Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Very Big and Very Weird

There's a cool little dance going on in the western sky for the next several days. The new moon is on the 2nd (meaning you can't see it, because the sun is almost directly behind it), but after that it will appear in the west as a young waxing crescent moon. A beautiful sight in itself, but there will also be three bright objects near it: Saturn, Mars and Regulus (the brightest star in Leo). They'll shift positions slightly over the next several nights, and create quite the pretty picture. On the 10th, Mars and Saturn will be at their closest to each other, .7 degrees apart (of course they're still 800 million miles apart, but let's not split hairs).

Plus, while all this is going on, over in the east, Jupiter will be rising at the same time. On the 4th you're gonna be looking up at the sky anyway, for fireworks, so take a couple minutes and try to find some planets. Show your kids! Impress your girlfriend! Or boyfriend, of course.

I stole the image from Sky and Telescope's excellent This Week's Sky at a Glance.

I've fallen off the orbital mechanics train the last couple weeks, so I'm making up for it today with a double post of things orbital.

100 years ago this week something very big and very weird exploded in the sky above Tunguska River in Siberia. I remember the small thrill I got reading about it when I was a little kid. It flattened trees for 800 miles, lit up the night sky half a world away with luminous clouds, set seismograph needles a-twitter, painted halos around the sun. There was no crater, and no remnant of the explosion has ever been found (admittedly, no one bothered to examine the impact site for 19 years). Ground zero was easy to find only because the trees flattened in a circle, all pointing toward the center. This odd lack of any debris has spawned a bucket of strange theories, ranging from collisions with anti-matter and black holes to alien spacecraft, nuclear fusion, and methane explosions. The more likely theory is that an asteroid or comet exploded a few miles above the ground. There is a little round lake about six miles away, with a peculiar cone at the bottom, that points to this theory (i.e. - a piece of the asteroid thrown by the explosion created the lake). But no one really knows.

A pretty cool deal, though, regardless of the specifics. It's known as the Tunguska event. It even sounds cool. Very X Files.

This just in! I read this morning that Nikola Tesla, the guy who invented both the radio and AC power before going utterly freakin nuts, caused the Tunguska event. According to "sources," he test-fired a death ray on the evening of June 30, 1908, and once he found out about the Tunguska event, he dismantled the weapon, deeming it too dangerous to remain in existence.

Easily he coolest explanation I've ever heard. Wish I'd known about it when I was a kid. Gotta call Art Bell.


Eric Shonkwiler said...

Just read about Tunguska the other day. I wonder when people started declaring it as an anti-matter/black hole collision, because I hadn't heard of it until people started worrying about the CERN particle accelerator.

Wanderlust Scarlett said...

That *IS* cool about Tesla... and about the explosion, how fascinating!
Wish I could have see the light.


Also, thanks for the info on what's going on in the sky... I love Regulus, it's one of my favorites.
The idea that the 'heart of the lion' is a red giant that pulsates just appeals to me on several levels. I love it.

It will be beautiful to see with its companions, even if only for a couple of evenings.

Don't know if you were aware of this site, or if I've pointed you in this direction, but if you aren't and I haven't, then you will love this:


The International Meteor Organization; candy store for sky buffs.
Check out their 2008 calendar for all meteor showers. We have them every month, and if you drive out of town even a little way, you will get a good show, most of the time.

Wishing you dark skies,

Scarlett & Viaggiatore

minijonb said...

i love astronomy. the Big Coke Spoon. the Little Coke Spoon. Orion's Bong. it's all great stuff, man.

= : - )

Jo said...

I used to listen to Art Bell, very entertaining.

I've never understood how Tesla managed to have such tidy hair. I think if Tesla had managed to make his death-ray, he would've used it on Edison :P

Thanks for the planetary heads-up! I'll look for them--and try to remember that they don't move really fast & land at the airport :D Happy 4th of July!

Clowncar said...

The black hole/anti-matter theories have been around a long time, Eric. I suspect their longevity has something to do with how cool they sound. Give it 10 years and they'll be talking about how it was a collision with a quark nugget.

Scarlett, you do know your sky! I had never thought of Regulus as beng the red beating heart of Leo. What a cool idea. I will teach that one to the kids.

Mini Jon B. You forgot Draco's hookah.

Jo, didja get to see them? It's been pretty cloudy here, but we caught an excellent glimpse of the sliver-thin crescent moon on the 4th.

Wanderlust Scarlett said...

I saw them, on the 5th. Absolutely thrilling.

Speaking of red giants (and how...) while you are telling the little ones about Regulus, you could also tell them that Betelgeuse, when it's at its fullest (it pulsates also) is the same size as Jupiters orbit around our sun.

That's a big giant.

Scarlett & Viaggiatore