It will take 12 more years before Jupiter gets this close to Earth on Sep. 20

NASA website recently published the page "Closest Encounter with Jupiter until 2022", which tells us that on the night of September 20 - 21 Jupiter will shine much brighter than usual as it will be 75 million kilometers closer than in past encounters.

So, if you are lucky enough to have a clear sky on the night of September 20, it would be a great opportunity to observe Jupiter, if possible with a telescope so that you can directly observe features like the two red spots "kissing" or notice the stripe that disappeared in May (details in the post: "Jupiter Loses a Stripe and NASA is Mystified") which is still "missing".

Portion of Alan Friedman's complete photo of Jupiter & Io,
taken on Aug. 30, 2010

I would also like to recommend the website that Mr. Friedman has, called avertedimagination.com. He has taken beautiful pictures of the planets and the solar system, using a 10" telescope from his home in Buffalo, N.Y. Some of these photos have been published in NASA pages, which is how I found about him and his site.

Given that tonight has been clear, I hope tomorrow our luck continues so that we can have a chance to see Jupiter even through all the city lights. Clear skies for everyone on this close encounter with Jupiter!


Another Flash Detected on Jupiter - Aug. 20, 2010

In an earlier note on this blog (see "Huge Flash of Light on Jupiter") I mentioned an event in Jupiter that occurred on June 3, where an Australian amateur astronomer, Anthony Wesley, detected a flash on the planet, which lasted roughly two and a half seconds (this was corroborated by other observations).

And now, only a month and a half later, a similar event has been reported. This one occurred on August 20, when there was another brief flash of light seen in Jupiter. This time it was a Japanese amateur astronomer, Masayuki Tachikawa, who detected the flash, which lasted only 1.5 seconds. The photo taken by another Japanese amateur astronomer, Aoki Kazuo, from this incident, confirming the initial observation, follows:

Image recorded by Aoki Kazuo of Tokyo, Japan on Aug. 20, 2010

A very short video of the event (lasting only a second and a half, where you can easily see the flash) can be accessed here (this is the same video that appears on the NASA site mentioned below).

You can access a full report about these impacts on Jupiter on the page: "Fireballs Light Up Jupiter", published by NASA. At the end of that page you will find links to other articles related to the same subject, one of which is the report about an earlier and more spectacular impact that occurred on July 19, 2009.

The collision that was detected last year was caused by an object much larger than the two objects that crashed into Jupiter this summer, because unlike them, in 2009 the impact did leave a mark on the planet which was detected at least several days later by other telescopes. NASA has the page: "What Hit Jupiter?" where you can access very detailed information about it. (It is important to note that on that occasion the Australian Anthony Wesley was again the first person who observed the effects of impact, but not the event itself, which went unnoticed in the world).

The best image of the aftermath left by the impact of 2009 was taken by the Hubble telescope. Although the Hubble was working on something else, it was decided that the event was too important not to be observed in depth by it. As expected, the reliable Hubble did not disappoint with its results, as can be seen below.

Hubble Space Telescope image of impact aftermath in Jupiter - July 23, 2009

An interesting point to me is that these three past observations have all been done thanks to the dedication and perseverance of amateur astronomers who follow Jupiter from their own backyards. Had it not been for them, the scientific community would have in all probability missed the opportunity to see them and study them. The good news is that the scientific community is now paying more attention to what is happening in the vicinity of our Earth (so to speak) rather than focusing on the most distant stars and galaxies, as has been the case in recent years. Of course, it's a phenomenal that scientists can study galaxies so far away from our own Milky Way that my mind can not really even begin to imagine those distances, but I think we must not forget our “next door” neighbour, Jupiter, which ultimately is likely to have more relevance to what is happening or may happen here on Earth.

The significance of knowing about the events in Jupiter is that the gathered data can help determine the number of meteoroids that are in our solar system. It is important to know this data so that there is a better idea of the frequency and size of collisions that occur not only in Jupiter but here. For example, before these events were observed, it was estimated that asteroids (of approximately 10 meters long) would crash here on average once every 10 years. Now astronomers need to recalculate these estimates, since it is known that Jupiter has collisions with objects of around the same size a few times each month (the objects that hit Jupiter these last two months were both about 10 meters).

Finally, it is interesting to kow that these impacts confirm the important and protective role that Jupiter has on Earth, as astronomers have previously reported. These collisions are a very clear and visual example of Jupiter's protective role for Earth, since some of the asteroids that might end in a direct course towards us, end up crashing there. To me, it is a fascinating coincidence that classical Greek mythology considered Zeus, i.e., Jupiter, as the king of the gods, because in the long run, we now know Jupiter does protect our world at a cosmic level.


Oldest human bones in the Americas found while diving near Tulum, Mexico

The Toronto Star article "Ancient human skeleton removed from Mexican cave" published on Aug. 25 tells us about an interesting development in the studies of the movement of people across the Bering Strait to the Americas.

It was reported that an ancient skeleton was discovered four years ago by a pair of German cave divers, named Thursten, who were exploring cenotes (flooded sandstone sinkholes) in the eastern part of the Yucatan Peninsula (in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo). The bones belonged to a boy, dubbed the Young Hol Chan (named after the cenote where the finding happened). They were kept underwater in the cave, where the scientists spent three years studying them before bringing them up to the surface, until they were sure it was safe to do so. The Mexican National Institute of Anthropology and History is now conducting further study on them.

Archeologists dive inside the cave near Tulum, Mexico

What is known now is that the ancient remains are more than 10,000 years old and that it is among the oldest human bones ever found in the Americas.

More photos related to this news can be found in the Photo Gallery provided by the Toronto Star. And for a more detailed and thorough report on this finding, I recommend reading the page "Mexican Archaeologists Extract 10,000 Year-Old Skeleton from Flooded Cave in Quintana Roo" published by the ArtDaily.org site (which, by the way, and on a completely different note, is quite a beautiful site on all things art).

Development of bio-synthetic corneas by Canadian scientist Dr. Griffith

A very positive achievement was announced on the journal Science Translational Medicine on Aug. 25 regarding the creation of bio-synthetic corneas. These corneas were developed by Dr. May Griffith, a senior scientist at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute (O.H.R.I.) in collaboration with Dr. Per Fagerholm, an eye surgeon at Linköping University in Sweden. 

Dr. May Griffith with new synthetic cornea

The article published in the journal reports that 10 patients had their eyes operated on by the surgeon in Sweden to transplant the synthetic corneas (in one of their two eyes) two years ago. The patients' eyes have shown no signs of rejection and most importantly, the sight in 6 of these 10 patients has been helped significantly, with one of them actually achieving 20/20 vision.

More details on this great development can be found in the news release provided by the OHRI page: "Seeing the world with new eyes: Biosynthetic corneas restore vision in humans".

It should be noted that less than 3 years ago, the OHRI announced that Dr. Griffith would start the study of artificial corneas which has produced these incredible results. In addition to this achievement by Dr. Griffith, she was hailed as one of Canada's Top 40 under 40 (in 2007), she holds at least 3 patents (possibly 10 by now), has authored more than 50 articles and has published six refereed book chapters.

To finalize this brief note and to top it all off, what is most remarkable about Dr. Griffith is that, as it is mentioned in the OHRI news release: "her accomplishments came during a period when she ... underwent treatment for cancer and adopted a baby.". In my view, she is someone who truly deserves all our appreciation and respect. Here's wishing her every success in a long and illustrious career.