Friday, August 15, 2008

August Astronomy Notes From Around the Local Galaxy

Mars Could Be Between Ice Ages
After examining stunning high-resolution images taken last year by the Reconnaissance Orbiter, researchers have documented for the first time that ice packs at least 1 kilometer (0.6 miles) thick and perhaps 2.5 kilometers (1.6 miles) thick existed along Mars' mid-latitude belt as recently as 100 million years ago. In addition, the team believes other images tell them that glaciers flowed in localized areas in the last 10 to 100 million years - a blink of the eye in Mars's geological timeline.

This evidence of recent activity means the Martian climate may change again and could bolster speculation about whether the Red Planet can, or did, support life.

Water on Mars, An Ocean on Europa? The Story in Pictures
Europa is a strange place, with a frozen surface that almost certainly has an ocean beneath it. NASA scientists lean toward the idea of a salt-water ocean, pointing to the red deposits thrown up on the surface from beneath the crust of ice. Because of geologic activity, the heavy tides from the pull of nearby Jupiter, and other factors, Europa is a dynamic, changing moon.
The picture on the right with the red spots and lines is evidence that Europa's icy shell churns away beneath the surface like a lava lamp, with warmer ice moving up and breaking through in places, where it re-freezes.

Have I Mentioned the Coolest Animated ‘Planetarium’ Online?
For a little astronomy and astrology fun go to Shadow & Substance website. They have the coolest animations of solar and lunar eclipses plus the Perseid meteor showers and Comet Holmes. The website is Everything is free; they even have links where you can download the software for an animated image of the night sky from wherever you are located. PLUS another link for listings of sunrise and sunset in your locality.
For example here is the listing of current sunrise and sunset times for Washington DC for a week in August -- --
You can set the parameters for your locality and for a full month.
Lots of fun and you can use this for everything from planning fishing trips to photography shoots (if you want to shoot a sunset) to -- well, you will think of other ways to use it, I‘m sure.

'Earth Explorer' to Map Planet "Inside Out" From Space
The most accurate gravity map of Earth ever will soon be recorded - from space, of course. The Gravity Field and Steady-State Ocean Explorer (GOCE) will be launched by the European Space Agency (ESA) on the 10th of September, there to explore Earth inside and out like never before.
GOCE is equipped with a triple-accelerometer gradiometer, accurate to within one part in one hundred trillion of standard Earth gravity. Don't pretend you understand that -
GOCE homepage

The Milky Way Influences Earth's Biodiversity Cycles? Research Says Yes
Horoscope enthusiasts will be happy to hear that a grand cosmic force does indeed seem to be responsible for controlling the direction of all life on Earth. However, this grand cosmic cycle has more to do with extinction than finding a tall, handsome stranger.
Research has revealed that the rise and fall of species on Earth seems to be driven by the undulating motions of our solar system as it travels through the Milky Way. Some scientists believe that this cosmic force may offer the answer to some of the biggest questions in our Earth’s biological history—
Our own star moves toward and away from the Milky Way's center, and also up and down through the galactic plane. One complete up-and-down cycle takes 64 million years- suspiciously close to the Earth's biodiversity cycle.

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