It appears Jupiter took one for the team. A big buzz among astronomical circles last week was the appearance of a new large spot on the planet Jupiter. It has all the hallmarks of a large asteroid strike. The last time it was struck by something this big was in 1994 when fragments of the comet Shoemaker-Levy9 put on quite a show. This might lead some to wonder if the Earth could soon be struck by a massive asteroid, comet, or other space object. The odds are slim but many people are in constant vigilance looking for the potential earth-killer. Thankfully, Jupiter (and the sun) are so massive that they collect a lot of solar system debris and thus have taken many “for the team” (the other planets).
Keeping track of asteroids and comets can be handled by small to medium sized telescopes. For looking deeper into the universe and getting higher resolution pictures we need to think big, much bigger. That is why a new 30 meter telescope (TMT) is being built in Hawaii. Once completed, the TMT will be the largest ground-based optical telescope ever built. For reference, 30 meters in diameter is nearly 100 feet. Think of the biggest RV you have ever seen (probably close to 50 feet) and then double that to get an idea of the size of this telescope. It is too bad we still do not have the capability to build something that big in space. Thu Hubble Space Telescope has a mirror only 2.4 meters in diameter and the new JWT (yet to be launched) is only 6.5 meters in diameter. The problem with ground-based telescopes is that the atmosphere gets in the way. Astronomers have done a great job using software techniques to filter out atmospheric distortions but nothing beat the vacuum of space.
On the human spaceflight front, I am rather disconcerted that the X-prize was won 5 years ago. I can’t believe it was that long ago. Here we are 5 years later and Virgin Galactic has not yet sent tourists into space (or at least the edge of space). This article paints an even more depressing picture about private spaceflight. I was unaware of how fast a vehicle has to travel in order to reach orbit – Mach 25. Or at least I was unaware of how far we have yet to go with private ships in order to reach orbit. SpaceShipOne – which won the X-prize – only travels Mach 3! Ouch. It looks like we will have to rely on ballistic launches for some time to come. At least until scramjets can be perfected.
So trips to the moon and Mars are still a long way off. I guess that gives future astronauts plenty of time to prepare and think about all the challenges regarding long-duration space flight. One thing future travelers to Mars will need is food and it might be possible to bring some seeds along with the hopes of growing food on Mars. That would be superior to bringing it all along on the trip and might allow for a longer stay on the red planet. The only problem I can see in environmentalist objections. Of course, if they are worried about “contaminating” Mars, then they would probably oppose any human flight what-so-ever to any other planet.
Growing food here on earth in Northcentral Wisconsin has gotten a little easier recently because of nearly adequate rainfall. We are still in a drought but things are getting slightly better. After dry weather today and tomorrow, it looks like another chance of rain will develop on Thursday. Saturday could also be a little wet, so be prepared if you have any outdoor plans.
Increasing rain in the summer generally means an increased chance of severe weather and we experienced a bit of that yesterday in the far southern part of the viewing area. It was a rare severe weather event in a very uneventful severe weather season. A possible tornado was reported in Adams county. This report has yet to be confirmed by survey teams. The NWS in La Crosse did confirm a tornado touchdown in Crawford county – the first one in that county of the state since 1987. See most of the severe weather reports here.
Have a fine Tuesday! Meteorologist Justin Loew.