Time-Lapse: Earth

If you couldn’t tell, we love time-lapse videos… whether they’re made of photos looking up at the sky from Earth or looking down at Earth from the sky! This latest assembly by photographer Bruce W. Berry takes us on a tour around the planet from orbit, created from images taken by astronauts aboard the International Space Station and expertly de-noised, stabilized and smoothed to 24 frames per second. The result is — like several others before — simply stunning, a wonderful reminder of our place in space and the beauty of our living world.

See more of Bruce’s time-lapse projects here.

Music: “Manhatta” composed & performed by The Cinematic Orchestra.

Original images courtesy of the Image Science & Analysis Laboratory, NASA Johnson Space Center, The Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth.

Timelapse Video Captures a Year of Incredible Night Sky Views

'North Country Dreamland' -a northern Michigan dark sky exposition. Credit: Shawn Malone.

This beautiful new timelapse video might have folks heading in droves for northern Michigan. Shawn Malone of Lake Superior Photo put together this incredible video — her first attempt at a timelapse compilation, believe it or not — using over 10,000 photo frames showing 33 different scenes of various night sky events from northern Michigan over the past year. “It took a year to shoot and a bit of tenacity and persistence to get this into a form of coherent electrified cosmic goodness,” Malone wrote on Vimeo. And did she ever capture cosmic goodness: auroras, the Milky Way rising and setting, meteor showers, a comet, and even aurora and lightning together in one scene. Just gorgeous….

North Country Dreamland from LakeSuperiorPhoto on Vimeo.

Tiny Bubbles: Star Trek Gets An Atomic Look

The Star Trek lego is spelled out on the atomic level in new research performed by IBM. Credit: IBM Research

Add IBM to the list of entities eagerly counting down to Star Trek: Into Darkness, the next installment of the famed franchise, which opens up in theaters May 17. Researchers at the computing giant are so excited that they created atomic images of Star Trek symbols.

Users of the Star Trek: Into Darkness app available on iOS and Android can see images of the USS Enterprise, a Vulcan hand salute and, of course, the logo for the movie itself — spelled out in individual atoms.

“These images were made by precisely moving hundreds of atoms with a two-ton microscope, operating at a temperature of -268 Celsius and magnified 100 million times,” IBM stated.

To show off just how good they think they are at this, IBM also released “the world’s smallest movie”, called A Boy and His Atom, where they play a stop-motion movie using the same moving-atoms technique. Check out the results below:

“Moving atoms is one thing; you can do that with the wave of your hand. Capturing, positioning and shaping atoms to create an original motion picture on the atomic-level is a precise science and entirely novel,” stated Andreas Heinrich, IBM Research’s principal investigator.

“This movie is a fun way to share the atomic-scale world and show everyday people the challenges and fun science can create.”

As a quick science reminder, an atom is a unit of matter with a nucleus that is surrounded by electrons. That’s the simple explanation, but there’s a lot to explore even within that basic concept: electron transitions, subatomic particles and what happens if a piece of matter encounters a piece of antimatter.

Atomic physics is important to help astronomers understand how the sun shines, for example. Engineers also are trying to figure out how to develop antimatter engines for future space exploration.

Source: IBM – World’s Smallest Movie

Astronaut Hadfield’s Music Unites Schools in Song

Students at St. Emily Catholic School in Ottawa perform "Is Somebody Singing" on the same day astronaut Chris Hadfield sang it in space. Credit: Elizabeth Howell

OTTAWA, CANADA – Last time Chris Hadfield went up in space in 2001, most of them were infants. In 1995, during his first mission, none of them were even born. Hundreds of elementary school students at an Ottawa school, however, sang enthusiastically along with his music — and along with thousands of other students throughout Canada — during a nationwide performance May 6.

See the video of the event below:

The 860 children at St. Emily Catholic School added their voices to the throng as Hadfield led a rendition of “Is Somebody Singing” from the International Space Station.

Ranging in ages between 4 and 12, the students at this school spent six weeks practicing in their individual classrooms before performing together for the first time.

Music is a big part of the school’s life. There are regular masses and liturgies. Some of the older students have their own bands and do performances. Saint Emily also hosts local bands in Ottawa, including Junkyard Symphony.

But this performance was something different. Hadfield, Barenaked Ladies frontman Ed Robertson and others reprised the January premiere of the song and invited every school in Canada to take part. Some sang directly with the live broadcast. Others assembled on front lawns, or in gyms, to sing at their own pace.

“We all listened to [the song] and thought it as a great way for the school to come together as a community,” said Roisin Philippe, a kindergarten teacher at Saint Emily who co-organized the school’s performance. Several teachers brought their own instruments — guitars, harps, and the like — to the performance. Others handed out tambourines.

Teachers took the opportunity to integrate the performance into the school’s curriculum where possible. Jenny Ng, who teaches Grade 1, would show students some of Hadfield’s videos (such as how to brush one’s teeth in space.)  Others downloaded the sheet music to distribute to the class and teach them how to read music.

The performance is an initiative of the Canadian Broadcast Corp.’s Music Monday. It was the last live event with Hadfield, who currently commands Expedition 35, before he returns to Earth.

Hadfield and two of his crewmates — Tom Marshburn and Roman Romanenko — are scheduled to come back May 13.

How to Catch This Week’s ‘Ring of Fire’ Annular Eclipse

A perfect ring of fire captured by Kevin Baird on May 20th, 2012 from Bluit New Mexico. (Credit: Kevin Baird/Universe Today flickr Group).

The first solar eclipse of 2013 is upon us this week, with the May 10th annular eclipse crossing northern Australia and the Pacific.

2013 is an off year for eclipses. There are five eclipses this year, three lunars and two solars. Last month’s very shallow partial lunar eclipse set us up for the annular that occurs this week. In fact, the theoretical mid-point for the first of two eclipse seasons for 2013 occurs on May 7th at 7:00 UT/ 3:00 EDT when the longitude of the Sun equals the descending node where the Moon’s path crosses the ecliptic. This further sets us up for the third and weakest eclipse of the year, a grazing penumbral on May 25th.

Animation of the path of this week's annular solar eclipse. (Credit: NASA/GSFC/A.T. Sinclair).
Animation of the path of this week’s annular solar eclipse. (Credit: NASA/GSFC/A.T. Sinclair).

An annular eclipse occurs when the Moon eclipses the Sun while near apogee and is hence visually too small to entirely cover the Sun.

The Moon reaches apogee on May 13th at 13:32 UT/9:32AM EDT at 405,826 kilometres from Earth, just 3 days and 13 hours past New.

Annulars are currently more common than total solar eclipses, occurring 33.2% of the time in our current 5,000 year epoch versus 26.7% for total solar eclipses. The remainders are hybrid and partial eclipses. Annulars will become even more common as our Moon recedes from us at a current rate of about 3.8 centimetres a year. In about 1.4 billion years, the final brief total solar eclipse as seen from the Earth will occur. Likewise, somewhere back about 900 million years ago, the very first annular eclipse as seen from the Earth occurred.

Solar viewing with a properly  fitted glass white light filter over the aperture of a Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope. (Photo by Author).
Solar viewing with a properly fitted glass white light filter over the aperture of a Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope. (Photo by Author).

Safety is paramount while viewing an annular solar eclipse. As mentioned above, an annular eclipse throughout all phases is much brighter than you’d expect. Thus precautions to protect your eyes MUST be taken throughout ALL phases of the eclipse. Permanent eye damage can result from staring at the Sun without proper protection, and this can be near instantaneous when done through an unfiltered telescope!

We witnessed the 1994 annular eclipse from the shores of Lake Erie, and can tell you that 5% of the Sun is still extremely bright. You wouldn’t even know an annular eclipse was underway at midday unless you were looking for it. Use only filters approved for eclipse viewing that fit snugly over the FRONT of your optics. Throw those old eyepiece screw-on filters away, as they can heat up and crack!

Check filters before use and never leave a telescope aimed at the Sun unattended. Projecting the Sun is another option via a telescope or “Sun Gun,” but again, never leave such a rig unattended, and keep finderscopes covered at all times. Also, telescopes with folded optical paths such as Schmidt-Cassegrains can heat up to dangerous levels and should not be used for projecting the Sun.

The path of the May 9th/10th annular eclipse across Australia & the Pacific. (Map courtesy of Michael Zeiler at Eclipse Maps, click to enlarge).
The path of the May 9th/10th annular eclipse across Australia & the Pacific. (Map courtesy of Michael Zeiler at Eclipse Maps, click to enlarge).

This eclipse has a magnitude rating of 0.9544, meaning that 95.44% of the diameter of the Sun will be eclipsed at its maximum. Keep in mind, this leaves about 8.9% percent of the Sun, or about 1/11th of its visual area exposed. This translates to only a 2.5 magnitude drop in brightness. Thus, the brightness of the Sun will drop from magnitude -27 to -24.5, still well over 25,000 times brighter than the Full Moon!

Note that this one crosses the International dateline as well.

The action for this eclipse begins as the partial phases touch down over Western Australia at sunrise at 21:25 UT on May 9th (The morning of May 10th in Australia). The annulus makes its appearance at 22:30 UT over western Australia, with its 172 kilometre wide track racing to the northeast over Tennant Creek in the Northern Territories and crossing the Cape York peninsula as it crisscrosses the path of last November’s total solar eclipse just north of Cairns.

A closeup of the path of the annular eclipse across Australia, click to enlarge. (Courtesy of Miichael Zeiler at Eclipse Maps).
A closeup of the path of the annular eclipse across Australia, click to enlarge. (Courtesy of Miichael Zeiler at Eclipse Maps).

Note that the eclipse will be 80% partial near Alice Springs and Uluru (Ayers Rock), presenting an excellent photo op. Michael Zeiler at Eclipse Maps also points out that the area near the town of Newman in Western Australia will see an amazing sunrise annular eclipse. The path of the annular eclipse will then traverse the Coral Sea crossing over islands in eastern Papua New Guiana, the Solomon Islands and Kiribati before reaching greatest annularity with a duration of 6 minutes and 3 seconds at latitude 2° 13’ north and longitude 175° 28’ east. The path of annularity crosses over Bairiki Atoll and makes last landfall over Fanning Island north of Kiribati. Note that most of Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia and the Philippines will see partial phases of the eclipse. The islands of Hawaii across the dateline will also see a 40-50% partial eclipse on May 9th before the event ends in the eastern Pacific at 03:25:23 UT.

Weather prospects for the eclipse look to be best along the track through Australia with less than 20% chance of cloud cover then getting progressively worse as the eclipse path tracks northeastward out to sea. The Solomon Islands region can expect cloud cover in the 60% range, while in Hawaii prospects are about 70%. Eclipser maintains a site dedicated to weather prospects for upcoming eclipses.

Solar activity is currently moderate, with several sunspot groups currently turned Earthward making for a photogenic Sun on eclipse day;

Sunspot activity as of May 5th. (Photo by Author).
Sunspot activity as of May 5th. (Photo by Author).

This eclipse belongs to saros series 138 and is number 31 of 70. This saros started with a 2% partial solar eclipse on June 6th, 1472 and will end with a 12% partial on July 11th,2716 AD having produced 3 total, 1 hybrid, 16 partial and 50 annular eclipses.

Fans of this saros may remember the last annular in this series which crossed South America on April 29th, 1995.

A sequence of eclipse pictures taken from Huntington Beach, California on May 20th, 2012. (Credit: jimnista/Universe Today flickr gallery).
A sequence of eclipse pictures taken from Huntington Beach, California on May 20th, 2012. (Credit: jimnista/Universe Today flickr gallery).

Catching a rising annular eclipse can also make for a stunning photograph. To catch the eclipse and the foreground horizon in silhouette, a DSLR with a 400mm lens running at 1/500th of a second shutter speed or faster is a good combination. Remember, you’ll have to aim this via projection. DO NOT look through the camera at the Sun! Exposures slower than 1/200th of a second are also out of the question, as you can damage the camera sensor at slow exposures.

Another cool effect to watch for is the appearance of tiny little “crescent Suns” littering the ground as sunlight streams through gaps in the tree leaves. This occurs because the gaps act like tiny little pinhole cameras.  A spaghetti strainer is also a highly scientific apparatus that can be used to mimic this effect!

Several solar observing satellites, including Hinode and the European Space Agency’s Proba-2 are poised to catch multiple partial solar eclipses on May 9th and 10th. We ran simulations of these this weekend:

Finally, if you’re like 99.99% of humanity, you’ll be watching this eclipse online. Slooh will be broadcasting this eclipse live.

Also, the eclipse will be broadcast live via the Coca-Cola Space Science Center starting at 5PM ET.

Amateur astronomer Geoff Sims @beyond_beneath will be tweeting near real time images of the eclipse from the path of annularity. Colin Legg (@colinleggphoto) will also be observing the event. Also check out:

-Australian observer Gerard Lazarus’s live feed of the eclipse.

3News in New Zealand and Sky News Australia for eclipse coverage.

Got an ad hoc eclipse broadcast planned? Let us know and we’ll include it!

The next and final solar eclipse for 2013 is a hybrid (annular along one section of the path and total along another) on November 3rd across the mid-Atlantic and central Africa. Another annular eclipse doesn’t occur until April 29th 2014, and the next total solar eclipse occurs on March 20th, 2015.

If you’re in the region be sure to catch this rare celestial event in person, or watch the action worldwide online!


Star’s Dying Gasp May Signal Black Hole’s Birth

Where is the Nearest Black Hole
Artist concept of matter swirling around a black hole. (NASA/Dana Berry/SkyWorks Digital)

A distinctive flash of light emanating from a dying star may make it possible for astronomers to watch a black hole being born, according to new research.

This burst of light, which might last three to 10 days, could be visible in optical light and also in infrared, which shows the heat signature of cosmic objects. While not as bright as a supernova — an exploding star — this signal could occur somewhere in the sky as often as once a year, according to simulations performed at the California Institute of Technology.

“That flash is going to be very bright, and it gives us the best chance for actually observing that this event occurred,” stated Caltech postdoctoral scholar Tony Piro, who led the research that is published in Astrophysical Journal Letters. “This is what you really want to look for.”

A big star essentially turns into a black hole when it falls into itself due to its large mass. The collapse shoots out protons and electrons from the core, creating neutrons and temporarily turning the core into a neutron star (a really, really dense object). This process also makes up neutrinos, which are infinitesimal but also extremely fast, moving nearly as fast as light does and bleeding the star of energy.

Combining observations done with ESO's Very Large Telescope and NASA's Chandra X-ray telescope, astronomers have uncovered the most powerful pair of jets ever seen from a stellar black hole. The black hole blows a huge bubble of hot gas, 1,000 light-years across or twice as large and tens of times more powerful than the other such microquasars. The stellar black hole belongs to a binary system as pictured in this artist's impression.  Credit: ESO/L. Calçada
Combining observations done with ESO’s Very Large Telescope and NASA’s Chandra X-ray telescope, astronomers have uncovered the most powerful pair of jets ever seen from a stellar black hole. The black hole blows a huge bubble of hot gas, 1,000 light-years across or twice as large and tens of times more powerful than the other such microquasars. The stellar black hole belongs to a binary system as pictured in this artist’s impression. Credit: ESO/L. Calçada

A 1980 paper, CalTech stated, showed that “this rapid loss of mass means that the gravitational strength of the dying star’s core would abruptly drop.” Hydrogen-filled layers at the top of the star would then fall outward and create a shock wave moving at more than two million miles an hour.

More recently, astronomers at the University of California, Santa Cruz discovered that the shock wave’s friction against the gas would heat up the plasma and make it glow, potentially for as long as a year. But that would be very faint from Earth-borne telescopes.

This is where the new CalTech research comes in. The university is already involved in black hole research, including the Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR). You can check out a video about NuSTAR below.

Piro’s simulations focus on when shock waves hit the surface of the star. It’s this process that would produce a burst of light, perhaps 10 to 100 times brighter than the other glow that astronomers foresaw.

The next step will be trying to observe these events as soon as they happen. Caltech advertised several survey possibilities related to its research: the Palomar Transient Factory, the  intermediate Palomar Transient Factory that started work in February and the even more advanced Zwicky Transient Facility (ZTF) that  is expected to start up in 2015.

Of course, it’s quite possible that other telescopes on the ground or orbit could work to confirm this signal.

Source: California Institute of Technology

Weekly Space Hangout – May. 3, 2013

Another busy episode of the Weekly Space Hangout, with more than a dozen space stories covered by a collection of space journalists. This week’s panel included Alan Boyle, Dr. Nicole Gugliucci, Amy Shira Teitel, David Dickinson, Dr. Matthew Francis, and Jason Major. Hosted by Fraser Cain. We discussed:

We record the Weekly Space Hangout every Friday at 12 pm Pacific / 3 pm Eastern. You can watch us live on Google+, Cosmoquest or listen after as part of the Astronomy Cast podcast feed (audio only).

Bright, Long-Lasting GRB Sets Energy Output Record

The maps in this animation show how the sky looks at gamma-ray energies above 100 million electron volts (MeV) with a view centered on the north galactic pole. The first frame shows the sky during a three-hour interval prior to GRB 130427A. The second frame shows a three-hour interval starting 2.5 hours before the burst, and ending 30 minutes into the event. The Fermi team chose this interval to demonstrate how bright the burst was relative to the rest of the gamma-ray sky. This burst was bright enough that Fermi autonomously left its normal surveying mode to give the LAT instrument a better view, so the three-hour exposure following the burst does not cover the whole sky in the usual way. Credit: NASA/DOE/Fermi LAT Collaboration. (Click on image if the animation is not working)

Last weekend (April 27, 2013), the Fermi and Swift spacecraft witnessed a “shockingly” bright burst of gamma rays from a dying star. Named GRB 130427A, it produced one of the longest lasting and brightest GRBs ever detected.

Because Swift was able to rapidly determine the GRB’s position in the sky, and also because of the duration and brightness of the burst, the GRB was able to be detected in optical, infrared and radio wavelengths by ground-based observatories. Astronomers quickly learned that the GRB had one other near-record breaking quality: it was relatively close, as it took place just 3.6 billion light-years away.

“This GRB is in the closest 5 percent of bursts, so the big push now is to find an emerging supernova, which accompanies nearly all long GRBs at this distance,” said Neil Gehrels, principal investigator for Swift.

Swift's X-Ray Telescope took this 0.1-second exposure of GRB 130427A at 3:50 a.m. EDT on April 27, just moments after Swift and Fermi triggered on the outburst. The image is 6.5 arcminutes across. Credit: NASA/Swift/Stefan Immler.
Swift’s X-Ray Telescope took this 0.1-second exposure of GRB 130427A at 3:50 a.m. EDT on April 27, just moments after Swift and Fermi triggered on the outburst. The image is 6.5 arcminutes across.
Credit: NASA/Swift/Stefan Immler.

“We have waited a long time for a gamma-ray burst this shockingly, eye-wateringly bright,” said Julie McEnery, project scientist for the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope. “The GRB lasted so long that a record number of telescopes on the ground were able to catch it while space-based observations were still ongoing.”

No two GRBs are the same, but they are usually classified as either long or short depending on the burst’s duration. Long bursts are more common and last for between 2 seconds and several minutes; short bursts last less than 2 seconds, meaning the action can all over in only milliseconds.

This recent event started just after 3:47 a.m. EDT on April 27. Fermi’s Gamma-ray Burst Monitor (GBM) triggered on the eruption of high-energy light in the constellation Leo. The burst occurred as NASA’s Swift satellite was slewing between targets, which delayed its Burst Alert Telescope’s detection by a few seconds.

Fermi’s Large Area Telescope (LAT) recorded one gamma ray with an energy of at least 94 billion electron volts (GeV), or some 35 billion times the energy of visible light, and about three times greater than the LAT’s previous record. The GeV emission from the burst lasted for hours, and it remained detectable by the LAT for the better part of a day, setting a new record for the longest gamma-ray emission from a GRB.

The Swift BAT light curve.  Credit: NASA/Swift team.
The Swift BAT light curve. Credit: NASA/Swift team.

As far as the optical brightness of this event, according to a note posted on the BAUT Forum (the Universe Today and Bad Astronomy forum) data from the SARA-North 1-meter telescope at at Kitt Peak in Arizona at about 04:00 UT on April 29 showed a relative magnitude of about 18.5.

Gamma-ray bursts are the universe’s most luminous explosions, and come from the explosion of massive stars or the collision between two pulsars. Colliding pulsars are usually of short duration, so astronomers can rule out a pulsar collision as causing this event.

If the GRB is near enough, astronomers usually discover a supernova at the site a week or so after the outburst.

NASA said that ground-based observatories are monitoring the location of GRB 130427A and expect to find an underlying supernova by midmonth.

Sources: NASA, BAUTForum

The Rosy Remains of a Star’s Final Days

Hubble image of SNR 0519, the remains of a Type Ia supernova in the Large Magellanic Cloud

Stars like our Sun can last for a very long time (in human terms, anyway!) somewhere in the neighborhood of 10-12 billion years. Already over 4.6 billion years old, the Sun is entering middle age and will keep on happily fusing hydrogen into helium for quite some time. But eventually even stars come to the end of their lives, and their deaths are some of the most powerful — and beautiful — events in the Universe.

The wispy, glowing red structures above are the remains of a white dwarf in the neighboring Large Magellanic Cloud 150,000 light-years away. Supernova remnant SNR 0519 was created about 600 years ago (by our time) when a star like the Sun, in the final stages of its life, gathered enough material from a companion to reach a critical mass and then explode, casting its outer layers far out into space to create the cosmic rose we see today.

As the hydrogen material from the star plows outwards through interstellar space it becomes ionized, glowing bright red.

SNR 0519 is the result of a Type Ia supernova, which are the result of one white dwarf within a binary pair drawing material onto itself from the other until it undergoes a core-collapse and blows apart violently. The binary pair can be two white dwarfs or a white dwarf and another type of star, such as a red giant, but at least one white dwarf is thought to always be the progenitor.

Read more: A New Species of Type Ia Supernova?

A recent search into the heart of the remnant found no surviving post-main sequence stars, suggesting that SNR 0519 was created by two white dwarfs rather than a mismatched pair. Both stars were likely destroyed in the explosion, as any non-degenerate partner would have remained.

Read more here.

This image was chosen as ESA/Hubble’s Picture of the Week. See the full-sized version here.

Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA. Acknowledgement: Claude Cornen

How Saturn’s Magnetic Activity Could Help us Pinpoint Time on the Ringed Planet

Image of Saturn’s aurora seen at ultraviolet wavelengths. The spiral shape seen here is similar to the distorted radio aurora visualised by the team and also indicates enhanced auroral activity. Credit: ESA/NASA/Hubble

He’s not even finished his first university degree yet, but Tim Kennelly is already part of a team that is altering our perception of time on Saturn.

The University of Iowa undergrad — in junior year, yet — led a paper describing activity in Saturn’s magnetosphere, where charged particles collect and sometimes form auroras. The process changes with the Saturnian seasons and could, the university stated, help scientists better understand how long a Saturn day lasts.

The  researchers used information from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, which has been orbiting the planet and its moons since 2004. The research challenge: Saturn is a gas giant full of layers that each have their own rotational speed. That makes it hard to figure out how long Saturn’s day is. (It’s about 10 hours, but varies by latitude.)

Kennelly made direct observations of seasonal changes in a phenomenon known as Saturn kilometric radiation (SKR). This robust radio signal was first discovered several decades ago and is being examined more closely by Cassini.

“UI space physicist Donald Gurnett and other scientists showed that the north and south poles have their own SKR ‘days’ that vary over periods of weeks and years,” the university stated. “How these different periods arise and are driven through the magnetosphere has become a central question of the Cassini mission, according to NASA officials.”

Kennelly observed, from looking at data collected between 2004 and 2011, that SKAs are linked with “flux tubes” that are made up of plasma, or superhot gas. These tubes happen around the same time of instances of SKAs in the northern and southern hemisphere, which changes seasonally.

It’s possible that this understanding could be carried over to other planets, the university stated, including our own.

“This finding may alter how scientists look at the Earth’s magnetosphere and the Van Allen radiation belts that affect a variety of activities at Earth ranging from space flight safety to satellite and cell phone communications,” it added.

This won’t be Kennelly’s only degree. He is about to apply to graduate schools, and he has aims to earn a doctorate in plasma physics.

“I’m pleased to have contributed to our understanding of Saturn’s magnetosphere so early in my career,” stated Kennelly. “I hope this trend continues.”

The research is described in the American Geophysical Union’s Journal of Geophysical Research.

Source: University of Iowa