Weekly Digest Jan. 10, 2014

This Week's Top Stories and Announcements

For centuries, eyewitnesses have occasionally reported seeing an inexplicable phenomenon minutes before, during or after an earthquake: strange bright lights in the sky. Scientists may have unlocked the secrets of this mystery - and identified a way predict future earthquakes. https://www.facebook.com/SETIInstitute/posts/10152128415645535

Lori Fenton brings a fascinating run down of this mysterious image. "Two-toned ripples have formed on a steep slope, created by winds rushing downhill. The larger ones are big ripples, with peaks more than 30 meters apart. What makes them unusual, however, is stark contrast between the dark (bluish) upwind side and the light (pale tan) downwind side. How did that happen? It’s because sand blowing downhill preferentially scours the dark upwind side of the ripples, leaving the downwind side untouched."(Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona)https://www.facebook.com/SETIInstitute/posts/10152129492200535

Under normal light, asteroid Vesta looks like a lumpy grey blob. But some minerals reflect certain wavelengths of light more than others and infrared light reveals hidden details. The image above combines data from seven different filters of visible and infrared light. https://www.facebook.com/SETIInstitute/posts/10152135615150535

Could Kepler-62f be a possible water world? The artist's conception depicts Kepler-62f, a super-Earth-size planet in the habitable zone of a star smaller and cooler than the sun, located about 1,200 light-years from Earth in the constellation Lyra. The small shining object seen to the right of Kepler-62f is Kepler-62e. Credit: NASA Ames/JPL-Caltech/Tim Pyle https://www.facebook.com/SETIInstitute/posts/10152135813430535

Alien Planets Revealed: Are we alone—and if not, what might the inhabitants of far-flung worlds look like? Watch the program at http://video.pbs.org/video/2365149642/

Giant sunspot, larger than Earth's diameter, appears on Sun. https://www.facebook.com/SETIInstitute/posts/10152142124630535

Silicon Valley Lecture Series

On Wednesday, January 22, 2014 at 7 pm, Dr. Roger Romani (of Stanford University) will give a free, illustrated, non-technical talk on:

Black Widow Pulsars: Vengeful Star Corpses

in the Smithwick Theater, Foothill College, El Monte Road and Freeway 280, in Los Altos Hills, California 94022.

pulsarThe talk is part of the Silicon Valley Astronomy Lecture Series, now in its 14th year.

NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope has revealed a violent high-energy universe full of stellar explosions, black hole jets, and pulsing stars. These cosmic objects are often faint when observed with visible light, but glow bright with gamma rays. Dr. Romani will describe the quest to discover the true nature of the most puzzling of these gamma-ray sources. Several turn out to be a kind of star corpse called a 'black widow' pulsar. When a massive star dies, it leaves a collapsed remnant called a neutron star. When such a star corpse has a companion star, it can be reanimated by material from the companion. Ironically, the revived corpse then begins to vaporize its mate. Dr. Romani will discuss his group’s discovery that these black widows may be the heaviest neutron stars known, on the edge of final collapse to black holes.

Roger Romani is professor of physics and member of the Kavli Institute at Stanford University. His research focuses on neutron stars and black holes. He enjoys finding new, strange phenomena in the sky and then building theoretical models to explain them. Past recognition for his work include Sloan Foundation and Cottrell Scholars fellowships and the Rossi Prize of the American Astronomical Society.

Foothill College is just off the El Monte Road exit from Freeway 280 in Los Altos. For directions and parking information, see: http://www.foothill.edu/news/transportation.php For a campus map, see: http://www.foothill.edu/news/maps.php The lecture is co-sponsored by:

  • The SETI Institute
  • NASA Ames Research Center
  • The Foothill College Astronomy Program
  • The Astronomical Society of the Pacific.

We expect large crowds, so please arrive a little bit early to find parking. Having exact change or bills for the $3 parking fee helps speed up the line.

Past Silicon Valley Astronomy Lectures are now available in MP3 format at: http://astrosociety.org/silicon-valley-astronomy-lectures/

The site gives instant access to over two dozen past lectures, including Steve Beckwith on the Hubble Telescope’s deepest views, Mike Brown on his discovery of worlds beyond Pluto, Natalie Batalha on the Kepler mission planet discoveries, Chris McKay on what it’s like on Saturn’s moon Titan, Sandra Faber on the origin of galaxies, Alex Filippenko and Roger Blandford on black holes, and Seth Shostak on new approaches to finding extra-terrestrial civilizations.