Starting in early July, a new comet showed up in the early morning sky, and it looks like it should remain visible in the evening for the rest of the summer.
Comet C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) was first discovered on March 27, 2020, as it approached the Sun from below the ecliptic plane. Spotted by NASA’s NEOWISE space telescope, this comet was found to be on a very long journey. It just spent nearly 3,400 years flying in from the outer edges of our solar system to swing around the Sun!
A computer model of the inner solar system shows the path of Comet C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE). Credit: NASA CNEOS
Now having survived that passage, NEOWISE is flying high above the inner planets on its way back to the outer reaches of the solar system.
Ideally located in space to view from Earth’s northern hemisphere, Comet NEOWISE is showing up in the northeastern sky, in the hours just before sunrise.
This long-exposure image of Comet C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) was captured on the morning of July 5, 2020, by Weather Network meteorologist and astrophotographer Kerry-Ann Lecky Hepburn (instagram.com/weatherandsky)
The above image is an idealized view of Comet NEOWISE, of course. According to the astrophotographer who captured it, Weather Network meteorologist Kerry-Ann Lecky Hepburn, the photograph is comprised of several 1-minute exposures. These are all stacked on top of one another using imaging software to enhance the comet’s brightness and bring out more of the details of its tail.
According to the Comet Observation Database, C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) is estimated at being around magnitude 1.2 right now. That is so-called ‘naked eye’ brightness, and brighter than the stars of the Big Dipper or even Comet Halley during its last pass, back in 1986. Be careful, though. A pinpoint source of light at that brightness, such as a planet or a star, is relatively easy to see, even from light-polluted urban areas. Spotting the diffuse coma and tail of a comet at that brightness is harder, though. This is especially true with light pollution and if the comet is set against the backdrop of a twilit sky.
Responding to a comment on Facebook, Lecky Hepburn said that when she was capturing her long-exposure images, the comet was faint and difficult to see with the unaided eye. She had to use a technique astronomers call ‘averted vision’.
If you have ever spotted something out of the corner of your eye in the night sky, but it vanished when you looked directly at it, you have used averted vision.
This picture of Comet NEOWISE, from TWN’s User Generated Content Gallery, was captured from André-J.-Côté Park, in Candiac, QC, on the morning of July 6. Credit: Stephane Pelletier
Basically, this technique takes advantage of the sensitivity of our peripheral vision to spot objects too dim to see directly. Its effectiveness can vary from person to person, and you may need to take some time for your eyes to adapt to the dark to get the maximum effect. Still, looking off to one side, while keeping your attention focused on the comet’s location in the sky, may produce results.
For best viewing, seek out a good rural area to watch from, such as the parking lot of a provincial park. If you have a telescope or binoculars, these will make it easier to see the comet, and using averted vision can still help you to hone in on where it is.
MORNING TO EVENING SHIFT
Although visible in the pre-dawn twilight now, Comet NEOWISE will switch things up a bit in the days and weeks to come.
The location of Comet C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) in the pre-dawn sky on July 7, 2020. Credit: Stellarium/Scott Sutherland
Starting later this week, as the comet continues to swing up over the inner solar system, it will still be visible in the morning. Evening skywatchers, though, should also see it rise above the northwestern horizon after the Sun has gone down.
Comet NEOWISE to the north-northwest in the evening sky, around 10:45 p.m. local time. Credit: Stellarium/Scott Sutherland
As an evening comet, NEOWISE should be easier to see against the backdrop of the darker sky. Its brightness will still diminish steadily in the next few weeks, however.
Later this month, and into August and September, the comet will leave the morning behind altogether, and remain visible only during the evening, tracking farther into the western sky, night by night.
Comet NEOWISE in the western sky, on the night of July 31, 2020. Credit: Stellarium/Scott Sutherland
At the same time, its brightness will continue to dim as it moves farther away. So, a telescope or binoculars are still the best way to view NEOWISE throughout the season.
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Teijin High-Performance Fiber Strengthens NASA Mars Rover Landing Parachute – Composites Manufacturing Magazine
The Mars Perseverance Rover is carrying the heaviest payload yet in its latest mission to seek signs of past life on Mars and to gather rocks and soil to be analyzed upon its return. The landing parachute of the Rover needs to be ready to deal with the extreme conditions on Mars, including temperatures of -63°C, strong dust storms, and atmospheric electricity, along with supporting the inflation load of nearly 70,000 lbs. Parachute developers, Airborne Systems and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, turned to Teijin for the para-aramid needed to do the job.
Teijin’s Technora® is used in the parachute’s suspension cords and riser, offering the strength and durability needed to complete this crucial mission. Technora® boasts a successful history with NASA, also being used in the Mars Curiosity Rover in 2012 allowing a safe landing while withstanding a 9G force.
The parachute for the Perseverance Rover underwent extensive testing to ensure that it is up to the challenging task at hand, including wind tunnel testing at NASA’s Ames Research Center and testing creating Mars-relevant conditions using Black Brant IX sounding rockets launched from NASA’s Wallops Flight Research Facility. In the final flight test, the parachute was exposed to a 67,000-pound load — the highest ever survived by a supersonic parachute.
The deployment mortar was also tested extensively. Perseverance’s parachute is packed tightly into an aluminum canister and when deployed an explosive propellant at the base of the mortar will launch the parachute. With the strength of Technora® in the chute, tests at the extreme temperatures that could be experienced were all successful.
Charles Lowry, lead project engineer for Airborne Systems North America, Mars 2020 Parachute System subcontractor, explained, “When designing and building the parachute system for Mars Perseverance Rover, it was very important to utilize the volume that we were allocated to its fullest potential. Thanks to its outstanding strength-to-weight ratio, Technora® allows us to do just that and increases the overall safety of the mission by providing more volume for stronger parachute cloth. There are many unknowns involved in any mission to space, but the tried and proven performance of Technora® is not one of them.”
Rise and shine, Prince George! – PrinceGeorgeMatters.com
Friday’s (Aug. 7) forecast will take us on a roller coaster, Environment Canada predicts.
Today is off to a mainly sunny start, but clouds are expected to cover the skies by later this morning, bringing in a 30 per cent chance of showers for the afternoon.
Residents could be in for some more winds gusting southwest at 30 km/h.
Even though the radar shows partly cloudy conditions in the evening, the risk of showers could increase to 60 per cent.
The temperature could get to a high of 17 C; the low will drop to single-digits at 8 C.
Have a sunrise photo of Prince George? Email it to email@example.com, and we’ll feature it in Rise and shine, Prince George! Don’t forget to include the date the picture was taken, the location and your full name.
Living on Mars – Skywatching – Castanet.net
At some point in the next decade or two, one of us is going to plant a space-suited foot on the surface of Mars and make that first footprint.
However, that first trip to Mars will not involve a couple of days in a spacecraft, a few hours on the surface grabbing rocks and taking pictures, before heading home.
Using current space technology, getting from Earth to Mars takes a few months. Then, when we get there, we cannot fill some bags with samples, take some pictures and head home, because we will have to wait until Earth and Mars are in the right relative positions for the return trip.
This means we will have to have a Mars base suitable for living in comfortably for a few months, in other words, not far short of a permanently manned base, or even a good practice run for the first colony.
Long ago, Mars was a warm, wet world with a thick atmosphere, just like our Earth. However, because Mars is a smaller world than Earth, its core solidified much faster and the planet’s magnetic field decayed.
This let the solar wind hit the top of the atmosphere to start scouring it away. Mars’ gravity is less than Earth’s allowing the atmosphere to spread further upward, enhancing the rate at which it is still being lost to space.
The result is that today the Red Planet is a cold, almost airless desert. The air pressure is about 0.3% of the air pressure on the Earth’s surface, so that even if it were pure oxygen, each breath would bring in nowhere near enough oxygen for us to survive.
However, there is very little oxygen in Mars’ atmosphere. In addition, even through a warm, summer’s day on the Martian equator might reach 20 degrees Celsius, at night the temperature will drop far below zero, and over most of Mars, it is well below zero all the time.
The result is that for us to survive on Mars, we will have to live in sealed habitats, under bubbles, as depicted in science fiction stories, or, more likely, in underground habitats, where the soil acts as insulation against the temperature variations and protection against radiation.
If we want to work outside we will need spacesuits, or ride in sealed, insulated vehicles. Living like this will be highly inconvenient for those living and working on the planet over years, or lifetimes.
We know that Mars was once very much like the Earth. Could we make it like that again? Could we terraform Mars?
Various methods are talked about, genetically modified plants that like the local environment and spit out oxygen, or numerous industrial scale machine complexes that do the same thing, or maybe a mixture of both.
For example, pump a lot of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere to increase the greenhouse effect and the temperature, which will then melt the ice, liberating water, and provide a starting point for getting vegetation going.
This would take in the carbon dioxide and release oxygen.
We would hope that the dense atmosphere would still have enough greenhouse effect to keep things warm.
However, the processes that turned Mars from warm and watery to cold and dry will still be active, and that atmosphere we would be working hard to produce would continue to flowing off into space. Our terraforming process would therefore be an ongoing fight with Mother Nature.
There is another very important issue: If we find there is still some form of life on Mars, even bacteria, making the planet right for us would make it hostile to them. Have we the moral right to do that?
When we find life “out there,” we should respect its right to exist, as we expect would be the case when alien visitors arrive at our world and start complaining about the surface conditions.
- Jupiter is conspicuous in the south overnight.
- Saturn is to its left.
- Mars rises around 11 p.m.
- Venus, shining even brighter than Jupiter, appears in the early hours.
- The Moon will reach Last Quarter on the 11th, and be New on the 18th.
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