Astronomy Pic of the Day!


Astronomy Picture of the Day


moonshorty_apollo17_1080Apollo 17 at Shorty Crater 
Image Credit: Apollo 17 Crew, NASA

Explanation: In December of 1972, Apollo 17 astronauts Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt spent about 75 hours on the Moon in the Taurus-Littrow valley, while colleague Ronald Evans orbited overhead. This sharp image was taken by Cernan as he and Schmitt roamed the valley floor. The image shows Schmitt on the left with the lunar rover at the edge of Shorty Crater, near the spot where geologist Schmitt discovered orange lunar soil. The Apollo 17 crew returned with 110 kilograms of rock and soil samples, more than was returned from any of the other lunar landing sites. Forty five years later, Cernan and Schmitt are still the lastto walk on the Moon.


Selfie_Curiosity_960Curiosity Rover Takes Selfie on Mars 
Image Credit: NASAJPL-CaltechMSSS

Explanation: Yes, but have you ever taken a selfie on Mars? The Curiosity rover on Mars has. This selfie was compiled from many smaller images — which is why the mechanical arm holding the camera is not visible. (Although its shadow is!) Taken in mid-2015, the featured image shows not only the adventurous rover, but dark layered rocks, the light colored peak of Mount Sharp, and the rusting red sand that pervades Mars. If you look closely, you can even see that a small rock is stuck into one of Curiosity’s aging wheels. Now nearing the end of 2017, Curiosity continues to explore the layers of sedimentary rocks it has discovered on Vera Rubin Ridge in order to better understand, generally, the ancient geologic history of Mars and, specifically, why these types of rocks exist there.


The Comet and the Star Cluster


Image Credit & Copyright: José J. Chambó (Cometografia)

Explanation: Comet Linear has become unexpectedly bright. The comet, discovered in 2000, underwent a 100-fold outburst just a week before it passed a mere 14 lunar distances from Earth late last month. The comet was captured here last week at about magnitude 6 — just bright enough to be seen by the unaided eye — passing in front of the distant globular star clusterM14. Comet 252/P LINEAR is one of a rare group of comets that vacillate between the Earth and Jupiter every 5 years. How the comet will evolve from here is unknown, but hopes run high that it will remain a good object for binoculars in northern skies for the next week or two.


A Green Flash of Spring


Image Credit & Copyright: Murray Schukar

Explanation: Taken on March 20 from the top of Haleakala on the isle of Maui, planet Earth, the first sunrise of northern spring is pictured in this vacation snapshot. The telephoto view from the volcanic caldera above a sea of clouds also captures an elusive green flash near the Sun’s upper limb. Atmospheric layers with sharp temperature changes cause the colorful flash as the Sun rises behind a distant cloud bank. Refraction along sight lines through the layers creates multiple distorted images of the Sun, and for a moment, can visibly deflect shorter wavelength green light.


Space Exporation: Titan’s Hydrocarbon Lakes


Imagine being submersed in a lake of liquid methane.

If you’re still reading then obviously you’re curious. Scientists may be close to sending a floating probe to the lakes of hydrocarbons on Titan’s surface. One small, but important constituent in the moon’s atmosphere and on the surface, is methane. Methane gas is not uncommon on earth, ask my old roommate. But conditions for liquid methane are down right bizarre compared to any known conditions here on earth.

Saturn’s largest moon, Titan is a world of mostly nitrogen and small amounts of methane in its atmosphere, not too dissimilar to earth. A satellite image of Titan in the visible wavelengths, however, is just a beautiful homogenous yellow haze. So we must probe the small world with infrared light, longer than our visible red light, to observe the surface features.


Even more fascinating, Titan has a precipitation cycle just as Earth has the water cycle. Methane can exist in two of the three phases on Titan, liquid and vapor, but researchers have recently come across data that might suggest hydrocarbon (methane and ethane) ice as well. That’s pretty spectacular if you ask me.


A joint mission of NASA and ESA, the Cassini satellite deployed the Huygens probe which descended through the atmosphere of Titan and settled on the surface before losing contact. All through its journey, the probe was able to not only take and transmit vital atmospheric and chemical data, but also images.

One of the largest topics in space exploration is for life, understandably so. Aside from ethical dilemmas, exploring Jupiter’s moon Europa might be a better target than Titan. Europa has liquid and solid water, why not focus on this world instead? For one, an international team of experts could not fully agree 100% on a way to probe Europa without contaminating potential life. So in the mean time, maybe we can explore somewhere that have conditions extreme enough to handle our potential contamination, but also have environments that are similar to when life on earth was prebiotic. Mmmm, how about Titan?

Christophe Sotin of the Jet Propulsion Lab,”Dynamic, methane-driven photochemistry at Titan produces prebiotic molecules similar to those that must have existed on an early Earth. Though it may be shorter-lived than previously believed, details about Titan’s methane cycle provide a glimpse into the kinds of conditions that existed on our planet before life evolved.”

Which brings us back to submerging in liquid methane/ethane. The two main objectives I can propose from these articles are: this could be a very good step towards the approach of Europa and this could broaden our concept of our own origins as well as any potential new forms.

Jeremy Hsu,”a Titan mission may also prove less technically challenging than the unprecedented step of putting landers or submersible drones on Jupiter’s icy moon of Europa.”

Chemist Dr. Chao He on the environments on Titan,”The study of organic chemistry on Titan’s surface would extend our understanding of the diversity of prebiotic chemistry, and perhaps life’s origin on Earth.”

If we plan on trying to figure out life, any type of life, knowing the origins of ours is vital since it’s the only concrete form we know. And finding conditions similar to any stage of life on earth in present day surroundings, well that’s plain fascinating.

One thing that seemed to be void in all the articles was budget justification for a layperson. Unfortunately our world has numerous issues that are of extreme importance in which this money could possibly help. Even as an undergrad who is just interested in this topic, I have been asked numerous times, “Why are we focusing so much time and resources into exploring space?” “Don’t you think there are more important issues at hand on earth?”

No answer I have been able to give, no matter how relevant to me, seems to fully drive a convincing answer to the questioner. As an aspiring scientist, I almost never think about having to justify any exploration, but I haven’t dealt with the real world yet either, I guess.

In addition, the work that I am doing with Titan seems to follow the overall topic in two of these papers: decreasing methane and the original source of methane. The later could be a by-product of living organisms. The work of Eliot Young of Southwest Research Institute is the Principal Investigator for a project that aims to accurately determine if there are any current or near-past sources of methane on Titan. The report by Sotin appears, without a doubt, to ensure methane is on its way out on Titan.

Eliot Young, “Our observing program has been designed to address two ongoing questions: what is the composition of various surface units on Titan (including lakes, dunes, etc.) and is there a discernible source of atmospheric methane?”
NASA KECK 2013A PROPOSAL #80 Coordinated Image Cubes of Titan during the T90 Cassini Flyby

Life on Titan:

Pictures from Huygens lander:
Cassini Science League

A new hope for us extreme motion sick people


Remember all those fun roller coasters you rode as a kid? Pretty mind-blowing and intense. How about the classic spinning tea cups? Also fun, eh? Well, not in my eyes. All those spinny rides that plaster your brain to the walls of your skull are no friend of mine. Unfortunately, even things like reading on the bus or in the car are lumped into the disasters listed above. I have an extra bad tolerance to motion and it takes a decent amount of work to avoid/combat it for me.

As someone who is haunted and miserable from any form of motion sickness, I found an article that might give a person like me a whole new world of hope. In an article entitled A devide (device) to zap away motion sickness, author Matthew Stock has…

The research has been conducted by clinical scientist Dr. Qadeer Arshad has tackled the problem head on; yes, pun intended. At the Imperial College London, Dr. Arshad collaborated with Professor Michael Gresty published an article in the journal Neurology probing the connection between motion sickness and the confusion between what the eyes see and the inner ears feel. An expert on motion sickness, Gresty points out it is the confusion between the eyes and the inner ears in the brain leads to the feeling of nausea.

The theory is to send mild electric currents to the brain through the scalp to suppress the signals to the brain from the inner ear in hopes of avoiding the confusion.

In the experiment, test subjects were placed in a rotating seat that tilts and their susceptibilities were recorded, the subjects were fitted with the electrodes and spent another round in the seat. After 10 minutes the subjects found that their were less nauseous and recovered faster than the test trial.