Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Some Highs and Some Lows and a Chilling Discovery

Just a couple of quick news items from today -

NASA's Orbital Carbon Observatory suffers a catastrophic launch failure.

As reported over at Universe Today, NASA's OCO space craft crashed just short of Antarctica this morning soon after launch. According to preliminary findings, the T3 fairing failed to separate preventing the spacecraft from achieving enough velocity to make orbit.

Comet Lulin putting on quite a spectacular show.

Want to see a green comet? Grab a pair of binoculars and head outside around 9pm tonight (and for the next week or so) and look to the south east. Sky and Telescope's web site has a good article on finding the comet here. The comet is bright but is so large that all that light is being spread out over a large area and makes seeing it with just your eyes rather difficult unless you happen to be in a very dark site. Phil Plait (aka The Bad Astronomer) reports that he saw Lulin and estimates that it covers a span of sky roughly the same size as the full moon (1/2-1/3 of a degree). For a lot more information about Comet Lulin head over to my frieind, Nite Sky Girl's site and check out what she has to say about it.

Waiter, there seems to be a Super Nova floating in my martini.

Imagine looking out across the night sky when suddenly, from out of nowhere, a bright light flares into existance. In the year 1006, Arab and Chinese astonomers didn't have to imagne it, they could observe it happening. What they saw was a massive explosion of a star called a Super Nova. Today, one thousand years later, a team of Japanese scientists have found the first direct evidence of the event in, of all things, an ice core sample taken in Antarctica. What the found was the tell-tale signs of the Gamma Ray Burst interacting with our planet. A spike in Nitrogen Oxide that matches the 1006 event (along with two others matching up with other reported nova events including the one that created the Crab Nebula) show when the Gamma Ray Burst ionized Nitrogen atoms in our upper atmosphere. Once again, Universe Today has all the details.