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.

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"

Annular Solar Eclipse

Author
by Tanya
Publish date
8 May 2013
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On the morning of May 10, the Moon will meet up with the Sun in the sky. Many places across Australia will experience a partial solar eclipse - here in Melbourne, 37% of the Sun’s diameter will be blocked by the Moon. It’s not enough for us to notice any visible effects, but if you use the right observing methods (as described below), it’s a neat thing to watch.

However, along a narrow line across the top of Australia, including Tennant Creek (NT), an annular eclipse will occur. What happens here, is that the Moon directly lines up with the Sun, but the Moon is too small to block the Sun completely. Instead, we are left with a ring of sunlight shining out from around the dark Moon.

Annular Solar Eclipse from the Hinode satellite The satellite Hinode, a Japanese mission in partnership with NASA, NAOJ, STFC, ESA and NSC, observed this annular eclipse on 4 January 2011.
Source: Hinode/XRT
 

Skynotes readers will be aware that the Moon’s distance to Earth varies throughout the month. At perigee, when the Moon is closest to Earth, it’s around 360,000 km away. But at apogee, when the Moon is furthest from Earth, its distance increases to about 400,000 km. Well this month, apogee occurs on May 13, a few days after the eclipse. Being further away, the Moon appears smaller and no longer matches the size of the Sun.

It’s such a great coincidence that we have solar eclipses at all. Who ever thinks much about the Sun and Moon appearing the same size, even though they are at such different distances from Earth? Having seen my first total solar eclipse last November, I’m really glad this coincidence occurs, as it was an amazing sight.

Timings of the partial eclipse from Melbourne on Friday 10th are:

Eclipse begins: 7:50am
Mid-eclipse: 8:52am
Eclipse ends: 10:02am

Remember, it is not safe to look directly at the Sun. There are safe ways to look at the eclipse – at the Scienceworks shop you can purchase special eclipse glasses that will allow you to watch the event, while protecting your eyesight.

You can also create a simple "pinhole" projection. It's as easy as making a small pinhole in a piece of paper or cardboard. Do not look through the hole, but allow the Sun to shine through and project an image onto a second piece of cardboard. Even a blank wall or clear patch of ground can make good surfaces for projection.

Sometimes nature helps out too. If you can see sunlight travelling through the leaves of a tree, you’ve got yourself some ready made pinhole projections. Check the ground and it might be covered with little eclipse images. Take a look at this great example on the Astronomy magazine website.

Links:

Australian Astronomy Factsheet : for eclipse timings from other Australian cities.

Tale of two comets

Author
by Tanya
Publish date
28 February 2013
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It’s quite rare for two comets to be found in the same patch of sky, but right now Comets Lemmon and PANSTARRS are both in the south. Unfortunately they are very faint, and even from a lovely dark sky, they are only just barely visible. But they are putting on a show for those with binoculars or a small telescope.

During February, astro-photographer, Alex Cherney captured the two comets from the Mornington Penisula. He has also produced a wonderful time-lapse video of the comets together in the sky. You can check it out on the Terrastro blog.

Comets Lemmon and PANSTARRS During February Comets Lemmon and PANSTARRS have travelled across the southern sky.
Image: Alex Cherney
Source: http://www.terrastro.com/
 

There’s a chance that the comets may brighten a little as they continue to head towards the Sun, but you never can tell with comets. After all, comets are called ‘dirty snowballs’ and how brilliantly (or disappointingly!) they will melt is hard to predict.

Comet PANSTARRS is currently the brighter of the two and it reaches perihelion (closest to the Sun) on the 10th March. The problem for us, is that we can only see the comet in the twilight sky and after perihelion it will move too far north for us to see it at all. However, northern hemisphere observers are hopeful that the comet might be fairly easy to see once it travels north.

Comet Lemmon can be found low in the south-west at sunset or low in the south-east before sunrise. It will reach perihelion on the 24th March, and photographs of the comet have shown it to have an eerie greenish glow. The comet contains carbon (or C2 gas) and the Sun is making the gas fluoresce and turning it green.

9pm, 28 February For the next couple of days, Comets Lemmon and PANSTARRS can be found in the south. This chart is for Melbourne at 9pm, 28 February.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The problem with Pluto

Author
by Tanya
Publish date
18 February 2013
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On 18 February 1930, Clyde Tombaugh achieved an amazing feat - he discovered Pluto. It’s said that he was a meticulous astronomer and I’m sure he must have needed all that mettle to have stumbled upon the tiny speck that was Pluto.

Over six years ago, Pluto grabbed headlines when astronomers famously ‘demoted’ the planet and designated it as the first of the dwarf planets. Some were disappointed by this – but I have to say that Pluto has always been a bit of an odd-ball. It was something we had explored a year earlier with the release of our planetarium show, The Problem with Pluto, in 2005.

The Problem With Pluto In this planetarium show, Lucy is on a research craft with her mother Lillian, a scientist, and together they are gathering data to discover just what Pluto’s status should be.
Image: Melbourne Planetarium
Source: Museum Victoria
 

A fellow astronomer shared with me his interesting way to explain it. Imagine, as a child, having a case full of pencils. The pencils came in all different colours but at their heart they were the same; except for one. It was a bit odd, still good for colouring-in just like a pencil, but there was something different about it. Nonetheless, it was the only one you’d even seen and it had always been in the pencil case, so you called it a pencil along with all the others. Then, one day at a friend’s house, you opened their pencil case and it was filled with something called crayons. Your eyes lit up with recognition. That odd-ball pencil you’d been worried about wasn’t odd after all, it was in fact a crayon.

When Pluto was discovered, it was one of a kind at the edge of the Solar System. It wasn’t a terrestrial planet, it wasn’t a gas giant, but it did orbit the Sun. Seventy years on, we now know of thousands of objects orbiting alongside Pluto. They are the icy worlds that make up the Kuiper Belt. Pluto, because it is big enough to be round, is still a bit special and so it now goes by the new label of dwarf planet.

On Pluto Day, I’ll be celebrating that Pluto has now found its rightful place in the Solar System.

New Horizons spacecraft Right now, a real research craft is on its way to Pluto. Called New Horizons it will fly by Pluto in July 2015 and journey on to discover more about the Kuiper Belt.
Source: NASA
                       

Links

The Problem with Pluto will be showing at the Melbourne Planetarium at 2pm, 18 February to 4 March.

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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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