Monday, February 16, 2015

Wonderful New Image of Comet We Are Flying Along With

The Rosetta spacecraft is continuing to circle Comet 67P (also known as Comet C-G) and send back amazing images. The picture accompanying this post was taken on Feb. 6 at a distance of 75 miles from the comet.

Rosetta, a mission by the European Space Agency, is flying along the icy chunk that is the comet, accompanying it on its long voyage to whip around the Sun. As we get closer, the ice of the comet will evaporate more and more, and great jets of gas will be seen coming from the comet. (Ice turns directly into gas in the vacuum of space.) You can see the beginning of this activity on our photo.

For the sake of honesty, we should mention that this 6-second image was processed to make the faint jets appear brighter and more easily visible.

We now know that the comet consists of two sections (called lobes, likes the two parts of your brain) connected by a slender neck. The bigger lobe is about 2.5 miles across, while the smaller one is about 1.5 miles wide. The jets seem to be coming from the neck region, which has been named Hapi, after the god in Egyptian mythology who makes the Nile River flood every year.

As the comet continues toward the Sun for its August closest approach, we expect many more spectacular jets to erupt on its surface. Stay tuned for wonderful images!

To see a first map of the regions on Comet 67P and what Egyptian gods the ESA scientists have named them after, see:

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Google Gives Lick Observatory a Million Dollars

As some regular readers of these posts may remember, I have the privilege of serving as Vice-Chair of the Lick Observatory Council, a group formed to help save the observatory, when it was threatened by closure due to University of California budget constraints. That threat was lifted a few months ago by the University of California President's Office, but money to operate Lick at full capacity is still very much needed. So the Council, under the energetic leadership of Prof. Alex Filippenko of Berkeley, has been working to find new sponsors and supporters for the historic observatory.

Today, Lick announced a one million dollar gift from Google to give our efforts a running start. The gift is a direct result of contacts Alex Filippenko made at Google and his eloquent explanations of why Lick was still at the forefront of both research and education. To read more about the situation at Lick and the gift, see the full story at:

To see Alex Filippenko's passionate argument why Lick Observatory should not be allowed to wither, see his talk in the Silicon Valley Astronomy Lectures at:

For example, it's fair to say that the work at Lick contributed in a very significant way to the discovery of the acceleration of the expansion of the universe, which received the Nobel Prize in physics in 2011, and (just recently) the 2015 Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics.

And if you would like to get involved in the effort, please go to:

(The beautiful image of the observatory from the air at the top is by Lick Observatory Council member Jim Katzman.)