It’s an astronomical delight today! While London is blanketed in white, and I think fondly of the last time I actually saw the stars, all kinds of space-related science is in the news.
Let’s start locally, for me at least! Imperial College researchers, operating in the Australian desert, have detected a second meteorite using a system of slow-speed cameras which capture entire-sky images. They shoot using special film cameras – digital is unsuitable for such long exposures, as the sensors give out – and analyse the film every six weeks for anomalous features.
In this image, the researchers spotted a streak, analysed its trajectory, then went out and found the space rock which caused it! I think that’s pretty incredible (and makes me feel smug about buying a film camera). They’ve replicated the feat again this year. While it’s very cool, there’s also a very practical reason for it: fresh meteorites are hard to find, and it’s much more cost-effective to collect and analyse them once they hit the ground than going to collect them in space, as NASA intends!
Moving swiftly along… it wouldn’t be space without lasers, right? Check out this 360-degree short clip of a night with a paranal laser-guided telescope…
No, lasers don’t actually bend. That’s the effect of the fisheye camera. Quite unusual though to see the whole sky moving like that! We don’t just shoot lasers into space, though. Spacecraft can fire them back down to Earth, collecting all kinds of information. This next story was a little unexpected though, I’ll admit.
Idaho University scientists are using a laser fired from space to obtain information about woodlands across large areas. By analysing the information, such as vegetation density and height. These, in turn, approximate the habitat complexity and status of the forest. It’s an innovative technique which only provides generalised results, but can help to narrow down the areas of the greatest value for future, more detailed studies. Their particular area of interest is birds, many of which are distributed very closely according to favourable habitat types.
Finally, stepping way outside the asteroid belt, the 33-year-old space probe Voyager is coming close to the edge of the Solar System. Click through the link for a more detailed explanation of what that means; I’m astounded that the probe’s still transmitting useful information even though it’s been hurtling through space at 17km/s for 10 years longer than I’ve even been alive! They really don’t build ’em like they used to (I’m looking at you, Hubble!).