Astronomy News in the Headlines
NASA’s Cassini spacecraft discovered a surprising organic brew erupting in geyser-like fashion from Saturn’s moon Enceladus during a close flyby on March 12. Scientists are stunned that this tiny moon is so active, “hot” and teeming with water vapor and organic chemicals.
“Enceladus has got warmth, water and organic chemicals, some of the essential building blocks needed for life,” said Dennis Matson, Cassini project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “We have quite a recipe for life on our hands, but we have yet to find the final ingredient, liquid water, but Enceladus is only whetting our appetites for more.”
A tablet in the British Museum’s cuneiform clay tablet collection has been found to be a Sumerian night log book that records the observation of the asteroid that hit Köfels in Austria. These notes allow the night sky to be identified as in the early morning of 29th June 3123 BC and the trajectory can be determined that of an Aten class asteroid, a little over one kilometre in diameter, that was in a resonant orbit with the earth.
Researchers: Asteroid Destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah”)
The tablet, found by Henry Layard in the remains of the library in the royal place at Nineveh in the mid-19th century, is thought to be a 700 B.C. copy of notes made by a Sumerian astronomer watching the night sky.
He referred to the asteroid as a “white stone bowl approaching” and recorded it as it “vigorously swept along.”
Using computers to recreate the night sky thousands of years ago, scientists have pinpointed his sighting to shortly before dawn on June 29 in the year 3123 B.C.
About half the symbols on the tablet have survived and half of those refer to the asteroid. The other symbols record the positions of clouds and constellations. In the past 150 years scientists have made five unsuccessful attempts to translate the tablet.
(Also in Daily Galaxy April 1, 2008) as:
The tablet has drawings of constellations inscribed on to it, as well as constellation names. But with modern technology allowing researchers to go back in time to view the night sky on any given day, time or year, a more precise indication of what the tablet has been saying all these years has given proof to the Köfels landslide mystery.
According to the researchers, it refers to the night sky observations of an astronomer, taken just before dawn on the 29th of June, 3132 BC (by the Julian calendar).
Half of the tablet records planet positions – which allowed the researchers to track the date so precisely – as well as cloud cover; attributes which were similar from night to night. However this particular tablet also records the existence of a large object, large enough to be noted while in space. The astronomer/s made an accurate note of its trajectory relative to the stars.
With an error better than one degree, these measurements match up with an asteroid that would soon impact at Köfels.
The ancient observations hint towards the asteroid being approximately one kilometer in diameter, with an Aten type orbit around the Sun (a class of asteroid that orbit close to the earth that is resonant with the Earth’s orbit).
However the existence of this not only proves an asteroid impact, but it explains why there is no impact crater. The asteroid came in at a very low angle of only six degrees, and subsequently clipped a mountain called Gamskogel above the town of Längenfeld, 11 kilometres from Köfels. Thus, the asteroid exploded before it reached its final impact point, travelling the last stretch as a giant fireball about five kilometers in diameter; the same size as the landslide.
Using US Very Large Array (VLA) and the UK Jodrell Bank radio telescopes, they are observing the birth process of an entirely new planet.
A large disc of material orbiting HL Tau, a Tauran star 500 light years from us, was recently perturbed by the flyby of XZ Tau – another Taurus-constellation star with a significantly more Xtreme set of initials. Researchers from the Edinburgh Institute of Astronomy theorize that this near miss could have disturbed a region of the disk, causing it to begin gravitationally collapsing. And if there’s one thing the existence of our world and everything we see in the sky ever proves, it’s that once a clump of matter starts to collapse it tends to keep going.