They Have Found More Tatooines

The Kepler 47 system compared to our solar system. (Credit NASA)

NASA’s Kepler team have discovered two more circumbinary planets, that is to say planets that orbits a double star. The first was Kepler-16b, and now they announce the discovery of Kepler-47b and Kepler-47c!

You’re reading that correctly ladies and gentlemen, both planets are in the same binary solar system. To make thins even more tantalizing, Kepler-47c sits in the habitable zone around the two stars, orbiting every 303 days. The planet itself is a gas giant a little larger than Neptune, so not a candidate for life as we currently understand it on Earth.

To read the full article and gander at some pictures head on over to here.

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The Perseid Meteor Shower and the Occult

Many of you are already aware of the height of the perseid meteor shower tomorrow (August 12), so I won’t spend any more time on the subject other than to tell you go out and enjoy the show.

However, if you’re up for a daytime viewing challenge, you can check out the daytime occultation of Venus. This has nothing to do with vampires sparkling in sunlight I’m afraid, but it does involve the Moon as it passes in front of Venus from our point of view.

From Winnipeg look to the west and try to locate the slim sliver of the crescent Moon. It will not be easy during the day, but will be a fun challenge. You may even have more luck locating Venus that will be sitting east of the Moon.

At 15:25 CDT the Venus will start its ingress behind the Moon. It will reappear at 16:17 CDT on the west side of the Moon.

This event will be an exercise in patience (first to find the Moon and Venus, second in waiting the 45 minutes between Venus’s disappearance and reappearance), but will be a fun one to tick off your viewing list and things to talk about with your friends.

Venus east of the Moon before ingress.

Venus after egress.

Curiosity Lands on Mars

I stayed up late last night with my girlfriend to watch the live feed from NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory as Curiosity prepared for its descent onto the Martian surface. This was my first experience watching a live event from NASA and I wasn’t sure what to expect.

I was quite pleased with the live feed and found the commentary, discussions and information all to be wonderfully presented. The experience as a whole kept me captivated and made the hour to entry fly by fairly quickly.

Once it was time for entry I was on the edge of my seat for the whole seven minutes, and the seemed to crawl by. When Curiosity landed safely, I clapped and whooped along, then waited with baited breath for those first images to come in.

I have never been so close to something so amazing before. The thought that I would be among the first to see these images of Mars and the rover was almost too much for me.

The first image came in. A low-resolution image of Curiosity’s rear left wheel. It was stunning. Then, a higher resolution image of the same photo. You could clearly see the Martian surface, pebbles and all.

Then the third image came in and I was in awe. You could see the shadow of Curiosity on surface of Mars. I was looking at a shadow on another planet. Another planet! I had never seen something like this before and I was so terribly excited.

I know many of you by now have seen these images, but I felt I should share them with you. There is also and image that the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter caught of Curiosity during its descent when its parachute had deployed.

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter captures Curiosity during its descent to the Martian surface. (Image courtesy NASA)

Curiosity sends back its first picture from Mars. We can see its rear left wheel. (Image courtesy NASA)

Curiosity sees its own shadow on Mars. So, if a rover sees its own shadow, does that make for an early or late spring? (Image courtesy NASA)

Late Night Curiosity

Early in the morning of August 6th, a 900 kg, 3 m long, 2.7 m wide and 2.2 m tall rover will take the ride of a life time that would make Wall-e jealous.

Curiosity Arrives at Mars (Courtesy NASA)

Having travelled more than 560 million Km since its launch in November, 2011, the Mars Science Laboratory, named Curiosity, will entre the final stages of its journey to Mars. In seven minutes it will slow its speed from around 20,000 Km/h to almost zero and attempt a soft landing on the surface of our red neighbour.

Being the largest and, arguably, the most complicated rover ever sent to another planet, Curiosity’s landing will be a nail bitter. As it slows through the atmosphere the heat shield protecting the rover will reach an astounding 1,600°C.

Once it has slowed to a mere 1,600 Km/h, a supper sonic parachute opens with enough force to make even the hardiest jet fighter pilots lose their lunch. This will only slow Curiosity to bellow the speed of sound.

Once slowed, the heat shield is shot off allowing radar to start looking at the ground beneath the careening craft. In a matter of seconds the onboard computers have to locate their target, Gale Crater.

Finally slowed to around 320 Km/h, Curiosity and its sky crane are dropped from the parachute. Rockets will further slow the craft on the last 3 Km of its descent.

Finally reaching a speed of around 3 Km/h, the sky crane lowers Curiosity the last 12 m to the surface before cutting its cables and blasting off away from the rover.

Curiosity’s Entry Descent and Landing (Courtesy NASA)

If all goes well, we will find out that Curiosity has survived its seven minute, adrenaline pumping, heart stopping ride 14 minutes after it has already happened – that is how long it takes the radio signals to reach us back on Earth. When we first know that Curiosity has hit the atmosphere, the rover is already on the red dusty surface, but we still won’t know if it is collecting data or smashed on the surface for an agonizing quarter hour.

You can tune into NASA TV at 12:30 CDT am on August 6th to follow Curiosity’s progress. To learn more about the rover you can also visit the Mars Science Laboratory website or watch William Shatner talk you through Curiosity’s amazing ride.