November 3 2010 Astronomy Newsletter
Here are the latest articles from the Astronomy site at BellaOnline.com. They are a complement to "Uranus and Neptune Twin Planets." http://www.bellaonline.com/articles/art39799.asp
Uranus Facts for Kids
This ice giant is twenty times further from the Sun than we are. It orbits lying on its side so that half the planet can be dark for over twenty years at a time. This is the planet Uranus, discovered by William Herschel in 1871 and nearly named George!
Neptune Facts for Kids
Far beyond Uranus is another blue planet, one named for the Greek sea god. It could well have been named for a god of winds as it's the windiest place in the Solar System. Here is an update on facts about Neptune, the planet that was discovered using math.
People are still seeing the green comet, but it's been too cloudy for me. I think my best chance to see it will be to try to get online tomorrow (November 4th) to see NASA's EPOXI craft doing a fly-by! It should get within 450 miles (700 km) of the nucleus. There is live coverage on NASA TV starting at 9.30 a.m. Eastern Time. http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/nasatv/index.html
In case you're wondering, EPOXI is a contraction of Extrasolar Planet Observation, and Characterization and Deep Impact Extended Investigation. Am I the only one who finds this name totally uninspiring?
The Great Star Count has begun, but I haven't been able to count anything except clouds and aircraft. I hope you get better weather for this. Don't forget to send your count in. http://www.windows2universe.org/citizen_science/starcount/steps.html
(1) Harlow Shapley was born on November 2, 1885. He was a prominent American astronomer who became the director of Harvard College Observatory. Shapley's work was important in improving distance measurement in astronomy. The work led him to believe that the Milky Way was larger than most people thought at the time. He also argued that the Sun wasn't near the center of the Galaxy. We now know that we are about 2/3 of the way out along one of the spiral arms of the Milky Way.
(2) November 2, 1917 was the date of first light for the 100" Hooker telescope at Mount Wilson. (First light is the first use of a new telescope to gather light.) For thirty years after this it was the largest telescope in the world. Its most famous user was Edwin Hubble. Hubble found evidence that the Milky Way was not the whole universe, but that there were other galaxies. He also showed that the universe was expanding, giving the first observational evidence of what's now called the Big Bang theory.
(3) Fifty-three years ago today (November 3 1957) Laika the dog went into space on Sputnik 2. So the first cosmonaut was actually a dog. I imagine Yuri Gagarin was more appreciative of being the first human to orbit the Earth than Laika was of being the first living creature to do so. Apparently, she died of overheating within a few hours of launch, though this wasn't made public until about eight years ago.
(4) On November 6, 1572 Tycho Brahe, the great Danish astronomer, recorded a bright supernova. He wasn't its discoverer, but he did make his reputation by writing up and publishing his observations.
Learn more about this fascinating man in "Tycho Brahe" http://www.bellaonline.com/articles/art28652.asp.
That's all for this week.
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Mona Evans, Astronomy Editor
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