SNIPPETS

Smallest full moon on January 16

On January 16, we are extremely fortunate to witness the smallest full moon of the year. Every year, one can witness one biggest full moon and one smallest full moon. On June 23, 2013 we could witness the biggest or supermoon, and on December 17, 2013, we could witness the smallest moon of the year. This astronomical phenomenon is called lunar apogee. 

Apogee is one where an object will be farthest from earth. During the biggest and the smallest full moon, the angular diameter will vary from 33.5 arc minutes to 29.43 arc minutes at apogee, depending on the ellipticity of moon’s orbit. On January 16, 2014, we will be able to see the micro moon of the year, at around 8 pm, with acute sharpness. Even though the moon will be smaller in size on that day, one can clearly observe its astronomical features. This particular full moon is referred to as the Yule or Wolf Moon, which can be prominently noticed during winter .

In this season, one can see many bright stars, including Procyon, Rigel, Capella, Sirius, Castor, Pollux and Aldebaran. 

The distance between the moon and the earth on January 16 will be 4,06,528 km, when the full moon can be seen very adjacent to the Orion belt with Aldebaran, Castor, Pollux and Capella. The biggest full moon of this year would be on August 10, when the distance between the earth and the moon will be 3,56,898 km. So, fix your stares on January 16 to watch the smallest full moon of the year. S A Mohan Krishna

The radioactive hangover

Radioactive particles from nuclear tests that took place decades ago persist in the upper atmosphere, a study suggests. Previously, scientists believed that nuclear debris found high above the earth would now be negligible. However, this research shows that plutonium and caesium isotopes are still present at surprisingly high concentrations. At the height of the Cold War, when the nuclear arms race was in full swing, weapons were being developed and tested around the world. 

But more than 50 years on, their radioactive legacy remains. While nuclear explosions initially throw material up into the air, scientists had thought that the radioactive particles would remain for a limited time. 
In the troposphere, the isotopes are removed fairly quickly, as they are “washed out” by attaching to rain or snow or are drawn down by gravity. 

However, in the stratosphere, the Swiss team believes that some particles become trapped. “The concentrations we measured were in the order of about 1,000 to 1,500 levels higher in the stratosphere than in the troposphere,” said Alvarado. 

While the tests were carried out over Switzerland, the team said they expected similar levels would be found at the same latitude elsewhere around the world. The scientists also found that this material can be moved around in the atmosphere by natural events such as volcanic eruptions. 

For example, in 2010 after Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano erupted, plutonium levels in the lower atmosphere increased. 

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