Evidence of the Dark Universe

The astronomy community has reported a confusing phenomenon in recent years that the universe is composed of mostly matter and energy we don’t understand and cannot see. The terms dark matter and dark energy are used to describe these unknowns. I posted earlier about their confusing nature. The normal matter we can see and measure comprises only about 5% of the universe. The remaining 95% is ‘dark’ to us. Not dark in the sense of absence of light. We are unable to see it in the same ways we detect ordinary matter. The distribution is depicted here by Chandra X-Ray Observatory.

Chandra X-Ray Observatory

Progress is being made toward the detection and better understanding of the distribution of dark matter and dark energy. The progress uses techniques which infer the presence of something invisible which affects the visible normal matter. Techniques such as gravitational lensing are used. Theories are tested to see if observations match predictions. Progress is slow and difficult.

There are some very smart people working on this puzzle. Two of them are a wife-husband team who work at the Jet Propulsion Lab JPL in California. Alina Kiessling and Jason Rhodes are Astrophysicists with NASA-JPL. On 17 October 2019 they presented the public talk linked below for JPL’s Theodore von Kármán Lecture Series. It was one of the best programs on this topic I have seen.

In their program, they explained aspects of dark matter and energy, how it is detected, and what might be the ultimate fate of the universe. All was done in a manner that was not technical or overwhelming and included entertaining and humorous examples. At the end they answered audience questions.

 

Mercury Transit Views | 11 Nov 2019

My hopes were high to be able to see Mercury during transit with my own optical equipment. But, the weather didn’t cooperate. Our morning was cloudy as 2″ of snowfall was ending. A few moments of sunshine came as the transit ended. But, efforts to get a photo failed. Instead, I visited the space-based Solar Dynamics Observatory to watch the event. They put on a great show at their dedicated transit site. The images and videos are archived there and can be visited any time.

Here is a sample. Watch the planet Mercury cross from left to right during the 5.5hr event. It is very small. This video and all images in this post are “Courtesy of NASA/SDO and the AIA, EVE, and HMI science teams.”

Perhaps you wondered why the Sun looked an odd color and appearance. That is because of the wavelength of light used. SDO simultaneously images the Sun in 10 wavelengths. It takes images in 10 wavelengths every 10 seconds. Those are stitched together to show the dynamic activity of the Sun. For example…

The transit was tracked as it started (ingress) in the multiple wavelengths below. Each wavelength is associated with different temperatures and energies at the Sun’s surface. They are colorized to make them easily distinguished from the others. SDO also tracked Mercury in a magnified view as it made its way across and also at the end of transit (egress).

“Courtesy of NASA/SDO and the AIA, EVE, and HMI science teams.”

As the transit unfolded, I captured short videos in the different wavelengths as Mercury was tracked. These videos were stitched together into a smooth transition from one color to the next.

The next transit of Mercury will be in 2032. The orbit of the planet is tilted with respect to our orbit and prevents a transit alignment for quite a while. Don’t hold out hopes for the next Venus transit. It will not occur until 2117.

All-Women Spacewalk News Conference

I watched the 7 hour spacewalk and was impressed by the amount of work, the quality of the jobs done, and how difficult it was. Here is the follow-up news conference by NASA astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir. If you have contact with young women at home or in the classroom, share with them.

Right Place | Right Time

Sometimes things work out just right. The Sun was high about 2pm in very clear blue sky. The Space Station passed over me and did a very brief transit of the Sun lasting only 0.63 sec. I drove 2 miles and put myself as close to the centerline as possible. The path of visibility was only about 3 miles wide. I needed to be in the right place at the right time. The video is slowed to 10% normal speed so you don’t blink and miss the transit.

Frame grab of the ISS in transit. Solar panels easily visible.

Of course, it is easy to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, or the wrong place at the right time. One of my favorite performers, Dr. John, captured the situation of being in the right place at the wrong time. Enjoy.

Total Solar Eclipse | GOES-West View

A total solar eclipse took place on 2 July 2019. It was visible in the South Pacific and the southern tip of South America. The eclipse was imaged by the NOAA GOES-West weather satellite stationed over the equator above the Pacific Ocean. The video plays the eclipse 3x.

Dark areas on the globe are nighttime. The shadow of the Moon appears at the sunrise night-to-day boundary in the South Pacific. It moves east toward the southern tip of South America. It disappears at the sunset day-to-night boundary.

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Earth’s Warming Climate

The year 2018 ranked as the fourth warmest since 1880. The three warmer years were 2016, 2017, and 2015 according to scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS).

“2018 is yet again an extremely warm year on top of a long-term global warming trend,” said GISS Director Gavin Schmidt. Since the 1880s, the average global surface temperature has risen about 1°Celsius (2°F). According to Schmidt and colleagues, this warming has been driven in large part by increased emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere through human activities.

Surface temperature measurements of the Earth by NASA come from 6,300 locations. They include weather stations, ships and buoys at sea, and Antarctic research stations. The measurements produce the global average temperatures during the year. The baseline period from 1951 to 1980 is used as the mean value for comparison. The difference between the current readings and the 1951-1980 mean is accurate to within 0.1˚F with a 95% certainty level according to NASA.

This chart plots the monthly annual values from 1880 to 2018. Each time a record warm annual mean is set, it displays the year in the right margin. The most recent decades show rapid increases in the annual mean. It will cycle through the values a few times. Reload to see it again.

NASA Earth Observatory | Joshua Stevens | Goddard Institute for Space Studies

Scientists from multiple agencies agree on the rising temperature trend. The following plot shows annual mean variations from the 1951-1980 mean. Annual variations clearly stand out as wiggles in the plot. The steeper warming trend since 1980 is clear.

Five agencies are plotted together: NASA, NOAA, the Japan Meteorological Agency, the Berkeley Earth research group, and the Met Office Hadley Centre (UK). They all show the same trend and closely match the annual variations of each other.

NASA Earth Observatory | Joshua Stevens | Goddard Institute for Space Studies

I am encouraged when I read that more people believe global warming is taking place. Presently, about 70% of those in the U.S. agree. My post on the Yale public opinion survey is here. Are we going to do anything about it? Individually, we can take measures to reduce the carbon footprint of ourselves and homes. That isn’t enough.

Will our government agencies take on the challenges to guide the country toward better outcomes for the sake of our children and grandchildren? Will our nation join others to mount a global effort? At this time, I don’t see it happening. We should be leading the way with ideas and technologies. Give people direction. Motivate companies to be innovative about reducing the carbon footprint we impose upon this planet. How great would that be to see such a revolution? It could stimulate the economies of the world and give future generations a more livable planet.

Looking back from sometime in the future, will we see ourselves rising to meet the challenges? Or, will we merely see more people recognizing that they are in a worsening situation and doing nothing about it?

Viewing Heavenly Bodies | 2019

🔭  Updates an earlier post to include recent changes and new information.  🔭  


Desktop planetarium software helps plan viewing sessions and keep track of the planets and Moon. Many products are available for all computer platforms and smartphones. A Google search yields links to many sources. Open source and free Stellarium is on my desktop computer. It can be customized to your location and has a nice look and feel. For Android and Mac phones and tablets, I like SkySafari. It isn’t free but is inexpensive.

Online planetarium sites are popular and offer many features. Below are highlights of a few I like. With multiple features, a unique look and feel, and different levels of detail, they can help satisfy your curiosity about astronomical events. I welcome reader questions or reviews about using these tools or others you find helpful.

SaturnRingsTop

NASA

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