Monday, February 4, 2008

Tonight's the night: "across the Universe" ...

Tonight at 0:00 UTC (7 p.m. EST, 1 a.m. CET) NASA's Deep Space Network will broadcast a Beatles song towards Polaris - and fans may join in by playing "Across the Universe" simultaneously around the world. You can find it in many incarnations on YouTube, e.g. with space clips, with artwork or in an alternate recording. The reason for this (kind of) 'Active SETI' today are no fewer than five anniversaries:
  • 40 years ago (to the day) the song was recorded at Abbey Road studios, although it was released only almost two years later.

  • 45 years ago the Deep Space Network was established formally (in a memo from the JPL director dated 24 Dec. 1963) although a forerunner had been around since Jan. 1958 and we thus could also celebrate 50 years of DSN this year.

  • 50 years ago the Beatles approached their final lineup when Harrison watched Lennon & McCartney perform on 6 Feb. 1958 and soon joined them (Starr only came to the band in 1962).

  • 50 years ago Explorer 1 was launched on 31 Jan. 1958 and the U.S. finally began to catch up in the space race, following the two Soviet Sputniks of 1957.

  • 50 years ago NASA was created (legislation signed by Eisenhower on 27 June 1958, actual creation on 1 October 1958) out of NACA.
The celebratory Beatles broadcast has already achieved one goal: lots of media attention for NASA. Incidentally the Beatles are to go where others have gone before: namely Bob Marley in 1999! And there is actually a pretty heated debate going on whether mankind should broadcast into space at all, with esp. one Russian heavily in favor and one American heavily against it.

In other news pictures of this morning's Venus/Jupiter/Moon trio have come in from around the world, with the Moon's quick eastward progress evident e.g. by comparing views from Germany and Australia many hours earlier - or Germany again a full day earlier.

There are new orbital elements for comet Chen-Gao (not much change), a picture from Feb. 3rd - and more details about the discoverers, courtesy of the German Fachgruppe Kometen: the discoverers are true amateur astronomers, 29 and 34 years old. Gao is a physics teacher in Urumqi and owns and operates the 7 cm telescope on nearby Mt. Shanshan, Chen helps analyzing the images. Gao's observatory is named after Xingming Zhou, a deceased fellow amateur who was a proficient SOHO comet hunter.

Finally the report about an asteroid with the shortest period of all was in error and based on an orbital arc way too short: the major axis is much larger (it's object K08C00M: a=1.6 AU) as others had suspected all along.

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