Hey, hey, everyone! Happy Monday (wasn’t that a band in the 90s? It’s twistin’ my melon, man)! I hope you had a great weekend. While we’ve all been busy with our water skiing and our hot dog-eating contests, a bunch of stuff has been going on in space that I’ve only very slowly had time to pick through.
It’s been a while since we’ve done this. If you don’t mind helping me clean up my desk a little, here are some Post-Its for June! You’ve probably heard some of this, but that’s okay…. I hope.
In no particular order…
- On May 19, 2017, NASA’s Juno probe at Jupiter made its sixth perijove flyby of our solar system’s biggest planet, and has been sending back some photos that have been making me pick my jaw up off the floor for the last couple of weeks. The Juno probe, which arrived at Jupiter in early July 2016, is in a 53.4-day long orbit that takes it over the planet’s poles. During perijove, the closest approach in these highly elongated orbits, Juno zips only about 2600 miles (4200 km) above those clouds. At these close up distances, the probe is able to get the most science… scienced. Apojove, on the other hand, is over 5 million miles (8 million km). If my counting-by-53 skills are right, Perijove 7 is around July 11, 2017, so expect some more news around then.
- As if Juno wasn’t enough, on June 5, 2017 the discovery of two more moons for Jupiter was announced. At the moment, they’re have the enticing names S/2016 J1 and S/2017 J1. They were discovered by astronomer Scott S. Shepard, and the announcement came from the Minor Planet Center. I love that there’s a Minor Planet Center. These two moons are very small, only around a mile, or 2 km across. I remember being amazed 30-whatever years ago when I read Jupiter had 16 moons. Sixteen! Now, with these, it has 69. It’s amazing how what we understand about these places keep changing, even though the places themselves are still exactly the same. All of this has been right there all along, and we’re finally getting to see it all. Every day, we’re learning more and more. What’s next?
- Not to be outdone, Saturn fans have been busy with the closing days of the Cassini probe’s mission. Cassini, which has been at Saturn since July 2004, is in the midst of a series of 22 dangerous and exciting dives through the gap between the innermost part of Saturn’s rings and the planet itself, most recetly on June 10. These dives will take it up to the end of its mission this coming September, when the probe jumps into the cloud tops and phones home for the last time.
- On June 1, 2017, astronomers announced the LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) observatories had picked up their third gravitational wave signal. This time, the signal was from the collision and merger of two black holes 3 billion light years away. Gravitational waves are the stretching, compressing, and flexing of spacetime, the very fabric of space itself, that Albert Einstein predicted in 1916 would happen when huge amounts of energy are released by very, very massive objects when, like when black holes smash into each other. You read that right; these waves have been traveling for three billion years; almost a quarter of the life of the universe itself.
- NASA announced the names of 12 new astronauts, who will join the corp and be part of the next group of people who will explore and push us toward wherever we’ll go and whatever we’ll discover next. Congratulations to all of them.
- NASA has also announced that it has renamed its 2018 mission to the Sun after physicist Eugene Parker. This is the first time it’s ever named a mission in honor of a living person. The Parker Probe will launch in July or August 2018, get a boost from a flyby of Venus in September, and zoom through its first perihelion, closest point in its orbit around the Sun, in November. It’ll keep orbiting the Sun, getting as close as 3.7 million miles — about a tenth the distance of Mercury’s orbit — 24 times through 2025. At perihelion, it’ll be traveling near 450,000 mph. Zoom, indeed. At that distance, it’ll be able to study the Sun’s corona close up, and will be the first time humanity has visited the Sun, or any star for that matter. Thanks for the tip, Planet Pailly.
- Finally, this really fascinating article from the Atlantic explains how it was recently found that jumping spiders eyes are built similarly to a refracting telescope, with a big lens up front and a smaller one at the back. This means they can probably see the Moon, and resolve some amount of its surface features. Why do you think a spider thinks about when it’s looking up at the Moon on a summer’s night? Something to think about, maybe.
That’s all for now, everyone. Clear skies!