Monthly Archive for February, 2011

[Book Review] How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming, by Mike Brown

Summary: A tale of discovery, long hours, family and scientific skullduggery! Very enjoyable and easy to read, and well worth picking up!

Review: Readers who are familiar with this blog may have already gathered that I have a strong interest in the question of “What is a planet” and the events and discoveries surrounding that debate. So when Prof. Mike Brown (the discoverer of Eris, the object that ultimately toppled Pluto from its perch as the ninth planet) published a book describing his side of the story I was naturally keen to read what he had to say about the affair.

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Big moon rising!

As I was cycling back from the bus stop this evening and glancing up at the full moon (all smudgy-looking, as it was shining through clouds), I was struck by how unusually large it looked in the sky. I’m very familiar with the “moon illusion” – caused by our brains playing tricks on us when the moon is near the horizon and making it look larger than when it’s higher in the sky (see this page for more details) – and wondered if this was just another example of that, but this seemed a bit different.

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Stardust flies past Tempel-1 comet!

The close approach pictures are coming back from yesterday’s flyby of the Tempel 1 comet by the Stardust spacecraft! Tempel 1 was last visited in 2005 by the Deep Impact mission, which you may recall launched a projectile that smashed into the comet. Unfortunately the impact flash was so bright that Deep Impact couldn’t actually image the crater made by the impact, but now we’ve got an opportunity to see the scar again (if it’s still visible).

Apparently everything went well and the flyby went according to plan, so Stardust’s final mission was a success! The images are being uploaded here: – the latest ones are at the top of the page. Here’s the latest one that’s been released at the time of writing (cropped and rotated by Emily Lakdawalla at The Planetary Society):

High resolution view of comet Tempel 1 on February 15, 2011 at 04:38 UTC, just before its close flyby. Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/Emily Lakdawalla

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Planethunters: How to download Kepler Data from MAST and view it in Excel (for advanced users!)

In January, I posted some instructions telling Planethunters How To ID a PH Star in the Kepler dataset. Today, I’ll go further than that and tell you how to download the original Kepler Data from MAST and view it in Excel – though note that this requires that you have some knowledge of Excel, learning/installing software, and your own FTP software as well (e.g. Filezilla), so this is definitely for more advanced users. The instructions are quite lengthy, but I’m trying to explain a lot here – hopefully they’re clear though!

I’m assuming that people will be using Excel to plot the data, and fv to view the FITS data. If you don’t use these programs then you’ll have to translate the instructions to work for you (I have no idea how other FITS viewers work), but hopefully you’ll be able to figure it out!

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Planethunters: Kepler Q2 searchable star/planet spreadsheet now available!

Kepler-11 - a newly discovered system with six transiting planets!
Image credit: NASA/Tim Pyle

The Q2 Kepler data has been officially released, making at least another 90 days of data available! Now the planethunting community should be able to confirm or deny their discoveries more easily!

Quick summary of the news in case you missed it:

  • Kepler reveals 1200 new planet candidates – including 68 earth-sized planets, 5 of which are in their star’s habitable zone!
  • One system contains no less than SIX transiting planets!
  • Updated table of confirmed Kepler Discoveries, including the new 6-planet Kepler-11 system.

    The Kepler team have also released a scientific paper on the new planet candidates for anyone interested in the details (including lots of nice graphs showing the planet distributions too!).

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