FWD: [UASR] Space Facts
- Posted by : "Mark A. LeCuyer" <randydan@...>
August 30, 1999
Halley's Comet is the most famous example of a relatively short-period
comet, returning on an average of once every 76 years and traveling
from beyond Neptune to within Venus' orbit. Confirmed sightings go
back to 240 B.C.
If you were born after September 1989, this is the first weekend in
your lifetime that there are no humans in space. (August 27, 1999)
The first spacecraft to land on the moon was the Soviet Luna 2 probe.
Also known as Lunik 2, it was launched on September 12, 1959. After 33
hours of flight, radio signals stopped, indicating that the probe had
hit the lunar surface.
The Mercury space capsules of the early 1960s carried one astronaut
each. Their successors, the Gemini capsules, carried two astronauts --
and thus were named after the mythological Gemini twins.
Neptune's largest moon, Triton, was discovered in October, 1846 by
William Lassell, a Liverpool brewer who had made a fortune supplying
beer to British sailors. Lassell was an amateur astronomer renowned
for building impressive telescopes. He found the satellite around
Neptune just weeks after the discovery of the planet itself.
Seven moons in the Solar System are larger than the planet Pluto,
which has a diameter of just 1,438 miles. Four Jovian satellites --
Ganymede, Callisto, Io and Europa outdo Pluto for size. So does
Saturn's largest moon Titan, Triton, which circles Neptune, and
Before 1977, Saturn was the only planet in the solar system known to
have rings. In March of that year, astronomers detected rings around
Uranus while observing the planet as it passed in front of a star. Two
years later, the Voyager spacecraft returned images of rings around
Jupiter, showing that rings around giant planets are a common
Jupiter has an intricate ring system, but its rings are much smaller
and fainter than the brilliant disks orbiting Saturn. The rings were
not discovered until the Voyager probes passed Jupiter in 1979.
Scientists believe the swirling dusty rings were formed by material
kicked up over eons by interplanetary meteoroids smashing into
Jupiter's four small inner moons.
Prior to 1960, the weather forecast on the evening news was pretty
flat--no fancy satellite images of hurricanes and advancing storm
fronts. Then, in April 1960, the first substantial weather-observing
satellite was launched. Named TIROS, an acronym for Television and
Infrared Observational Satellite, the orbiter photographed cloud cover
and developing storms, the staple images of TV weather news.
Aug. 17, 1969 -- Speaking on "Face the Nation," Neil Armstrong said:
"I am quite certain that goals of the Mars variety are within our
range, should we choose... that investment of our national resources."
Armstrong thought it was "well within our capability" to prepare a
program "to send astronauts to Mars - in 1981." Astronaut Mike Collins
added: "I don't think 1981 is too soon".
The Cassini spacecraft will pass within 725 miles of the Earth on
Tuesday. It was launched in 1997 on a round-about trip that will take
it past Jupiter next year, and finally to Saturn in 2004.
Mars is smaller than Earth, but it rotates more slowly, making a
Martian day only 41 minutes longer than an Earth day. The Martian year
is 687 Earth days, making each season twice as long as Earth's.
Between 1960 and 1988, the Soviet Union built 17 spacecraft to send to
Mars. Only four reached their destination to return useful
information. Failed launches condemned five of the missions. The rest
of the probes missed their target or were lost when communications
links or software failed. Even one of the successful missions, which
put a craft into Mars orbit, was marred by disaster when an
acompanying lander crashed into the surface.
Jupiter's moon Io is the most volcanically active object in the solar
system. Volcanos on Io eject material at speeds up to 2,000 m.p.h.,
more than 20 times the speed of material erupting from volcanoes on
The existence of Neptune was predicted as early as 1821 by astronomers
who detected peculiar movement in the orbit of Uranus. They guessed
that the orbit was being perturbed by the gravitation of an
even-more-distant unknown planet. Within 25 years, astronomers had
calculated where the planet should be, and Neptune was found there in
Helios, the ancient Greek god of the sun, was believed to rise every
morning from the sea in the east and drive his luminous chariot across
the daytime sky. His name is the origin of much solar vocabulary we
use today, such as heliosphere (the magnetized shell of hot plasma
around the sun) and heliopause (the outer limits of the solar system
where the solar wind meets the interstellar gas).
Our solar system is orbiting near the outside of the Milky Way galaxy.
It takes about 220 million years for the Sun to complete one loop
around the center of the galaxy.
Jupiter, the largest planet in the solar system, is two and a half
times more massive than the rest of the planets combined, and about
318 times more massive than Earth. Jupiter's 88,000-mile diameter is
11 times larger than Earth's.
An angstrom, the unit of length astronomers commonly use to measure
the wavelength of light, is equal to one ten-millionth of a
millimeter. Light visible to the human eye has wavelengths between
about 4,000 and 8,000 angstroms.
The Voyager 2 Spacecraft, launched from Cape Canaveral in 1977 on a
mission to fly by Jupiter and Saturn, became the first spacecraft to
observe Neptune when it passed that planet in 1989. The spacecraft is
now leaving the solar system, but continues to send back data. It is
more than 5.3 billion miles from Earth, and has traveled a total
distance of more than 7.5 billion miles since launch.
The rings of Saturn were first observed by Galileo in 1610.
The nearest star, Proxima Centauri, is 4.5 light years, or 25 trillion
miles from Earth.
Mars has two tiny moons, Phobos and Deimos. The potato-shaped
satellites are each less than 20 miles long and are pocked with
During a day on Mercury, the planet's distance from the Sun varies
between 35 million and 43 million miles. Viewed from Mercury the Sun
would increase and then decrease in size, but the change would be
difficult to observe, as a day on the planet lasts 156 Earth days.
Clouds of poisonous sulfuric acid floating in Venus' carbon dioxide
atmosphere reflect light so well that the planet is one of our night
sky�s most brilliant objects.
The first U.S. spacecraft, Explorer I, was launched January 31, 1958
by a modified army Jupiter C rocket. It collected data leading to the
discovery of the Van Allen radiation belts, and demonstrated that
micrometorites would not necessarily thwart space travel.
So you've got dust bunnies? They could be coming from space. More than
3,000 tons of dusty material from space falls to Earth every day.
It takes 8 1/4 minutes for light to reach Earth from the Sun.
In 160 A.D., a Greek named Lucian of Samosata wrote one of the first
recorded tales of a lunar voyage. In the story, the hero�s sailing
ship is caught by a terrible whirlwind and sent on an eight-day
journey to the Moon.
The first liquid-propellant rocket was launched March 16, 1926 by
space-travel visionary Robert Goddard. Fueled by a mixture of liquid
oxygen and gasoline, Goddard�s rocket fired 41 feet into the air above
his Aunt Effie�s cabbage plot in Auburn, Mass.
The largest of the planets, Jupiter, has two and a half times more
mass than all the other planets together.
Alien Astronomer - Exploring Our Universe
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