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Space Shuttle Discovery’s last launch February 26, 2011

Posted by Marie in ISS, NASA, Space shuttle.
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Discovery launches.

Image credit: NASA/Jeff Marino Feb. 24, 2011

On Thursday evening (UK time), the space shuttle Discovery lifted off from Kennedy Space Center in Florida for the last time before being retired from NASA’s fleet.

It was a bit of a nail-biter, because the Range Safety Officer polled a ‘no-go’ during countdown due to a computer fault.  The issue was rectified with just two seconds to spare! – had this not happened, the launch would have been postponed – again.

But Discovery did, indeed, take off, and it’s worth viewing the video footage as it’s quite spectacular.

The shuttle is taking six crew members, a robonaut (R2),  some spare parts, and a ‘module’  to the International Space Station, which will be like a new room or an extension to the ISS.  (Wonder who chooses the wallpaper?)

Crew member Nicole Stott (@Astro_Nicole) and Robonaut (@AstroRobonaut) will be tweeting from the ISS with their updates.

A few lucky air travellers actually had an unexpected but fantastic view of the launch from the window of their flight from Florida, and shared it on YouTube.  Be amazed!

Black holes February 18, 2011

Posted by Marie in Black hole, Stars.
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Black holes seem to capture people’s imagination for some reason.

I just loved this animation, which was posted by a Twitter friend recently.  You can’t see the animation below, but click on it, and you’ll see the movement of stars tracked from the years 1995 through to 2008 near the proposed black hole at the center of the galaxy.

The star in the middle of the image is where the black hole is supposed to be.  I like watching the orbits of the stars that are in the vicinity of the black hole veer off suddenly as they get near.

These images/animations were created by Prof. Andrea Ghez and her research team at UCLA and are from data sets obtained with the W. M. Keck Telescopes.

Is it too early to have favourites? February 11, 2011

Posted by Marie in Constellations, Look up, Stars.
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It may be early days, but I think I have discovered my favourite constellation already!

Big, beautiful, and instantly recognisable, Orion dominates the (clear!) night sky at this time of year.

I love it for many reasons.  One is that it was the first constellation I learned to recognise – it’s unmistakable.

Another is that the geek in me always thinks of Star Trek when I see it.  Why?  Well the bottom right star (if you’re looking directly at the constellation) is called Rigel, and planets of that name are referenced several times in Trek films and TV episodes.  (Sorry.)

Third reason – Betelgeuse, at the top left ‘shoulder’, was the first time I realised that not all stars are white.  Even to the naked eye, Betelgeuse is orangey-red.  Go on, go and have a look.  And it is e-nor-mous.

Look at this:

If  Betelgeuse was placed where our sun is, it would almost fill up to the edge of Saturn’s orbit.  Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars and Jupiter – gone!

I came home from work recently, in the rain, with a dark, cloud-filled sky.  No chance of looking up and seeing anything.  Later that evening, I went to get something from the car, and Orion literally took my breath away.  The clouds had cleared, and I hadn’t expected to see it there; it was just magnificent.  It’s around for a while longer, so go and admire!

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