So much is going on above our heads, you want to keep your eyes peeled
As long-time readers know, space science is a particular interest of mine. One reason is that there’s always something interesting going on. In fact, the next few months are going to be particularly exciting as there are several events to look forward to.
Asteroid Flyby of Earth
The first big event happens…this week! That’s right, as this issue of The Pulse is being distributed throughout the city, a fairly large asteroid, known by the super-sexy name of “2014 JO25”, will be whizzing past the Earth.
As I said, this is a pretty big chunk of rock, about 650 meters across. But there’s no chance it will hit us. It’s closest approach of 1.8 million kilometers is more than five times the distance to the moon. (Which is about 384 thousand kilometers away.)But, once it passes by, you should be able to see it with small telescopes or binoculars for a week or so.
The Grand Finale
The Cassini mission to Saturn launched back in October of 1997. It took the school bus-sized probe about seven years to get to Saturn, and once it got there it began sending back absolutely amazing images and data.
Not only did it dispatch the Huygens probe to land on the surface of Titan, it also found (and flew through) water geysers emanating from the moon Enceladus!
Alas, all good things must end, and the Cassini mission is no exception. The probe is running out of fuel, and so the folks running the mission have decided to go out in grand fashion indeed.
Starting on April 26th, Cassini will attempt to make a total of 22 orbits through the space between Saturn and its rings. These will be the closest passes ever made to Saturn and the first made through this gap.
Assuming the probe survives, the final orbit will take it into the clouds of Saturn, where it will burn up completely. Why? It’s to protect Enceladus and the other moons from possible contamination by any Earth bacteria that may have hitched a ride on the probe.
Total Solar Eclipse! Right Here!
Well, not right here, but it’s gonna be close enough that we can all drive there.
On Monday, August 21st, beginning at 1:02 p.m. there will be a partial Solar Eclipse visible from the Chattanooga area. (A “Solar Eclipse” is where the moon passes between the Earth and the Sun.) If you want to see the total eclipse (and, believe me, you do), all you really need to do is drive North to Cleveland or Dayton.
Both of those locations will be treated to a total eclipse of the Sun for over two hours! (Actually, according to the various “eclipse maps” on the internet, you can probably just go to the North end of Soddy Daisy and get the full effect.)
Staring Into the Void
Earlier this month, scientists used a virtual telescope as big as the Earth itself to take a photo of a possible black hole at the center of our galaxy.
They created this telescope (called the Event Horizon Telescope) by pointing a bunch of smaller telescopes from all over the world at the same patch of sky. Then they recorded data from these for ten days. That patch of sky just happens to contain the suspected black hole at the center of our galaxy.
All of the data from all of these telescopes will be collected and run through special software that will account for time difference between the telescopes, effectively turning them all into one Earth-sized telescope!
What should pop out on the other side is not an actual picture of the black hole (because, y’know, light can’t escape a black hole), but rather a picture of the shadow that the black hole casts.
Unfortunately, one of the telescopes in the project is in Antarctica, and they can’t actually retrieve the hard disk from there until the end of the Antarctic winter in October. Even then, there’s so much data to process (at least a petabyte), that it will take months of processing time. All told, we won’t see any actual images until mid-2018 at the earliest.
But when we do see it all, expect it to be very cool.