar wind in. Golden lines are open; they allow the solar wind out. A stream of solar wind flowing from this coronal hole is expected to reach Earth on or about August 24th.

 People in high latitudes (closer to the poles) have a chance of seeing auroras (also known as northern lights) this week, so keep your eyes peeled!


Image: Karel Schrijver, Lockheed Martin SAL

Posted by: Liz Nealon

(1) Comments  •   Labels: science news, Astronomy, Aurora Borealis, Northern Lights, Space Weather   •  Permalink (link to this article)

August 12, 2010

Last week Greenland’s Petermann Glacier shed a 100-square-mile chunk of ice, releasing a huge iceberg. Although the glacier has been regularly shedding smaller chunks, this was nearly one-quarter of the entire ice shelf of the glacier. It is the largest piece of ice to detach from an Arctic glacier since 1962 and follows the six warmest months on record. The chunk of ice is four times the size of Manhattan island, and is a possible danger to ships as it drifts into North Atlantic shipping lanes.

Unfortunately, this is yet another sign of the rapid advancement of Global Warming, as our formerly solid ice masses continue to shrink either via melting or "calving" big icebergs like this one. You can see an excellent slide show, courtesy of Britain’s Guardian newspaper, of satellite photos documenting this disturbing recent event by clicking on this link.

The above photograph of the Petermann Glacier was taken by Dave Walsh, a natural history photographer who won an Environmental Photographer of the Year Commendation in 2009 for his photograph entitled "Solar Energy vs Fossil Fuel."


Posted by: Seymour Simon

(0) Comments  •   Labels: science news, Global Warming   •  Permalink (link to this article)

August 11, 2010

There’s a fascinating story in today’s Science News.

An international team of scientists and a British University are building a new computer program that they believe will enable them to identify every great white shark on the planet. The University of Bristol is developing software that will automatically recognize and record individual dorsal fins of the most powerful predators that cruise the world’s oceans - the individual fins of great white sharks are as identifiable as our human fingerprints.

The project is based on the work of Swiss marine biologist Michael Scholl, founder and director of the White Shark Trust, who has spent a decade photographing over 1,500 great whites. He and his colleagues hope that once we have a record of the sharks and their territories, scientists will be able to develop a true record of how many great whites are out there and observe behaviors never before witnessed - like great whites mating or giving birth.

Look at this wonderful picture. This is Dr. Scholl trying to photograph a great white, who took a bite out of his camera!

















Posted by: Seymour Simon

(0) Comments  •   Labels: science news, Sharks, Oceans   •  Permalink (link to this article)

August 7, 2010

 Image of Expedition 24 Flight Engineers Doug Wheelock (foreground) and Tracy Caldwell Dyson working on the International Space Station’s S1 Truss during the first of two spacewalks to replace a failed ammonia pump module. Credit: NASA TV

A pair of space station astronauts ventured out on an urgent spacewalk this morning to restore a crucial cooling system - one of the most challenging repairs ever attempted at the orbiting lab. According to NASA, Expedition 24 Flight Engineers Doug Wheelock and Tracy Caldwell Dyson switched their spacesuits to battery power at 7:19 a.m. EDT, signaling the start of the first of two spacewalks that will focus on removing the ammonia pump module that failed last Saturday and putting its replacement in place.

The ammonia pump shut down last weekend and knocked out half of the space station’s cooling system. To cope with the failure, the six-person crew had to turn off all unnecessary equipment and halt science experiments. NASA engineers spent this week developing the emergency repair plan and astronauts in Houston rehearsed every step of the spacewalk while submerged in NASA’s huge training pool. The repair tasks, which include removing the failed pump module from the S1 Truss and retrieving a spare from an external stowage platform, are expected to take about 6.5 to 7 hours. They are scheduled to complete installation and activation of the new pump module during the second spacewalk planned for Wednesday at 6:55 a.m. EDT.

According to NASA, Wheelock is the designated extravehicular crew member, so he is wearing the spacesuit bearing the red stripes and conducting the fourth spacewalk of his career. Caldwell Dyson, designated as EV2, is wearing the unmarked spacesuit and making her first spacewalk. Flight Engineer Shannon Walker is operating Canadarm2, the station’s robotic arm, and assisting the spacewalkers from inside the station. Their mission is considered so difficult that two spacewalks are required. Each pump module weighs 780 pounds (353 kg) and is 5 1/2 feet long (69 inches) by 4 feet wide (50 inches). They are also about 3 feet tall (36 inches), making them very bulky and difficult to move.

There is streaming live video coverage on if you’d like to see this project in action. Thanks also to the folks at also for the diagram below, detailing the repair.


Posted by: Seymour Simon

(1) Comments  •   Labels: science news, Space Travel, International Space Station   •  Permalink (link to this article)

August 4, 2010

Take a look at this great satellite photo of the beginning of a hurricane. Tropical Storm Colin became the third named storm of the 2010 Atlantic hurricane season yesterday morning as it strengthened from a tropical depression to a tropical storm. You can see that although the cloud formation hints at the spiral shape characteristic of hurricanes, it doesn’t (yet) have a distinct eye. The photo comes from the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) at NASA’s Earth Observatory. Photography buffs may be interested in knowing that the natural color image was captured by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite.


Posted by: Seymour Simon

(0) Comments  •   Labels: science news, Weather, Hurricanes, NASA   •  Permalink (link to this article)

June 10, 2010

Last week something crashed into Jupiter and it was caught on camera - by two amateur astronomers!  Anthony Wesley of Australia and Christopher Go of the Philippines each recorded an impact event on Jupiter.


 This is Anthony Wesley’s photograph, and if you click on this link, you can see a short video that Christopher Go made using his photographs of the event. The strike occurred at 20:31 UT* on June 3rd and produced a bright flash of light in Jupiter’s clouds. No one knows what crashed into Jupiter - it was probably an asteroid or a comet. In either case, a charcoal-colored circle will probably develop around the debris field; that’s what has happened after previous Jupiter impacts. Astronomers are watching to see what happens next!

 * Astronomers often mark events in UT, which stands for Universal Time. It is the same as Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), which is mean solar time at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, England. GMT is five hours ahead of the East Coast of the US and eight hours ahead of the West Coast. UT is almost always uses military time, or the 24-hour clock. So, 20:31 is what we would call 8:31 pm.

Photo credit: Anthony Wesley, Broken Hill Australia



Posted by: Liz Nealon

(0) Comments  •   Labels: science news, Astronomy, Jupiter   •  Permalink (link to this article)

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