Cosmic Diary Marchis
Adapted from MESSENGER Mission News (March 26, 2013)
The International Astronomical Union (IAU) — the arbiter of planetary and satellite nomenclature since its inception in 1919 — recently approved a proposal from the MESSENGER Science Team to assign names to nine impact craters on Mercury. In keeping with the established naming theme for craters on Mercury, all of the newly designated features are named after famous deceased artists, musicians, or authors or other contributors to the humanities.
The newly named craters are
- Alver, for Betti Alver (1906-1989), an Estonian writer who rose to prominence in the 1930s, toward the end of Estonian independence and on the eve of World War II. She published her first novel, Mistress in the Wind, in 1927. She also wrote several short stories, poetry, and translations.
- Donelaitis, for Kristijonas Donelaitis (1714-1780), a Lutheran pastor who was considered one of the greatest Lithuanian poets. He is best known for The Seasons, considered the first classic Lithuanian poem. It depicts the everyday life of Lithuanian peasants. His other works include six fables and a tale in verse.
- Flaiano, for Ennio Flaiano (1910-1972), an Italian screenwriter, playwright, novelist, journalist, and drama critic especially noted for his social satires. He became a leading figure of the Italian motion-picture industry after World War II, collaborating with writer Tullio Pinelli on the early films of writer and director Federico Fellini.
- Hurley, for James Francis “Frank” Hurley (1885-1962), an Australian photographer and adventurer. He participated in several expeditions to Antarctica and served as an official photographer with Australian Imperial Forces during both world wars. The troops called him “the mad photographer,” because he took considerable risks to obtain photographs.
- L’Engle, for Madeleine L’Engle (1918-2007), an American writer best known for young-adult fiction, particularly the award-winning A Wrinkle in Time and its sequels: A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, Many Waters, and An Acceptable Time. Her works reflect both her Christian faith and her strong interest in modern science.
- Lovecraft, for Howard Phillips Lovecraft (1890-1937), an American author of horror, fantasy, and science fiction regarded as one of the most influential horror writers of the 20th Century. He popularized “cosmic horror,” the notion that some concepts, entities, or experiences are barely comprehensible to human minds, and those who delve into such topics risk their sanity.
- Petofi, for Sándor Petőfi (1823-1849), a Hungarian poet and liberal revolutionary. He wrote the Nemzeti dal (National Poem), which is said to have inspired the Hungarian Revolution of 1848 that grew into a war for independence from the Austrian Empire.
- Pahinui, for Charles Phillip Kahahawai “Gabby” Pahinui, (1921-1980), a Hawaiian guitar player considered to be one of the most influential slack-key guitar players in the world. His music was a key part of the “Hawaiian Renaissance,” a resurgence of interest in traditional Hawaiian culture during the 1970s.
- Roerich, for Nicholas Roerich (1874-1947), a Russian painter and philosopher who initiated the modern movement for the defense of cultural objects. His most notable achievement was the Roerich Pact of 1935, an international treaty signed by India, the Baltic states, and 22 nations of the Americas (including the United States), affirming that monuments, museums, scientific, artistic, educational, and cultural institutions and their personnel are to be considered neutral in times of war unless put to military use.
Ray Espiritu, a mission operations engineer on the MESSENGER team, submitted Pahinui’s name for consideration. “I wanted to honor the place where I grew up and still call home even after many years away,” he says. “The Pahinui crater contains a possible volcanic vent, and its name may inspire other scientists as they investigate the volcanic processes that helped to create Mercury, just as investigation of Hawaiian volcanoes helps us understand the volcanic processes that shape the Earth we know today.”
These nine newly named craters join 95 other craters named since the MESSENGER spacecraft’s first Mercury flyby in January 2008.
“We are delighted that the IAU has once again assigned formal names to a new set of craters on Mercury,” adds MESSENGER Principal Investigator Sean Solomon of Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. “These names will make it easier to discuss these features in the scientific literature, and they provide a fresh opportunity to honor individuals who have contributed to the cultural richness of our planet.”
More information about the names of features on Mercury and the other objects in the Solar System can be found at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Planetary Nomenclature Web site:http://planetarynames.wr.usgs.gov/index.html.
MESSENGER (MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging) is a NASA-sponsored scientific investigation of the planet Mercury and the first space mission designed to orbit the planet closest to the Sun. The MESSENGER spacecraft launched on August 3, 2004, and entered orbit about Mercury on March 17, 2011 (March 18, 2011 UTC), to begin a yearlong study of its target planet. MESSENGER’s extended mission began on March 18, 2012, and ended one year later. A possible second extended mission is currently under evaluation by NASA. Dr. Sean C. Solomon, the Director of Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, leads the mission as Principal Investigator. The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory built and operates the MESSENGER spacecraft and manages this Discovery-class mission for NASA.
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Today I would like to share with you an idea for the International Women’s day on March 8 2013. If you work in an institution, university, or non-profit related to science, have you taken note of the number of women around you? In astronomy and planetary science, it is not too bad even if it is not perfect, but some “hard” science groups, like physics or computer science, clearly have a low proportion of women in their ranks. I will not elaborate on the reasons for such lack of representation; instead , I propose to focus on the bright side.
Yes, there are more and more women in science, some of them even reaching the highest level of responsibility in their field. One of the issues is that women are not as vocal as the men with a similar job. Is that a secondary effect due to years of being the underdog in a field, hence spending your energy fighting against stereotypes and nasty comments? Or it is simply because after getting the recognition of your peers, women enjoy their work and make the best of it? The main issue is that all kids need examples when they grow up, and highlighting woman scientists could help girls think that they can also achieve their dream and become scientists, engineers, astronauts or a successful business woman.
This long preamble brings me to my idea. On Friday March 8, we should make sure that the women in our institutions enjoy a coffee or a lunch together. Let them talk and exchange their thoughts, and take pictures to show the world that there are women in science, and sharing their experience on Twitter (hashtag #WomenOfScience). They are here, not a majority, but they are an important part of scientific work and discussion.
Almost 12h after the event, it is time to gather my notes on the russian meteor event (#RussianMeteor) and my thoughts on this impact and those which may come soon.
What do we know?
(I collected these pieces of information from numerous of my colleagues. Thanks)
Today February 15 2013 a meteor exploded over the region of Chelyabinsk, Russia near the Southern Ural Mountains at 9:20:26 am LT (03:20:26 UTC). The explosion occurred at an altitude of ~15-20 km and the bolid impact speed was estimated to ~20 km/s with a trajectory oriented from North-East to South-West. Almost instantaneously, several recordings of the meteor impact were available on the web, thanks to the presence of dashcam in most of the russian cars and also because this part of Russia is heavily populated. On a side note, this event puts an end to any romantic Valentin Day dinner that most of the Californian astronomers had planned, since it was still Feb 14 for us.
The explosion, or sonic boom, was recorded by several instruments including an infrasound station from University of Western Ontario, USGS seismometers and the Meteosat-9 geostationnary satellite. The blast caused significant damages in the area (see the video above) and several hundred of people were injured, mostly because the shockwave blew out windows. I read one report of a factory building which roof collapsed. The contrail has this weird dual shape, possibly because the meteoroid split in half shortly after entering in Earth atmosphere.
The entry of the meteor was definitely at low angle, so the blast is due to the sonic boom, not to a direct impact. In other words, the meteor fragmented in Earth atmosphere. The presence of several small impact craters have been mentioned but not confirmed yet. One of them is a hole in a frozen lake and the russian media reported that divers will start tomorrow to search for fragments at the bottom of the lake.
The big picture
There are several back-to-the-envelop estimates of the size and mass of the body but roughly the bolid had a diameter of 15m, a Mass of 7,000 tons (assuming a rocky density of 3 g/cc) . NASA scientists claim that the explosion was due to the largest rock crashing on the planet since Tunguska in 1908 (energy 10-15 MegaTons of TNT equivalent). Peter Brown, from University of Western Ontario determined a total energy of 300 kilotons of TNT equivalent for the Russian meteor, so ~20 Hiroshima bombs. It was larger than the Oct 2009 Indonesia event (50 kTons TNT eq) and Sikhote-Alin fall (Feb 1947, 10 kTons TNT eq). Interestingly based on the statistical study of near-Earth asteroid population, we can estimate that a #RussianMeteor-like event should happen every ~30 years.
The existing (Catalina Sky Survey, Pan STARRS) and future surveys (LSST) are dedicated to search for large impactors. These searches are motivated by the George E. Brown, Jr. Near-Earth Object Survey Act, which calls for NASA to detect 90 percent of NEOs with diameters of 140 meters or greater by 2020. As you can see on the graph above only ~10 percent of those asteroids have been discovered so far. For smaller ~15m asteroids equivalent to the #RussianMeteor, the survey is very incomplete since only 0.1 percent of those asteroids are known.
Should we spend our limited space money to build extremely large facilities to search for these small ~15m asteroids? I don’t think so, since we don’t have yet a complete understanding of the technologies needed to mitigate those events, and considering the current lack of financial resources, we should be more imaginative than building larger aperture telescopes.
Our space budget could be better used on setting an alert system similar to the existing ones for tsunamis, volcanoes, and in some countries earthquakes. They could help save life and could avoid a disaster. What come in my mind first are technologies that we are handling and to which we don’t have a complete control, such as nuclear power plants. A warning of a few minutes could be crucial to avoid major disaster in case of a impact with a >15m asteroid nearby a nuclear facility. The 2012 Fukishima nuclear power plant accident is a vivid example of catastrophic and worldwide ripple effects after a localized natural disaster. Without getting into those extreme cases, our society and its economy rely on transportation (e.g. bridge, trains, commercial jets) that could be affected by 15m-meteor impact, so an early warning system could save a lot of lives and reduce the number of injuries.
Spending a few hundred million of dollars to set up an alert network an array of small telescopes around Earth (in space) should be the new challenge of a civilization aware of the danger coming from space and willing to mitigate it. The Canadian Agency is leading the effort on this topic with the development of NEOSSat, a micro-satellite dedicated to detecting and tracking asteroids and satellites, to be launched on February 25 2013.
Let’s also keep in mind that the cost of this alert system should be shared by most of the nations, since there is no borders from space. It was a bad day for Russia, and also a reminder for us that space is not a friendly place.
An important message
We are asking YOU, the US-based SETI Institute Fans, our followers on Facebook, Twitter and Google+ to help us save science from sequestration. Send a FAX or write a letter and even send a tweet to your members of Congress. Today is the day you should act to save science!
The AAS is a member of a coalition of 3,200 national organizations named NDD United. The coalition has worked actively to communicate to Congress that a balanced approach to deficit reduction is necessary and that significant cuts to the non-defense discretionary (NDD) portion of the federal budget called for by the 2011 balanced budget amendment in the form of a sequester would have wide-ranging and negative impacts. The sequester is scheduled to be implemented on March 1st.
The White House budget office estimates that this $85 billion sequester will require across-the-board cuts of five percent for non-defense discretionary programs and eight percent for defense discretionary programs. With only seven months left in FY 2013, the effective cuts for some programs could even reach nine percent for non-defense and 13 percent for defense. While we cannot predict specific programmatic impacts at this point, these additional cu ts will clearly mean fewer grants, deferred missions, layoffs of contractor personnel, and furloughs of Federal employees.
NDD United delivered a letter to Congress on February 11th (http://publichealthfunding.org/uploads/NDD3200Letter.Final.Feb2013.pdf) and is calling for all members of the Coalition to speak out to their member of Congress via Twitter on Thursday, February 14th.
AAS members may also make contact directly by phone, fax, or letter, if they do not use Twitter or are unfamiliar with its use. Sending email is not an efficient way of communicating with Congress, so do not utilize this communication medium.
What You Can Do Today
The AAS asks all members to take a moment today to contact their members of Congress.
If you use Twitter, use your members’ twitter handle and the sample tweets below to make your voice heard. A slightly outdated but complete list of members’ twitter handles are available here: http://govsm.com/w/House and here: http://govsm.com/w/Senate.
If you’d prefer to make a call, send a FAX or write a letter, use the AAS’ Contacting Congress resource to find your members’ office numbers [ http://aas.org/contacting-congress ]. A brief message indicating that you want your member of Congress to take a balanced approach to deficit reduction and that you are against the sequester will be sufficient. Specifics are not required at this time.
Template & Sample Tweets from the NDD United are appended below. BE SURE TO
CUSTOMIZE THE CONTENT FOR YOUR USE…DO NOT CUT AND PASTE!
We need to invest in education, public safety, research, & infrastructure [ insert member twitter handle]. #NoMoreCuts to these vital areas!
We need to invest in education, public safety, research, & infrastructure @MaxBaucus.
#NoMoreCuts to these vital areas!
Discretionary investments have already been cut by nearly $1.5 trillion. [insert member twitter handle] make sure there are #NoMoreCuts! #sequester
Discretionary investments have already been cut by nearly $1.5 trillion. @MaxBaucus make sure there are #NoMoreCuts! #sequester
Template (links to NDD national sign-on letter)
Remember [insert member twitter handle], over 3200 groups want you to say #NoMoreCuts to discretionary investments! http://bit.ly/11Bzd0t #sequester
Remember @MaxBaucus, over 3200 groups want you to say #NoMoreCuts to discretionary investments! http://bit.ly/11Bzd0t #sequester
#Sequestration means an 5.1% cut to #[insert issue area of concern] funding in 2013. [insert member twitter handle] make sure there are #NoMoreCuts! http://bit.ly/11Bzd0t
#Sequestration means an 5.1% cut to #education funding in 2013. @MaxBaucus make sure there are #NoMoreCuts! http://bit.ly/11Bzd0t
Template (links to AIA jobs loss report)
Discretionary cuts to #[insert issue area of concern] harm the #economy! [insert member twitter handle] say #NoMoreCuts! http://bit.ly/11Bzd0t
Discretionary cuts to #education harm the #economy! [insert member twitter handle] say #NoMoreCuts! http://bit.ly/11Bzd0t