BTS#16: Shiny Objects on Mars and don’t Miss the Lunar Eclipse

Show Notes

Mars

1. A Shiny Object. In one of the many pictures sent back by the Mars Science Laboratory (Curiosity) currently trekking around Mars cause a mini uproar the other day, as the image appeared to have a ‘shiny’ object in it. Much speculation was made, however, the likely explanation is that it was a cosmic ray hit. Note the image was taken with the NavCam, which is two cameras in stereo. The ‘shiny’ object was only seen in the right-NavCam, and not seen in the left NavCam. Since the images are taken simultaneously, it is likely not to be anything physical on the surface of Mars. Suggested Reading: Universe Today article, JPL Eyes and Other Senses, Bad Astronomy article, The Perils of the Skeptic Journalist (BA)

2. Opposition and Closest Approach. Mars reached opposition on Monday April 7, 2014, the point at which it is exactly opposite the Sun in the sky. Thus at opposition, as soon as the Sun sets, Mars rises. Opposition is typically the time it is best to observe any planet in the outer Solar System, as that usually means we’re closer to the planet, and we can observe it the entire night. Opposition isn’t necessarily the time when the planet will look biggest and brightest. Since planetary orbits are ellipses not circles, we won’t make our closest approach to Mars until Monday April 14, 2014: a full 7 days later. Nevertheless, over the next couple of weeks Mars is prime for observing. Suggested Reading: Universe Today article, Sky and Telescope article,

Total Lunar Eclipse

The Moon will be silently sliding into the shadow Earth casts into space in the wee morning ours of April 15th, 2014. Beginning at 2am (roughly) the Moon will begin to darken, and over the next couple hours will be cast with a deep reddish-purple colour (a result of our atmosphere). Totalality will last about an hour or so around 4:00am, and then slowly but surely will begin its trek out of the shadow of Earth. It’s a beautiful sight, and we’re going to get 4 of them over the next year! Suggested Reading: Universe Today article, wiki article, NASA Eclipses During 2014

Celebrating 50 years of the Deep Space Network

NASA celebrated a big anniversary in style. It has been 50 years since the development of the Deep Space Network, an international array of giant radio telescopes used to communicate with all interplanetary missions (from Curiosity to New Horizons). It also supports Earth orbiting missions and does some of it’s own astrophysical research. To celebrate the 50 year anniversary, NASA held a social event known as a NASA Social. The agency invited down a handful of the most avid social media users  Suggested Reading: NASA’s DSN, Universe Today article, NASA Social