A radar image of asteroid 2005 YU55 (credit: NASA/JPL)

A radar image of asteroid 2005 YU55 (credit: NASA/JPL)

A space rock about a quarter-mile-across whizzes by Earth tonight (Nov. 8, 2011). The asteroid, called 2005 YU55, is coming closer than the Moon’s orbit.

But don’t bother taking cover—the asteroid will miss Earth by 200,000 miles when it reaches its closest point around 6:30 p.m. Eastern time. Its gravitational influence will have no detectable effect on our planet.

Although 2005 YU55 has been classified as a potentially hazardous object, NASA’s Near Earth Object Program says this asteroid poses no threat of colliding with Earth over at least the next hundred years.

The asteroid is way too dim to see with just your eyes. But if you have at least a 6-inch telescope, you could try to spot it. Sky & Telescope’s website has a good article about the asteroid with a link to a finder chart.

For something easy to spot with your eyes alone, try Jupiter. It's that bright "star" blazing away in the east after sunset.

This photograph of the International Space Station was taken from the space shuttle Discovery after the two spacecraft undocked on March 7, 2011. (Credit: NASA)

Pretty much everyone in the Eastern part of the U.S. who has clear skies can get a view of the International Space Station (ISS) tonight (Monday, October 17, 2011). To see it, be outside by 7:16 p.m.

Over the following six minutes the ISS’s orbit around Earth takes it over the East Coast. For our area, the space station is predicted to first appear between 7:16 and 7:17 p.m. low in the southwest. It will pass almost directly overhead at 7:19 p.m., and finally disappear low in the northeast at 7:22 p.m.

Look for a very bright white “star” that is noticeably moving. And wave hello to the three people currently onboard.

If you don’t notice the ISS in the first couple of minutes, don’t give up. You can increase your chances of spotting it by inviting friends to help scan the sky with you. You might also practice “ambush astronomy” and introduce nearby friendly pedestrians to one of the coolest things to see in the sky.

Although the space station orbits our planet about every 90 minutes, you won’t see every pass. According to predictions on Heavens-Above and NASA’s satellite sightings page, tonight’s ISS pass should be the easiest one to see from this area for the rest of October.

If you miss the real thing, you can see a simulated ISS pass by attending Morehead's Carolina Skies planetarium program. Just ask your presenter before the show.

Have you explored the Rotunda of Morehead Planetarium and Science Center? It’s on the west end, adjacent to the Science Stage, and you enter through the UNC Visitors Center. The Rotunda showcases one of John Motley Morehead III’s gifts to UNC, a memorial to his wife: the Genevieve Margaret Birkhead Morehead Art Gallery.

The gallery features 11 portraits, mostly by 17th- and 18th century artists. Of these, perhaps the portrait of Liesbeth van Rijn is most famous — not because of what it is, but because of what it isn’t.

Portrait of Leisbeth van Rijn

Liesbeth van Rijn

Liesbeth (or Lijsbeth, following the Dutch spelling) van Rijn was a sister and a favorite model of master painter Rembrandt van Rijn. For hundreds of years, the Liesbeth painting at Morehead was considered to be an original Rembrandt portrait. It was purchased and displayed as a Rembrandt, not only in the Morehead gallery (where it arrived in 1949) but at galleries and in private collections beginning in the 1700s.

About 30 years ago, the Rembrandt Research Project identified Liesbeth as the work of another painter in Rembrandt’s workshop, probably his student Isaac de Jouderville. With her newfound notoriety as a faux Rembrandt, Liesbeth has earned quite a bit of publicity for herself, and this month she travels to the North Carolina Museum of Art to participate in a groundbreaking exhibit of paintings by Rembrandt and other artists in his workshop. You can read about Liesbeth’s road trip in this recent article from The News & Observer.

Beginning in a few weeks, you can view Liesbeth in Raleigh at the NCMA’s Rembrandt exhibit, or you can wait until she returns home in a few months and see her in the gallery here at Morehead. Be sure to check out her “neighbors” in Morehead’s gallery:

  • Capt. David Birrell, painted by Sir Henry Raeburn
  • Lord Mountjoy Blount, painted by Sir Anthony van Dyck
  • John A. M. Bonar, painted by Sir Henry Raeburn
  • Genevieve Morehead, painted by Nichola Michailow
  • Edmund M. Pleydell, painted by Thomas Gainsborough
  • The Scribe, painted by Aart de Gelder
  • Paulus van Beresteyn, painted by Michiel Jans Mierevelt
  • Gen. George Washington, painted by Rembrandt Peele
  • Martha Washington, painted by Rembrandt Peele
  • James Watt, painted by Sir William Beechey

In addition to these portraits, the Genevieve Margaret Birkhead Morehead Art Gallery features a larger-than-life statue of U.S. President James K. Polk, who was graduated from UNC in 1818. The statue was created by artist and UNC alumnus Stephen H. Smith in 1997. The gallery also houses a unique pendulum clock and barometer, both decorated with sculpted images from the constellations of the Zodiac.

And the origin of Liesbeth isn’t the only mystery that’s been solved in the gallery. There are 16 columns supporting the Rotunda, each carved from a single piece of green marble from the Ozark Mountains. One of these monolithic columns was cracked around its circumference when the columns were installed during construction. Can you spot which column was cracked?

Yes, we're the science specialists, but we like art too.

July's Science Cafe Speaker

Meet Myron Cohen, M.D., our special guest for July’s Carolina Science Cafe. He’s a busy man, so we’re grateful he took a few minutes out of his day to answer our questions.

Where did you grow up? Chicago

What did you want to be when you were a kid? A journalist

How did you get interested in science? After serving as editor of the high school paper, I started at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana wanting to study journalism.  My first year of college, a very good friend became ill and later died.  I spent a lot of time with him at the hospital, and I guess that’s how I first became interested in medicine and decided to study pre-med.  When I took organic chemistry, not only did I absolutely love it, but I was really, really good at it, and that helped me realize that I was on the right path.

In one sentence, describe your job: I’m a catalyst for synergy among biomedical faculty at UNC.

What’s a special talent/trick/skill/hobby you have that you’re colleagues don’t know about? Well, let’s see.  I can’t sing.  I can’t dance.  I can’t type.  I’m a pretty good skier.

If someone wrote you a blank check to explore any aspect of your field’s research, what would you want to do and why? Redouble our efforts to cure HIV disease.  We’re pretty far along as it is.

Thanks, Dr. Cohen. That’s good stuff. You can read more about Dr. Cohen’s efforts here.

Please join us on Thursday, July 7, at 6 p.m. (NOTE THE NEW TIME!) for this special science cafe:

The Beginning (and End?) of the AIDS Pandemic: A 30-Year Journey

Back Bar at Top of the Hill

Downtown Chapel Hill

Sponsored by Sigma XI

Jonathan Frederick is the director of the North Carolina Science Festival. He likes mango popsicles.

Looks safe, but is it?

You’re invited to this free program: Swimming & Your Genes, starring Dr. David DeMarini, genetic toxicologist with the EPA. As summer approaches, we’re going to be discussing David’s research into swimming pools and drinking water.

In preparation, David was kind enough to share a little bit about himself.

Where did you grow up? Peoria, Illinois (yes, I played in Peoria). My father, Santa, ran a bar (I grew up in a tavern), and he was a first-generation Italian immigrant with only an 8th grade education.  My mom was a nurse (Irish from Iowa); it was a fun mix of cultures–we ate spaghetti with potatoes.  There are 4 boys, and 3 of us went into the health sciences (2 Ph.D. geneticists and 1 M.D. pulmonologist).

What did you want to be when you were a kid? A performer–anything would have been fine–singer, dancer, actor, musician (I’ve co-founded 2 theater companies, acted in a bunch of plays, and play piano–second-rate pop/B-way, and jazz).  My science career ended up satisfying my urge/need to perform–with lots of world-wide invitations to speak and lecture–combining my love of science and my desire to entertain.

How did you get interested in science? I always was curious about how the world worked, and science seemed to provide the most satisfying explanations to me; and I was pretty good at science in school. However, the “magic moment” came during my last semester of my senior year of college when I took genetics (from the finest teacher of my life), and I was hooked–I found my muse and my bliss–environmental mutagenesis, which has become a nearly 40-year love affair.  (I ended up doing my M.S. and Ph.D. under that remarkable genetics teacher–Herman Brockman at Illinois State University.)

In one sentence, describe your job: I examine the air, water, soil, food, urine from people, etc. for mutagenic activity and try to determine the types of mutations such substances induce and how those mutations might cause human disease such as cancer.

What’s a special talent/trick/skill/hobby you have that your colleagues don’t know about? I learned to make “cappelletti in brodo” as a kid from my Italian grandmother (la mia nona).  It is a pasta stuffed with chicken, beef, cheese, and lemon zest that is cooked in a beef/chicken broth–peculiar to the region east of Firenze (Florence) where my family is from.  I make a huge batch every winter that lasts for 6 months (thank heavens for freezers), but I have never shared this delicacy with either friends or colleagues–it’s only for “la famiglia.”

If someone wrote you a blank check to explore any aspect of your field’s research, what would you want to do and why? I would incorporate mutagenesis testing of the air and water in this country to go along with the chemical monitoring of air and water that currently occurs in order for us to know how mutagenic and thus, potentially carcinogenic, our air and water really are–based on actual toxicology measurements.

Great answers, David. We’ll see you on Thursday. Please bring some “cappelletti in brodo.”

We hope to see all of you at the Back Bar in downtown Chapel Hill by 7pm. Remember to get there early for some delicious appetizers sponsored by Sigma Xi.

Thanks, Jonathan

Jonathan Frederick is director of the North Carolina Science Festival. He's ready for someone to invent teleportation.

Dr. David DeMarini, one of our cafe regulars (and fantastic question-asker of other scientists), is a genetic toxicologist with the EPA. On Thursday, June 2, he will be our featured presenter. Please join us for:

June's Carolina Science Cafe presenter

Chlorinated Chromosomes:  Swimming and Your Genes

You know your hair or skin can be affected by a dip in the pool–and you usually smell like chlorine after that refreshing swim.  But have you ever wondered what happens to your genes while you’re paddling around in the swimming pool?  Want to know what’s really in that water, and what chlorine may be doing to your chromosomes?  Maybe not, but if you’d like to find out, check out the Science Cafe at the the Back Bar at Top the Hill in downtown Chapel Hill at 7:00 p.m. on Thursday, June 2, 2011.

Dr. David DeMarini, a genetic toxicologist at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in RTP, and an AdjunctProfessor in the Dept. of Environmental Science & Engineering at UNC, will discuss the latest studies he and his colleagues have done on the mutagenicity and carcinogenicity of swimming pool water and drinking water.  Dr. DeMarini has been studying the ability of chlorinated water to induce mutations for 30 years, and he will share this pool of knowledge with you while you drink something other than chlorinated water.  Take the plunge, and join us at the next Science Cafe in Chapel Hill!

Thanks, David, for the puns. Stay tuned for more info about David in our next blog.

Jonathan

Jonathan Frederick is Morehead's science program manager. He has recently pledged to run at least 15 miles per week and his muscles hurt thinking about it.

Festival coordinator, Julie Rhodes, sharing exciting news with the rest of the planning team.

As you can imagine, things are pretty hectic around here as we count down to the start of the NC Science Festival.   It’s LESS THAN ONE MONTH AWAY!  And, while it’s hectic, it’s also so much fun.  I’ve done things (have tea with a Nobel Laureate; call Adam & Jamie to invite them to NC) and said things (“Can you park your NASCAR car here?” and “Do you mind if we chunk pumpkins through the center of campus?”) that I NEVER would have had the opportunity to say and do without the Festival.  So, thanks to everyone for enriching my life over these last few months.

And, that’s the whole point of the Festival – to enrich YOUR life by getting you involved in science, technology, math and engineering.  We are putting finishing touches on many things – including schedules and maps – so you’ll know when and where to show up for some awesome science action!  Take a look at the Festival schedule to see what I mean.  There are over 300 events taking place across the state between Sept. 11-26.

We want to invite you to attend as many events as possible during the Festival.  And we would love to see you in Chapel Hill on Sat., Sept. 25 for the UNC Science Expo.  There are literally hundreds of cool things taking place this day – demos, lab tours, talks, performances.  You name it – we’ve probably got it!

I look forward to hearing about your science adventures in September!

Denise

Denise Young is Morehead’s director of education and planning and co-founder of the NC Science Festival. She proposes skipping the rest of August so we can get on with the Festival!

Oil Spill

Oil is clearly visible on the water surface in this satellite image of the Gulf of Mexico (from NASA). But how much oil might be collecting below the water surface?

It’s a familiar refrain for many children learning math in school: “Why do we need to know this stuff?” Dr. Richard McLaughlin, a mathematics professor at UNC Chapel Hill, answered that question at the July Current Science Forum. Speaking to a sizeable crowd, Dr. McLaughlin showed how a team of researchers at UNC are using math to tackle important questions related to a topic which has captured international attention since April: the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

One of those questions centers on the issue of underwater plumes: we can see the oil slick on the water surface, but is it possible that there is an even greater amount of oil underwater? Dr. McLaughlin and Dr. Roberto Camassa, also at UNC, are using the science of fluid dynamics to shed some light on this. The Gulf of Mexico, like most large bodies of water, does not have a uniform density, Dr. McLaughlin explained. The oil shooting out from the damaged pipe is hot, and coming out at high pressure. Using a water tank, Dr. McLaughlin demonstrated how such conditions may create a cloud of oil trapped beneath the surface of the gulf.

Next Dr. McLaughlin showed how his team is taking a simple mathematical idea – the parabolic formula – and using it to estimate how many barrels of oil are escaping from the leak each day. The team is using the BP Spill Cameras to fit a parabolic curve onto the leak, then applying mathematical formulas to obtain a flow rate. Using this method, they estimated the flow rate to be around 70-80,000 barrels per day – a number that is far higher than BP’s initial estimates and similar to the latest government-released figures.

If you missed the forum, you can still watch the water tank demonstration and an interview that Dr. McLaughlin and Dr. Camassa gave on a KBZK newscast - both are available on YouTube. Stay tuned to the Morehead Planetarium and Science Center homepage for information about upcoming Current Science Forum events.

Casey Rawson is the Science Content Developer for Science 360.

15 Jun 2010
0

If you read this blog regularly, you know that Denise Young announced the North Carolina Science Festival here. In the weeks since her announcement, it seems like a million things have happened! Here are the biggest things:

There’s a NC Science Festival website

  • … that lists dozens of NC Science Festival events …
  • … all over the state, from Asheville to the Outer Banks …
  • … and you can search the list by date, location, target age group or other characteristics.

And there’s a Facebook page where you can …

  • … meet other people who like the NC Science Festival (and science in general!) …
  • … and get updates on the newest additions to the events list …
  • … and discuss the events you attend (tag photos, too!).

But that’s not all! You can also …

  • … follow the NC Science Festival on Twitter
  • … and check out the NC Science Festival blog
  • … and keep checking for a super-big announcement in early July! (It’ll rock your science world.)

Let’s face it, if you don’t keep an eye on the NC Science Festival news, you’re going to miss all the fun Sept. 11-26, 2010. So stay connected!

You gotta check out the event list -- everything from winery tours (yes, that's science -- chemistry and horticulture!) to "Snaketacular."

F5 Tornado

Scientists working on the VORTEX2 project this month are combing the Great Plains in search of tornadoes. When completed in June, VORTEX2 will be the largest-ever study of tornadoes. Image by Justin Hobson.

Lightning flashes overhead, hail pounds mercilessly into the ground, and high winds threaten to bring down trees. Suddenly, a funnel cloud begins to snake down from the dark clouds above, kicking up dust and growing in size as it reaches the ground. If you are like most people, seeing something like this would probably make you want to run for cover. But for more than 100 scientists working with the VORTEX2 project, running for cover isn’t an option. Being up close and personal with tornadoes is their job, and over the course of the next month they will be patrolling the Great Plains region of the United States searching for these killer storms.

VORTEX stands for “Verification of the Origins of Rotation in Tornadoes Experiment.” As the name suggests, the project is attempting to discover exactly how, when, where, and why tornadoes form. Currently, weather forecasters can predict tornadoes with an average lead time of only 13 minutes, and 70% of tornado alerts turn out to be false alarms. VORTEX2, which runs from May 1 to June 15 of this year, will be the largest-ever tornado study, and the scientists involved hope to deploy an unprecedented array of cutting-edge technology into and around these storms.

The original VORTEX project took place in 1994 and 1995 and helped to inspire the 1996 film Twister. Data from that project helped to significantly improve tornado forecasting. The VORTEX2 project will build on the knowledge gained from its predecessor by using more advanced data collection tools and by extending the study period by two weeks. You can follow VORTEX2’s daily progress at the project website or blog.

If you are interested in learning more about tornadoes and other severe weather events, stay tuned to the Morehead website for information about a new live show that will debut on June 15 (the last day of the VORTEX2 project): “Science 360: Predicting Severe Weather.”

Casey Rawson is the Science Content Developer for Science 360.


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