Planetarium

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Planetarium

The Melbourne Planetarium is located at Scienceworks, Spotswood. Featuring a 16m domed screen, it uses the latest digital technology to recreate the night sky all around you and can even fly you off the Earth to explore the Universe beyond.

Solar eclipse from space

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by Tanya
Publish date
31 January 2014
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During the early hours of this morning, from 12:30am to 3am, NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory captured a stunning solar eclipse from space.  The Observatory sees a number of eclipses each year, but this was the longest one that's been recorded so far.

 

The eclipse was visible from the Observatory's vantage point, orbiting 36,000km above Earth. Since it could only be seen from space, the event is technically called a lunar transit. At its peak, the Moon covered up to 90% of the Sun.

Just as the Moon moves away, you can see a solar flare erupting from the left hand side of the Sun. This is just the kind of activity that the Observatory is helping scientists to better understand.

Solar Flare from the Solar Dynamics Observatory Perfect timing as the Sun releases a solar flare.
Source: NASA
 

Launched into space on 11 February 2010, the Observatory is on a 5 year mission to study the Sun as part of NASA's Living with a Star program. Our Sun is very active releasing flares and eruptions that can send energetic particles hurtling towards Earth. This can play havoc with our technological systems, bringing down power grids and causing blackouts. The ultimate aim is to better understand the cause of the Sun's activity so that one day we may be able to predict when such flares will occur to give us some prior warning.

The Observatory takes an image of the Sun every 0.75 seconds, and you can see all the beautiful images at the Observatory's Gallery. We have been loving the Gallery here at the Planetarium, and some of the footage will be featured in a new planetarium show to be released later this year.

A Christmas star for 2013

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by Tanya
Publish date
13 December 2013
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Just in time for Christmas, a new star has appeared in our southern sky!

Nova Centauri 2013 is the brightest nova to be seen since 1999. It is about as bright as the fifth star in the Southern Cross and is very easy to spot from Melbourne, and across Australia in general. It sits right next to Beta Centauri, one of the famous two pointer stars that leads the way to the Southern Cross.

Nova Cen 2013 from ESO This photograph was taken from La Silla Observatory in the Chilean Atacama Desert on the morning of 9 December 2013.
Image: Yuri Beletsky
Source: ESO
 

The nova appears just to the left of Beta Centauri, the bluer and higher of the two bright stars in the lower-right part of the image. The Southern Cross and the dark Coal Sack Nebula are also captured near the top of the image.

The nova was discovered on 2 December by John Seach from New South Wales. It is a 'classical nova' and is caused by a dead white dwarf star having a brief, but intense new-lease on life. White dwarfs are stellar embers, where nuclear fusion (the fire that keeps a star shining) has ended. However, this white dwarf has a close companion star. If enough gas from the companion falls onto the white dwarf it triggers a brief explosion on the star's surface.

The star undergoes an extreme burst of brightness. But unlike a supernova, the white dwarf remains intact and lives to tell the tale.

What better reason is there to slip away from the Christmas madness and spend a quiet moment or two, under the stars.

Links:

Ideas about the 'real' Christmas star from Phil Plait's Bad Astronomy blog

ESO Science Outreach Network - Australia

Goodbye, Comet ISON

Author
by Tanya
Publish date
29 November 2013
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Comet ISON has not survived its close encounter with the Sun. Time-lapse from NASA's Solar and Heliospheric Observatory shows the comet's head fading away, leaving only a dusty tail. A few hours later something - perhaps a small fragment or stream of debris - emerges from behind the Sun. Updates are continually being posted on http://spaceweather.com/.


Final views of Comet ISON from NASA's Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) satellite, taken on the morning 29 November (AEDT).
Source: NASA/SOHO consortium


The environment of the Sun is a tough place for comets. ISON has been bombarded by heat and radiation, buffeted by the solar wind and also stretched by the Sun's gravity (think of a micro-version of a black hole's spaghettification). It's a love-hate relationship because comets need the Sun if they are to produce an impressive tail and put on a good show.

Comet ISON was discovered in September last year from Russia, by astronomers Vitali Nevski and Artyom Novichonok. Two things made this comet special - it would be the first time the comet would travel in towards the Sun from the outer solar system but, what's more, it would be a sungrazer, coming within 1.6 million kilometres of our star.

Northern hemisphere observers have been particularly interested, because if the comet had survived its passage, they would've had the best seats. From here in the south, the comet would not have been visible, unless it had erupted brightly enough to be seen during the day.

Comet ISON - 15 November Comet ISON photographed on 15 November from the UK. Amateur astrophotographer Damian Peach used a 17-inch telescope for 12 minutes of combined exposures.
Image: Damian Peach
Source: Damian Peach


NASA's Solar TErrestrial RElations Observatory (STEREO) captured the solar wind buffeting Comet ISON and Comet Encke on 21 November.
Image: Karl Battams
Source: NASA, STEREO, CIOC

Celebrating Space Week

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by Tanya
Publish date
10 October 2013
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World Space Week is a celebration of curiosity and determination. It’s about what can happen when we dream big, and use cutting-edge science and technology to realise those dreams.

Currently NASA has over 20 spacecraft exploring our Solar System and beyond. Here are just three of my favourites.

Voyager 1 : What is there not to love about this spacecraft?  Like me, you may have grown up with the Voyager missions - I was a young child when they launched, watched them show us new views of the outer planets during my school years, and now, 36 years on, Voyager 1 is exploring unknown territory as it journeys through interstellar space. Its twin, Voyager 2, is set to do the same in the next few years.

What’s remarkable is that this goal has been reached while the spacecraft still has the capacity to tell us about it. The faint signals from Voyager 1 have about the same power as the light bulb in your refrigerator and that’s before they travel the 19 billion km across space to provide a daily briefing of what conditions are like out there. The two Voyagers are expected to last until at least 2020, so there’s a good few years of space exploration ahead of them.

Voyager 1 Earlier this year it was announced that Voyager 1 had officially crossed into interstellar space on 25 August 2012.
Source: NASA
 

New Horizons : This will be the first spacecraft to visit Pluto. What the Voyagers did for our understanding of the gas giants, New Horizons is set to do for Pluto and the other worlds of the Kuiper Belt. The spacecraft was launched back in 2006 and has been in hibernation for most of the journey. It has almost two years to go before reaching its destination and is expected to deliver fantastic photographs and insights on its Pluto flyby.

New Horizons spacecraft New Horizons will provide the first close-up views of Pluto. It will take one year to beam all the data back to Earth, 7.5 billion km away.
Source: NASA

International Space Station : Every day for the last 13 years visiting astronauts have woken up to a day in the office, floating 400km above Earth, on board the International Space Station. The space station is a floating laboratory built to progress science. Certainly seeing how things behave on the space station, gives a great insight into how things work. Like this demo on youtube of trying to wring out a towel in weightlessness. But if you’re like me, you’ll end up following all of Chris Hadfield’s videos and they’ll draw you into the human side of working in space. Be sure to finish up with his rendition of David Bowie’s Space Oddity.

  Dinosaur in space The space station is not only a science lab, it’s a home. Astronaut and crafter Karen Nyberg made this dinosaur for her son, crafted from material salvaged onboard the space station.
Image: Karen Nyberg
Source: NASA
 

Pale Blue Dot

Author
by Tanya
Publish date
27 July 2013
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I’ve often felt that one of the most amazing things about space exploration is that moment when we turn back and look at ourselves. The Cassini spacecraft, which has been orbiting Saturn since 2004, has done just that.

The Earth from Saturn On 19th July 2013, NASA's Cassini spacecraft looked back at Earth to capture a view of our planet against Saturn's magnificent rings.
Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
 

Carl Sagan was the first to impress on us just how powerful such an image would be and he was also able to capture the moment beautifully in words “a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam".

 

Earth from Voyager The pale blue dot of Earth as seen from a distance of 6 billion km and captured by NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft in 1990.
Source: NASA/JPL
 

What I hadn’t fully realized until last year, was just how hard Sagan had to work to convince officials to turn Voyager’s cameras back to Earth. This theme was explored through the play “Pale Blue Dot” by OpticNerve Performance Group and performed at the Malthouse last year – a perfect example of science meets art.

The new image from Cassini has such high resolution that it's possible to zoom in and see the Earth and Moon together, as tiny points of light. Now what might Sagan have thought of that?

Earth and Moon from Saturn The Earth and Moon from a distance of 1.5 billion km.
Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
 

From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest. But for us, it's different. Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

--Carl Sagan, from a Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space

Links

Discover the Night Sky - astronomy classes at the Melbourne Planetarium

 

Supermoon .. or not?

Author
by Tanya
Publish date
23 June 2013
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There has been a lot of media attention about tonight's supermoon, but what's the real story?

The supermoon is really called a perigee moon. It's when the full moon occurs at perigee and the Moon is closest to us, on its orbit around the Earth.

perigee moon When the full moon occurs at perigee it is about 50,000km closer to us than an apogee moon.
Source: NASA
 

Ten years ago, NASA wrote one of the first blogs on the perigee moon, with the headline “But will anyone notice?” Two years ago, in 2011, the perigee moon was at its closest in almost 20 years. That's a pretty neat fact and NASA called it the super perigee Moon.

Well, since then it has taken off and now every perigee moon is earning the title of supermoon. 

perigee vs apogee moons A full moon at perigee can be 14% bigger than a full moon at apogee, but it's only easy to see the difference when the moons are side-by-side.
Source: NASA
 

The statistics sound amazing, over 10% bigger, almost 30% brighter, but that's in comparison to an apogee moon, which occurs when the full moon is furthest away from Earth. In truth, it’s not really enough to notice. Especially when you consider that most full moons across the year occur somewhere between these two extremes.

So by all means, go out and marvel at the magnificent full moon as it rises tonight at sunset and have a think about our place in the Universe – now that's what I call super!

Links:

ABC News: "Supermoon appears in Australian skies, bringing king tide"

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Updates on what's happening at Melbourne Museum, the Immigration Museum, Scienceworks, the Royal Exhibition Building, and beyond.

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