Would You Like a Slice of Moon with that Solar Observation?

The Hinode view of the eclipse (JPL/NASA).
The Hinode view of the eclipse (JPL/NASA).

On July 22nd, Asia witnessed the longest solar eclipse of the century. I saw the pictures, it looked like fun. I’ve only seen a partial solar eclipse in the past, so when I heard about last week’s eclipse lasting nearly 7 minutes, I was more than a little envious.

So another eclipse, another momentous event if you could witness it, but if you couldn’t, at least you had some nice pictures to look at. However, there seems to be one forgotten spectator who had the best seat in the house to watch the moon pass in front of our Sun: the Hinode solar observatory.

Hinode (meaning “Sunrise”) is a space-based observatory launched by the Japanese space agency JAXA in 2006, and since then it has changed our perception of the inner dynamics of the solar corona. It can image the fine-scale magnetic structure of coronal loops and track plasma features with astounding precision.

On Wednesday however, Hinode caught an entirely different feature in its lens.

Actually, I’m a little surprised there’s not much of a fuss about the eclipse from space. Admittedly, the lunar transit across the solar disk didn’t attain totality, but it sure looks amazing!

For more of the Hinode eclipse, have a look at the Flickr gallery

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Whoopi Goldberg, Lunar Hoaxes and Stupidity

whoopi

I never thought Hollywood celebs were particularly bright when it comes to promoting science (look at the mess that is Jenny McCarthy), but a rather unlikely voice has emerged as a prominent moon hoax believer… Whoopi Goldberg. Yep, Whoopi went live on the air, today (you know, the day of the 40th anniversary of the historic Apollo 11 lunar landing) on The View, saying, “I am a fan of the movie Capricorn One…”

You know what’s coming.

There are a couple of questions I have from time to time. Who shot the footage? ‘Cuz you see the two astronauts, you never see the [third astronaut behind the camera] […] you’d think he would have turned around [in front of the camera] and gone like this so we’d know it was him,” she said while pretending to wave at the camera. The audience laughed.

Yes, very funny. It’s funny because there is an astonishing amount of stupidity in the debate that followed. Barbara Walters does her best to even the playing field, saying in astonishment, “You don’t really doubt men landed on the moon?

To which Whoopi drones on (hands flying around) about the moon conspiracy is one of the better conspiracy theories because of questions like, “…why is the flag rippling when there’s no air?

Please. How can anyone have any doubt about these hoax claims after the continuing debunking battles of scientists, skeptics and people with a brain? The hoax has even been publicly humiliated by the Mythbusters team. Personally, I can’t believe anyone would support such a crazed conspiracy (even in jest), considering all the evidence to the contrary.

Now, I’d like to point out that to Whoopi’s credit, she did state that she likes conspiracies (who doesn’t?) and she was just pointing out the parallels with the 1978 sci-fi romp starring OJ Simpson where a futuristic Mars landing is faked by the US space agency. Unfortunately her airing of her moon hoax opinion has just made her the most prominent celebrity to go on record, supporting the ludicrous claims of a few vocal conspiracy nuts. (And by nuts, I mean these guys.) Not only that, she’s used a very popular TV show to air her flawed opinions.

Yes, The View is an opinion talk show, where the hosts have had their fair share of criticism for saying idiotic stuff (especially during the US Presidential election), but to attempt to plant a seed of doubt in anyone’s mind that the most heroic event in human history was faked on the day of the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11 is not only irresponsible, it is totally disrespectful.

Fortunately, Walters had the last word by saying that there will always be conspiracy theories, but today, she’d much rather give the Apollo astronauts the credit they deserve.

Source: Associated Content

The Guardian Tackles the Moon Landing Hoax… Badly

apollo

I despise the so called Moon landing hoax with every fibre of my being, this is probably the reason why I don’t write about it much. Besides, other bloggers do a great job of slamming the conspiracy theorist claims, so there’s little point in me weighing in to pick at the left-overs. Every hoax claim has been debunked to the point that there really can be no doubt that 40 years ago, we landed on the Moon. In fact, we did it six times.

Hoax rehash

As we fast approach the 40 year anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing on July 20th, there’s bound to be articles posted about the hoax, but I find that rather frustrating. Here we are, preparing to celebrate mankind’s biggest accomplishment, and there’s that annoying background static of conspiracy theorists trying to divert attention to their small minded idiocy. Oh well, that’s life.

Unfortunately it’s another day, and another occasion where the UK media lets us down. Sure, I get the fact that we’re nearing the lunar landing anniversary, I also get the fact that everyone loves a good conspiracy, I even get the fact that the media wants to exploit this opportunity to get more traffic, but this Guardian.co.uk slideshow seems very… uncomfortable.

The worst thing about it is that they’ve switched the goal posts. They call the conspiracy theorists “skeptics” and the logically-minded, “believers.” I might be nit-picking, but that is a terrible way to look at it.

We went to the Moon

In 1969, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins went to the Moon. Neil and Buzz had a wander around on the lunar surface, checked it out, gave the Apollo Program their seal of approval and we then saw another five Apollo launches until 1972. These are all facts. This is history. Granted, we haven’t been back in 40 years, but the point is, we’ve done it.

There has never been one NASA employee that has shouted “conspiracy,” which seems surprising considering the sheer number of NASA staff that would have had to fake the landings to make them happen. No, judging by the scale of such a scam, it would be easier to send man to the Moon instead! So, did we go to the Moon in 1969? YES!

Skeptical believers? Believable skeptics? What?

Going back to the Guardian slideshow, it might be a good summary of the conspiracy theorist claims, but it’s a tired, re-hashing of all the old bunkum even the Mythbusters ground into the lunar dust a long time ago. Plus, it puts way too much weight behind the conspiracy theory itself; the text causes confusion as to what a “skeptic” is and what a “believer” is.

A skeptic is a person who uses skeptical thought to look at the evidence rationally to arrive at a logical conclusion. All the evidence points to the fact we’ve been to the Moon. Therefore, no Moon landing hoax. We went to the Moon, simple.

A believer is a person who depends on faith, not evidence, to arrive at a conclusion. The “believers” in this case should be the ones who believe there was a hoax, and not vice versa.

Sorry, but the Guardian got it ass-backwards this time.

Source: Guardian.co.uk

Russian Saraychev Peak Eruption Video Glory

Wow! I thought the single image of the volcanic eruption (plus shock wave) was cool, but after seeing the complete series of images put together in this animation, I’m literally blown away. Thank you Richard Drumm for sharing the video on Twitter — now this is one YouTube video that needs to be shown off.

The 29 photos in this animation were taken by space station astronauts as they passed over Russia’s Sarychev Peak volcano in the Kuril Islands.

For more information, check out my previous Astroengine post

A Shocking Volcanic Plume

volcano_shock

When I first saw this image, I didn’t think too much of it. After all, this isn’t the first time I’ve seen a volcanic plume racing through the atmosphere. However, this picture is awesome on so many levels.

First, as part of NASA’s Earth Observatory program, an astronaut in the International Space Station was fortunate to get the timing just right to witness Russia’s Sarychev Peak volcano in the Kuril Islands explode, blasting a huge plume of ash and smoke high into the atmosphere. Second, the conditions on the ground must have been very still, allowing such a huge vertical structure to reach so high. And thirdly, the image captures two amazing features: a condensing cloud of vapour at its peak (the white, smooth cloud) and a shock wave that pushed all the surrounding cloud away from the eruption.

Wow.

For more on this stunning event, check out Michael Reilly’s great article over at Discovery’s Earth Pub.

Thunder Cloud vs. Volcanic Plume; Light Show Ensues

stephen-omeara1

I know I only recently posted a lightning picture, but when I saw this shot, I had to post it. During an eruption of Rabaul volcano in Papua, New Guinea, Stephen O’Meara saw a stunning display in the angry skies.

“A storm cloud approached the volcano’s 2 km plume, and lightning began to arc between the two,” O’Meara said in the SpaceWeather.com article.

These events aren’t uncommon in the air surrounding hot, rising plumes of gas and ash, but some of the recent photography of such events are astounding.

A Lightning Bolt Hits Water, So Close You Can See Its Streamers

A bolt of lightning, 40 metres away (©Francis Schaefers and Daniel Burger)
A bolt of lightning, 40 metres away (©Francis Schaefers and Daniel Burger)

It’s pictures like these that make me a) want to do more photography, b) feel more in awe of nature than I already am, and c) wonder how the photographer didn’t pack up his gear and run away screaming. But thank goodness the talented storm chasers didn’t run away, they actually witnessed a very rare event, up close.

This astounding image was shot by photographers Francis Schaefers and Daniel Burger when they were chasing a thunderstorm along a beach in Vlissingen, the Netherlands. Chasing a storm along a beach. The best bit of the SpaceWeather.com article comes right at the end, where it says that Schaefers and Burger took a series of shots from “underneath a balcony where they figured the lightning wouldn’t reach.”

Let me emphasise that last bit: underneath a balcony.

Balls of steel comes to mind. For me, nothing less than a reinforced bunker surrounded by lightning rods will do.

Related Lightning Articles:

Anyway, back to why this image is so fantastic. When lightning strikes the ground, if you are able to get the timing perfect, you might be able to capture ‘upward streamers’ rising from the ground to meet the leading edge of the bolt, as NASA lightning expert Richard Blakeslee explains:

Streamers reach upward from the water.
Streamers reach upward from the water.

In a typical cloud-to-ground lightning strike, as the leader approaches the ground, the large electric field at the leader tip induces these upward propagating streamers. The first one that connects to the downward propagating leader initiates the bright return stroke that we see with our eye. Upward streamers are often observed on photographs of lightning hitting the ground.”

It’s hard to imagine if this streamer phenomenon has been observed to reach out from water before, but this Dutch example must be very rare. It’s hard enough to photograph lightning streamers on solid ground, let alone on the surface of a body of water.

In case you weren’t already amazed, check out this shot. It’s called The Cruise You Don’t Want to Take for very obvious reasons:

The storm, plus cruise, ship off the coast of Vlissingen, the Netherlands (©Francis Schaefers and Daniel Burger)
The storm, plus cruise, ship off the coast of Vlissingen, the Netherlands (©Francis Schaefers and Daniel Burger)

Source: SpaceWeather.com

Laboratory Ice Links Comets with Life On Earth

Artist impression of the nucleus of Comet Tempel (NASA)

It is an established theory that comets may have, in some way, seeded life on Earth. Some extreme ideas support the panspermia concept (where bacterial organisms hitched a ride on comets, asteroids or some other planetary debris, spreading life throughout the Solar System), while others suggest comets may have contributed the chemical building blocks essential for life to form 4 billion years ago. We know these icy bodies are also awash with organic compounds, so it’s not a huge leap of the imagination to think comets may have donated life-making material to the early Earth.

In an effort to study cometary material and its possible influence for nurturing early life on Earth, Prof. Akiva Bar-Nun of the Department of Geophysics and Planetary Sciences at Tel Aviv University has been creating his own comets in the laboratory. By doing this, Bar-Nun is hoping to gain a better perspective on how comets acquired their composition of the noble gases Argon, Krypton and Xenon.

The proportion of these elements are found in the Earth’s atmosphere, but are not thought to have originated from the rocky material our planet consists of. By understanding the proportions of these elements that formed in the icy laboratory environment, if the proportions match that of what we’ve measured on Earth, it goes to some way in explaining how comets formed in space and how they delivered organic compounds to the surface.

Now if we look at these elements in the atmosphere of the Earth and in meteorites, we see that neither is identical to the ratio in the sun’s composition,” said Bar-Nun. “Moreover, the ratios in the atmosphere are vastly different than the ratios in meteorites which make up the bulk of the Earth.”

So we need another source of noble gases which, when added to these meteorites or asteroid influx, could change the ratio. And this came from comets.”

Prof. Bar-Nun and his team carried out the research using a comet-making machine unique to Tel Aviv University, and although the original press release is light on the details, it is assumed the chemical composition of the early Solar System was recreated and then deep-frozen.

Comets bombarded the Earth 4 billion years ago. Organic chemicals were therefore deposited, possibly kick-starting life (NASA)
Comets bombarded the Earth 4 billion years ago. Organic chemicals were therefore deposited, possibly kick-starting life (NASA)

Comets formed some distance from the Sun (and a vast number of them populate the Oort Cloud), water vapour would have condensed and frozen, in temperatures as low as -250°C, trapping a primordial collection of chemicals inside their dusty, icy interiors. Some time after, these comets may have fallen into the inner Solar System, many impacting the Earth. Amino acids may have been introduced to the surface and oceans, or vital chemical components from the comets combined with chemicals already on Earth and life was sparked. When this happened, these comets would have left a chemical fingerprint.

Bar-Nun’s team were successful in creating their own synthetic comet, freezing water vapour, creating a natural ratio between the three elements. Then a link could be made, from the laboratory comet, with the very definite noble gas proportions, and the proportions of these gases found in the atmosphere.

The pattern of trapping of noble gases in the ice gives a certain ratio of Argon to Krypton to Xenon, and this ratio — together with the ratio of gases that come from rocky bodies — gives us the ratio that we observe in the atmosphere of the Earth,” added Bar-Nun.

Judging by the information available (the paper is published in the journal Icarus), Bar-Nun’s research has provided evidence that comets left a unique ratio of stable noble gases in the atmosphere, a ratio of necessary materials for life to eventually form.

Source: Tel Aviv University, EurekAlert via @Avinio

A Hole In Arizona

©Stan Gaz

This picture was posted by Phil Plait and I was mesmerized. Stan Gaz, the photographer of Meteor Crater in Arizona, will be laying on an exhibition in New York from April 30th to June 6th. If this is anything to go by, it’s an event you can’t afford to miss out on… if you’re in or near New York that is. As I am quite literally on the other side of the country, I’ll miss it, but here’s more info if you are more fortunate.

Could Extraterrestrial Genes Be Like Ours?

DNA and amino acids. Not just a terrestrial thing?
DNA and amino acids. Not just a terrestrial thing? (©CG4TV)

This is probably one of the biggest questions that hang over science fiction story lines: Will extraterrestrials have any resemblance to Life As We Know It™? To be honest, to toy with the thought of anything other than carbon-based life is pure conjecture, just because there might be some other form of life (such as silicon-based creatures), doesn’t mean there is (doesn’t mean there isn’t, either). So, here we are with the only form of life we know and understand, carbon-based life that was somehow spawned via a crazy mix of amino acids and some astronomical or terrestrial event that sparked the formation of prokaryotes (a.k.a. the simplest single-celled speck of life) some 4 billion years ago.

So we have an understanding of what formed life on Earth, perhaps if we look for the traces of evidence that evolved into Life As We Know It™ we can gauge whether extraterrestrial life has-formed/is-forming/will-form elsewhere in the observable Universe. From simulations of Earth evolution, scientists have predicted that 10 types of amino acids should form with the planet. These 10 amino acids are found inside the proteins of all living things on Earth. The same 10 amino acids have been found inside meteorites. Therefore, we already have a connection with the amino acids we find here on Earth and amino acids found in chunks of rock from elsewhere in the Solar System.

Now, a group of Canadian researchers have found that the same 10 amino acids are readily available elsewhere in the cosmos. Does this mean the components for life are common, not only on Earth, in the Solar System, but also in the Milky Way (and beyond)? It looks like it
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