As we approach the end of the year and start taking stock of all 2020 has been – or not been –, we can all agree on one thing: it’s been a great year for aerospace, space science, and astronomy. From SpaceX setting and re-setting headlines with their successful Crew Dragon spaceflights to Comet NEOWISE wowing us mid-summer, there has been a lot to appreciate in the night sky this year.
If you’re looking for one more bright point of light in an otherwise dark year, here it comes – literally: on December 21st, 2020, Jupiter and Saturn will make have a Great Conjunction.
Called a “Great Conjunction” because it involves the two biggest planets in our solar system, Jupiter and Saturn make a close visual approach in the night sky roughly every 20 years. They last did so in the pre-dawn hours of May 31st, 2020; this year’s conjunction is special because it will bright the planets into even closer visual alignment.
This year, Jupiter and Saturn will pass within 6 arcminutes of one another; that’s the closest they have been since March 4, 1226, making this a once-in-a-lifetime astronomical sight. They’ll appear so close that it will be hard to tell them apart with the unaided eye, though the planets themselves are hundreds of millions of miles apart. Add in the fact that the Great Conjunction is occurring right before Christmas and it’s no surprise people have dubbed this a much-needed Christmas Star in 2020.
If you want to see the Great Conjunction safely this year, you’ll probably need to travel – but it won’t require a flight or overnight accommodation. Instead, you should be able to safely comply with any local travel restrictions in your area and still find a spot to be socially distanced and able to enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime astronomical event. Here are safe viewing tips for this once-in-a-lifetime Great Conjunction.
1. Plan Out the Location You Want to Visit
One of the most important tips for planning an out-of-home experience right now is to cover the details in advance. In particular, you’ll want to:
- Ensure the place you want to go is open. Many national and state parks have limited access due to the ongoing pandemic, so researching in advance means you won’t drive to discover your ideal viewing spot isn’t available.
- Look for a location with a good view of the western and southwestern horizon (depending on your latitude). The two planets will appear nearer the horizon than the zenith as the sun sets on December 21st.
- Find a location with limited light pollution. While the best viewing opportunity is in the two hours after sunset (when the sky is still somewhat light and the two planets haven’t set), you’ll have a better experience if you’re not near any major lights.
- Pick a place that isn’t likely to be crowded. It’s especially important right now for Americans to limit their cross-household contact. If you can find a spot in a less-visited park or green space, you’ll have a better time without worrying about other groups of people.
2. Bring the Right Equipment and Gear You Need
You can absolutely view the Great Conjunction without any gear, but here are a few tips to make the experience even better:
- Bundle up! December 21st is the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere. As the sun sets that day, the temperature will likely drop (depending on your location). Bring hats and gloves to stay warm so you can enjoy viewing the Great Conjunction for longer.
- A pair of binoculars or a telescope will help make the Great Conjunction even more impressive. At the time of the Conjunction, Jupiter and Saturn will be so close that you’ll be able to see both planets and the four Galilean moons of Jupiter with minimal aid.
- If you plan to stay and stargaze after night fully sets in, grab a red flashlight to help you see in the dark without affecting your night vision.
3. Check the Weather
Unfortunately, we still can’t control cloud cover, so be sure to check the forecast over the next few days before Monday’s Great Conjunction. If the weather is clear, great – you may not need to go far for a great view. If you’ve got clouds, consider whether or not you can travel far enough to get clear skies.
4. Comply with Local Guidelines
This is absolutely a once-in-a-lifetime astronomy sight, but it’s not necessarily “essential” – don’t put your health at risk to see it. Remember to limit interactions with anyone outside your household or pod, wear a mask, and travel (by car) in accordance with your local health guidelines. That way, everyone will have a memorable experience and healthy, too.
No matter how you plan your Great Conjunction viewing experience, it’s a fantastic way for astronomy enthusiasts to end the year. 2021 is full of great astronomy events to look forward too, also!
All-purpose dinosaur opening reconstructed – Science Daily
For the first time ever, a team of scientists, led by the University of Bristol, have described in detail a dinosaur’s cloacal or vent — the all-purpose opening used for defecation, urination and breeding.
Although most mammals may have different openings for these functions, most vertebrate animals possess a cloaca.
Although we know now much about dinosaurs and their appearance as feathered, scaly and horned creatures and even which colours they sported, we have not known anything about how the vent appears.
Dr Jakob Vinther from the University of Bristol’s School of Earth Sciences, along with colleagues Robert Nicholls, a palaeoartist, and Dr Diane Kelly, an expert on vertebrate penises and copulatory systems from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, have now described the first cloacal vent region from a small Labrador-sized dinosaur called Psittacosaurus, comparing it to vents across modern vertebrate animals living on land.
Dr Vinther said: “I noticed the cloaca several years ago after we had reconstructed the colour patterns of this dinosaur using a remarkable fossil on display at the Senckenberg Museum in Germany which clearly preserves its skin and colour patterns.
“It took a long while before we got around to finish it off because no one has ever cared about comparing the exterior of cloacal openings of living animals, so it was largely unchartered territory.”
Dr Kelly added: “Indeed, they are pretty non-descript. We found the vent does look different in many different groups of tetrapods, but in most cases it doesn’t tell you much about an animal’s sex.
“Those distinguishing features are tucked inside the cloaca, and unfortunately, they’re not preserved in this fossil.”
The cloaca is unique in its appearance but exhibits features reminiscent to living crocodylians such as alligators and crocodiles, which are the closest living relatives to dinosaurs and other birds.
The researchers note that the outer margins of the cloaca are highly pigmented with melanin. They argue that this pigmentation provided the vent with a function in display and signalling, similar to living baboons and some breeding salamanders.
The authors also speculate that the large, pigmented lobes on either side of the opening could have harboured musky scent glands, as seen in living crocodylians.
Birds are one the few vertebrate groups that occasionally exhibit visual signalling with the cloaca, which the scientists now can extend back to the Mesozoic dinosaur ancestors.
Robert Nicholls said: “As a palaeoartist, it has been absolutely amazing to have an opportunity to reconstruct one of the last remaining features we didn’t know anything about in dinosaurs.
“Knowing that at least some dinosaurs were signalling to each other gives palaeoartists exciting freedom to speculate on a whole variety of now plausible interactions during dinosaur courtship. It is a game changer!”
Dinosaur fossils could belong to the world's largest ever creature – CTV News
Experts have uncovered the remains of a gigantic dinosaur in Argentina, and believe it could be one of the largest creatures to have ever walked the Earth.
Paleontologists discovered the fossilized remains of a 98 million-year-old titanosaur in Neuquén Province in Argentina’s northwest Patagonia, in thick, sedimentary deposits known as the Candeleros Formation.
The 24 vertebrae of the tail and elements of the pelvic and pectoral girdle discovered are thought to belong to a titanosaur, a diverse group of sauropod dinosaurs, characterized by their large size, a long neck and tail, and four-legged stance.
In research published in the journal Cretaceous Research, experts say they believe the creature to be “one of the largest sauropods ever found” and could exceed the size of a Patagotitan, a species which lived 100 million to 95 million years ago and measured up to a staggering 37.2 meters (122 feet) long.
“It is a huge dinosaur, but we expect to find much more of the skeleton in future field trips, so we’ll have the possibility to address with confidence how really big it was,” Alejandro Otero, a paleontologist with Argentina’s Museo de La Plata, told CNN via email.
Titanosaur fossils have been found on all continents except Antarctica. But the biggest “multi-ton” varieties of the species — including those titanosaurs exceeding 40 tons — have mostly been discovered in Patagonia.
Without analyzing the dinosaur’s humerus or femur, experts say it is not yet possible to say how much the creature weighs. However, the partially recovered dinosaur “can be considered one of the largest titanosaurs,” experts said, with a probable body mass exceeding or comparable to that of a Patagotitan or Argentinosaurus.
Patagotitans may have been the world’s largest terrestrial animal of all time, and weighed up to 77 tons, while Argentinosaurus were similarly gargantuan, and measured up to 40 meters (131 feet) and weighed up to 110 tons — weighing more than 12 times more than an African elephant (up to 9 tons).
Experts believe that the specimen strongly suggests the co-existence of larger titanosaurs together with medium-sized titanosaurs and small-sized rebbachisaurids at the beginning of the Late Cretaceous period, which began 101 million years ago.
“These size differences could indeed explain the existence of such sauropod diversity in the Neuquén Basin during the Late Cretaceous in terms of niche partitioning,” they wrote.
Researchers said that, while they don’t believe the creature to belong to a new species, they have so far been unable to assign it to a known genus of dinosaur.
The research was conducted by Argentina’s The Zapala Museum, Museo de La Plata, Museo Egidio Feruglio and the universities of Río Negro and Zaragoza.
Tuesday brings no new confirmed COVID-19 cases in Newfoundland and Labrador – SaltWire Network
ST. JOHN’S, N.L. —
For the second straight day, there were no new confirmed cases of COVID-19 announced by Health and Community Services.
The provincial government says another person in the Eastern Health region has recovered, bringing the number of active cases in the province down to five. One of those individuals is still in hospital.
To date, 76,740 people have been tested and 384 people have recovered.
Public Health is reminding residents that COVID Alert is available for download free through the Apple or Google Play app stores and is encouraging people to download it in order to help reduce the spread of the virus.
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