Gary Boyle/The Backyard Astronomer
A bright comet is now in the evening sky and you can see it without a telescope. Comet F3 (NEOWISE) has been a fantastic object in the early morning pre-dawn sky but will be well placed below the Big Dipper to see and photograph over the next couple of weeks and hopefully into August. I have been following and imaging this comet since the first week of July and could see it even without binoculars (naked eye).
The comet was discovered on March 27, 2020, by the NEOWISE space telescope as it looks for near-earth objects that could potentially impact our planet. Measuring a little more than half the height of Mount Everest, this object falls into the category of a “once in a decade comet”.
Every year astronomers both amateur and professional observe 5 to 10 comets with telescopes. In most cases, they show a green nucleus from the sublimation of frozen chemicals such as ammonia and others. The extremely faint tail is seen when photographed but all comets are different in composition and appearance as Neowise does not appear green. The last bright comet that was visible to the naked eye for the whole world to see was Comet Hale-Bopp in 1997. And like Neowise, it too had a blue ion or gas tail and a fan-shaped dust tail created when comets round the sun as this one did on July 3 at a close distance of 43 million kilometres.
Neowise will be closest to earth on its way out of the solar system on July 22 at a safe distance of 103 million kilometres and will be starting to fade with a shortening tail as it retreats from the sun’s heat and back to the icy depths of space. Comet Neowise originates from the Oort Cloud, where long-period comets reside and will return close to 6,800 years from now. Halley’s Comet is a short period comet originating from the Kuiper Belt. Along with this chart of the comet’s path, many smartphone astronomy apps will also guide you to our celestial visitor. Enjoy this spectacular comet every chance you can as you never know when the next bright will come to visit.
Known as “The Backyard Astronomer”, Gary Boyle is an astronomy educator, guest speaker and monthly columnist for the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada.Follow him on Twitter: @astroeducator or his website: www.wondersofastronomy.com
NASA: Dwarf Planet Ceres Is an Ocean World – ExtremeTech
Scientists considered Pluto to be a planet when it was discovered, but it later became the first dwarf planet. It’s not the closest one to Earth, though. Ceres is a dwarf planet and the largest object in the Great Asteroid Belt, and it has a new distinction today: ocean world. The latest data from NASA’s Dawn mission proves the almost-planet has a vast repository of salty water hiding below its surface. That makes it a possible home for life in the solar system.
NASA’s ion engine-powered Dawn spacecraft visited Ceres in 2018, getting as close as 22 miles (35 kilometers) from the surface. Images from Dawn’s approach stirred interest when they showed several bright spots in the 57-mile (92 kilometers) Occator Crater. The entire planetoid is only 590 miles (950 km) in diameter, so this crater is quite prominent.
Researchers working on the Dawn mission used geomorphology and topographical data to nail down the origin of the spots once and for all. We now know that the bright spots are a result of salt crystallization on the surface, and these deposits are young — from within the last few million years. The high-salt brine would evaporate in a few hundred years, but the crater itself is about 22 million years old. Scientists know the salt deposits are younger because Ceres is frequently hit by smaller asteroids that would darken the reflective surfaces over time.
The team identified two sources of salt deposits on Ceres. The first was a slushy pool of brine just below the surface. Ceres doesn’t have any internal geological heating, but the impact that formed Occator Crater liquified the water. That puddle cooled after a few million years, but the impact also produced fractures that extend deep into the surface. The fractures intersect a larger, long-lived reservoir of brine further down. Over time, that allowed more brine to seep up to the surface where it evaporated and left behind more salt.
So, Ceres is an ocean world, at least to some degree. All we can say right now is that its reservoir of salty water is regional, but it might be more expansive. This raises the question of whether life could survive on Ceres. The high salt content might not be pleasant for most organisms, but there are hearty microorganisms on Earth that don’t mind extremely high salt environments. Maybe there’s something like that living in the oceans of Ceres, too.
New Carnivorous Dinosaur Unearthed on Isle of Wight | Paleontology – Sci-News.com
A new genus and species of theropod dinosaur from the Cretaceous period has been identified from bones found on the Isle of Wight, the United Kingdom.
The newly-discovered dinosaur roamed the Earth approximately 115 million years ago (Cretaceous period).
It belongs to Tetanurae, a group that includes most theropod dinosaurs, including megalosauroids, allosauroids, tyrannosauroids, ornithomimosaurs, maniraptorans, and birds.
Named Vectaerovenator inopinatus, the ancient creature is estimated to have been up to 4 m (13.1 feet) long.
The fossilized bones from the neck, back and tail of the new dinosaur were found over a period of weeks in 2019 in three separate discoveries, two by individuals and one by a family group, on the foreshore near Knock Cliff on the Isle of Wight.
“The joy of finding the bones we discovered was absolutely fantastic. I thought they were special and so took them along when we visited Dinosaur Isle Museum,” said Robin Ward, a fossil hunter who was with his family visiting the Isle of Wight when they made their discovery.
“They immediately knew these were something rare and asked if we could donate them to the museum to be fully researched.”
“It looked different from marine reptile vertebrae I have come across in the past,” said regular fossil hunter James Lockyer.
“I was walking along the beach, kicking stones and came across what looked like a bone from a dinosaur,” added regular fossil hunter Paul Farrell.
“I was really shocked to find out it could be a new species.”
Vectaerovenator inopinatus had large air spaces in some of the bones, one of the traits that helped the paleontologists identify its theropod origins.
These air sacs, also seen in modern birds, were extensions of the lung, and it is likely they helped fuel an efficient breathing system while also making the skeleton lighter.
“We were struck by just how hollow this animal was — it’s riddled with air spaces. Parts of its skeleton must have been rather delicate,” said lead author Chris Barker, a Ph.D. student at the University of Southampton.
“The record of theropod dinosaurs from the mid Cretaceous period in Europe isn’t that great, so it’s been really exciting to be able to increase our understanding of the diversity of dinosaur species from this time.”
“It is likely that Vectaerovenator inopinatus lived in an area just north of where its remains were found, with the carcass having washed out into the shallow sea nearby.”
The team’s paper will be published in the journal Papers in Palaeontology.
Chris Barker et al. 2020. A highly pneumatic ‘mid Cretaceous’ theropod from the British Lower Greensand. Papers in Palaeontology, in press
Broken cable damages giant radio telescope in Puerto Rico – CBC.ca
A broken cable caused severe damage at Puerto Rico’s Arecibo Observatory, causing a suspension of operations for one of the world’s largest single-dish radio telescopes, officials said Tuesday.
The University of Central Florida, which manages the National Science Foundation facility, said in a statement that a cable that helps support a metal platform broke and caused a 30-metre gash on a reflector dish. The university said eight panels in the dome also were damaged and the platform used to access the dome is now twisted.
The statement said it was unclear why the cable broke. The cost of the damage wasn’t immediately known.
Scientists worldwide use the telescope to detect radio emissions emitted by objects such as stars and galaxies. It was featured in the Jodie Foster film Contact and the James Bond movie GoldenEye.
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