Tagged: comets

Big Eye Wide, But Shut - Out of Space

Duncan Steel Nov 23, 2020

A few days ago the US National Science Foundation (NSF) announced the decommissioning of the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. This story has been the subject of items in the mass media around the globe, and also in New Zealand. Cables supporting the massive horns and radio receivers above the dish have snapped, the actual dish surface has been … Read More

Water on the Moon? - Out of Space

Duncan Steel Oct 27, 2020

The space news this week is largely focused on an announcement from NASA regarding the discovery of water on the Moon. Not liquid water – the lunar surface is far too cold for that – but apparently ice deposits in the surface layers in near-polar regions, and perhaps deeper below the surface too. Finding water on the Moon in an … Read More

Science at the movies: The new comet impact film - Out of Space

Duncan Steel Oct 22, 2020

Disaster movies forever capture the public attention… but did you ever stop to think that the word disaster actually means bad star? That is, ‘dis’ implies a pejorative (as in disease, or disgust, or disrespect), while ‘aster’ comes from the Latin astrum, similarly the Greek astron. Obviously enough, this derives from old astrological beliefs. In modern science, asteroids are called that … Read More

The day the sky fell in - Out of Space

Duncan Steel Jun 30, 2020

It’s June 30th, marked as Asteroid Day by many people of an astronomical bent around the globe. On this date in 1908, early in the morning in a remote part of central Siberia, the sky fell in. Well, not literally. What happened is a substantially-sized bit of cosmic detritus – a lump of rock and perhaps ice – arrived … Read More

Interstellar comet update - Out of Space

Duncan Steel Sep 19, 2019

The discovery of a true interstellar comet – a comet passing through the solar system having arrived, presumably, after having been thrown out of some other planetary system orbiting another star – re-opens a long-debated question in science: is life unique to Earth, or is it common in the galaxy? The panspermia hypothesis holds that life is common in the … Read More

New interstellar comet discovered - Out of Space

Duncan Steel Sep 13, 2019

Astronomers have searched over many decades for comets that have come from interstellar space, perhaps from a planetary system orbiting a nearby star in the Milky Way. A blank was drawn in this quest for a long, long time… and now, similarly to London buses, two have come along almost at once. The diagram at the head of this post … Read More

Asteroid Day… and what may follow - Out of Space

Duncan Steel Jun 30, 2019

The Tunguska explosion in 1908 was due to the arrival of a small (perhaps 50 metre) cosmic object, quite likely a fragment of a known comet. Astronomers are now wondering whether siblings of that projectile might pass close by the Earth over the next week or so.  I write tonight on Asteroid Day, which occurs on June 30th each … Read More

Astronomy on Bloomsday - Out of Space

Duncan Steel Jun 16, 2019

The name of Michael Faraday is well-known in science, for his pioneering work in both chemistry and physics (in particular electricity and magnetism; hence the name of the SI unit of capacitance, the farad). As a postgraduate student at the University of Canterbury I spent many hours working on experimental radio receivers sat inside a large metallic box … Read More

Connecting comets and rubber - Out of Space

Duncan Steel Jun 11, 2019

Comet Grigg-Skjellerup was one of the first such celestial bodies to be visited by a spacecraft, the Giotto probe which was sent on to encounter it in mid-1992 after having first visited the famous Comet Halley in 1986. Comet Grigg-Skjellerup was discovered about a century ago, independently by a New Zealander (John Grigg) and an Australian (Frank Skjellerup). The younger … Read More

Imagine an asteroid impact due in 2027: How would you tackle it?   - Out of Space

Duncan Steel May 09, 2019

It’s now scientifically possible to predict potential asteroid impacts years in advance. But knowing that such a calamitous event is going to occur, due to the clockwork of the heavens, presents its own problems. Can we divert it, and if so, how? Similarly, if the impact is inevitable, can we model what is going to happen far ahead of time, … Read More

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