On Sunday night I went to see the English rock band Muse perform here in Philadelphia. The concert was to support their latest album, but of course they played Starlight, a song which gave us its respective album’s title: Blackholes and Revelations.
Then on Wednesday, scientists announced that for the very first time, we have actually been able to take a photograph of a blackhole. This one is a supermassive black hole at the heart of the M87 galaxy, some 500 million trillion kilometres distant.
The bright light, or ring of fire, is the heated gas before falling beneath the event horizon, which here is the black disk. Beyond that point, the gravitational force is so strong that not even light can escape. And of course without light escaping to be seen, a black hole cannot be directly imaged. Instead, we have to look for its accretion disc.
It’s just cool.
Credit for the piece goes to the Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration.
I hope everybody enjoyed their holiday. But, before we dive back into the meatier topics of the news, I wanted to share this serpentine graphic from the Guardian I discovered last week. Functionally it is a timeline charting the size of 96 known large asteroid impact craters on the Moon, between 80ºS and 80ºN.
The biggest question I have is whether the wrapping layout is necessary. I would prefer a more simplistic and straightforward, well, straight timeline, but I can imagine space constraints forcing the graphic into this box—either for the digital version and/or the likely print version.
The transparencies help to give a sense of density to the strikes, especially in the later years. And the orange ones highlight important or well-known craters like Tycho.
I do wonder, however, if the designer could have added a line at the 290 million years point. Since the graphic’s title calls that year out in particular, it might help the audience more quickly grasp the graphic’s…impact. In theory, the reader can more or less figure it out from the highlighting of the Ohm impact crater that is listed as 291 million years old. But a small grey line like those for the 250 million year increments could have been a nice little touch.
Overall, however, it’s nice to see a compact and helpful space graphic.
Credit for the piece goes to the Guardian graphics team.
For those of my readers in Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, and South America, you are in for a treat tonight as you get to experience the longest lunar eclipse of the year. For those of us in North America, i.e. Canada, the United States, and Mexico, we get nothing.
So for a reminder, we turn to this nice piece from Vox that explains a lunar eclipse and why they are not as common as one might expect.
The piece uses illustrations like these from Vox and supplements them with graphics from NASA. The whole piece is worth a read, especially if you enjoy space things.
Enjoy your Friday, and if you live anywhere but North America, enjoy your lunar eclipse tonight.
Yesterday, space nerds were alerted to the news that 12 new moons have been discovered in orbit of Jupiter. These are much smaller than Jupiter’s moon Ganymede, which is the largest moon in the Solar System and is larger than even Mercury. The point is that there are almost certainly no Ganymede-esque moons orbiting Jupiter that remain undiscovered.
But despite their small size, these moons do have some interesting features, as the article I read in the Guardian pointed out. The most interesting is the orbit of the moons. In general, Jovian moons orbit either prograde, i.e. with the orbit of Jupiter, or retrograde, i.e. against the orbit of Jupiter. The two inner moons discovered are prograde and nine of the other 12 are in an outer orbit of retrograde moons. But Valetudo, the 12th, which orbits in the retrograde group, actually orbits in a prograde fashion. The graphic below from the Carnegie Science Institute does a pretty good job of showing this.
Ultimately this means that at some point in the future, Valetudo will slam head-on collision style with another Jovian moon. And reportedly that will be so intense we will be able to see it from Earth. Bangin’. Catch is that it will not likely happen anytime soon.
As for the graphic above, I am of two minds. I generally like the use of colour. The bright green contrasts starkly against the red—though it should be pointed out it would fail a red-green colour blindness test. And then the interesting, but admittedly less interesting prograde and previously discovered Galilean moons are in more muted blues and purples, which puts them further into the background. It works nicely as a complete package.
But should it be on a deep blue background? Lots of space visualisations use black backgrounds, including mywork and the workofothers. But sometimes work that uses a white or otherwise light background could more clearly show things like orbits. It is difficult to say with certainty because of the lack of a light background for comparison’s sake.
The other thing that gets to me is the viewing angle of the orbits. Clearly we are looking neither dead-on nor from high above. And that makes it a bit more difficult to compare orbits. Of course these might not all be on the same plane because orbits are in three-dimensional space. But if the orbits were all shown from above, it would certainly aid with problems of foreshortening.
All in all, though, I shan’t complain because we have more moons in the Solar System. And who knows how many more smaller moons both Jupiter and Saturn have.
Credit for the piece goes to Roberto Molar Candanosa.
Today is Friday. We all made it through yet another week. So let us look up into the evening sky tonight and see the Hertzsprung–Russel diagram in action. Or, we can take xkcd’s expanded version and just enjoy ourselves.
Monday night I was doing some work outside and when I turned around to head inside I was struck by the brilliance of an object in the night sky. I had seen the Moon rise earlier in the evening, but this was far to the east. It was identifiable as a dot, not just a speck in the night sky. As I was now intrigued I went to grab my binoculars to see if I could see Venus.
Turns out I was wrong and it was Jupiter. But then I turned my binocular-aided eyes to the west and examined the Moon. That was then I decided to try and sketch my observations, as I had done with the Eclipse.
Unfortunately, it turns out it is far more difficult to sketch in the dark then under a still semi-sunny sky. But these are my attempts to digitise those observations. And as I sat and watched, I began to notice that some faint twinkling specks near Jupiter had also moved. After I came inside, I discovered that the movement and positions hewed close to the orbits of Jupiter’s moons Ganymede and Calisto. The moving speck near the Moon I had also observed was actually the bright star Regulus. (And to be fair, it had not really moved, the Moon had moved, but I was not redrawing the Moon.)
The Moon and Regulus. The cool part is the thin ring of one of the seas that could be spotted beyond the line separating lunar day from night.
Jupiter and two of its moons. The cool thing about Jupiter is just being able to see it as a round ball in space and not a distant twinkling speck.
There are a bunch of things to look at this week, but what am I most excited about? Voyager. No, not Star Trek. (Did you know that the Vger entity from the first Star Trek film was a replica of the Voyager probes?) I am of course talking about the Voyager mission to the outer Solar System and beyond.
40 years ago today Voyager 1 lifted off from Cape Canaveral—Voyager 2 left two weeks earlier, but would reach Jupiter and Saturn after Voyager 1, hence being named 2—and it has been collecting images and data for science ever since.
On 25 August 2012, Voyager 1 emerged from the heliosheath and entered interstellar space. In other words, Voyager 1—and sometime in the next few years perhaps—is the first manmade spacecraft to ever leave the Solar System. Mankind is finally out there among the stars.
I love space things.
So JPL and NASA put together this interactive timeline of the mission, which of course continues tomorrow and for years after today until their nuclear fuel runs out.
As my last two posts pointed out, yesterday was the Solar Eclipse. It certainly garnered media attention as a news helicopter hovered over my building during the height of the eclipse. Very peaceful indeed. But, knowing that my smartphone would not be able to take the best photos of the eclipse, even with a solar filter, I decided to do what any good designer might do. I sketched out the eclipse.
The task of sketching an eclipse is not easy. You cannot, or at least should not, look directly at the sun. (You’ll burn your eyes out, kid.) But the solar filters make seeing anything but the most intense light sources near impossible and so you have to remove them in order to doodle in a sketchbook. Eventually I found a solution and was able to quickly move from filtered glimpses of the Sun to the sketchbook. (At least when the clouds would permit.)
Last night I digitised those sketches into this simple graphic. The sketches are not entirely accurate as the position of the Moon jumps in a few spots. But it does give you the impression of peak eclipse about 14.45 with just a sliver, or 25% of the Sun remaining visible. And indeed the neighbourhood was visibly darker.