Our Nearest Neighbour

Yesterday scientists announced the discovery of a likely rocky planet within the habitable zone of Proxima Centauri, Sol’s (the Sun’s) nearest star. The New York Times covered the discovery with a piece full of nice explanatory graphics.

Now if we can only get onto the whole matter–anti-matter warp engine thing we could go explore the place.

Looking at the orbit of our newest neighbour
Looking at the orbit of our newest neighbour

Credit for the piece goes to the New York Times graphics department.

Quasi-satellite Asteroid Orbits

Scientists discovered Earth has a new quasi-satellite. It is an asteroid, and it does not orbit the Earth. But, because of the relationship between its orbit and Earth’s around the sun, it is involved in what NASA described as a dance with Earth. This is not Earth’s only dance partner, however, as we interact with a second asteroid as well. The screenshot of a YouTube video (from user britoca) shows how gravity choreographs the second dance.

Cruithne's orbit
Cruithne’s orbit

Credit for the piece goes to YouTube user britoca.

What Comprises Planet Nine

Well, to start, we don’t really know for sure. We also don’t really know Planet Nine exists for sure. But, you plug its existence into mathematical models and it explains some of the quirks we see in the Kuiper Belt, the cloud of dust and ice at the outer reaches of the Solar System. A team of intrigued Swiss scientists then created a model exploring the range of characteristics Planet Nine might exhibit. The BBC published an article that featured an image of the interior characteristics of the plent.

The possible interior of the possible Planet Nine
The possible interior of the possible Planet Nine

Credit for the graphic goes to Christoph Mordasini and Esther Linder.

Supermoon Lunar Eclipse

Last night we experienced a total lunar eclipse here in Chicago. Unfortunately, significant cloud cover meant that much of the event went unseen. That was unfortunate, because eclipses are fantastic. To explain it we have this piece from the BBC.

What is a lunar eclipse
What is a lunar eclipse

And for those were either unable to see it or did not know about it, here is one of the photos I took.

During the eclipse
During the eclipse

Credit for the diagram goes to the BBC graphics department.

Credit for the photo is mine.

Kepler 452b

So this is sort of a recycled post, in the sense that I talked about it back in April of 2013. But it’s worth revisiting in light of last month’s announcement of Kepler 452b. For those unaware, the planet is a little bit larger than Earth, but is believed to be a potentially rocky planet like Earth that orbits a star very similar to our Sun in a very similar orbit.

Kepler 452b
Kepler 452b

Credit for the piece still goes to Jonathan Corum.

How We’re Talking to New Horizons

So New Horizons is long since gone from Pluto. But it will still take 16 months to send back all the photographs and science. Why so long? Because so far away. 3 billion miles away. Put another way, light from the sun takes eight minutes to reach Earth as it travels at, well, the speed of light. Radio signals that travel at the speed of light take 4.5 hours to reach Earth from Pluto. So imagine trying to send large data files that far away at a download speed less than that of a 56k modem, for those of you old enough to remember such a thing.

But what receives these radio signals? NASA’s Deep Space Network of antennae that allow NASA to communicate with spacecraft and such things that are in, wait for it, deep space. These antennae are scattered throughout the world, but in this screenshot taken Monday, you can see just what the antennae at the various complexes are doing. Here, we see New Horizons (NHPC) just prior to its flypast communicating with the large antenna at the Madrid complex. The lack of signal lines indicates that it is preparing to setup, takedown, or is tracking the spacecraft.

From early Monday night
From early Monday night

As a fun aside, I left the tab open in the browser and a few hours later came back to find the Deep Space Network sending signals to the Mars rover Opportunity (MER1), the Chandra X-Ray Observatory (CHDR), and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) amongst others.

Opportunity is still chugging along on Mars
Opportunity is still chugging along on Mars

Credit for the piece goes to the NASA graphics department.

Your Guide to the Solar System

As New Horizons will soon begin sending back photographs of Pluto, Charon, and the other moons, I figured it would be a good to share a Wall Street Journal piece that looks at the other photographed bodies of the system.

Field Guide to the Solar System
Field Guide to the Solar System

Credit for the piece goes to Jon Keegan, Chris Canipe, and Alberto Cervantes.

New Horizon’s Flypast

A little after 07.30 EDT, New Horizons began its race past Pluto, what your author grew up learning as the ninth planet in the Solar System—the last planet to be explored. I recall thinking that when it launched back in 2006 I had no idea what I would be doing nine years later. Or at least I think I thought that. It launched nine years ago, almost a third of my life. Regardless, I was definitely one of those upset with the decision to downgrade Pluto from planet to dwarf planet. Anyway, a decade on, there New Horizons is. By the time this post goes live, she will be barreling away towards the Kuiper Belt while transmitting her photographs and science data.

This piece from the New York Times looks at what happened earlier today in, for Americans, the wee hours of the morning.

What New Horizons is doing
What New Horizons is doing

Credit for the piece goes to Jonathan Corum.

Putting Tatooine to Shame

While the title sounds science-fiction-y, it is true. Star Wars has a famous scenece where a landscape is shown with a binary star system in the sky. But we now know of a quintuple-star system that has two separate sets of binary stars. This BBC article takes a look at how the system is structured.

Two binary star systems
Two binary star systems

Credit for the piece goes to the BBC graphics department.

New Horizons

So this is generally a more serious post than usual for a Friday. Because, it is about New Horizons, the probe we launched almost a decade ago to explore Pluto, which at that point was still technically a planet. Anyway, the Washington Post has a nice illustration detailing the various sensors and orbits and trajectories. But what gets it a Friday post? Its sense of scale.

You always need a sense of scale
You always need a sense of scale

Credit for the piece goes to Richard Johnson.