COVID-19 Comet C/2019 Y4 (ATLAS)

Fellow blogger and astronomer Roger in Australia treats us to some beautiful images seen in his southern skies within Cosmic Focus. Give it a look. Today, he explained how government limits on travel have made it difficult and maybe costly for him to venture out to dark viewing locations. He was confused by how we Americans seem more casual about the COVID outbreak and restrictions given we are being hit very hard. I commented how I was not happy with our ‘leadership’ from the high offices. We should do better.

In his post he spoke of astronomers and campers who gathered at a remote site in a US desert to observe Comet C/2019 Y4 (ATLAS). No such choices are available for me in the middle of the country. We’ve suffered many clouds and now late winter weather. The forecast for tonight calls for several inches of snow in a winter storm. Fortunately, I can request images from a telescope at a desert site run by the University of Iowa Astronomy and Physics dept.

C/2019 Y4 was on track to be at its brightest here in May. Recent observations show it breaking up and won’t turn out as predicted. About the time that news was unfolding, I got five images from the Iowa telescope on April 8, 11, 15, 17 and 18. Each was a 90 sec exposure with a luminance filter.

Gemini | U of IA Dept of Astronomy and Physics | 8 April 2020

Gemini | U of IA Dept of Astronomy and Physics | 11 April 2020

Gemini | U of IA Dept of Astronomy and Physics | 15 April 2020

Gemini | U of IA Dept of Astronomy and Physics | 17 April 2020

Gemini | U of IA Dept of Astronomy and Physics | 18 April 2020

Gemini | U of IA Dept of Astronomy and Physics | 19 April 2020

Iowa’s Huge Population Problem

Update: Chris Jones updated some details about the population and fecal waste issues. Please follow this link for his post 50 Shades of Brown.

My state of Iowa has a human population of 3.16 million (2018). Demographics are here. Des Moines is the most populous city with over 210,000 residents, then Cedar Rapids (130,405) and Davenport (102,582). The rest of the state is mostly small towns and rural. The many river and stream watersheds are outlined in the following image with the human population noted.

Dan Gilles | Water Resources Engineer | Iowa Flood Center

Why do I say the state has a huge population problem? It is because of the large numbers of animals grown in these watersheds. There are about 20-24 million hogs, 250,000 dairy cattle, 1.8 million beef cattle, 80 million laying chickens, and 4.7 million turkeys. Not included are the sheep, goats, horses, deer or Canada geese. These animals create a heavy burden on the water quality of the rivers and streams in the many watersheds around the state. All of which feed into the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers bounding our west and east coastlines.

The University of Iowa Institute of Hydraulic Research in Hydroscience & Engineering (IIHR) helps understand the demands on the water flow throughout the state. It helps engineer solutions to the problems encountered in keeping our waters safe. Water quality engineer Chris Jones recently examined the nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and total solid matter (TS) of the animal wastes and compared them to equivalent human N, P, and TS levels. His results were published in his blog and were astounding. Please read his post for the details.

The impact of all those animals raised in Iowa was equivalent to a human population of 134 million people. That ranks our state as the 10th most populous ‘nation’ compared to humans alone, behind Russia and ahead of Mexico. To make his point, he put various equivalent human population centers of the world within the watershed boundaries. It is no wonder our rivers and streams are suffering from critical levels of runoff.

Chris Jones | Water Resources Engineer | IIHR

Chris Jones was not trying to pass judgement upon the livestock industry. It is a mainstay in our economy. He says it is important for leaders in the state to examine environmental outcomes along with the economic and regulatory considerations of the industry. I agree.

C/2015 V2 | Comet Johnson

During 2017, the inner solar system has been joined by several comets. Most are not bright enough for the casual observer to see. Those with dark skies and large enough telescopes have enjoyed one of these visitors, comet C/2015 V2 (Johnson). The discovery was by Jess Johnson in late November of 2015.

Comet naming is systematic. The letter C means it is a one time visitor. A letter P would be used if the comet returned periodically such as Halley. Discoveries are denoted by the half-month in which they occur. The first comet found in the first half of January would have A1 at the end of the label. If another was found in the first half of January it would be A2, etc. The fourth one found in the second half of February would be labeled with D4. The V2 for Comet Johnson means it was the second comet discovered in the second half of November. The eleventh month means the 21st and 22nd letters of the alphabet (U and V) are used for those half-months.

One of the better images of C/2015 V2 is from Tenagra Observatories in Arizona. Details of their observation is at this link. Click to embiggen.

I was curious what the orbit looked like. I found a web site by Dominic Ford called In-The-Sky. His simulation showed the orbits of the inner planets and the comet which could be rotated and viewed from different perspectives. Here is a short screen video capture from his site. The video shows the comet on 30 May 2017.

I requested an image of Comet Johnson from the University of Iowa Gemini robotic telescope in Sonoita, Arizona. It was taken at 12:42 am CDT the morning of 30 May. The 60 sec exposure in visible light showed the halo and faint tail. Click to embiggen.

Galaxies m81 m82 | Supernova 2014 j

This composite image is made from telescopes at two observatories. The background image is by Johannes Schedler from his equipment installed next to his house in southeast Austria. His gallery of images is beautiful. This background image shows two neighboring galaxies, m81 and m82, in Ursa Major. They are 12 million light years away and 150,000 lt yr apart. Schedler combined five 30 minute images in different wavelengths each recorded with his 16″ telescope.

The two foreground images were requested by me from the Rigel telescope at the Iowa Robotic Observatory in Arizona. They are each 60 sec exposures with no specific wavelength filters. These two images are scaled to match that of the larger background image. This composite shows the increase is detail that can be obtained with long duration exposures, careful selection of wavelengths, and high quality optics as was done by J. Schedler. Click to embig.

Click to embig.

The Rigel telescope at IRO is used primarily by introductory astronomy students and researchers at the University of Iowa. The curriculum and telescope are under the direction of Professor Robert Mutel at Iowa. In the middle and late 1990s, Dr. Mutel set up an astronomy work station in my physics classroom in West High School in Iowa City. This allowed students to conduct astronomy projects, such as Supernova searches, using an earlier university telescope at that time. The high school students could follow the same course materials as the college students. Since then, I have enjoyed a professional relationship with Dr. Mutel in other educational areas of astronomy. As such, he grants me a user account on the Rigel telescope in AZ. I am very fortunate.

Supernova 2014 j

There was excitement in the astronomy community January 21, 2014, because of the discovery of Supernova 2014jIt was located in galaxy m82, the galaxy shown in the images above. The Hubble Space Telescope imaged m82 on January 31, just days after discovery as seen in this beautiful and detailed image. The images below are not positioned the same because of the different orientations of the telescopes used to obtain them.

Hubble Space Telescope – Click to embig

The top image in this post by Schedler does not contain evidence of the Supernova because it was taken in 2005. However, my less detailed image of 60 sec from the IRO was taken in early February of 2014. It should contain the Supernova. A zoomed-in close inspection reveals the Supernova clearly. Here it is highlighted by the yellow cross-hairs. It is not as good as Hubble’s. But, I am very pleased with it.

J. Ruebush – IRO


Space Music | Data Sonification

Data streams from experiments as 1 and 0 digits. It arrives at very high rates and is stored for later study. From spacecraft, it is used to make images, produce video, and make sense of the universe. Analysis of the digits simply as visual information is great for most of us. Think of the images from Hubble. But, there are other ways we humans are equipped to perceive our world. These rich data sources can also be converted into sounds. Such a process is called data sonification.

Here is an audio file example (20 sec) from U of IA researcher Don Gurnett. It is called a whistler. They result from lightning strikes which send electromagnetic waves along the magnetic field lines of Earth. This image is the spectrum of a whistler comparing frequency to time of signal. The audio adds a lot to the interpretation of this visual information.

If this sort of thing intrigues you, follow this YouTube link to see and hear more of Gurnett’s favorite examples. One of my favorites at that link is the 5th one down when Voyager I crossed the heliopause. ScienceCast at NASA published the following 4 minute video explanation of the significance of this event.

I want to see and hear more.