Comet ISON Sprouts a Double Tail

Today’s guest post is written by John Moffitt, Astrophysicist & HMNS Volunteer.

Amateur astronomers are getting a better look at Comet ISON as it dives toward the sun for a Nov. 28th close encounter with solar fire. As the heat rises, the comet brightens, revealing new details every day. This photo, taken Nov. 10th by Michael Jäger of Jauerling Austria, shows a beautiful double tail. One tail is the ion tail. It is a thin streamer of ionized gas pushed away from the comet by solar wind. The filamentary ion tail points almost directly away from the sun.

Comet Ison gets a double tail - 111013 - crop

The other tail is the dust tail. Like Hansel and Gretel leaving bread crumbs to mark their way through the forest, ISON is leaving a trail of comet dust as it moves through the solar system. Compared to the lightweight molecules in the ion tail, grains of comet dust are heavier and harder for solar wind to push around. The dust tends to stay where it is dropped. The dust tail, therefore, traces the comet’s orbit and does not point directly away from the sun as the ion tail does.

Comet ISON is currently moving through the constellation Virgo low in the eastern sky before dawn. Shining like an 8th magnitude star, it is still too dim for naked eye viewing, but an increasingly easy target for backyard optics. Amateur astronomers, if you have a GOTO telescope, enter these coordinates.

Four comets visible in the pre-dawn eastern sky. Look with binoculars before the sun comes up.

4 comets skymap - 111213

Comet ISON Briefings at HMNS

November 29 – December 1

To find out whether Comet ISON survives its close encounter with the Sun and how to see it in December’s morning sky, come to the Burke Baker Planetarium Friday through Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend. An ISON update will precede each Planetarium show!
PLANETARIUM LECTURE
“Tracking Comet ISON and Other Possible IMPACTS”
Thursday, December 5, 6 p.m.
Tickets $18, Members $12
Comets and asteroids that roam the inner solar system and are a possible threat to Earth. Comet ISON will be grazing the Sun on November 28, and if it survives, it may come within our view. Dr. Sumners will give an update on Comet ISON and other incoming objects. Includes viewing of the show Impact!

Click here for tickets and more information on the Comet ISON briefings.

Looking Back…Happy New Year!

Happy New Year! Tomorrow is the first day of 2009. So what an appropriate time to look back and see what we have accomplished in science over the past years on this day.

On New Years Day, 1801, the dwarf planet Ceres was discovered by Giuseppe Piazzi. This dwarf planet is actually located inside our solar system, it is part of the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Astronomer Johann Elert Bode had suggested nearly forty years earlier that their might be large planets or land masses between Mars and Jupiter based off a theory (that is no longer used) proposed in 1766 by Johann Daniel Titus. It was this same theory that led to the discovery of Uranus in 1781. Because of the theory and the unknown location of a planet between Mars and Jupiter, 24 astronomers combined their efforts and began a methodical search for the planet. 

Hubble's Largest Galaxy Portrait Offers a new High-Def view
Creative Commons License photo credit: Venom82

On New Years day, 1925, the American astronomer Edwin Hubble announced the discovery of galaxies outside of our own milky way. Hubble also later showed that the universe is still expanding.

On New Years Day, 1985, the Internet domain name system was created. The domain name system translates human names for sites into the numerical or binary identifiers associated with network equipment. A simple explanation is that the Internet domain name system acts as a “phone book” for the Internet by translating a human-friendly host name into an IP address.

untitled
Creative Commons License photo credit: mackenzienicole

On New Year’s Day, 1995 the existence of freak waves was proven. The Draupner oil platform in the north sea was usually hit by large waves measuring about 39 feet in height. However, on Jan 1st of that year a freak wave that was 89 ft tall crashed down on the platform. Freak waves had been thought to exist before based off of stories of sailors, but it had never previously been recorded.




Science Doesn’t Sleep (9.11.08) Hurricane Ike Edition

Released to Public: Super Typhoon Cimaron Image by Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Rapid Response Team, Goddard Space Flight Center (NASA)
Creative Commons License photo credit: pingnews.com

And neither will any of us in the Houston-Galveston area this weekend, as Hurricane Ike barrels in from the Gulf.

If you haven’t already, it’s time to consider whether you need to get out of Dodge – but please – let the people in mandatory evacuation zones get out first.

This is a high-tech hurricane – Ike’s got a Twitter feed. You can also get the latest from @chronsciguy and @HoustonChron.

And, since there are other things happening in the world of science…

The world survived the initial tests – so now the question is, will CERN discover The God Particle?

Astronomers observed a gamma ray burst that was briefly so bright that it outshone the galaxy that contained it.

Maybe you really shouldn’t walk under that ladder – superstitions may have originally evolved as a survival instinct.  

It’s the like Terra Cotta Warriors – but with trees. Scientists have found fossil forests in mines that span thousands of hectares.