November 17 2010 Astronomy Newsletter
Here's the latest article from the Astronomy site at BellaOnline.com.
How to Tell a Planet from a UFO
Two English policemen chased a UFO through the Devon countryside. It was the planet Venus. A news reporter had quite a scoop when she found a UFO hovering over New York City. It was the planet Jupiter. Why are planets and stars often mistaken for spacecraft or aircraft?
(1) On Monday of this week the remains of Tycho Brahe were removed from his tomb under the floor of a church in Prague's Old Town Square. It took the international team about eight hours to do it. They will have until the end of the week to examine and document the remains.
Tycho Brahe was possibly the greatest astronomer of his time. Certainly his body of extensive and accurate observations made it possible to test the theory of Copernicus and lay the foundations of modern astronomy.
But Tycho isn't having much of a chance to rest in his grave, for he has already been exhumed once before--just over a century ago. Monday's exhumation was a more professional affair, and modern technology, including a CT-scan, will be used, and a thorough archaeological report prepared.
It may be that Tycho couldn't rest easy anyhow if indeed his end was the result of foul play, as some have alleged. However this isn't CSI, so we're unlikely to get an answer about whether he was murdered--and if so, by whom! The report will be published sometime next year.
You can read more about Tycho's amazing life at http://www.bellaonline.com/articles/art28652.asp.
(2) Maybe Pluto is back to being the largest dwarf planet again! Recent measurements suggest that Eris is probably not larger in diameter than Pluto after all. But, more surprisingly, since the mass is still noticeably greater, what's is it made of? Who knows? Every answer seems to pose another question.
Birthdays this week include two astronomers who changed our view of the cosmos and an astronaut.
(1) William Herschel was born on November 15, 1738. When he discovered the planet Uranus in 1781, this doubled the diameter of the known Solar System. With the assistance of his sister Caroline, he was the first to conduct an all sky survey of nebulae. Herschel was also famous as a telescope-maker and many of his discoveries were made because of the excellence of his instruments. The European Space Agency's Herschel Space Observatory is named for both William and Caroline.
(2) The first American in space Alan Shepard was born on November 18, 1923. Amongst other accomplishments, he was the commander of Apollo 14 and the fifth man to walk on the Moon. He died in 1998 on the 29th anniversary of his moon walk. Oh yes, and he's also remembered for playing golf on the Moon.
(3) Edwin Hubble was born on November 20, 1889. Millions know his name because of the great space telescope named for him. He made a discovery that effectively settled the debate about the existence of other galaxies versus everything we see as part of the Milky Way. Using a photograph taken with the Hooker Telescope on Mt Wilson, he showed that what's now known as Andromeda Galaxy was too far away to be in the Milky Way. In addition, although he didn't originate the idea that the universe was expanding, he did the work which helped to establish it.
Physics.org has named NASA Kids' Club the Best Kids' Site in their annual awards. http://www.nasa.gov/audience/forkids/kidsclub/flash/index.html
One of the judges said, "If I was a kid I’d want to be an astronaut after seeing this. Fantastic." This would be a suitable site for pre-school and primary. The games are at different levels, going from some simple pattern recognition for young children up to a tricky logic problem and solar system quiz for older ones. Lovely graphics and lots of noise.
That's all for this week. Wishing you clear skies.
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Mona Evans, Astronomy Editor
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