Tag Archives: Voyager 2

NASA Night Sky Notes: Chill Out: Spot An Ice Giant In August

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. Your tax dollars help promote science! The following article was provided for reprinting by the Night Sky Network in August, 2019.

By David Prosper

Is the summer heat getting to you? Cool off overnight while spotting one of the solar system’s ice giants: Neptune! It’s the perfect way to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Voyager 2’s flyby.

Neptune is too dim to see with your unaided eye so you’ll need a telescope to find it. Neptune is at opposition in September, but its brightness and apparent size won’t change dramatically as it’s so distant; the planet is usually just under 8th magnitude and 4.5 billion kilometers away. You can see Neptune with binoculars but a telescope is recommended if you want to discern its disc; the distant world reveals a very small but discernible disc at high magnification. Neptune currently appears in Aquarius, a constellation lacking in bright stars, which adds difficulty to pinpointing its exact location. Fortunately, the Moon travels past Neptune the night of August 16th, passing less than six degrees apart (or about 12 Moon widths) at their closest. If the Moon’s glare overwhelms Neptune’s dim light, you can still use the its location that evening to mark the general area to search on a darker night. Another Neptune-spotting tip: Draw an imaginary line from bright southern star Fomalhaut up to the Great Square of Pegasus, then mark a point roughly in the middle and search there, in the eastern edge of Aquarius. If you spot a blue-ish star, swap your telescope’s eyepiece to zoom in as much as possible. Is the suspect blue “star” now a tiny disc, while the surrounding stars remain points of white light? You’ve found Neptune!

Neptune and Uranus are ice giant planets. These worlds are larger than terrestrial worlds like Earth but smaller than gas giants like Jupiter. Neptune’s atmosphere contains hydrogen and helium like a gas giant, but also methane, which gives it a striking blue color. The “ice” in “ice giant” refers to the mix of ammonia, methane, and water that makes up most of Neptune’s mass, located in the planet’s large, dense, hot mantle. This mantle surrounds an Earth-size rocky core. Neptune possesses a faint ring system and 13 confirmed moons. NASA’s Voyager 2 mission made a very close flyby on August 25, 1989. It revealed a dynamic, stormy world streaked by the fastest winds in the solar system, their ferocity fueled by the planet’s surprisingly strong internal heating. Triton, Neptune’s largest moon, was discovered to be geologically active, with cryovolcanoes erupting nitrogen gas and dust dotting its surface, and a mottled “cantaloupe” terrain made up of hard water ice. Triton is similar to Pluto in size and composition, and orbits Neptune in the opposite direction of the planet’s rotation, unlike every other large moon in the solar system. These clues lead scientists to conclude that this unusual moon is likely a captured Kuiper Belt object.

Discover more about Voyager 2, along with all of NASA’s past, present, and future missions, at nasa.gov

Clockwise from top left: Neptune and the Great Dark Spot traced by white clouds; Neptune’s rings; Triton and its famed icy cantaloupe surface; close of up Triton’s surface, with dark streaks indicating possible cyrovolcano activity. Find more images and science from Voyager 2’s flyby at bit.ly/NeptuneVoyager2 Image Credit: NASA/JPL
Finder chart for Neptune. This is a simulated view through 10×50 binoculars (10x magnification). Please note that the sizes of stars in this chart indicate their brightness, not their actual size. Moon image courtesy NASA Scientific Visualization Studio; chart created with assistance from Stellarium.

The Night Sky Network program supports astronomy clubs across the USA dedicated to astronomy outreach. Visit nightsky.jpl.nasa.gov to find local clubs, events, and more!

NASA Space Place – Snowy Worlds Beyond 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 December, 2017.

The Space Place article format has changed recently, including more embedded images. To simplify the posting process, a PDF version of the article is provided below, with a snippet of the article reproduced below it.

Download as PDF: Snowy Worlds Beyond Earth

By Linda Hermans-Killiam

2013february2_spaceplace

There are many places on Earth where it snows, but did you know it snows on other worlds, too? Here are just a few of the places where you might find snow beyond Earth:

A Moon of Saturn: Enceladus

Saturn’s moon, Enceladus, has geysers that shoot water vapor out into space. There it freezes and falls back to the surface as snow. Some of the ice also escapes Enceladus to become part of Saturn’s rings. The water vapor comes from a heated ocean which lies beneath the moon’s icy surface. (Jupiter’s moon Europa is also an icy world with a liquid ocean below the frozen surface.) All of this ice and snow make Enceladus one of the brightest objects in our solar system.

Caption: Enceladus as viewed from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft. Credit: NASA

Want to learn more about weather on other planets? Check out NASA Space Place: spaceplace.nasa.gov/planet-weather

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

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!

IOTA Announcement – Occultation By Neptune’s Moon Triton – 5 October 2017

Greetings, fellow astrophiles!

The following recently came across the ASRAS email list from ASRAS and IOTA member Brad Timerson. If you’ve the gear for it, this is an excellent chance to contribute to some far-out science.

There will be an occultation of a 12.5-mag. star by Neptune’s large satellite Triton the early evening of October 5th (just before 8pm EDT) that will be visible from east of the Appalachian Mountains. It’s the brightest star to be occulted by Triton since the Voyager flyby showed that the satellite has a substantial atmosphere with interesting dark plumes. The occultation will allow us to learn more about the atmosphere, and its variation with altitude and latitude. Sofia plans to fly over the Atlantic, to try to catch the central flash, where Triton’s whole atmosphere will focus/amplify the star’s light, probing deeper parts of the atmosphere. This might also be observed from Florida, but observations anywhere from the East Coast area are sought, to sample a wide range of latitudes of Triton’s atmosphere. Details of the occultation are available at MIT’s Web site for the event at hubble.mit.edu/prediction.html.

The central time for the Rochester area is within several seconds of 7:55:40 pm EDT on October 5th. For an observer near the center of the path, the event could last as long as 3 minutes. Because the Rochester area is north of that path, any occultation or atmospheric dimming would likely last some fraction of that time. You should plan to record the event for about 10 minutes before and after the time shown here.

A main challenge of the event will be to record Triton and the target star with a good signal, preferably with clear separation between 8th-mag. Neptune less than a quarter arc minute away. You will need good scale to separate the objects well enough. More observing tips are given on the MIT web site. The target star is about a magnitude brighter than Triton.

Telescopes as small as 8″ Newtonians will show the target star. (see included image from a European observer) For occultation work, we don’t need to “see” the occulting body (Triton in this case), just the object being occulted. Low light and/or integrating video cameras are best for this observation. However, standard astronomical cameras operated in a mode so as to produce images as quickly as possible will also work. Testing ahead of time to determine the correct exposure to just barely detect Triton should be done. This is to insure that the light from nearby Neptune doesn’t overwhelm that of the nearby moon and star at the time of the event.

Target star, Neptune, and Triton.

I plan on using my 10″ Meade LX200GPS at either f/6.3 (focal reducer) or at the normal f/10 prime focus. I will be using a Watec 120N+ low light video camera and integrating for 64 or 128 frames (2 seconds and 4 seconds). I’m still experimenting and might even need longer integration times.

Triton occults 4UC 410-143659, 5 October 2017 – visible regions from Earth.

Everyone with suitable equipment is encouraged to try this event. And I would appreciate it if this message is forwarded to any nearby universities that might have the ability to observe this event. If individual images are taken (instead of video) the exact time for each exposure is required (don’t depend on the computer’s internal clock. Use a GPS-based time). For analysis, it may be possible to measure the light level on individual images or the images can be combined into a video and measuring software used on the video.

Please contact me (EMAIL) for additional information or to submit observations.