Posted on Friday, October 24, 2014
By Kadri Tinn |

Astrophysics of the Interstellar Medium by Walter J. Maciel

The vacuum of space – better than anything scientists can produce in laboratories on Earth – and yet it’s not entirely empty, and has an effect on observations, and that effect can’t be dealt with by just sending telescopes to space.

The idea that there might be something between us and stars isn’t new, but it hasn’t been a long time for us to actually talk about such a field of research as astrophysics of interstellar medium.

In this book one first gets an overview of the history of the field and how we actually know that there is gas and dust in interstellar space – it was one of the reasons why William Herschel’s estimates for the size of our Galaxy were off – as he couldn’t see the dust and it hid the stars behind it.

Although interstellar space is more difficult to observe in some ways than stars or galaxies, modern telescopes can still see a lot of what is going on.

If you have seen some of the images taken by Hubble Space Telescope, you might have happened across colourful images (in fake colours mostly) of nebulae – we might get a glimpse of what there is in addition to stars often thanks to stars illuminating interstellar matter or because of the gas and dust hiding the stars or part of their radiation – certainly many of you would recognize the absorption nebula called the Horsehead nebula in Orion on photo – but how many of us really know what is happening inside and what exactly does the nebula consist of? These are some of the questions you can find answers to in this book, and ofcourse you can get deep into the physical processes that go on in different types of nebulae.

I found this book riveting, as a lot of times in astrophysics we’re dealing with huge objects, and ofcourse interstellar nebulae are huge, but as the book goes down to molecular and atomic scale, we see more of what is happening to individual particles in space. Also after reading this book one can try and imagine all the ways that a photon might interact with interstellar matter. As comparison – when the general public thinks of light coming from the Sun, on would mostly think of it being radiated from it’s visible surface, but we wouldn’t ponder long on how the light and energy get from the Sun’s core out to the chromosphere – same thought pattern would be true for nebulae we might see on pictures. After reading Maciel’s book, you won’t look at nebulae the same way and the vacuum of space will be something extraordinary.

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Posted on Thursday, October 23, 2014
By Kadri Tinn |
If you live in the Western US or Canada, you'll be getting a nice view of today's partial solar eclipse. However if you happen to live somewhere else on Earth, you can enjoy the partial eclipse online via Slooh.com, where there is a special three-hour webcast about the partial solar eclipse with updates from Arizona's Prescott Solar Obsevatory and other telescopes. The webcast starts at 21:00 GMT.

European observers won't have to wait long for a partial solar eclipse, as the next one visible in Europe, Northern Africa, Middle-East and Russia will occur on March 20th, 2015

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Posted on Thursday, October 23, 2014
By Kadri Tinn |
See the Earth through the eyes of NASA's Earth observing satellites in this video and learn more about how and why observing Earth from space is important.

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Posted on Sunday, October 19, 2014
By Kadri Tinn |
Watch the comet Siding Spring fly by Mars tonight live on Slooh here.


The live show will start at 18:15 UTC, comet will be it's closest to Mars at about 18:28. About a hundred minutes later Mars will pass through the densest part of the comet's tail.


Comet Siding Spring C/2013 A1 as seen by Hubble Space Telescope. Credit: NASA, ESA, and J.-Y. Li (Planetary Science Institute)

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Posted on Friday, October 17, 2014
By Kadri Tinn |
The comet Siding Spring will have a close encounter with the red planet Mars on Sunday, October 19th.
The comet was discovered by Robert H. McNaught at Siding Spring Observatory in Australia in 2013.

The comet will be at it's closest approach to mars at 18:28 UT on Sunday getting as close as 139,300 km from the centre of Mars. Although the diameter of the nucleus of the comet is unknown, the diameter of the coma surrounding it has been estimated to be almost 20,000 km across and it will take Mars several hours to pass though the coma.

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Posted on Thursday, October 16, 2014
By Kadri Tinn |
The Power of Stars by Bryan E. Penprase

There are many books that tell the different stories and myths of planets and constellations and how the Universe formed in ancient cosmologies. However there aren't too many that if you keep reading books on the same topic wouldn’t get repetitive, however the author of The Power of Stars has managed to do just that –although you might have read about it all somewhere else it still feels fresh and is very engaging.

This book is a treasure trove for those who work in a planetarium setting or give lessons about constellations and the Solar System – the beginning of the book is a great introduction to the star and planet lore –and it’s extensive enough to be a serious competitor to James W. Olcott’s classic “Star Lore”

Although the book is just under 350 pages long, while reading, it feels as if it were longer, as there’s so much of interest in there – for example about both ancient and modern timekeeping – how and why were calendars in various regions in Earth different and how does modern timekeeping work and why is it even important to know the right time anyway? It is fascinating to read about Sir Cloudley Shovel for example, whose ship’s clock was inaccurate and since he used the time on the clock for calculating his longitude, caused the catastrophe where four ships and 2000 men perished in 1707.

The Power of Stars takes on many topics –all related to stars of course – showing how in some way stars and planets have had an effect on human culture or life, be it a calendar or a temple erected in celebration of a heavenly body. It’s an interesting twist in the book to show how some future archeoastronomers might see our ruins of modern cities or skyscrapers as having some relation to astronomy and maybe a clue towards worshiping a planet or a star.

Although some of the topics do get a more in-depth look in some other books (that can be found in the references of The Power of Stars), combining all of them in a book that is more accessible and adds interesting facts and stories makes it a wonderful read that won’t leave the person who reads the whole book just wondering how things work nowadays, but rather it gives an overview of the past and present – and it is so with cosmology as well – although in the beginning of the book you find creation myths, it ends with modern cosmology and what we know about the Universe and the objects within.

It's a highly recommended read!

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Posted on Thursday, October 16, 2014
By Kadri Tinn |
As ESA's Rosetta mission is getting ready for the first landing on a comet, Art Chmielewski, Manager of the US Rosetta Project, gave a lecture about comets as part of the Von Karman Lecture Series at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

You can watch the whole lecture here:

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