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Open House at the Observatory Tonight! February 27, 2009

Posted by jcconwell in Astronomy, IYA 2009, Observatory.
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Starting at 8:30 PM , rain or shine, is the montly open house. If the clouds clear up we will look a Comet Lulin.

Extreme Universe:Most Extreme Gamma-Ray Blast Ever! February 24, 2009

Posted by jcconwell in Astronomy, Extreme Universe, Gamma Ray Bursts.
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The explosion, designated GRB 080916C, occurred just after midnight GMT on September 16 (7:13 p.m. on the 15th in the eastern US). Two of Fermi’s science instruments — the Large Area Telescope and the Gamma-ray Burst Monitor — simultaneously recorded the event. Together, the two instruments provide a view of the blast’s gamma-ray emission from energies ranging from 3,000 to more than 5 billion times that of visible light.


GRB 080916C's X-ray afterglow appears orange and yellow in this view that merges images from Swift's UltraViolet/Optical and X-ray telescopes. (Image courtesy NASA/Swift/Stefan Immler)

With the greatest total energy, and the highest-energy initial emissions ever before seen, a gamma-ray burst recently observed by the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope set new records. The blast, which also raises new questions about gamma-ray bursts, was discovered by the FGST’s Large Area Telescope, a collaboration among NASA, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science and international partners.

A team led by Jochen Greiner at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Garching, Germany, established that the blast occurred 12.2 billion light-years away using the Gamma-Ray Burst Optical/Near-Infrared Detector (GROND) on the 2.2-meter (7.2-foot) telescope at the European Southern Observatory in La Silla, Chile.

“Already, this was an exciting burst,” says Julie McEnery, a Fermi deputy project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “But with the GROND team’s distance, it went from exciting to extraordinary.”

FGST team members showed that the blast exceeded the power of nearly 9,000 ordinary supernovae, using a distance of 12.2 billion light-years, and the gas emitting the first gamma rays must have moved at no less than 99.9999 percent the speed of light. This burst’s is the most extreme to date, in both power and speed .

Comet Lulin is at closest approach tonight February 23, 2009

Posted by jcconwell in Astronomy, Comets.
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Look to the East  at about 10:00 PM, Comet Lulin is  just  visible to the naked eye, but easy to see with a pair of binoculars. It is conveniently located near Saturn tonight.  Tomorrow night will be just as good, but since comets move, Lulin will be at a higher altitude from Saturn tomorrow.

Comet Lulin on Feb23, 2009 at 10:00 CST (J Conwell)

Comet Lulin on Feb23, 2009 at 10:00 CST (J Conwell)

Galaxy ZOO 2 Up and Running! February 23, 2009

Posted by jcconwell in Astronomy, Galaxy.
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Galaxy Zoo 2 is a GO….


The original Galaxy Zoo was launched in July 2007, with a data set made up of a million galaxies imaged with the robotic telescope of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. With so many galaxies, the team thought that it might take at least two years for visitors to the site to work through them all. Within 24 hours of launch, the site was receiving 70,000 classifications an hour, and more than 50 million classifications were received by the project during its first year, from almost 150,000 people.

Galaxy Zoo 2 just started with a liitle different twist, looking at nearer galaxies. Go there to find out more and maybe you can make a new discovery like Hanny’s Voorwerp, the blue object below.


EIU & 365 days of Astronomy February 17, 2009

Posted by jcconwell in Astronomy, IYA 2009.
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The Physics department is a proud sponsor of “365 days of Astronomy”, the daily podcast of the International Year of Astronomy. Each Podcast is about 10 minutes long. We have 12 podcast we are sponsoring on the following dates in 2009:

4/10, 5/12, 5/24, 6/2, 6/18, 7/9, 7/23, 8/28, 9/9, 10/10, 11/17, and 12/6.

You’ll find a link to the podcast on the front page of my blog. So you can get your astronomy fix every day! You’ll also get the interesting theme song, by George Hrab, stuck in your head after a few days of listening. George also wrote a full-length version of the theme song, “Far,” as opposed to the 30-second condensed version we use for the daily podcast. Now, George has created a music video, which is loads of fun to watch!

Two Satellites Collide 500 miles above Siberia February 12, 2009

Posted by jcconwell in Astronomy, satellites.
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Just when we thought it was safe to come out, after Asteroid 2009 bd81 was taken off the risk page, comes this! A Iridium communications satellite collides in orbit with a old Russian satellite. For the full article, go to our friends at Universe Today .


iridium satellite system, Credit: Spaceflightnow.com

A commercial Iridium communications satellite collided with a Russian satellite or satellite fragment, on Tuesday, creating a cloud of wreckage in low-Earth orbit, according to CBS News. A source quoted in the article said U.S. Space Command is tracking about 280 pieces of debris, most of it from a non-operational Russian satellite. It appears the International Space Station is not currently threatened by the debris, but it’s not yet clear whether the debris poses a risk to any other satellites in similar orbits. Iridium operates a constellation of approximately 66 satellites, along with orbital spares, to support satellite telephone operations around the world.

Asteroid 2009 BD81 Removed from Risk List February 11, 2009

Posted by jcconwell in Asteroid, Asteroids, Astronomy.
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This in from The Tracking News JPL/NASA has removed asteroid 2009 bd from the risk page, after new observations that have narrowed the impact uncertainty to exclude Earth.

Summary Risk Table for Risk Assessments Updated Today (last checks: NEODyS and JPL at 2358 UTC)
See the CRT page for a list of all objects rated recently as risks and our ephemerides page for a list of risk-listed objects under current observation.
The time horizon for JPL is 100 years from today and for NEODyS is usually the year 2090. Beginning Jan. 22nd, both are also posting impact solutions beyond 100 years for a few objects.
For the latest official risk assessments, and for explanations of the terminology, see the JPL NEO Program Sentry and NEODyS CLOMON (backup) risk pages.

Object Risk
Year Prob
Notes for Today’s Latest Risk
2009 BD81 JPLSentry 1605 R E M O V E D
JPL: Risk listing removed at 1549 UTC.

Comet Lulin February 11, 2009

Posted by jcconwell in Astronomy, Comets.
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Well it’s raining here in Illinois, but when it clears tomorrow, and through the month of February, a good object to look at in a small telescope is Comet Lulin . It’s even BETTER with a pair of binoculars .

Comet Lulin on February 2nd, glowing at magnitude 6.5 with tail and antitail. Click image for larger view. Paolo Candy

Comet Lulin on February 2nd, glowing at magnitude 6.5 with tail and antitail. Click image for larger view. Paolo Candy

The comet makes its closest approach to Earth (0.41 AU) on Feb. 24, 2009. Current estimates peg the maximum brightness at 4th or 5th magnitude, which means dark country skies would be required to see it. No one can say for sure, however, because this appears to be Lulin’s first visit to the inner solar system and its first exposure to intense sunlight. Surprises are possible.

Comet C/2007 N3 (Lulin) was discovered by Quanzhi Ye, a student (age 19) at Sun Yat-sen University in mainland China, as an apparently asteroidal object on images taken by Chi Sheng Lin (National Central University, Taiwan) with a 16-inch telescope at Lulin Observatory in Taiwan on the night of July 11, 2007.

Lulin’s green color comes from the gases that make up its Jupiter-sized atmosphere. Jets spewing from the comet’s nucleus contain cyanogen (CN: a poisonous gas found in many comets) and diatomic carbon (C2). Both substances glow green when illuminated by sunlight in the near-vacuum of space.

It is visible before dawn in the southern sky, as shown below and should reach peak brightness in late February and early March.


Bob Holmes mentioned at “Universe Today” February 7, 2009

Posted by jcconwell in Asteroid, Asteroids, Observatory.
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Nancy Atkinson of Universe today just did a very nice article on Bob Holmes, our adjunct faculty member in the physics department here at EIU. It tells about his discovery this week of a NEO (see previous article in this blog) and the work at his observatory ARI (Astronomical Research Institute). Just click on the link below to go to the article.


Astro Students at the Observatory February 6, 2009

Posted by jcconwell in Astronomy, Observatory.
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Pictured below you’ll see two of the students, Bill, and Alicia, from our new Upper level Astronomical Techniques course. They are closing up the observatory after our first night out, yesterday, doing CCD work.  They and three other student, Sam, Maggie and Matt, were learning all about the joys of installing a CCD camera, making USB connections work, and last but not least focusing. This course is one of two new upper level  courses that are core for the new astronomy-option physics major. It would not have been possible without the generous contribution of the two donors to the observatory, Randy Wright and Dr. P. Scott Smith.

Cold but Happy

Cold but Happy

Thank you again for making this possible!