You know, if I were an astronomer or astrophysicist, all I would want to do would be hang out with other space nerds.
Finding evidence of water on Mars is cool and all, but do you know what’s really impressive? Building a telescope so powerful it might help us understand how the universe came to be.
It’s the most magical time of the year for star-watchers: This week, the Perseid meteor showers are lighting up the night sky with as many as a hundred meteors per hour. The shooting star show peaks late tonight/early tomorrow morning, and it promises to be an extra good once since the moon is new so the sky will be plenty dark. Here’s where to watch:
Mars, shmars: Johns Hopkins’s Applied Physics Laboratory wants to know about Jupiter. And the thing they’re finding are turning out to be quite interesting indeed.
The APL researchers and other astronomers have been puzzled by something that happens on one of Jupiter’s moons, Europa, for years. They had clear evidence that the moon’s icy crust was expanding, but they couldn’t explain how or why.
Images of the Milky Way show lots of stars, of course–but they also reveal lots of other stuff, including mysterious dark bands emanating from starlight. These are called diffuse interstellar bands (DIBs), and they’ve baffled astronomers since they were first discovered in 1922 by Mary Lea Hager, a graduate student at the time.
Astronomers study objects in space by looking at the light they emit. DIBs are interruptions in the light spectrum–which indicates that something between Earth and the star had absorbed that light. But what, and how? The going theory is that unusually large, complex molecules are the culprits, but there’s been no way for astronomers to prove that one way or another.
Ever wanted to get up close and personal with the stars? No, not those stars — I mean Betelgeuse and Rigel and Sirius. Those are some of the most notable stars in our night sky, and you’ll get a chance to see them in all their magnified glory at tomorrow night’s star party, hosted by the Space Telescope Science Institute.
Sometimes I forget all about the Hubble Space Telescope, which is a shame. Because the Hubble is amazing. And it practically lives in our back yard.
The Space Telescope Science Institute is, of course, located on the Homewood Campus of Johns Hopkins, so even though several dozen universities are involve in operating the Hubble, I feel like it’s a little more ours than theirs, you know?
Back in July, we (along with everyone else who enjoys a little sky-gazing) got excited when we heard that an especially fizzy comet “the size of a small mountain” might be passing by earth on Thanksgiving. It was going to be the “comet of the century,” and Johns Hopkins astronomers were hard at work determining what, exactly it was made out of. Well, some of us went outside last night and looked — and saw a regular old sky, no soda pop comet to be seen.
So the actual recipients of this year’s Nobel Prize in Physics — the ones who get to get up on stage and shake the King of Sweden’s hand and collect that big check — are Francois Englert of the Université Libre de Bruxelles and Peter Higgs of the University of Edinburgh. But that doesn’t mean that Johns Hopkins scientists don’t get at least a little credit for the discovery that snagged Englert and Higgs their prize; call it a partial Nobel, perhaps.