Astrophotography: Moon and Venus, Jan. 31, 2017

Astrophotography: Moon and Venus, Jan. 31, 2017
HIROSHIMA, JAPAN — OK, I’m not really in Japan now, but I was when I took the picture. I’m just now trying to curate the hundreds of photos I took during my month in Japan, and thought I’d share this. It’s not super-sharp, because I had no tripod and tried to brace the camera against a window frame to steady it. The Chinese tune, “The Moon Represents My Heart,” (月亮代表我的心 Yuèliàng Dàibiǎo Wǒ de Xīn) most famously sung by Teresa Teng (邓丽君 Dèng Lìjūn) has been playing in my head lately. So, for me at least, a picture of the Moon seems suitable for the occasion. Camera geek details: Nikon D3300, Tamron 70-300 mm zoom lens @ 135 mm, f/4 1/500 sec, ISO 12,800. Teresa Teng was from Taiwan, and became one of the first non-mainland singers to become very popular in China. Nearly everyone in China knows this song, especially those who came of age during the Opening Up of the 1970s. Sadly, she died young from asthma complications at age 42. Now, for your listening pleasure, Miss Teng. (Scroll down past the photo.)

Two moons, two planets, one asteroid and now a comet! 1

JISHOU, HUNAN — The European Space Agency’s successful landing of a probe on the surface of a comet Thursday is yet another milestone in our exploration of the solar system. It’s the latest in a series of missions that bring the exotic down to Earth. It’s also the most impressive, considering the Rosetta probe had to loop around the inner solar system for 10 years to catch up to Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko and the Philae lander had to guide itself to land on an object only 4 km across at its widest point. Comet 67P is more than 500 million kilometers from Earth, so it’s very unlikely any of us will have a chance to stand (carefully) on its surface. But Philae is our stand-in, and in just a day’s time sent back some impressive images. Now, you might be thinking, “So what? It’s not especially interesting. Some rocks and stuff.” But consider that this is a place 500 million km away that no one has ever seen before, a place that has been undisturbed for at least 4.5 billion years, and we get to see it! Planetary scientists are naturally also interested in the composition and structure of the comet, ...

What’s up, Jade Rabbit?

JISHOU, HUNAN — China’s lunar rover, 玉兔 Yu Tu (Jade Rabbit), woke up March 13 for its fourth lunar day of work, but its roving days are over. Last month, Jade Rabbit lost its ability to move. Now it seems the craft has stopped working altogether. Meanwhile, China’s Internet censors seem to be blocking space-related websites that have been covering the mission since Yu Tu and its sister craft, the Change’E lander, arrived on the Moon in December. When I tried to visit Universe Today, Nature and The Planetary Society for updated news reports, all attempts failed. Spaceflight101.com, however, worked, so that’s where this update largely comes from. While everything was working according to plan, Chinese media were all over the story. Now that Jade Rabbit is largely out of commission, perhaps Chinese media censors want to keep updates muted. The two probes’ soft landing in the Mare Imbrium basin were the latest coup for China’s aggressive space flight program. Both Change’E and Yu Tu were working optimally during the first month of the mission, sending back data and photos through January. Yu Tu was able to drive away from the landing site, as planned. Then as the second lunar ...

Astronomy topic: Why are days so long on the Moon? 2

JISHOU, HUNAN — China’s lunar probes, Chang’E and YuTu (Jade Rabbit), are preparing for Lunar day 3 of their mission, but they’ve been on the Moon since Dec. 15. Are they lazy, or what? Considering a day on the Moon is almost two Earth weeks long, I’d say not. Time for a quick astronomy lesson. You know, I hope, that the Moon takes about 28 days to go around the Earth. This is where we get the English word “month” from (as in, “moonth,” the way they said it long ago). Like the Earth, the Moon also rotates around its axis, but much more slowly. Earth takes about 24 hours for one complete spin, the Moon, about 28 Earth days from sunrise to sunrise. Chang’E and YuTu use solar panels for power during the long lunar day. But during the lunar night, they hunker down, relying on small radioactive “batteries” to keep critical electronics warm and functioning. Since there is only one lunar day each Earth month, the two probes have only been on the Moon for three lunar days. Each work shift is about 14 Earth days long, and they “sleep” for 14 days between shifts. It is no ...

China’s Jade Rabbit moon rover oversleeps, phones home 1

JISHOU, HUNAN — YuTu was not feeling well when it turned in for the long lunar night two weeks ago, so maybe we can excuse it for sleeping an extra day. After all, its Earth-bound creators were afraid it wouldn’t wake up at all. When China’s YuTu (Jade Rabbit) hunkered down for the long lunar night, it was supposed to pull in its camera boom and fold its solar panels over itself to keep itself warm. Something malfunctioned, though, and Chinese space scientists were afraid YuTu would freeze to death waiting for the sunrise. It missed a scheduled wake-up call on Monday, and Chinese media reported the six-wheeled rover was out of commission just two months into its mission. YuTu and its companion, the lander Chang’E, arrived on Dec. 14, the first probes to make a soft landing on the Moon since the 1970s. But a day later, listeners on Earth heard its radio signal, indicating the rover had survived. Its operators are now trying to determine what happened and whether YuTu is well enough to continue its surveying mission. Details are at Universe Today. YuTu is named after the mythological rabbit who lives on the Moon, where he makes ...

The Story of the Jade Rabbit (Yu Tu)

Long ago, three bodhisattvas decided to test the character of the animals. They chose the fox, the monkey and the rabbit for their first test. The bodhisattvas disguised themselves as starving beggars, and each asked the fox, the monkey and the rabbit for food. The fox immediately ran off, stole a farmer’s chicken, and presented it to the first beggar. The immortal refused it, saying it was stolen and a poor offering. The monkey scampered into the trees, and came back with two bunches of bananas. The second bodhisattva also refused the offering, because the monkey only did what the beggar himself could do. The poor rabbit, who only ate grass and leaves, knew he had nothing to offer. So, he asked the third immortal to make a cook fire. Once the fire was ready, he threw himself into the flames, saying the men could eat his flesh. But the rabbit was unharmed by the fire. The immortals were so impressed by the rabbit’s generosity, that they let him live forever in the Moon Palace. They honored him further by placing his likeness on the Moon for all the world to see. If you look carefully at the full moon, ...

The story of Chang’E (version 2)

Once upon a time, there were two immortals who lived in the palace of the Jade Emperor in heaven. Their names were HouYi, an expert archer, and Chang’E, his beautiful wife. One day, the ten sons of the Jade Emperor turned themselves into ten suns. The people of Earth cried to the gods to help them, because the suns were too hot and would scorch the Earth. Chang’E and HouYi took pity on the people of Earth. HouYi took his bow and arrow, and shot down nine of the ten suns, leaving only one to keep the Earth warm for the people there. The people of Earth were very happy, of course, but the Jade Emperor was not. HouYi had killed nine of his ten sons! As punishment, he banished HouYi and Chang’E to live as ordinary people on the Earth. Now an ordinary woman, Chang’E feared growing old and losing her great beauty. HouYi loved his wife very much, and looked far and wide for something to help her. Finally, HouYi found the Witch of the West, who made him a magic pill that would give anyone immortality. But she told him, “I have made one pill for you ...

The story of Chang’E (version 1) 2

The story of Chang'E (version 1)
Once upon a time, there was a beautiful little girl living in the palace of the Jade Emperor in Heaven. Her name was Chang’E 嫦娥. One day, she broke the Jade Emperor’s favorite porcelain jar. Angered, he banished her to live among the mortals on Earth. Now an ordinary human, and not a goddess, Chang’E became a simple farm girl in a well-to-do family. She grew up to be stunningly beautiful young woman. A farm boy, HouYi, fell in love with her, and they became friends. Then one day, a strange thing happened. Ten suns appeared in the sky, which would scorch the Earth and kill all the people. HouYi was an expert archer. He climbed to the top of the highest mountain, and shot down nine of the suns with his arrows. He became a hero, was made the king and of course, he married Chang’E. But fame and fortune made HouYi a little crazy. He was a cruel king, and greedy. He wanted to be immortal, like the gods. So, he spent a lot of money to get a magic pill to preserve his life. Being a little careless, King HouYi left the pill on his bedside table. ...

Chinese probe touches down on lunar surface, sends back photos 3

Chinese probe touches down on lunar surface, sends back photos
JISHOU, HUNAN — The Chang’E 3 lunar lander successfully touched down on the Moon earlier today, becoming another feather in China’s space exploration cap. After a short radio blackout, it sent back photos of its approach. Chang’E, named after the Chinese moon goddess 嫦娥, carries a six-wheeled rover, Jade Rabbit (yu tu 玉兔), also a figure in Chinese mythology. The rover, which resembles the NASA rovers exploring Mars, will deploy in a few hours to begin a three-month mission. China is only the third nation to soft-land a spacecraft on the Moon, following the former Soviet Union and the USA. The lunar project follows China’s successful low-earth orbit manned missions, and is a probable prelude to a manned mission to Earth’s nearest neighbor in the next few decades. The probe has landed far north of landing sites by the Soviet Luna 9 and 16 probes, landing in 1966 and 1970, respectively, and the Apollo 11 landing in 1969. India and Japan have also sent missions to the Moon, but have not had soft landings. The last soft landing was by the Soviet Luna 24 probe, in 1976. More details are available at Space.com.

China space agency unveils shanzhai lunar rover

JISHOU, HUNAN — Rather than be new and creative for its upcoming lunar rover mission, China’s space exploration engineers have copied NASA’s Mars landers, rather like Chinese manufacturers’ notorious habit of selling counterfeit brand-name goods — called shanzhai 山寨. First, let’s see the Mars Exploration Rover and its smaller older brother, Sojourner. And now the Chinese lunar rover, due to be launched in December. See any similarities? So did China’s scientists, who worked hard to propose new designs for the state space agency. Instead, the agency went with NASA 2.1. From the South China Morning Post: It was the first time that the secretive space agency – run by the military – had invited civilian scientists to participate in a major exploration programme. Many top universities set up special teams of their best researchers, who proposed creative rover designs. Wen’s own team, for instance, offered a design with only four wheels but with a greater ability to manoeuvre over rough terrain. Civilian scientists were disappointed when authorities decided on a design they felt drew heavily on the American design. Zhu Jihong, a professor of robotics who entered the competition on behalf of Tsinghua University, said the outcome had dampened Chinese ...

Browser planetarium from the Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network 1

JISHOU, HUNAN — A science moment!! I found Virtual Sky after reading an old Sky & Telescope magazine a friend mailed me just before summer vacation began. I only got around to reading it today. Virtual Sky is a browser-based planetarium that you can embed in your blog or website. Mine here shows the sky at it would appear from Jishou, because that’s where I live. The red line is the ecliptic, the apparent path of the Sun across the sky. That’s also where you’ll find the planets, the Moon and the signs of Zodiac hanging out, too. Holding down the left mouse button and scrolling left or right will change the view. Cardinal points are at the bottom. There are options you, the reader, can control, too. With the mouse pointer over the map, type a question mark (?) for a list of keyboard commands. Typing a capital S will show names of some bright stars, like Wentworth Miller or Natalie Portman. Typing p will show the planets, Sun and Moon. If it doesn’t work right, you may using too old a version of Internet Explorer. Sucks for you. Get Chrome or Firefox. And I was just joking about ...

RIP Neil Armstrong (1930 – 2012)

JISHOU, HUNAN — There are many people about my age who can remember being glued to the TV set on July 21, 1969, as the networks (we watched Walter Cronkite on CBS in my house) covered the first manned landing on the Moon. I can remember that July night when Neil Armstrong stepped off the ladder of the lunar lander and became the first man on the Moon. It was a moment of elation for me, and millions of others, because walking on the Moon seemed to be such a fantastic goal at the time — almost like the science fiction movies and TV shows then available. But we did it. Armstrong died yesterday after a heart operation at age 82. I won’t go into his life here, because the big media guys have already done a superb job. He was a farm boy from Ohio who learned how to fly airplanes (and be an engineer — a Purdue graduate, go Boilermakers!) and ultimately ended up as an NASA astronaut. By chance, he became the first human to walk on another world. May we, as a nation, continue to dream big dreams, and then make them happen. It would be ...
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