Posts Tagged ‘Starry Night 6’

By Mike Hubbartt, © Copyright 2010, All Rights Reserved.

I’ve been an amateur astronomer many years, and my schools taught that our solar system has 9 planets. Back in 2005, CalTech Professor Mike Brown discovered Eris, a Pluto-sized planet 9 billion miles from the sun (twice as far away as Pluto) and about the same size as Pluto. This discovery raised the issue of the definition to accurately describe planets. The International Astronomical Union (IAU) met in 2006 and decided the criteria that determines if a body is a planet (original text available from the IAU website) is:

A celestial body that (a) is in orbit around the Sun, (b) has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape, and (c) has cleared the neighbourhood around its orbit.

In the words of the IAU, Pluto and Eris fail to qualify as planets and so they are now classified as dwarf planets. I went to the Wolfram Alpha website and did a search on dwarf planets and received a list of 5 that includes Pluto:

There is a lot more information about the dwarf planets than is shown in this screen capture. Stop by the Wolfram site and check it out here. You might also notice that 1 Ceres, formerly viewed an asteroid in the asteroid belt, is now listed as a dwarf planet. I can handle promotions better than demotions.

Why rehash old news? Because there was a new article by Mike Wall that was published yesterday at Yahoo News (see it here) that asks if the decision to classify Pluto as a dwarf planet is correct based on information we have today. A nice piece (also by Mike Wall) provides new information on Eris’s size and it is available at Space.com’s website.

Personally, I think we should reclassify Eris and Pluto as planets. Maybe there are more Pluto-sized bodies further out in the Kuiper Belt. So what? If we can reclassify an asteroid in the asteroid belt, why can’t we add more planets when they are discovered?

What do you think? Should Pluto be returned to the list of planets in our solar system? Chime in if you have an opinion.

Here is a picture of Pluto as it would appear if you were on Charon, a nearby moon:

By Mike Hubbartt, © Copyright 2010, All Rights Reserved.

Jupiter Facts:

  • Location: 5th planet from the sun
  • Size: largest planet in our solar system
  • Orbit: 5.2 AU
  • Orbital Period: 11.86 Julian Years *
  • Average Distance from Earth: 5.26 AUs *
  • Diameter: 142,984 km
  • Discovered: 1610 by Galileo
  • Atmosphere: 90% Hydrogen, 10% helium
  • Interesting facts: visited by Pioneer 10&11, Voyager 1&2, Ulysses
  • Total Number of moons: 63 (Metis, Adrastea, Amalthea, Thebe, Io, Europa, Ganymede, Callisto, Themisto, Leda, Himalia, Lysithea, Elara, S/2000 J11, S/2003 J12, Carpo, Euporie, S/2003 J3, S/2003 J18, Orthosie, Euanthe, Harpalyke, Praxidike, Thyone, S/2003 J16, Iocaste, Mneme, Hermippe, Thelxinoe, Helike, Ananke, S/2003 J15, Eurydome, Arche, Herse, Pasithee, S/2003 J10, Chaldene, Isonoe, Erinome, Kale, Aitne, Taygete, S/2003 J9, Carme, Sponde, Megaclite, S/2003 J5, S/2003 J19, S/2003 J23, Kalyke, Kore, Pasiphae. Eukelade, S/2003 J4, Sinope, Hegemone, Aoede, Kallichore, Autonoe, Callirrhoe, Cyllene, and S/2003 J2)
  • Click here for Wolfram|Alpha data on Jupiter

* = Courtesy of Wolfram Astronomy Assistant

I’ve been an amateur astronomer all my life, and I’ve been fortunate to use some of the best non-professional astronomy packages on a variety of platforms. Two of my favorite Windows/Mac astronomy applications are Starry Night Pro 6.x and Voyager 4.x. I’ve reviewed Starry Night for several UK magazines – MacWorld and Software Latest – and Ted Bade recently reviewed the Voyager 4.5.7 software.

This afternoon I ran Starry Night on my older G5 iMac and, as always, it showed the daily events for today. There were four, so I selected the first that was of Europa in transition around Jupiter. I liked it well enough to take a moment to grab an image so I could share it with you readers. Jupiter is my second favorite planet in the solar system, not because of the size but because of turbulent gases that make up the atmosphere and the many moons that surround it. Europa, Ganymede, Callisto, Io, and a bunch more.

Jupiter as Seen with Software

Europa transitions Jupiter - 10-16-2010

The shadow of tiny Europa on Jupiter

After seeing the shadow of tiny Europa on Jupiter, it might be a good idea to see how Jupiter appears to someone on Europa:

Jupiter as it appears from Io, the closest of the large moons of Jupiter:

Finally, Jupiter as it is seen on Ganymede:

It is so easy to change viewing locations in Starry Night. Just use the Options/Viewing Locations menu option and select the location to use for home, then press the Go to Location button. Simple.

Now an image of Jupiter while in Starry Night’s Spaceship mode (a fun way to play space explorer), on course for Jupiter:

The keyboard shortcuts are in the upper left area of the screen, while speed/distance/acceleration are by your target. I tried the Captain Sheridan thing (diving into the Jupiter atmosphere like he did to avoid the Shadow ship in ‘Messages from Earth’ Season 3 of Babylon 5), but hitting the atmosphere of Jupiter just puts you on the other side. Bummer! I should also add that some of the shortcuts (Roll, Pitch, and Yaw) don’t do me a lot of good on my Macbook, but I still love this feature of Starry Night.

Starry Night always makes my top 10 list for students of any age, and I can’t wait until they release the next major update. Please take the time to look over the various versions of this software at the website of Imaginova. And also take time to check out Carina Software’s site – the company that developed Voyager. Carina’s mobile versions of their products were known as Carina Mobile, but are now known as SkySafari and SkyFi and are available here.

Jupiter Moons as Seen by Probes

1. IO

Check out the coolest picture ever taken from a Earth vessel: an erupting volcano on distant Io:

Image courtesy NASA

This is a new image of IO shows incredible surface details. I find it as impressive as the erupting volcano image above.

Image courtesy NASA

2. Europa – from ZDNet 5/16/2011

Europa’s surface does not look inviting, at least if one planned to explore it on foot.

Image courtesy NASA

3. Ganymede – from ZDNet 5-16-2011

When I was young, I read Robert Heinlein’s ‘Farmer in the Sky’, a novel about humanity colonizing Ganymede. Heinlein didn’t have the images and scientific knowledge we possess of Jupiter today, but he wrote an interesting tale how we might live there.  This is an image taken on the last Jupiter mission by Galileo.

Image courtesy NASA.

4. Callisto – from ZDNet 5/16/2011

The surface of Callisto appears as inviting as that of our moon, however the view of nearby Jupiter would be impressive.

Image courtesy NASA

Astronomy is interesting, and while it is fun to catch shows on the science channel, the computer is the ideal media to really get into the subject. There are a number of good open source astronomy packages like Celestina and WorldWideTelescope.org that are available for cash-strapped people that are interested but unable to afford the cash outlay for more software.

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Updates

6-24-2011 – Added Orbital Period, Average Distance from Earth information.

5-16-2011 – Added 3 new images of Jupiter moons taken by Galileo.

2-14-2011  – Added names of all moons.

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And for something completely different…

On an aside, I first tried the Starry Night software because my favorite painting of all time is Van Gogh’s Starry Night, which was the inspiration for Don McLean’s song called “Vincent”, which can be seen below:

Take care and be well.
Mike