Canadian Government Unveils a Framework For Future Space Exploration

The Canadian Government unveiled a framework for future Canadian Space Exploration yesterday.  The report entitled "Canada's Space Policy Framework - Launching the Next Generation" 

The announcement comes two months after the release of the Aerospace Review which pointed out the need for a national space policy such as the one just released.

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The five principles of this new policy framework are:

 1. Canadian Interests First
2. Positioning the Private Sector at the Forefront of Space activities
3. Progress Through Partnerships
4. Excellence in Key Capabilities
5. Inspiring Canadians

Funding was not specified but it does look like the Future of Canadian Space Exploration will lie in the private sector and not in the Canadian Space Agency. In a CBC report Canadian astronaut (retired) and MP Marc Garneau criticized the government for not providing enough funding for the space program.

Introductory Astronomy night school course offered in Mississauga

An introduction to observational astronomy night school course will be run starting in February in Mississauga. The eight-week course will be held on Wednesday nights at the Philip Pocock High School on Tomken Road from 7:00 to 9:00 pm. Registration cost: $110

Course Description: What star is that? How can I find the Orion constellation? How can I spot the International Space Station? This program is an introduction to observing and enjoying the night sky. Through multi-media presentations, beginner stargazers will see how the sky changes with the seasons and learn the stars and constellations that are prominent throughout the year. Learn how to observe the planets, double stars, star clusters and galaxies. The selection and use of binoculars and telescopes will be covered. If the sky is clear, class time will be spent outside observing through binoculars and telescopes. We will even take astrophotos with digital cameras!

For more information and to Register go to the Dufferin Peel Catholic District School Board Adult Education - General Interest Course site.

 

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Iconic Earthrise Photo Celebrates 45th Anniversary

Forty-five years ago next week, the first humans left the Earth to orbit the Moon.  Apollo 8 astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders were the first to look down on the Moon from a distance of 100 km and the first to witness the Earth rising over the lunar limb.

 Earthrise as seen by the Apollo 8 astronauts on December 24, 1968.

Earthrise as seen by the Apollo 8 astronauts on December 24, 1968.

The photo of the Earthrise was not planned by the Apollo 8 crew and in fact was an accident. This video below, narrated by Apollo program expert and the author of "A Man On The Moon" Andy Chaikin describes how it happened. 

Will Comet ISON Shine In December?

Comet ISON was discovered over a year ago - and since then, it has been the subject of much discussion and debate. At one point, it was named the "Comet of the Century" as there were predictions that it would be as bright as the Full Moon.  Comets become brighter as they near the Sun - they warm up and the surface ice melts, releasing dust and gasses which form a long, bright comet tail. Comet ISON did not keep up with the predictions and astronomers realized that the comet may not put on a show at all.  

  Comet ISON on Nov. 22, 2013, taken from La Palma in the Canary Islands.

Comet ISON on Nov. 22, 2013, taken from La Palma in the Canary Islands.

The comet will complete a 25,000 year trip this weekend which started far beyond the outer planets and will end as it rounds the Sun.  Passing just over one million kilometres above the Sun's surface, it will be exposed to tremendous temperatures.  Everyone will be watching to see if it survives the trip.

Over the past few weeks, Mississauga astronomers and sky watchers have been rising early to see the comet rise ahead of the Sun in the eastern sky. 

Local avid amateur astronomer Chris Malicki - who is also the Secretary for the Mississauga Centre of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada - Mississauga's local astronomy club - observed Comet ISON and another comet - Comet Lovejoy - from the shore of Lake Ontario at Jack Darling Park on November 14. He wrote:

It was a beautiful clear morning 6 a.m. Nov. 14. Comet Lovejoy, above the sickle of Leo was high up and very easy with 10x50 binoculars. The comet was an oval glow with a hint of a broad short tail. I then drove to Jack Darling Park, to “eclipse point” (where we observed the eclipse on Nov.3)  and easily found Comet ISON between Spica and gamma Virginis. ISON was much smaller than Lovejoy but had quite a brighter nucleus – It reminded me of a globular cluster – bright, fuzzy, no tail. It was a bit brighter than the 6.26 mg star nearby, so I estimate ISON at mag 6. Happy to see 2 new comets in one morning.

 After Comet ISON swings around the Sun on November 30, it should appear again in the early morning sky as it heads back on its long journey. There are some concerns that it may break up and not be visible. So astronomers will be watching the comet closely this weekend. There are NASA spacecraft in space which constantly observe the Sun. These spacecraft should provide a good view of the comet as it swings around the Sun.

If Comet ISON survives the trip, comet watchers in Mississauga will have a good opportunity to view the comet as it rises in the east over the lake. See the diagram below for positions of the comet and watch this blog for updates.  

 Comet ISON should be visible in the early morning sky just before dawn. Courtesy Sky and Telescope.

Comet ISON should be visible in the early morning sky just before dawn. Courtesy Sky and Telescope.

What's That Star Called?

The Pleiades

Actually, this time it’s a bunch of stars. You’ve probably noticed them before and you may know their name – the Pleiades or seven sisters. It’s a tight grouping of stars visible in the winter sky. We can currently see them rising in the east after sunset. They aren’t spectacularly bright, but striking enough to have made their mark in many cultures’ skylore.

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The Pleiades are up by sunset, but won’t be easily spotted until after 7:00 or so at which time they’ll be more than the length of one fist held at the end of your arm above the horizon. On the nights of the 16th, 17th and 18th of November, the Moon passes the Pleiades, helping guide your eye towards them.

Check Skynews.ca for a detailed chart.

  The November full Moon is found in Taurus, near 1st-magnitude star Aldebaran. Courtesy Skynews.ca

The November full Moon is found in Taurus, near 1st-magnitude star Aldebaran. Courtesy Skynews.ca

Look to see at least 5 or 6 stars. Under really darks skies and with good eyesight, you can see many more stars there. A simple pair of binoculars, even small ones, will help reveal that there are hundreds of stars associated with the Pleiades.

Why? Well, these stars are connected together by gravity. Literally “sisters,” the stars formed together out of the same cloud of gas and dust. In fact, in long exposure photographs, the dust is still visible, reflecting light from the nearby stars tinting the entire cluster blue.

We explored how stars die looking at nearby Aldebaran, almost directly underneath the Pleiades in the evening sky. The Seven Sisters show us the opposite end of stellar life. These are young stars. Stars form inside giant clouds of gas and dust called nebulae.

Over time nearby stellar activity can perturb the gas in the cloud. Gravity then causes it to collapse and pull itself into a round ball. The gas at the centre of the ball becomes very compressed and hot, so much so that eventually, the atoms in the gas are stripped of their electrons, leaving only the atomic nuclei behind.

Having a positive charge, the nuclei naturally repel each other. But get them moving fast enough and they can overcome this repulsion and slam into one another forming heavier nuclei and releasing energy that we see as light. These nuclear reactions are what power a star, giving it the energy to fight against the gravitational collapse.

As all of this is going on, you can imagine that it creates even more disturbances in the nebula, triggering more collapsing gas and forming more stars. In other words, stars tend to form in groups, families if you like.

Long before this was determined by telescoping observation, people around the world admired this star cluster. The Seven Sisters were the seven daughters of Atlas the Titan who held up the sky and Pleione, a sea-nymph. As Atlas was otherwise occupied, many suitors pursued the sisters, including Orion the Hunter.

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The Inuit tell a story of pack of dogs chasing a bear. There are many stories from North American Indigenous groups about the stars being a group of playmates that wandered either wandered off, did not do their chores or were abandoned by the tribe. In China, the cluster represents the hairy head of the White Tiger of the West, one of the cardinal “four symbols” of the Chinese sky.

 But perhaps most well-known, at least to car drivers, is the Japanese name for this stellar group -- Subaru, meaning “gathering together.” This name was chosen to mark the 5 companies that merged to form it.

Astronomy Picture of the Day gorgeous photo of the Pleiades, also known as M45:

For a comprehensive site about the Pleiades, check out this page from the Arecibo Telescope’s website.

To see the Pleiades in many different wavelengths of light, go to Cool Cosmos