Tag Archives: European Space Agency

NASA Space Place – Comet Campaign: Amateurs Wanted

Poster’s Note: One of the many under-appreciated aspects of NASA is the extent to which it publishes quality science content for children and Ph.D.’s alike. NASA Space Place has been providing general audience articles for quite some time that are freely available for download and republishing. Your tax dollars help promote science! The following article was provided for reprinting in January, 2017.

By Marcus Woo

2013february2_spaceplaceIn a cosmic coincidence, three comets will soon be approaching Earth—and astronomers want you to help study them. This global campaign, which will begin at the end of January when the first comet is bright enough, will enlist amateur astronomers to help researchers continuously monitor how the comets change over time and, ultimately, learn what these ancient ice chunks reveal about the origins of the solar system.

Over the last few years, spacecraft like NASA’s Deep Impact/EPOXI or ESA’s Rosetta (of which NASA played a part) discovered that comets are more dynamic than anyone realized. The missions found that dust and gas burst from a comet’s nucleus every few days or weeks—fleeting phenomena that would have gone unnoticed if it weren’t for the constant and nearby observations. But space missions are expensive, so for three upcoming cometary visits, researchers are instead recruiting the combined efforts of telescopes from around the world.

“This is a way that we hope can get the same sorts of observations: by harnessing the power of the masses from various amateurs,” says Matthew Knight, an astronomer at the University of Maryland.

By observing the gas and dust in the coma (the comet’s atmosphere of gas and dust), and tracking outbursts, amateurs will help professional researchers measure the properties of the comet’s nucleus, such as its composition, rotation speed, and how well it holds together.

The observations may also help NASA scout out future destinations. The three targets are so-called Jupiter family comets, with relatively short periods just over five years—and orbits that are accessible to spacecraft. “The better understood a comet is,” Knight says, “the better NASA can plan for a mission and figure out what the environment is going to be like, and what specifications the spacecraft will need to ensure that it will be successful.”

The first comet to arrive is 41P/Tuttle–Giacobini–Kresák, whose prime window runs from the end of January to the end of July. Comet 45P/Honda–Mrkos–Pajdušáková will be most visible between mid-February and mid-March. The third target, comet 46P/Wirtanen won’t arrive until 2018.

Still, the opportunity to observe three relatively bright comets within roughly 18 months is rare. “We’re talking 20 or more years since we’ve had anything remotely resembling this,” Knight says. “Telescope technology and our knowledge of comets are just totally different now than the last time any of these were good for observing.”

For more information about how to participate in the campaign, visit www.psi.edu/41P45P46P.

Want to teach kids about the anatomy of a comet? Go to the NASA Space Place and use Comet on a Stick activity! spaceplace.nasa.gov/comet-stick/

This article was provided by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Caption: An orbit diagram of comet 41P/Tuttle-Giacobini-Kresak on February 8, 2017—a day that falls during the comet’s prime visibility window. The planets orbits are white curves and the comet’s orbit is a blue curve. The brighter lines indicate the portion of the orbit that is above the ecliptic plane defined by Earth’s orbital plane and the darker portions are below the ecliptic plane. This image was created with the Orbit Viewer applet, provided by the Osamu Ajiki (AstroArts) and modified by Ron Baalke (Solar System Dynamics group, JPL). ssd.jpl.nasa.gov/sbdb.cgi?orb=1;sstr=41P

About NASA Space Place

With articles, activities, crafts, games, and lesson plans, NASA Space Place encourages everyone to get excited about science and technology. Visit spaceplace.nasa.gov (facebook|twitter) to explore space and Earth science!

European Southern Observatory – Catch A Star 2016 Writing Contest Now Open

Greetings, fellow astrophiles!

The following first came across my inbox courtesy of George Normandin of Kopernik Astronomical Society – the 2016 installment of the Catch A Star Contest for student writing. Details are provided below. With school in session (perhaps to get the keen eye of one’s English teacher) and the weather currently no good for observing (although you have some lead time!), now’s a great time to get a young observer writing early and writing often.

2016feb6_cas_logo_mediumThe goal of the European Astronomy Contest Catch a Star is to stimulate the creativity and independent work of students from European secondary schools, to strengthen and expand their astronomical knowledge and skills, and to help the spread of information technologies in the educational process.

Catch a Star is a contest that has been held as a result of the collaboration between the European Association for Astronomy Education (EAAE) and European Southern Observatory (ESO).

The idea of the Catch a Star program is to encourage students to work together, to learn about astronomy and discover things for themselves by researching information on an astronomical object.

* * *

School students around the world are invited to take part in the 2016 Catch a Star astronomy writing contest.

To participate, students should submit a written report on an astronomical topic of their choice — for example, an astronomical object, phenomenon, observation, scientific problem or theory. Reports must be written in English and be no more than 5000 words in length. They may be undertaken by groups of up to three students, plus a group leader who is not a student.

Each submission must be emailed as a PDF file to astro.edu@gmail.com. The deadline for all entries is 30 November 2016.

The five winners will each receive a mounted image of a fascinating astronomical object, courtesy of ESO. In addition, each winner will also have the chance to carry out remote observations at the National Astronomical Observatory “Rozhen”, Bulgaria, or to hold a video conference with a professional astronomer.

Catch a Star is organised jointly by the European Association for Astronomy Education (EAAE) and ESO. Its aim is to encourage creativity and independent work amongst students, and to strengthen and expand their astronomical knowledge and skills.

Find out more about the competition on the Catch a Star website.

Links

* Catch a Star 2016 – www.eaae-astronomy.org/catchastar/
* How to participate – www.eaae-astronomy.org/catchastar/participate-menu
* Catch a Star 2015 winners – www.eaae-astronomy.org/catchastar/winners-menu

Contacts

Oana Sandu
Community Coordinator & Strategy Officer
ESO education and Public Outreach Department
Tel: +49 89 320 069 65
Email: osandu@partner.eso.org

NASA Space Place – Solar Wind Creates — And Whips — A Magnetic Tail Around Earth

Poster’s Note: One of the many under-appreciated aspects of NASA is the extent to which it publishes quality science content for children and Ph.D.’s alike. NASA Space Place has been providing general audience articles for quite some time that are freely available for download and republishing. Your tax dollars help promote science! The following article was provided for reprinting in August, 2015.

By Dr. Ethan Siegel

2013february2_spaceplaceAs Earth spins on its axis, our planet’s interior spins as well. Deep inside our world, Earth’s metal-rich core produces a magnetic field that spans the entire globe, with the magnetic poles offset only slightly from our rotational axis. If you fly up to great distances, well above Earth’s surface, you’ll find that this magnetic web, called the magnetosphere, is no longer spherical. It not only bends away from the direction of the sun at high altitudes, but it exhibits some very strange features, all thanks to the effects of our parent star.

The sun isn’t just the primary source of light and heat for our world; it also emits an intense stream of charged particles, the solar wind, and has its own intense magnetic field that extends much farther into space than our own planet’s does. The solar wind travels fast, making the 150 million km (93 million mile) journey to our world in around three days, and is greatly affected by Earth. Under normal circumstances, our world’s magnetic field acts like a shield for these particles, bending them out of the way of our planet and protecting plant and animal life from this harmful radiation.

But for every action, there’s an equal and opposite reaction: as our magnetosphere bends the solar wind’s ions, these particles also distort our magnetosphere, creating a long magnetotail that not only flattens and narrows, but whips back-and-forth in the onrushing solar wind. The particles are so diffuse that collisions between them practically never occur, but the electromagnetic interactions create waves in Earth’s magnetosphere, which grow in magnitude and then transfer energy to other particles. The charged particles travel within the magnetic field toward both poles, and when they hit the ionosphere region of Earth’s upper atmosphere, they collide with ions of oxygen and nitrogen causing aurora. Missions such as the European Space Agency and NASA Cluster mission have just led to the first accurate model and understanding of equatorial magnetosonic waves, one such example of the interactions that cause Earth’s magnetotail to whip around in the wind like so.

The shape of Earth’s magnetic field not only affects aurorae, but can also impact satellite electronics. Understanding its shape and how the magnetosphere interacts with the solar wind can also lead to more accurate predictions of energetic electrons in near-Earth space that can disrupt our technological infrastructure. As our knowledge increases, we may someday be able to reach one of the holy grails of connecting heliophysics to Earth: forecasting and accurately predicting space weather and its effects. Thanks to the Cluster Inner Magnetosphere Campaign, Van Allen Probes, Mars Odyssey Thermal Emission Imaging System, Magnetospheric Multiscale, and Heliophysics System Observatory missions, we’re closer to this than ever before.

Kids can learn about how solar wind defines the edges of our solar system at NASA Space Place – spaceplace.nasa.gov/interstellar

2015august18_solarwind

Caption: Composite of 25 images of the sun, showing solar outburst/activity over a 365 day period; NASA / Solar Dynamics Observatory / Atmospheric Imaging Assembly / S. Wiessinger; post-processing by E. Siegel.

This article was provided by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

About NASA Space Place

The goal of the NASA Space Place is “to inform, inspire, and involve children in the excitement of science, technology, and space exploration.” More information is available at their website: http://spaceplace.nasa.gov/