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By Daniel Fischer, Germany
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The Sky in October 2008
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Interstellar Boundary Explorer launched on October 19!
The first NASA spacecraft to image and map the dynamic interactions taking place where the hot solar wind slams into the cold expanse of space: NASA and SN launch blogs, the IBEX Twitter channel, telecon visuals of Oct. 17 and Oct. 6, NASA Releases of Oct. 19 and Oct. 6, Uni Bern PM and coverage of Oct. 21: KSJ, ST. Oct. 20: SN, C4UT, BBC, NaB. Oct. 19: PW. Oct. 18: CD. Oct. 17: SC. Oct. 14: HelenaIR. Oct. 9: SN. Oct. 6: SC.
Update # 320 of Tuesday, October 21, 2008
Bolide predicted - and it hit! / Weird exoplanet / MESSENGER at Mercury, again

Airburst of predicted bolide also detected by Meteosat, Egyptian webcam - and a mysterious U.S. asset

Reports of more or less direct observations of the atmospheric airburst from the demise of asteroid 2008 TC3 have multiplied: The explosion was recorded directly by the cameras of European weather satellite Eumetsat and indirectly by an Egyptian webcam that saw a beach being lit up by the distant flash. Also a - so far undisclosed - U.S. system has momitored the airburst and yielded a precise time (02:45:45 UTC) and explosive energy equivalent (0.9 to 1.0 kT of TNT). This was probably an IR early warning satellite as these systems - normally used to detect rocket launches - are known to have recorded numerous cosmic airbursts in the past. More knowledge about the nature of 2008 TC3 has also been gathered from the wealth of observations taken in the few hours that its existence was known: the lightcurve, e.g., reveals a tumbling rotator.

Posted on October 7

Infrasound detection, possible visual sighting of predicted bolide (from a plane) reported

16 hours after the predicted atmospheric entry and destruction of minor planet 2008 TC3 there are only two reports of related observations. "A very preliminary examination of several infrasound stations proximal to the predicted impact point for the NEO 2008 TC3 has yielded one definite airwave detection from the impact," writes Canadian meteor specialist P. Brown: "The airwave was detected at the Kenyian Infrasonic Array, (IMS station IS32), beginning near 05:10 UT on Oct 7, 2008 and lasting for several minutes. [...] The dominant period of 5-6 seconds corresponds to an estimated energy [...] of 1.1 - 2.1 kilotons of TNT." Earlier it was reported that "a KLM airliner, roughly 750 nautical miles southwest of the predicted atmospheric impact position, has observed a short flash just before the expected impact time 0246 UTC. Because of the distance it was not a very large phenomenon, but still a confirmation that some bright meteor has been seen in the predicted direction." And the entry of 2008 TC3 into Earth's shadow had also been tracked.

Posted on October 6

For the first time: bolide predicted before it happened

It will happen with nearly 100% certainty: On October 7 at 2:46 UTC, minor planet 2008 TC3 - just discovered a day earlier - will enter Earth's atmosphere over Eastern Africa and vanish in an airburst. While the explosive energy from the 1 to 5 meter sized body is substantial, there is no chance that any effects will reach the ground, other than that well-placed observers should see a brilliant bolide. There has never been a prediction of a celestial fireball before, based on the detection of the soon-to-be-destroyed body in deep space, but with the growing capabilities of search programs such cases should become more frequent. And in case the lead time is greater (here it was just 1/2 day), one could even imagine a new field of astronomy tourism ...
Later post-impact: an Eumetsat Release on the airburst sighting by Meteosat (alt. display), NEO Office News with the mysterious direct detection of the airburst and an indirect video (landscape illuminated) from Egypt. Plus late coverage by NW, S&T, LAT, CD, TrS, *Bull, PSB, SC, NwS, IO9, KSJ, UT, ST, AI, AS.
Early post-impact: The the infrasonic detection from Kenya, the possible visual sighting of the bolide and a - vague - seismic signal, plus coverage by PSB (by far the deepest), Star Bull., ABC, KL, NwS and (without actual facts) DM, Sp.
Entering Earth's shadow: a picture and explanation. Also detailled analysis and previous indications of the rotation behavior of the asteroid and the strong parallax effect as it came nearer.
Pre-impact: C4U with the first details and links, plus additional press releases by the U of A, JPL (plus a video), NASA and the JPL NEO Office, animations of the final hours and minutes, a video clip, another and another one and a still of the asteroid in the sky, its growing brightness, a spectrum, a late prediction, speculations about where meteorites might drop and coverage by NEO News, PS (B; earlier), S&T, CNN, SC, W, NG, TrS, BAB, SpDisco, ST, AS.

Thunderstorms drive jet streams

on Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune: UA Release. Uranus Keck images: U. Wisc. PR.
Hunt for mini-Kuiperoids comes up empty with transit search: CfA Release, Dsc., NwS. Kuiper belt pair sets record for long-distance relationship: NwS, DLF. Size distribution in the Kuiper Belt: paper by Fraser & Kavelaars. Spitzer & comet Holmes: TAB.

Bizarre exoplanet found by CoRoT: density higher than lead!

The little space observatory COROT has discovered a massive planet-sized object orbiting its parent star closely, unlike anything ever spotted before. It is so exotic, that scientists are unsure as to whether this oddity is actually a planet or a failed star. The object, named COROT-exo-3b, is about the size of Jupiter, but packs more than 20 times the mass. It takes only 4 days and 6 hours to orbit its parent star, which is slightly larger than the Sun. This odd find does not fall into either conventional category of planets or brown dwarfs. COROT-exo-3b might turn out to be a rare object found by sheer luck. But it might just be a member of a new-found family of very massive planets that encircle stars more massive than our Sun. The more massive the star, the more massive the planet? As a planet, COROT-exo-3b would be the most massive and the densest found to date - more than twice as dense as lead. Studying it will help them better understand how to categorise such objects.
A paper by Deleuil & al., ESA and TLS Releases and coverage by BBC, SC, NaB, BAB, AI, SB (früher).

Hottest exoplanet found

2250°C on WASP-12b: NwS, SC. Exoplanet weather: SC. Weather on Brown Dwarfs in a binary system: Keck PR. Computer simulations of the atmospheric circulation on Jupiter-like planets: UA PR. Young planets stay hotter longer: MIT PR. Dust rings & exoearths: GSFC Release. Tides & habitability: UA PR, SC. Exoplanets & spacecraft: PSB.

MESSENGER reveals Mercury as never seen before, with a huge ray system

When Mariner 10 flew past Mercury three times in 1974 and 1975, the probe imaged less than half the planet. In January, during MESSENGER's first flyby, its cameras returned images of about 20 percent of the planet's surface missed by Mariner 10. On Oct. 6 MESSENGER successfully completed its second flyby of Mercury, and its cameras captured more than 1,200 high-resolution and color images of the planet, unveiling another 30 percent of Mercury's surface that had never before been seen by spacecraft. A striking characteristic of this newly imaged area is the large pattern of rays that extend from the northern region of Mercury to regions south of the crater Kuiper. This extensive ray system appears to emanate from a relatively young crater newly imaged by MESSENGER, providing a view of the planet distinctly unique from that obtained during the first flyby. This young, extensively rayed crater, along with the prominent rayed crater to the southeast of Kuiper, near the limb of the planet, were both seen in Earth-based radar images of Mercury but not previously imaged by spacecraft.

Posted on October 6

MESSENGER flies close by Mercury, all systems well

At a little after 8:40 UTC on October 6, MESSENGER skimmed 200 km above the surface of Mercury in the second of three flybys of the planet. Initial indications from the radio signals indicate that the spacecraft continues to operate nominally. The spacecraft is now collecting images and other scientific measurements from the planet as it departs Mercury from the illuminated side, filling in the details of much of Mercury's surface not previously viewed by spacecraft. On Oct. 7 at 5:14 UTC, the spacecraft will turn its high-gain antenna back toward Earth to start down-linking the data stored onboard. The first pictures from the flyby will be released around 14:00 UTC.
2nd Flyby Page, October images, S@N, Updates of Oct. 15, Oct. 9, Oct. 7 and Oct. 6, "MESSENGER Susie"'s blog of Oct. 10, all released pics and coverage of Oct. 17: PSB. Oct. 16: JHU NL. Oct. 11: BdW. Oct. 9: *Bull, NaB, ST. Oct. 8: S&T, BBC, NwS. Oct. 7: SC, PSB, BAB, KSJ. Oct. 6: PSB, SC, ABCB.

Chandrayaan to launch on Oct. 22

to become India's first lunar orbiter. Homepage, brochure, homepage of Europe's C1XS instrument, NASA, ESA and MPG Releases on their instruments aboard, a fan page and coverage of Oct. 21: BBC (other angle), IBN (more), AD, Hindu (other angle), DW, Sify, G. NYT, W, AP, Rtr, SC, Tel., NwS, SB. Oct. 20: Sify, PSB, IBN (more), Outl., PTI. Oct. 19: ToI (more, even more), IANS. Oct. 18: Exp. Oct. 17: ToI, PSB. Oct. 16: Hindu. Oct. 13: PTI. Oct. 12: Hindu, Deccan Herald, AFP. Oct. 11: Hin. Oct. 9: Hin, ToI. Oct. 7: ToI, BBC, PSB. India vs. China: SpR. Kaguya "Full Earth-Rise" by HDTV: JAXA Release, WG.
Venus Express searching for life - on Earth: ESA PR, SC, SpW, CD. Rosetta as an astrophysicist - microlensing studies: ESA PR.

Mars Update

Phoenix frozen soon - no more new soil deliveries to the labs. JPL Releases of Oct. 21, Oct. 17 and Oct. 14 [alt.], UA Releases of Oct. 17 and Oct. 8, pics #111... 32, 31, 30, 29, 28 and coverage of Oct. 21: McG. Oct. 20: BBC, UT. Oct. 16: VoA. Oct. 15: SC. Oct. 13: PSB, WildCat. Oct. 9: SC, PSB. Oct. 8: SC. MRO UA Release of Oct. 15, pictures of a double crater, Phobos, and isolated mound and eroided sediments and coverage of Oct. 16: SC. Oct. 13: Scotsm. MER Oct. 9 spotlight & coverage of Oct. 18: TAB. Mars Express insights into Phobos. ESA Release of Oct. 16, DLR Release of Oct. 16 and coverage of Oct. 18: BdW. Oct. 16: SC, PSB. Odyssey shifting orbit for extended mission. JPL Release of Oct. 9 and coverage of Oct. 16: PSB. Oct. 10: SC. Lots going on at Mars: T. MSL trouble - NASA still hopes for a 2009 launch - and other coverage of Oct. 21: NwSB. Oct. 17: AW&ST, Reg. Oct. 13: AW&ST. Oct. 11: BBC, FT, SB, ST. Oct. 10: C4UT, SR, SN, NW, NYT (earlier), PSB, SC, FS, DLF. Oct. 9: SpP, SCB. Oct. 7: Dsc. Oct. 6: KSJ, New Electronics. ExoMars trouble - apparently ESA delays it to 2016 instead of 2013. Coverage of Oct. 21: AD. Oct. 20: EV. Oct. 18: ST. Oct. 17: SpN, BBC. MIRIAM Mars balloon precursor test set for Oct. 21: St.

Saturn Update

Close Enceladus flyby coming up! Blogs from the team, Enceladus raw images, JPL Releases of Oct. 13 and Oct. 6, Univ. of Mich. PR of Oct. 6, NASA Blog of Oct. 7, picture #104... 86, 85, #1191, moons of Saturn highlights and coverage of Oct. 20: TwP. Oct. 16: KSJ. Oct. 15: PSB (earlier). Oct. 14: ScN. S&T, PSB, AT, NaB, SB. Oct. 13: SC, BAB, BdW. Oct. 10: CNNB, CL, BAB. Oct. 9: AW&ST, arXivB. Oct. 8: SC, PSB. Juno to Jupiter: AB.

ISS etc. Update

Next expedition reaches ISS on Soyuz TMA-13. NASA TV clip and hi-res pic of Soyuz TMA-13 launch, NASA PRs of Oct. 14 and Oct. 12, SpaceAdv PR of Oct. 12, a letter from Griffin to Obama of Oct. 2, an ATV Feature on the ATV reentry and coverage - HST-related news further down - of Oct. 21: MSNBC (other story), SpN, CL, NW, KSJ. Oct. 20: AP (earlier). Oct. 17: ST, DLF. Oct. 16: SpP, NwSB, SpN, Sp. Oct. 15: CBS, SC, Nov. Oct. 14: SN, BBC, SC, CL, ST, DPA. Oct. 13: NYT, WP, SC. Oct. 12: SN, SC (earlier), ST. Oct. 11: BBC. Oct. 10: NYT, SN, FTB, SC (other story), CS, AW&ST. Oct. 8: SpP. Oct. 7: NYT, SpD. Oct. 6: NYT (other and another story), BBC, KSJ, FT, NW. HST SM developments - side B activation under way, but delayed by a safe mode. SM and HST Homes, Status reports of Oct. 17 (earlier), Oct. 16, Oct. 15, Oct. 14 and Oct. 6 and coverage of Oct. 21: SN, FT, Disp., KSJ. Oct. 20: KSJ, SB. Oct. 18: WP, ST. Oct. 17: SN, WP, NYT, NaB, CNNB, ScN, SC, PrA, AP. Oct. 16: PSB, AD, SC, CL. Oct. 15: ST. Oct. 14: SN, NYT, BBC, SC, MSNBC, NaB, NW. Oct. 10: SC, CV. Oct. 9: CL. Oct. 7: FT. Oct. 6: FT. Shenzhou VII aftermath - studies of samples and a conspiracy theory w.r.t. the BX-1 subsatellite. Coverage of Oct. 20: SpR. Oct. 16: SCB. Oct. 8: BAB. Oct. 7: X.

High-speed collisions between large elliptical galaxies may prevent new stars from forming

The clearest evidence yet for high-speed collisions between large galaxies suggests a plausible alternative to black holes as an explanation of what turns off star formation in the biggest galaxies: Yale and NOAO Releases, Dsc., SB. Cosmic 'bridge to nowhere': TAU PR.

ACS Nearby Galaxy Survey Treasury (ANGST) program zeroed in on 14 million stars in 69 nearby galaxies: UMN Release, SC. Changes in quasar: U. Fla. PR. Big BH in early Universe: CfA PR.

Formation of a typical star-forming galaxy at redshift z=3 - which looks like a weird eye, due to grav. lensing: paper by Stark & al., Durham and Caltech Releases, pictures, BAB, CL, KSJ. Related case: NRAO Release.

The first gamma-ray-only pulsar!

About three times a second, a 10,000-year-old stellar corpse sweeps a beam of gamma-rays toward Earth - discovered by the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope, the object, called a pulsar, is the first one known that only "blinks" in gamma rays: paper by the Fermi LAT collab., NASA and MPG Releases, S&T, NwS, BAB.

Supernova lost 16(!) mag. by extinction - and still it was discovered (in the infrared by Gemini & Hubble): paper by Kankare & al. Violently variable BHCs: ESO PR.

Faint gamma-ray bursts do actually exist

Integral has observed several low-luminosity gamma-ray bursts, confirming the existence of an entire population of weaker bursts hardly noticed: ESA PR [alt.]. Gamma Ray burst afterglows in the infrared - a standard candle? Paper by Gendre & al. GRB mystery review: S@N (earlier, still earlier). Documentary on astrophysicists waiting for GRBs (just before super-distant GRB 080913): TestTube.

Winds from infant stars observed with the VLTI: ESO and MPIfR Releases, SC. Hot CO around the young Be star 51 Oph: A&A. Starbirth in NGC 346: ESO, JPL and ESA Releases. Gum 29: ESO Release. RCW 108: Chandra PR. Hypervelocity star origin: NwS.

  • GeoEye 1 sends 1st image, 2nd satellite to follow: Wired.
  • SOFIA's mirror reinstalled after coating: AD.
  • Liquid Mirror Telescopes on the Moon - how realistic? S@N. Noise-free detector for TMT: RIT PR.
  • JCMT's next survey coming: JACH and STFC Releases.
  • Hail to the SDSS - and lessons learned: paper by Kleinman & al., LAT. The old 3.5-m on Calar Alto - still delivering: CAHA PR, NaB.

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