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Samantha Rolfe: Astronomy and Astrobiology


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Podcast: West Herts Drive Time Science Correspondent 03/02/2015

Radio Verulam Science Feature 03/02/2015

Podcast MP3: http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/WestHertsDrivetimeWithDannySmith/~5/h46HRgMNnn0/scifeat20150203.mp3

NEWS:

Waterproof surfaces

A team from the University of Rochester in New York have reported a method of creating waterproof surfaces that could be used to produce easily maintained and hygienic devices. Material would not suffer from rust or icing up in the cold weather.

The test materials that were used are platinum, titanium and brass. The material “self-cleans” as dust is drawn away with water droplets as they hit the surface.

Previously, waterproofing surfaces has relied on coating with another substance, which fundamentally changing the surface properties of the metal.

The method they have used utilises rapid pulses of high powered lasers etching grooves 0.1 mm apart into the surface. Water droplets bounce off the surface if dropped from a short distance and any water sitting on the surface will slide off if the surface is tilted by approximately 4 degrees. A popular hydrophobic material, Teflon, often used on non-stick frying pans for example, has to be tilted to around 70 degrees before water will slide away.

However, as with many new techniques, it is currently expensive and time consuming to produce these materials. It takes approximately one hour to create one square inch.

There are many other ways to create hydrophobic structures, including coating, chemical etching and electron beams, which are more straightforward.

Source and Video: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-30915266

Fly by: Pluto

The spacecraft New Horizons is nearing its encounter with Pluto. Launched in 2006, the craft will fly by Pluto in July, but is powering up its systems in preparation, with some images expected back by tomorrow (Tuesday 27th Jan) at the latest. It will be performing correction manoeuvres to make sure the instruments on board will be pointing in the correct direction when it makes its closest approach on 14th July 2015, approximately 11:50 GMT about 13,695 km from the surface. As New Horizons approaches it will be travelling around 14 km s-1, and all the instruments work at different approach distances to get data, so an elaborate observation schedule is planned.

Pluto is one of the “classical” planets, the last to be visited by a space probe. We have been able to remotely observe it using instruments like the Hubble Space Telescope, which has distinguished ‘light’ and ‘dark’ features.

In the same year that New Horizons was launched, the debate about the classification of planetary bodies culminated with the declassification of Pluto as a planet and reclassified as a Dwarf Planet. To be classified as a planet, an object must:

  1. Be in orbit around the Sun.
  2. Be massive enough to be a sphere by its own gravitational force. More specifically, its own gravity should pull it into a shape of hydrostatic equilibrium.
  3. Have cleared the neighbourhood around its orbit.

The Kuiper Belt is thought to contain many thousands of Pluto-like objects, possibly some that are similar in size to Mars and Earth.

Sources: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-30954673

http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/newhorizons/main/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pluto#Classification

Scientist of the Month

Clyde Tombaugh (4th Feb 1906 – 17th Jan 1997, 90)

Built his own telescopes, grinding the lenses and mirrors himself. He drew Jupiter and Mars, which earned him a job at Lowell Observatory.

He was given the task of search for Planet X, a planet hypothesised by Percival Lowell beyond the orbit of Neptune.

During WWII he taught navigation to naval personnel at Northern Arizona University.

He discovered nearly 800 asteroids, mostly as a by-product during his search for Pluto and other celestial objects.

He also was involved in the search for Near-Earth Objects.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clyde_Tombaugh

Night Sky This Month

Venus, Mars and Jupiter are all prominent in the night sky this month. Jupiter rises in the east and is available for observing throughout the night. Mars and Venus are setting in the west, and on the 20th Feb will have a fabulous conjunction with the crescent Moon at nightfall on the western horizon.

Full Moon 3rd Feb

Jupiter is at opposition (closest approach to Earth) on 6th Feb, offering the perfect opportunity to view and photograph the planet. Binoculars offer the opportunity to see the four largest moons of Jupiter and a small to medium telescope will show the cloud bands and Great Red Spot.

Sources: http://earthsky.org/tonight/three-planets-come-out-at-nightfall-on-february-evenings

http://www.seasky.org/astronomy/astronomy-calendar-current.html

With thanks to Danny Smith and all the Drive Time Team.

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West Herts Drive Time Science Feature Blog Post: http://westhertsdrivetime.radioverulam.com/2015/02/amazing-science-with-sam-rolfe.html

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