TONIGHT… a full moon, a lunar eclipse, and a green comet will light up the sky

TONIGHT… a full moon, a lunar eclipse, and a green comet will light up the sky

Tonight there will be a trio of celestial treats: a full moon, a penumbral lunar eclipse, and a green-headed comet.
Careful observers across parts of North America can watch a Full Snow Moon penumbral lunar eclipse. With a pair of binoculars or a small telescope, skywatchers can also catch a glimpse of a bright-green comet passing by Earth. The comet’s name is Comet 45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdušáková which will make its closest approach to Earth TONIGHT!

Even though the green comet has been visible for months, skywatchers will have the best view and it will also be the closest comet encounter in over 30 years.

Comet 45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdusáková captured in Kekaha, Hawaii on Dec. 23, 2016
Credit: Jim Denny

The online astronomy service will webcast two free shows related to the eclipse and the comet tonight. “The Full Snow Moon Eclipse” will air live views of the lunar eclipse at 5:30 p.m. EST (2030 GMT) and be followed by “Cruise the Galaxy with Comet 45P” at 10:30 p.m. EST (0330 GMT Feb. 11). You can also watch both of the broadcasts here on, courtesy of Slooh.

Tonight, the moon will pass through the Earth’s penumbra — the outer region of the Earth’s shadow — which will cast a gray shadow over the surface of the moon. In a total lunar eclipse, the moon passes through the umbra, or the darkest part of the Earth’s shadow, and that blocks more of the moonlight. During a penumbral eclipse, the moon just darkens slightly. Most of the country will be able to catch the eclipse during the early evening hours.

The penumbral eclipse will also be visible in the evening from the Caribbean and eastern South America. In Europe and Africa, it happens in the middle of the night with the moon high in the sky. For observers in western, central and south Asia, it happens before or during dawn on Saturday morning (Feb. 11) local time. At mideclipse, the moon appears in the zenith (directly overhead) from Bamako, the capital city of the African nation of Mali.

To find 45P, look up at the constellation Hercules. Tonight the comet should be in between the great warrior’s “legs.”



NASA Has Finally Built a Computer Chip To Survive on Venus

NASA Has Finally Built a Computer Chip To Survive on Venus

The average temperature on Venus is 864 degrees Fahrenheit (462 degrees Celsius).
No computer can survive more than 127 minutes there, it’s like hell.
But now, NASA Has Finally Built a Computer Chip To Survive on Venus.

NASA researchers developed a new computer chip and tested it without any cooling or protective packaging in a high-pressure, high-temperature environment like the surface of Venus, and it worked. Scientists haven’t sent a lander to Venus since the Soviets flew three more crafts to Venus — Venera 14, Vega 1, and Vega 2 — making the last attempted landing on the planet in 1985.

Philip Neudeck, electronics engineer from the NASA Glenn Research Center in Ohio said that there are rovers over Mars getting all sorts scientific data, which is not the case on Venus because the electronics don’t function there and the planet has lots of features of interest to us Earthlings.

Neudeck explained that the most important challenges for a chip on Venus to overcome are the temperature and chemically-reactive atmosphere. Most chips are made out of silicon, but at high temperatures it starts behaving like a regular conductor instead of a semiconductor. His chips are silicon carbide instead, which maintain their good semiconducting properties. The team also ensured the wires connecting all of the pieces of the chip wouldn’t fry by using exotic materials like tantalum silicide, among other challenges.

Closeup of the integrated circuit, before and after entering the GEER chamber (Image: NASA)

To see if the technology lives up to expectations, the team put these SiC transistors and interconnects together and housed them in ceramic-packed chips. The chips were then placed in the GEER (Glenn Extreme Environments Rig) which can simulate the temperatures and pressures on Venus for hundreds of hours at a time.

SiC chip designed by NASA, before and after GEER tests.
Image credits NASA / Glenn RC.

But it’s not only transistors we’ll need for a successful Venus rover. Drills, cameras, wheels — everything has to be adapted to work in a high pressure, high temperature, highly acidic environment. Materials science has evolved a long way since the last missions, so creating a mechanically-sound lander should be feasible. A full-fledged rover with multiple moving parts that can survive on Venus would be a lot harder to develop — NASA Glenn is working on such a machine, a land-sailing rover, which they estimate will be ready by 2033.

The full paper “Prolonged silicon carbide integrated circuit operation in Venus surface atmospheric conditions” has been published in the journal AIP Advances.


Have we just found Earth’s cousin?

Have we just found Earth’s cousin?

Astronomers using ESO telescopes and other facilities have found clear evidence of a planet orbiting the closest star to Earth, Proxima Centauri. The long-sought world, designated Proxima B, orbits its cool red parent star every 11 days and has a temperature suitable for liquid water to exist on its surface.

This rocky world is a little more massive than the Earth and is the closest exoplanet to us and it may also be the closest possible abode for life outside the Solar System.

Mercury’s Transit Today!What does that mean?

Mercury’s Transit Today!
What does that mean?

Here are some facts about Mercury’s Transit:

A transit is the passage of a planet across the Sun’s bright disk and they are very rare astronomical events. During the transit, the planet can be seen as a small black disk slowly moving in front of the Sun.
The orbits of Mercury and Venus lie inside Earth’s orbit, so they are the only planets which can pass between Earth and Sun to produce a transit.

In the case of Mercury, there are on average thirteen transits each century. A transit of Mercury occurs only if the planet is in inferior conjunction with the Sun (between Earth and Sun) and is also crossing the through Earth’s orbital plane (the Ecliptic).
Consecutive transits of Mercury appear to be separated by either 3.5, 7, 9.5, 10 or 13 years.

The shorter periods are a consequence of several longer harmonics between the orbital periods of Mercury and Earth. The 13 year period is of particular note because it corresponds to nearly 54 orbits of Mercury around the Sun (it falls short of a perfect fit by just 2.01 days). A longer period of 33 years (10 + 10 + 13) produces an even better fit which corresponds to 137 orbits of Mercury minus 1.67 days. If one combines the 13 year and 33 year periods together, the 46 year total equals 191 orbits of Mercury plus only 0.34 days.

The image hereunder contains predictions for every transit of Mercury during the seven hundred year period 1601 CE through 2300.