Archives For October 2018

Photo: Earth's Moon two days short of Full. Photo by James Guilford.

CANCELED: Skies will remain cloudy through Saturday and into Sunday with a chance of snow showers. Also, streets in Hiram Village have been stripped for resurfacing and present challenges to parking. We can’t catch a break this year, it seems. Tonight’s scheduled Open Night is CANCELED and the observatory WILL NOT be open. — Saturday, Nov. 17.

UPDATE: It appears that, yet again, we will need to cancel our scheduled Open Night event due to sky conditions and weather! We will post a final update here Saturday afternoon regarding the status of the evening’s event. — Friday, Nov. 16.

Stephens Memorial Observatory of Hiram College will host a Public Night Saturday, November 17, from 7:00 to 9:00 PM. On the observing list are the Moon, the Pleiades and Perseus Double star clusters, a farewell look at Mars, and a possible peek at planet Neptune. Other objects of interest may also be viewed.

Organizers hope for clear skies since several recent events have been canceled or compromised by weather. Visitors will be able to view planetary and celestial objects using the Observatory’s 1901 vintage telescope as well as stunning views of Earth’s Moon.

Cloudy skies at the scheduled starting time cancel the event and in that case, the observatory will not open. No reservations are required and there is no admission fee for observatory public nights.

The Observatory is located on Wakefield Road (Rt. 82) less than a quarter of a mile west of Route 700 in Hiram. There is no parking at the Observatory. Visitors may park on permissible side streets near the Post Office, a short distance east of the observatory.

Updates on programming are available via the Observatory’s Twitter feed: @StephensObs (twitter.com/StephensObs)

International Observe the Moon Night, October 20, 2018

 

UPDATE: Saturday, October 20 — Tonight’s scheduled Open Night and local International Observe the Moon Night event is CANCELED. Weather again spoils our plans with showers and thunderstorms prowling the area, and tonight’s impending Wind Advisory keeping our dome closed. While weather is going to keep us indoors tonight, NASA has other suggestions on how you can observe and enjoy Earth’s Moon tonight and later! Take a look: Ten Ways to Observe the Moon, Some Can be Done Any Time

UPDATE: We are closely watching weather forecasts and, as so often has been the case this year, our Saturday night program appears in jeopardy with the possibility of rain and/or snow predicted. Check back here and watch our Twitter feed for further updates and a final go/no-go decision on our October 20 event.

Members of the public are invited to celebrate International Observe the Moon Night on Saturday, Oct. 20 from 7:00 to 9:00. The free event will be held at Stephens Memorial Observatory of Hiram College.

International Observe the Moon Night is an annual worldwide public event that encourages observation, appreciation and understanding of our Moon and its connection to NASA planetary science and exploration. The annual event connects scientists, educators, and lunar enthusiasts from around the world.

The Hiram event will (given clear skies) include amazing views of Earth’s Moon using the Observatory’s 1901 vintage telescope. If sky conditions allow, other wonders of the night sky will also be sought.

Cloudy skies at the scheduled starting time cancel the event and in that case, the observatory will not open. No reservations are required and there is no admission fee for observatory public nights.

The Observatory is located on Wakefield Road (Rt. 82) less than a quarter of a mile west of Route 700 in Hiram. There is no parking at the Observatory. Visitors may park on permissible side streets near the Post Office, a short distance east of the observatory.

Photo: Saturn’s rings are perhaps the most recognized feature of any world in our solar system. Cassini spent more than a decade examining them more closely than any spacecraft before it. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Saturn’s rings are perhaps the most recognized feature of any world in our solar system. Cassini spent more than a decade examining them more closely than any spacecraft before it. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

 

October 4, 2018: New research emerging from the final orbits of NASA’s Cassini spacecraft represents a huge leap forward in our understanding of the Saturn system — especially the mysterious, never-before-explored region between the planet and its rings. Some preconceived ideas are turning out to be wrong while new questions are being raised.

Six teams of researchers are publishing their work Oct. 5 in the journal Science, based on findings from Cassini’s Grand Finale. That’s when, as the spacecraft was running out of fuel, the mission team steered Cassini spectacularly close to Saturn in 22 orbits before deliberately vaporizing it in a final plunge into the atmosphere in September 2017.

Knowing Cassini’s days were numbered, its mission team went for gold. The spacecraft flew where it was never designed to fly. For the first time, it probed Saturn’s magnetized environment, flew through icy, rocky ring particles and sniffed the atmosphere in the 1,200-mile-wide (2,000-kilometer-wide) gap between the rings and the cloud tops. Not only did the flight path push the spacecraft to its limits, the new findings illustrate how powerful and agile the instruments were.

Many more Grand Finale science results are to come, but here are some of today’s highlights:

  • Complex organic compounds embedded in water nanograins rain down from Saturn’s rings into its upper atmosphere. Scientists saw water and silicates, but they were surprised to see also methane, ammonia, carbon monoxide, nitrogen and carbon dioxide. The composition of the organics is different from that found on moon Enceladus — and also different from that on moon Titan, meaning there are at least three distinct reservoirs of organic molecules in the Saturn system.
  • For the first time, Cassini saw up close how rings interact with the planet and observed inner-ring particles and gases falling directly into the atmosphere. Some particles take on electric charges and spiral along magnetic-field lines, falling into Saturn at higher latitudes — a phenomenon known as “ring rain.” But scientists were surprised to see that others are dragged quickly into Saturn at the equator. And it’s all falling out of the rings faster than scientists thought — as much as 22,000 pounds (10,000 kilograms) of material per second.
  • Scientists were surprised to see what the material looks like in the gap between the rings and Saturn’s atmosphere. They knew that the particles throughout the rings ranged from large to small. But the sampling in the gap showed mostly tiny, nanometer-sized particles, like smoke, suggesting that some yet-unknown process is grinding up particles.
  • Saturn and its rings are even more interconnected than scientists thought. Cassini revealed a previously unknown electric-current system that connects the rings to the top of Saturn’s atmosphere.
  • Scientists discovered a new radiation belt around Saturn, close to the planet and composed of energetic particles. They found that while the belt actually intersects with the innermost ring, the ring is so tenuous that it doesn’t block the belt from forming.
  • Unlike every other planet with a magnetic field in our Solar System, Saturn’s magnetic field is almost completely aligned with its spin axis. The new data shows a magnetic-field tilt of less than 0.0095 degrees. (Earth’s magnetic field is tilted 11 degrees from its spin axis.) According to everything scientists know about how planetary magnetic fields are generated, Saturn should not have one. It’s a mystery that physicists will be working to solve.
  • Cassini flew above Saturn’s magnetic poles, directly sampling regions where radio emissions are generated. The findings more than doubled the number of direct measurements of radio sources from the planet, one of the few non-terrestrial locations where scientists have been able to study a radio-generation mechanism that is believed to operate throughout the universe.

For the Cassini mission, the science rolling out from Grand Finale orbits more than justifies the calculated risk of diving into the gap — skimming the upper atmosphere and skirting the edge of the inner rings, said Cassini Project Scientist Linda Spilker.

“Almost everything going on in that region turned out to be a surprise,” Spilker said. “That was the importance of going there, to explore a place we’d never been before. And the expedition really paid off — the data is tremendously exciting.”

Analysis of Cassini data from the spacecraft’s instruments will be ongoing for years to come, helping to paint a clearer picture of Saturn.

“Many mysteries remain, as we put together pieces of the puzzle,” Spilker said. “Results from Cassini’s final orbits turned out to be more interesting than we could have imagined.”

The papers published in Science are:

On Oct. 4, as the Science publication embargo lifts, articles describing research complementary to these findings will post online in Geophysical Research Letters (GRL), a journal of the American Geophysical Union (AGU).