Greetings from Palmia Observatory
Well while we waited for the real rover landing on Mars, I had to try out an augmented reality (AR) version of the rover.
Now I had not considered this downloadable app that runs on your iPhone or other smart device called, Mission to Mars AR before, but local OCA & Likes the Mountains, David, sent me the details. So, I decided to try it out and the short story is that within just a minute or two, I was driving Perseverance across the bedroom floor in my PJ's. In this image, taken as I watched the rover get closer and closer to running over my feet, you can see how real it looks on your smart device screen, which includes the background as seen by your camera. While looking at the smart device, controlling the rover and watching how it moves in your own room is pretty neat. So, check out the free app and try it for yourself. I didn't get through all of the details because I had to "release" the rover for its real upcoming landing on Mars. Thanks for letting know about it, David!
|Resident Astronomer, in PJs, drives the Mission to Mars AR app (Source: Palmia Observatory)|
Finally, it is just after 12:00 noon and it was time to tune into NASA Tv to follow the last seven minutes of terror as Perseverance made its way to the Martian surface. In this screenshot you can see a list of the various steps that the probe goes through during its landing descent. It has already slowed down considerably and is just a few minutes away from landing. Hooray, it made it through and everything worked and it is on the surface and still operating! Now we have lots of interesting discoveries to hear about. Good job, NASA team!
|Watching TV as Perseverance clicks though all of the steps for landing on Mars (Source: NASA TV)|
In other news from the Zoom Universe of online lectures there was an interesting Golden Webinar series from Chile. Avi Loeb, Harvard U., was the guest speaker on "Extraterrestrial Life: Are we the sharpest cookies in the jar?" The lecture was very interesting and Avi is outspoken and says that the scientific community is actually a bit closed minded and he cajoles everyone to remain a little more open to the evidence and potential evidence. His main thrust is addressed to those who so quickly dismiss the idea that Oumuamua was possibly a spacecraft from some earlier exploring civilization from elsewhere in the galaxy. If you like this kind of topic, then check out Avi's new book.
|Avi Loeb's "extraterrestrial: The first sign of intelligent life beyond Earth" (Source: Amazon)|
A reviewer from ScienceMag offered these comments about the book. During the Golden Webinar, Avi forcefully went into this idea again, that the potential evidence is too easily just dismissed without really taking much of a scientific attitude about the topic. He was a fierce defender and advocate of following the scientific paradigm and seeking and finding and evaluating the evidence, not dismissing it out of hand.
|"Extraterrestrial:..." book review comments (Source: ScienceMag)|
Now, I am not going to get the book right away because I am too busy. But in the lecture presentation, Avi also mentioned another interesting points about the closeness of stars. As an example consider our close neighbor alpha-Centauri. Other neighboring stars are far apart, but consider that each star is surrounded by something similar to what we say is our own Oort cloud. The Oort cloud extends out about 100,000 Astronomical Units (AU) from the sun and the distance to a-Centauri is something like 300k AU, so its similar "Oort" cloud will almost touch our Oort cloud. Finally it gets a little easier to understand how comments like "when a passing star comes close enough to change the orbit of a comet, or some other object, around the sun" make sense when the two Oort clouds are considered.
|The Oort cloud around our sun (Source: Avi Loeb, Golden Webinars lecture)|
Another topic, again using Oumuamua, which Avi is open to being something from a distant earlier civilization, was the motion of the object through our solar system. This screenshot shows how the telescope tracks the predicted orbit of Oumuamua, so it remains stationary in the image, while the background stars sort of move in a sequence across the sky.
|Oumuamua, amid trails of faint stars (Source: Avi Loeb, Golden Webinars lecture)|
This photo of Oumuamua stationary, as the telescope followed its predicted orbital position, shows the background stars moving with respect to Oumuamua. It reminded me of images that I had taken many years ago of geosynchronous communication satellites, which stay in their assigned positions above some fixed location on Earth. In this long exposure image from 2015 you can see the dots of light coming from the satellites, which also it is the background stars that drift by. You can see the satellites, mostly all located right on the equator in a line with different longitudinal spacings. Wow it hard to believe how times flies and that I took that image 6 years ago! If you want, check out the details of pointing a camera at the dim satellites in the blog of January 15, 2015 at: http://www.palmiaobservatory.com/2016/08/lick-observatory-and-photographing.html
|Camera, on stationary tripod, shows geosynchronous satellites (Source: Palmia Observatory)|
Speaking of satellites, we have another great opportunity to view the latest batch of Starlink satellites on Friday, February 19. This time is spectacular in that we are treated to two separate batches of satellites, one from 5:19 - 5:21 am, between bright stars Deneb and Vega, and the 2nd batch just a short time later from 5:30 - 5:32 am. The 2nd batch mostly follows the path of the 1st batch except the path is between Vega and Arcturus. Good luck to those of you getting up early in the morning to try your luck. For myself, I hope to take a DSLR video of the march of the satellites.
|Heavens-Above predicted viewing in Orange County on Feb 19 (Source: Palmia Observatory)|
For those of you outside the OC area, just go to the Heavens-above website and set your own location and generate possible observing opportunities for you.
Until next time, here from our burrow, stay safe, as we recover more of our freedom,