Posted by: Paul A. Forsyth | January 31, 2014

Space Links

Mars Hubble

1. On January 22, astronomers spotted a supernova in M 82 — the “Cigar galaxy” — roughly 12 million light-years away. (An image of the galaxy, with the supernova indicated, appears below.) It appears to be a white dwarf supernova, “triggered either by the explosion of white dwarfs that accrete too much matter and exceed their maximum stable mass, or by the collision of two white dwarfs. (That’s as opposed to core-collapse supernovae, which are the explosions of stars much more massive than the Sun.)”

M 82 supernova

The January 2014 supernova in M 82, imaged by the University of London Observatory. The top image shows the same view from 10 December 2013 for comparison.

This supernova — SN 2014J — apparently is the closest supernova observed in the past four decades. This site includes a map to help find M 82, which is near the Big Dipper. “Astronomers are saying this new supernova is currently at magnitude +11 to +12, so its definitely not visible with the naked eye. You’ll need a 4 inch telescope at least to be able to see it.” Over the next few days, SN 2014J could become as bright as magnitude +8.5 before it begins to dim. (In astronomy, greater magnitude is indicated by smaller numbers.)

2. At Ars Technica, John Timmer has a piece marking 10 years of the rover Opportunity continuously operating on the surface of Mars. Mission planners originally planned for the rover to operate for 90 days after landing. Timmer discusses the advantages of rovers like Opportunity and its sister Spirit over earlier (stationary) Mars landers, he covers some of the engineering challenges that the rovers have faced, and finally he looks at how NASA has come to use online outlets and social media to publicize images and other news from the rovers.

Am I seeing something wrong, or has the Opportunity rover been doing donuts?

Meanwhile, Wired also has a collection of images from the Red Planet to mark “10 Years of Beautiful Mars Art From the Spirit and Opportunity Rovers.” See also this image, taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, showing the progress to date of the Curiosity rover, which landed in August 2012.

Of course, this anniversary also reminds me of this classic Onion article.

3. The new Gemini Planet Imager seems to be working well.

4. Astronomers using the Herschel Space Observatory have detected “jets of steam” erupting from opposite sides of Ceres, the largest asteroid in our solar system. These observations confirm the presence of water on Ceres, placing it in a club with “icy worlds like Jupiter’s moon Europa and Saturn’s moon Enceladus,” as Dan Vergano puts it for National Geographic. On the same general topic, Mary Beth Griggs has a big-picture article in Popular Mechanics (“Why It Matters That There’s So Much Water in the Asteroid Belt”).

5. As you have probably heard by now, the Chinese made a soft landing on the Moon with an unmanned spacecraft back in December 2013.

It’s just possible that headlines like this could spur the United States into a new space race, which I would welcome from a results perspective (more cool space stuff getting done!). But I won’t be holding my breath.

6. India has launched an unmanned probe to orbit Mars; if successful, India would become the fourth space program (after NASA, the Soviets, and the European Space Agency) to successfully place a craft in orbit around or on the surface of Mars.

The AP story used by the Guardian, the Telegraph, and others, includes this paragraph:

Some have questioned the price tag for a country of 1.2 billion people still dealing with widespread hunger and poverty. But the government defended the Mars mission, and its $1bn space programme in general, by noting its importance in providing hi-tech jobs for scientists and engineers and practical applications in solving problems on Earth.

See also Tyler Cowen on this point.

7. An image by the Cassini spacecraft, orbiting Saturn, shows the night side of Saturn illuminated by ringshine. And if you look closely in the picture (to the right of Saturn, just below the rings), you can see the Earth too.

Image Credits: (1) Image of Mars by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, June 26, 2001. Source: Wikimedia Commons. (2) Images by the University of London Observatory, December 2013 and January 2014. Used under a CC BY 3.0 license. Source: Wikimedia Commons. (3) Image by Mars Opportunity rover courtesy JPL.

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