Astronews - June 2005

Watch 3 Planets after Sunset this weekend!


Be sure to look up tonight and the next few nights!

Check out the western horizon just after sunset. The grouping of Venus, Saturn, and Mercury low in the west-northwest should not to be missed!

Venus, the brightest of the three, sits in the middle and will be visible first as it starts to gets dark. Next you'll spot Mercury about one degree to Venus' lower right and then Saturn about two and half degrees to Venus' upper left. Then watch as these three planets in a row follow the sun and disappear below the horizon.

Timing is critical! Start about 30 minutes after sunset. Make sure you have a clear view of the horizon!


Cosmos 1 Solar Sail set for June 21st Launch


First Solar Sail Spacecraft Ready for Daring Flight

Cosmos 1 , the world's first solar sail spacecraft, now has a launch date of Summer Solstice, June 21, 2005.

The innovative and first-of-its-kind solar sail, a project of The Planetary Society and Cosmos Studios, will launch atop a converted ICBM from a submerged Russian submarine.

It will deploy in Earth orbit and attempt the first controlled flight of a solar sail.


A message from Ann Druyan (widow of Carl Sagan)

Cosmos 1 is scheduled to lift off on the day of the summer solstice. Imagine the rays of the sun striking the solstice markers at the ancient astronomical observatories of Stonehenge and Chaco Canyon as Cosmos 1 rises from out of the sea and into the sky.

What better way to honor our ancestors than to continue the voyage to the stars that they began?

On that day, as on every other one, I will be thinking of Carl Sagan and all I learned from him about the joys of being alive in the cosmos. He envisioned that we would learn to use the awesome powers of science with wisdom and foresight. . . That the wonders of nature revealed by science would belong to each and every one of us. . . .And that we would someday find our way to the distant stars.

Cosmos 1's launch vehicle is an intercontinental ballistic missile that was originally designed to deliver a nuclear weapon of mass death to a city somewhere on our tiny pale blue dot. Now she has been converted to a peaceful and even mythic purpose. She will carry a new kind of spacecraft into earth orbit.

Four days later Cosmos 1 will open its eight massive reflective sails to test a revolutionary and potentially much faster way of moving through the universe. Cosmos 1 is a ship designed to ride the light.

If we succeed, perhaps someday fleets of light ships will carry our descendents on voyages of exploration to the worlds that circle other suns.

We expect that Cosmos 1 will be a naked eye object. If you should catch sight of it sailing the summer skies, please pause a moment to remember the generations of life and consciousness that made Cosmos 1 possible. . . And then find something to do to protect this ancient continuity. . .To help us overcome our planet-wide madness, so that the generations that follow us will have their chance at the stars. Let Cosmos 1 be a signal flare of our determination to do so.

To learn more visit these sites:

Cosmos One Solar Sail Tracking Site

Planetary Society Solar Sail Site

Astronews - May 2005

Wormholes Don't Work Like in the Movies



For time travellers, the future (or the past?) is looking bleak.

Hypothetical tunnels called wormholes were once the best bet for constructing a real time machine.

These cosmic shortcuts, which link one point in the Universe to another, are favoured by scifi writers as a means of explaining time travel.

Wormholes are familiar to anyone who has watched the TV shows Farscape, Stargate SG1 and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

But the idea of building these so-called traversable wormholes is looking increasingly shaky, according to two new scientific analyses.

Remote connection

A common analogy used to visualise these phenomena involves marking two holes at opposite ends of a sheet of paper, to represent distant points in the Universe. One can then bend the paper over so that the two remote points are positioned on top of each other.

If it were possible to contort space-time in this way, a person might step through a wormhole and emerge at a remote time or distant location.

The person would pass through a region of the wormhole called the throat, which flares out on either side.

A wormhole could be kept open by filling its throat, or the region around it, with an ingredient called exotic matter.


This is strange stuff indeed, and explaining it requires scientists to look beyond the laws of classical physics to the world of quantum mechanics.

Exotic matter is repelled, rather than attracted, by gravity and is said to have negative energy - meaning it has even less than empty space.

Law breaker

But according to a new studies this method of building a traversable wormhole may be fatally flawed. The authors looked at a kind of wormhole in which the space-time "tube" shows only weak deviations from the laws of classical physics.

These "semi-classical" wormholes are the most desirable type for time travel because they potentially allow travellers to predict where and when they would emerge.


Wormholes entirely governed by the laws of quantum mechanics, on the other hand, would likely transport their payloads to an undesired time and place.

"We aren't saying you can't build a wormhole. But the ones you would like to build - the predictable ones where you can say Mr Spock will land in New York at 2pm on this day - those look like they will fall apart," one researcher said.


Read the full article:
Wormhole 'no use' for time travel

Astronews - March 2005

Space Myths and Misconceptions


James Oberg has an interesting article on crazy ideas about space flight. Here's a few choice excerpts:

No-gravity myth #1: One terrifying but dying myth is that satellites with nuclear weapons or spy cameras can hover over particular ground targets such as Washington, DC. That's easy if there's no gravity in space, but it's impossible in the real world except at a precise distance over the equator (the so-called geostationary orbits).

No-gravity myth #2: For those fascinated by the possibilities of "war in space, Earthside analogies have been stretched beyond the breaking point. The oft-repeated idea of "shooting down a satellite" falls into that category because a satellite struck by a weapon would retain its speed and hence would stay in orbit, dead or alive, whole or in pieces.

No-gravity myth #3: If the notorious clouds of "space junk" stay up there because the fragments float around aimlessly, why can't we send up a shuttle or two and pick up all the trash as it goes by? But when you realize that each piece of junk flies through space at tremendous speeds in different locations and directions, the "obvious solution" evaporates.

No-gravity myth #4: Another tipoff that someone possesses an inadequate understanding of space physics is if they ever use the phrase "falling into the sun." For example, some people seem to believe that if nuclear waste can be thrown across the nonexistent "gravity boundary" between the earth and outer space, it will fall harmlessly into the sun. While disposing of dangerous wastes in space is not entirely a hare brained scheme, serious analysts realize that all probes launched away from Earth enter orbit around the sun with the earth's own forward speed, which is more than adequate to prevent them from falling into the sun. It's far easier to push the junk outward to interstellar space 3.7 billion miles away (if you're patient) than to push it into the sun 93 million miles away.

Read the entire article on Jim Oberg's website.

Astronews - February 2005

Einstein@Home - Search For Gravitational Waves


You may have already tried out SETI@home. Now Einstein@Home will let anyone with a PC contribute to cutting edge astrophysics research!

Einstein@Home is a flagship program of the World Year of Physics 2005 celebration of the centennial of Albert Einstein's miraculous year. The program searches for gravitational waves in data collected by US and European gravitational wave detectors.

Albert Einstein's General Theory of Relativity predicted the existence of gravitational waves in 1916, but only now has technology reached the point that scientists hope to detect them directly.

Gravitational waves?? They are ripples in the fabric of space and time produced by violent events in the universe such as black hole collisions and exploding stars (supernovae).

Longer-lived sources of gravitational waves include rapidly rotating compact stars, and binary systems composed of two orbiting stars. The ripples travel through space, carrying information both about their source and about the nature of gravity itself.

Finding such signals in gravitational wave data requires an enormous amount of computing power. Estimates indicate that searching gravitational data with the maximum possible sensitivity would require many times the computing capacity of even the most powerful supercomputer.

Therefore, LIGO Scientific Collaboration researchers from the Albert Einstein Institute, UWM, and the LIGO Laboratory are enlisting the aid of an army of home computer users to analyze the data.

Much like the popular SETI@Home project that searches radio telescope data for signs of extraterrestrial life, Einstein@Home will involve hundreds of thousands people who will dedicate a portion of their personal computers' computational time to the project.

The Einstein@Home program is available for PCs running Windows, Linux, and Mac operating systems. When the computer is not in use, it downloads LIGO and GEO600 data from a central server and searches it for gravitational wave signals. While running, it displays a screensaver that depicts the celestial sphere, with the major constellations outlined. A moving marker indicates the portion of the sky currently being searched on the computer.

Happy hunting!

Einstein@home website:


Full Moon Names


Naming the full moons - a Tradition dating back to Native American tribes

Full Moon names date back to Native Americans. Tribes kept track of the seasons by giving distinctive names to each recurring Full Moon.

Their names were applied to the entire month in which each occurred. In general the same names were current throughout the Algonquin tribes from New England on west to Lake Superior. European settlers followed their own customs and created some of their own names.

Since the lunar ("synodic") month is roughly 29.5 days in length on average, the dates of the Full Moon shift from year to year.

Below are all the Full Moon names for 2005, as well as the dates and times (USA Eastern time zone).

January 25, 5:32 a.m. EST --The Full Wolf Moon.

Amid the zero cold and deep snows of midwinter, the wolf packs howled hungrily outside Indian villages. It was also known as the Old Moon or the Moon After Yule. In some tribes this was the Full Snow Moon; most applied that name to the next moon.

February 23, 11:54 p.m. EST --The Full Snow Moon.

Usually the heaviest snows fall in this month. Hunting becomes very difficult, and hence to some tribes this was the Full Hunger Moon.

March 25, 3:58 p.m. EST --The Full Worm Moon.

In this month the ground softens and the earthworm casts reappear, inviting the return of the robins. The more northern tribes knew this as the Full Crow Moon, when the cawing of crows signals the end of winter, or the Full Crust Moon because the snow cover becomes crusted from thawing by day and freezing at night. The Full Sap Moon, marking the time of tapping maple trees, is another variation. This is also the Paschal Full Moon; the first full Moon of the spring season.

April 24, 6:06 a.m. EDT --The Full Pink Moon.

The grass pink or wild ground phlox is one of the earliest widespread flowers of the spring. Other names were the Full Sprouting Grass Moon, the Egg Moon, and -- among coastal tribes -- the Full Fish Moon, when the shad came upstream to spawn.

May 23, 4:18 p.m. EDT --The Full Flower Moon.

Flowers are abundant everywhere. It was also known as the Full Corn Planting Moon or the Milk Moon.

June 22, 12:14 a.m. EDT --The Full Strawberry Moon.

Known to every Algonquin tribe. Europeans called it the Rose Moon.

July 21, 7:00 a.m. EDT --The Full Buck Moon.

So-called because it is when the new antlers of buck deer push out from their foreheads in coatings of velvety fur. It was also often called the Full Thunder Moon, thunderstorms being now most frequent. Sometimes also called the Full Hay Moon.

The Moon will also be at perigee later this day, at 4:00 p.m., at a distance of 221,928 mi./357,158 km miles from Earth. Very high ocean tides can be expected from the coincidence of perigee with full Moon.

August 19, 1:53 p.m. EDT --The Full Sturgeon Moon

So-called because it is when this large fish of the Great Lakes and other major bodies of water like Lake Champlain is most readily caught. A few tribes knew it as the Full Red Moon because the moon rises looking reddish through sultry haze, or the Green Corn Moon or Grain Moon.

September 17, 10:01 p.m. EDT --The Full Harvest Moon.

Traditionally, this designation goes to the Full Moon that occurs closest to the Autumnal (Fall) Equinox. In two years out of three, the Harvest Moon comes in September, but every third year it occurs in October. At the peak of the harvest, farmers can work into the night by the light of this moon.

Usually the full Moon rises an average of 50 minutes later each night, but for the few nights around the Harvest Moon, the Moon seems to rise at nearly the same time each night: just 25 to 30 minutes later across the U.S., and only 10 to 20 minutes later for much of Canada and Europe. Corn, pumpkins, squash, beans, and wild rice -- the chief Indian staples -- are now ready for gathering.

October 17, 8:14 a.m. EDT --The Full Hunter’s Moon.

With the leaves falling and the deer fattened, it is time to hunt. Since the fields have been reaped, hunters can ride over the stubble, and can more easily see the fox, also other animals, which have come out to glean and can be caught for a thanksgiving banquet after the harvest.

November 15, 7:58 p.m. EST --TheFull Beaver Moon.

Time to set beaver traps before the swamps freeze to ensure a supply of warm winter furs. Another interpretation suggests that the name Beaver Full Moon come from the fact that the beavers are now active in their preparation for winter. Also called the Frosty Moon.

December 15, 11:15 a.m. EST --TheFull Cold Moon

Among some tribes, the Full Long Nights Moon. In this month the winter cold fastens its grip, and the nights are at their longest and darkest. Also sometimes called the Moon before Yule (Yule is Christmas, and this time the Moon is only just before it).

The term Long Night Moon is a doubly appropriate name because the midwinter night is indeed long and the Moon is above the horizon a long time. The midwinter full Moon takes a high trajectory across the sky because it is opposite to the low Sun.

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