Solstice at Newgrange

Happy Yule, Y’all
via APOD: 2008 December 20.

Solstice at Newgrange 

Solstice at Newgrange

“Tomorrow’s solstice marks the southernmost point of the Sun’s annual motion through planet Earth’s sky and the astronomical beginning of winter in the north. In celebration of the northern winter solstice and the International Year of Astronomy 2009, you can watch a live webcast of the the solstice sunrise from the megalithic tomb of Newgrange, in County Meath, Ireland. Newgrange dates to 5,000 years ago, much older than Stonehenge, but also with accurate alignments to the solstice Sun. In this view from within the burial mound’s inner chamber, the first rays of the solstice sunrise are passing through a box constructed above the entrance and shine down an 18 meter long tunnel to illuminate the floor at the foot of a decorated stone. The actual stone itself would have been directly illuminated by the solstice Sun 5,000 years ago. The long time exposure also captures the ghostly figure of a more modern astronomer in motion. To watch the live webcast follow the indicated link below. The webcast is planned to go live at 0830 coordinated Universal Time (for example, at 3:30am Eastern Time in the US) tomorrow, Sunday, the 21st.”

Thank you, Eliot.

NASA Approves Shuttle Flight to Service Space Telescope

This is good news! 🙂

Hubble Saved: NASA Approves Shuttle Flight to Service Space Telescope [Space.com]

The decision is in and the Hubble Space Telescope is saved.

NASA announced Tuesday that it will go ahead with one final space shuttle mission to repair and upgrade Hubble after months of debate over the risks of such an endeavor.

“We are going to add a shuttle servicing mission of the Hubble Space Telescope to the shuttle’s manifest to be flown before it retires,” announced NASA chief Michael Griffin at the agency’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Baltimore, Maryland, where Hubble engineers and scientists gave him a standing ovation. “This is a day that I’ve wanted to get to for the last 18 months.”

Griffin has long said that he would support a proposed Hubble servicing mission provided its risk did not exceed that already accepted for other shuttle flights. The mission will add years onto the Hubble’s lifetime and will help prepare the space telescope for its ultimate, but controlled, plunge through the Earth’s atmosphere.

“Hubble is one of the great observatories,” Griffin has said. “It has revealed fundamental things about the universe of which we had no idea.”

Griffin said today that the upcoming servicing mission will likely launch aboard NASA’s Discovery orbiter between construction flights to complete the International Space Station (ISS), and is expected to feature no less than four—and preferably five—spacewalks to upgrade Hubble’s optics and make other repairs.

“We’re trying for early May of 2008,” Griffin said. (…)

Astronomers hope the decision means Hubble could still be in operation by 2013 when NASA’s next great observatory—the James Webb Space Telescope—is slated to fly. Hubble’s visible and ultraviolet observations will not be duplicated by JWST, which will scan primarily in the infrared wavelengths, researchers said.

Space.com also has a Hubble podcast: Hubble: The First Great Space Observatory.

Mountains of Creation

Just awesome…

Space Telescope Sees ‘Mountains of Creation’ [Space.com]

Giant clouds of gas and dust harboring embryonic stars rise majestically into space in a new picture from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope.

The image, dubbed the Mountains of Creation by astronomers, reveals hotbeds of star formation similar to the iconic Pillars of Creation within the Eagle Nebula, photographed in 1995 by the Hubble Space Telescope. In both cases, the finger-like features are cool clouds of gas and dust that have been sculpted by radiation and fast-moving winds of charged particles from hot, massive stars.

Spitzer records heat, or infrared light, which penetrates the dusty clouds and allows a view of the star birth inside. In the largest finger, hundreds of embryonic stars not seen before are revealed. Dozens of stars-to-be are visible in one of the other fingers.

The Spitzer image shows the eastern edge of a region known as W5, in the Cassiopeia constellation 7,000 light-years away. A massive star outside the frame lights the scene.

Spitzer image
Spitzer image of the Mountains of Creation, or W5, in infrared. Inset shows visible light view of same region. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Harvard-Smithsonian CfA/ESA/STScI (Space.com)

Hubble image
The Pillars of Creation in the Eagle Nebula as seen in 1995 by the Hubble Space Telescope. (Space.com)