Hubble Trouble

September 29, 2008

Word has come down that the Hubble Space Telescope has a serious problem. Apparently the SICDHS (The Science Instrument Command and Data Handling System) – which commands the detectors on the telescope – had a failure of the Science Data Formatter. This means that the telescope cannot send data back to earth. HST has been put into a “sleep mode” as NASA engineers attempt to turn on the backup for the system, which has never needed to be used in the 18+ years the telescope has been in orbit.

This means that the planned Hubble Servicing Mission, which was scheduled to launch on October 14th, is going to be postponed until sometime early next year, in order for a new SICDHS unit to be carried up and installed.

Dr. Phil Plait has more details on his Bad Astronomy blog.


Fall “Equals” Autumn

September 22, 2008

So here we go again, proceeding to a new season. At 11.44am ET, the season of Autumn officially begins in the Northern Hemisphere of good old planet Earth. At that time, the sun is directly over the equator.

“Equinox” means “equal night” (from the Latin). In theory, on the equinoxes you have equal amounts of day and night, but it actually varies because of a few factors, some of which being the orbit of the earth, the way the atmosphere bends light (refraction), and your actual position on the earth. But the common understanding is that we have equal amounts of daylight and nighttime on this date.

So here in the Northern Hemisphere, the days grow cooler, the nights crisper. Leaves fall from the trees. It’s time to harvest. And for a few days, it’s really hard to drive east/west at sunrise and sunset, as the sun appears directly in front of you.

If you are one of the people who love the soon-to-be-past summer (like me), you have my condolences. It will return, but there’s months to go, so you might as well enjoy the change of seasons.