Kepler Space Telescope Has Found a Strange Star.

The Kepler space telescope has discovered a most unusual star in its search for exoplanets a long time, but erratic dimming of the light, – up to 20% dimming, which is *a lot*, over a longer period.
There are several hypotheses investigated, including a swarm of comets, or …. just maybe …. a structure built by an alien civilization.

Now, I remember the buzz a few decades ago, when the first pulsars were detected, and some thought the precision of the pulses had to be artificial but – as it turned out – it was a natural phenomenon of a fast rotating neutron star.

I would not jump to the alien conclusion before every other hypothesis has been thoroughly investigated. It could, however become very exciting if all the “natural” hypotheses would have to be discounted …

The article can be found here :


Northern Lights

I consider that there are three great spectacular events to see in the sky. All are very rare, and I have not seen all three of them. Let us take a look at this :

1. Meteor Storm :

In 1998 I was looking to get to see a meteor storm from the Leonid meteor shower. It peaks every 33 years – with variations in the size of the peak.
Following the most common predictions of the peak I made ready to stay up for a night. But – as my luck (or lack of it) was – the show did not happen on that night . . . A slightly different, but even more spectacular show of a fireball meteor storm came one night BEFORE the prediction. Many people missed the opportunity, and so did I. A colleague of mine was up in the middle of the night and thought, “fireworks at this time of the night ?”. When he looked out there was one bright fireball after the other appearing in the sky.
The following night I stayed up, and essentially nothing happened. What a disappointment. Some people claim that it was the show of a century – and I missed it. On top of that – it was a clear sky that night, something of a rarity where I live.

2. Total eclipse of the Sun :

This is one event where 99.9% is *very* different from 100%. I went to see the show in Northern France in August 1999, and nearly missed the climax of the show. but minutes before totality a small blue patch appeared in the sky, and we got to see totality. Quite a spectacle.
I wrote a modest report on the event – with a few pictures, you can find it here.

3. Northern lights – Aurora Borealis.

In Denmark where I come from, I have seen the Northern Lights twice in my life.
Funny enough, moving further South to The Netherlands I would have expected to see less of it there. But in a shorter time span I have seen Northern Lights at least twice, and even photographed it. The photo is far from spectacular, but it will have to do for me.

Enter Norway – to be more precise, the town of Tromsø. There the auroras are a common occurrence. I came across a beautiful time lapse movie made by Ole Christian Salomonsen in Tromsø.
He publishes it (in HD Video) on his blog
I heartily recommend taking a look at the 4.5 minutes of movie, the aurora and his foreground images are – well – spectacular.

Colliding Planets !!

The Spitzer InfraRed Space Telescope, launched a few years ago, has , more or less by accident found the remains of – not one – *but two* rocky planets around a star about 100 light years away.

The two planets, one estimated to be in the order of Earth sized, the other Moon sized , appear to have collided probably a few thousand years ago, very recent in astronomical terms.

More detail can be found at Bad Astronomer Blog

This is, as far as I know, the first, however indirect, evidence of Earth/Moon sized planets.

That is not all : A few days ago it was reported that the Kepler Space Telescope, launched this year, had detected the atmosphere of a planet orbiting another star

Exciting times indeed.

Ice on Mars ! Life on Mars ?

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has detected large glaciers just under the surface of Mars.

This can be very interesting as water supply when (yes, I am optimistic) we send people to Mars – they do not have to bring large supplies of water. Could it be that – with care – the people going there can be self supporting with water supply ? Quite possible.

This is also a sign that Mars has had much more water than it has today. Maybe it even had an atmosphere dense enough to support life, more or less as we know it.

Full story

Hubble Directly Observes a Planet Orbiting Another Star

This is the kind of thing that can excite me. Imaging a planet 25 light years away in visible light. The Hubble Space Telescope ha done just that.

Around the star Formalhaut Hubble found a ring of dust, corresponding to the Kuiper Belt in our own solar system. an Anomaly in the shape of the ring indicated that the gravitational pull of a planet influenced the ring. The hunt was on.

Two images taken 21 months apart show an object following the star and apparently orbiting Formalhaut in about 870 years.

Before we get too excited, there is no real chance of finding any ET’s in the Formalhaut system. The star is only 200 million years old and burning fast – the life expectancy is only 1000 million years, not enough for life as we know it to develop.

There are indications of further planets around Formalhaut, this time inside the dust ring, but none are observed yet.

More details from ESA’s website

Free space images from the web

I just looked at a few sites providing space related images for download. All images – except the logo’s from these three sites are freely useable for non-commercial purposes, including personal web sites – of course with a clear attribution of the source.

The three sites I looked up here are

NASA (of course)for general space travel and some astronomical images.

The Spitzer Space Telescope for images taken in infrared

and of course The Hubble Space Telescope with some of the most stunning astronomical images made

If you like images, maybe using them part of your web pages these are three very good sources.

Do not forget that many observatories and universities have images available. These include very old images from the classical telescopes in the world. I believe there is a project to scan all those ancient images before they are lost forever due to the deterioration pf the photographic material.

The old images *could* become important  for detecting transient events or variable phenomena, like recurring nova outbursts, so we can not afford to lose these images.