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Syndicate content Universe Today
Space and astronomy news
Updated: 2 hours 13 min ago

LADEE Sees Zodiacal Light before Crashing into Moon, but Apollo Mystery Remains

2 hours 49 min ago

Sunrise over the surface of the moon: a series of star tracker images taken by LADEE Saturday, April 12. The lunar horizon is ahead, a few minutes before orbital sunrise. Image Credit: NASA Ames.

NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) literally ‘saw the light’ just days before crashing into the lunar farside last Thursday April 17. Skimming just a few kilometers above the moon’s surface, mission controllers took advantage of this unique low angle to gaze out over the moon’s horizon in complete darkness much like the Apollo astronauts did from lunar orbit more than 40 years ago.
(...)
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Categories: Science, Space

Take a Fly-by Of All the Known Exoplanets

2 hours 57 min ago

Here’s a fun trip through the galaxy, put together by PhD student Tom Hands at the University of Leicester: In the above video, you can fly to of all the known exoplanets (around single stars only), ordered roughly by semi-major axis of largest orbit. Hands said the video is designed to give the viewer an overview of the current distribution of exoplanets.

Hands used data from the Open Exoplanet Catalogue.
(...)
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Categories: Science, Space

Asteroids VS. Your Hometown: Fun but Frightening Graphics Compare Asteroid Sizes to Places on Earth

4 hours 47 min ago

 Ciro Villa.

This graphic imagines asteroid 243 Ida as it would fantastically hover over the city of St. Louis, Missouri. Credit and copyright: Ciro Villa.

So, how big is that space rock?

Sometimes when I see data on sizes and distances in relation to stuff out in space, it’s hard to get a frame of reference, since those two categories tend to lean towards the super-big. But now, I’ve got a little help. Space enthusiast and software engineer Ciro Villa has brought some of these references closer to home with these fun graphics that provide accurate size ratios and proportions of objects in space compared to places on Earth.

Villa calls these graphics “hovering celestial objects” and while all of these scenarios are impossible in real life, he’s placed large asteroids and moons next to Earthly locations to provide a good frame of reference for dimensions. Please note that most of these objects have absolutely no chance of colliding with Earth as they are not anywhere near our neighborhood and are not expected to visit it either.

“My representations are is purely for illustrative purposes,” Villa said. “I have maintained the size ratios and proportions as accurately as possible just to demonstrate the dimensions. This is mostly a ‘fun’ exercise.”

For example, I regularly drive through the St. Louis, Missouri metro area, so I have a sense of how big it is. Above, Villa places Asteroid 243 Ida — which has an average diameter of 31.4 km (19.5 miles) — to hover right above St. Louis. 31 km is about the distance from East St. Louis, Illinois to Creve Coeur, Missouri, which are the generally accepted eastern and western borders of the St. Louis metro area. I could probably drive across Ida in about 30 minutes — if it’s not rush hour, that is!

To create these graphics, Villa uses Google Maps, NASA data and Gimp image editing software. Again, these graphics are for fun, but I really find them useful!

And Villa provided a caveat: “Please note that I am not a professional graphic artist, so I’m sure people are going to find plenty of imperfections in these depictions,” he said. “The important point I am trying to convey is mainly the size dimensions comparing with a known area of Earth.”

Here are more:

 Ciro Villa.

Asteroids Orcus and Vanth hovering over Eastern Texas and Western Arkansas. Credit and copyright: Ciro Villa.

Here are a bigger pair of objects in comparison to an area of Eastern Texas and Western Arkansas. 90482 Orcus is a trans-Neptunian Kuiper belt object that is about 800 kilometers in diameter. Orcus has a fairly large moon orbiting it named Vanth, which is about 300 km in diameter.

 Ciro Villa.

Asteroid 433 Eros over Kennedy Space Center, Florida. Credit and copyright: Ciro Villa.

This asteroid might pay Earth a close visit, but not for a couple of million years. Eros is the second largest NEO (Near Earth Object), with a diameter of approximately 34 kilometers, and here Villa imagines Eros centered over the VAB (Vehicle Assembly Building) at Cape Canaveral, covering the Cape area from approximately the southern end of the Canaveral National Seashore to the Pine Island Conservation area, with the VAB in about the middle, as the crow (or sandhill crane) flies.

While Eros is technically an NEO, it made one of its closest passes of Earth in 2012 of 16.6 million miles (26.7 million km) and won’t pass that close again until 2056. A look ahead with orbital mechanics suggests that Eros may move to an Earth-crossing orbit in about two million years, given the right perturbations by gravitational interactions.

 Ciro Villa.

216 Kleopatra is an asteroid belt object shaped like a dog bone (or a deformed dumbell). Its length is approximately 217 kilometers; just about the size of New Jersey. Credit and copyright: Ciro Villa.

And to show the scale of several moons in our Solar System, Villa made these comparisons:

 Ciro Villa.

An imaginary graphic depicting how Deimos would look if it hovered over Paris, France. Credit and copyright: Ciro Villa.

“Deimos is about 15 kilometers across, so I have measured a portion of the city of Paris, France of about 5 Kilometers and properly scaled Deimos,” Villa said. “For added dramatics, I have purposely shown enough of Deimos hovering to show about 5 kilometers of Paris, to show some of the landmarks (notice the Eiffel tower). Had I decided to show all of Deimos, the scale would have been too large to recognize any of the landmarks of Paris.”

 Ciro Villa.

How Saturn’s moon Enceladus would look if it hovered over southern England. Credit and copyright: Ciro Villa.

Continuing these imaginary montages, here is one of our favorite moons, Enceladus, with an approximate diameter of about 500 kilometers, seen drifting over Southern England. That’s about the same distance from Plymouth to Leigh-on-the-Sea in the UK.

 Ciro Villa.

A graphic imagining asteroid Phoebe (Saturn IX) hovering Central Florida. Credit and copyright: Ciro Villa.

This last one is a bit personal for Villa, since he lives in Florida. Here, Saturn’s moon Phoebe hangs over Central Florida. “Phoebe shares an approximate diameter of 200 kilometers with the central portion of the state,” Villa said, “and I wanted to ‘play’ with my imagination a bit!”

Thanks to Ciro Villa for sharing his “hovering celestial objects” with Universe Today. Check out his informative and entertaining G+ feed here.

Nancy Atkinson on Google+

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Categories: Science, Space

Why Inflation Didn’t Get the Same Hype as the Higgs

5 hours 37 min ago

 Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

Shown here are the B-mode polarization patterns on the cosmic microwave background. Image Credit: Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

Last month astronomers provided evidence that the universe underwent a brief but stupendous expansion at the very beginning of time. It was a landmark discovery. And while the media worldwide gleamed with fantastical headlines, I’m left overwhelmed with the feeling that it didn’t quite get the spotlight it deserves.

The day of the announcement was ablaze with excitement. When I first started to cover the news, I told my mother I was writing on something that was bigger than the Higgs boson. That was the best way I could explain the significance of this monumental discovery to someone with very little physics knowledge in a text message.

But inflation didn’t get the same hype as the Higgs. Why?

(...)
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© Shannon Hall for Universe Today, 2014. | Permalink | One comment |
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Categories: Science, Space

Pingpong! How You Could Send Something Small High In The Atmosphere

7 hours 27 min ago

 John Powell / JP Aerospace / Kickstarter

A view of “PongSats” containing student experiments in a high-altitude balloon that goes to about 100,000 feet. Credit: John Powell / JP Aerospace / Kickstarter

Spring is a time of treasures in eggs — think about the Easter weekend that just passed, for example, or the number of chicks hatching in farms across the world. That’s also true of “near-space” exploration. A project called PongSats has sent thousands of tiny experiments into space, and is ready to send up another batch this coming September.

(...)
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© Elizabeth Howell for Universe Today, 2014. | Permalink | No comment |
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Book Review and Giveaway: Earthrise: My Adventures As An Apollo 14 Astronaut by Edgar Mitchell

Wed, 23/04/2014 - 17:52

earthrise_cover_high_res

Book review by David Freiberg: Universe Today Book Reviewer

Most of us get up in the morning, shower, eat breakfast and sleepily make our way to work. Whether we work in an office, outdoors, with the public or in any number of exciting Earth-based careers, our daily commute can hardly compare to that of a moon astronaut! In Earthrise: My Adventures As An Apollo 14 Astronaut, Edgar Mitchell shares his personal story of how he came to share a career with a scarce 11 other people in history.
(...)
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Saturn at Opposition: Our 2014 Guide

Wed, 23/04/2014 - 16:57

 Efrain Morales.

Saturn as imaged from Aguadilla, Puerto Rico on April 15th. Credit: Efrain Morales.

Planet lovers can rejoice: one of the finest jewels of the solar system in returning to the evening night sky.

The planet Saturn reaches opposition next month on May 10th. This means that as the Sun sets to the west, Saturn will rise “opposite” to it in the east, remaining well positioned for observation in the early evening hours throughout the summer season. In fact, we’ll have four of the five naked eye planets above the horizon at once for our evening viewing pleasure in the month of May, as Jupiter also rides high to the west at sunset, Mars just passed opposition last month and Mercury reaches greatest eastern elongation on May 25th. Venus is the solitary holdout, spending a majority of 2014 in the dawn sky.(...)
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UPDATE: Spacewalkers Zip Through Tasks To Fix Broken Computer

Wed, 23/04/2014 - 16:40

UPDATE, 11:42 a.m. EDT: Rick Mastracchio and Steve Swanson finished their spacewalk in just 1 hour and 36 minutes, nearly an hour faster than what NASA budgeted for. Early tests show the replacement computer is working well, providing backup once again for the robotics, solar arrays and other systems on station.

Can two astronauts fix a broken computer quickly on the International Space Station, preventing possible problems with the solar arrays and robotics? Watch live (above) to find out.

The NASA spacewalk involving Rick Mastracchio and Steve Swanson is scheduled to start today (April 23) at 9:20 a.m. EDT (1:20 p.m. UTC), with coverage starting around 8:30 a.m. EDT (12:30 p.m. UTC). The spacewalk is scheduled to last 2.5 hours. Bear in mind that the times could change as circumstances arise.

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Surprise: Earth Is Hit By a Lot More Asteroids Than You Thought

Tue, 22/04/2014 - 17:44

“The fact that none of these asteroid impacts shown in the video was detected in advance is proof that the only thing preventing a catastrophe from a ‘city-killer’ sized asteroid is blind luck.” – Ed Lu, B612 Foundation CEO and former NASA astronaut

When we think of recent large asteroid impacts on Earth, only a handful may come to mind. In particular, one is the forest-flattening 1908 Tunguska explosion over Siberia (which may have been the result of a comet) and another is the February 2013 meteor that exploded over Chelyabinsk, shattering windows with its air blast. Both occurred in Russia, the largest country on Earth, and had human witnesses — in the case of the latter many witnesses thanks to today’s ubiquitous dashboard cameras.

While it’s true that those two observed events took place 105 years apart, there have been many, many more large-scale asteroid impacts around the world that people have not witnessed, if only due to their remote locations… impact events that, if they or ones like them ever occurred above a city or populated area, could result in destruction of property, injuries to people, or worse.

(And I’m only referring to the ones we’ve found out about over the past 13 years.) (...)
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Views of Earth From Space on Earth Day 2014

Tue, 22/04/2014 - 17:21

45 UTC/7:45 a.m. EDT. The data from GOES-East was made into an image by the NASA/NOAA GOES Project at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. Credit: NASA/NOAA.

NOAA’s GOES-East satellite captured this stunning view of the Americas on Earth Day, April 22, 2014 at 11:45 UTC/7:45 a.m. EDT. The data from GOES-East was made into an image by the NASA/NOAA GOES Project at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. Credit: NASA/NOAA.

It’s been said that one of the reasons Earth Day was started back in 1970 was because of the images of Earth from space taken during the Apollo missions to the Moon. So, what better way to celebrate than to see how Earth looks today from space?

NOAA’s GOES-East satellite captured this stunning view of the Americas on Earth Day, April 22, 2014 at 11:45 UTC/7:45 a.m. EDT.
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Remembering John Houbolt: the Man Who Gave Us Lunar Orbit Rendezvous

Tue, 22/04/2014 - 16:36

 NASA.

John Houbolt demonstrating Lunar Orbit Rendezvous circa 1962. Credit: NASA.

The space community lost a colossus of the of the Apollo era last week, when John Houbolt passed away last Tuesday just five days after his 95th birthday.

Perhaps the name isn’t as familiar to many as Armstrong or Von Braun, but John Houbolt was a pivotal figure in getting us to the Moon.(...)
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How Far Is A Light Year in Miles Or Kilometers?

Tue, 22/04/2014 - 15:10

The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has captured this vivid image of spiral galaxy Messier 77 — a galaxy in the constellation of Cetus, some 45 million light-years away from us. The streaks of red and blue in the image highlight pockets of star formation along the pinwheeling arms, with dark dust lanes stretching across the galaxy’s starry centre. The galaxy belongs to a class of galaxies known as Seyfert galaxies, which have highly ionised gas surrounding an intensely active centre. Credit: NASA, ESA & A. van der Hoeven

The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has captured this vivid image of spiral galaxy Messier 77 — a galaxy in the constellation of Cetus, some 45 million light-years away from us. The streaks of red and blue in the image highlight pockets of star formation along the pinwheeling arms, with dark dust lanes stretching across the galaxy’s starry centre. The galaxy belongs to a class of galaxies known as Seyfert galaxies, which have highly ionised gas surrounding an intensely active centre. Credit: NASA, ESA & A. van der Hoeven

We hope you have a big suitcase if you’re planning a trip across the cosmos. At the speed of light — a speed that no technology yet can achieve — it would take you about four years to get to the Alpha Centauri star system, the nearest group to our own. Zipping to the nearest galaxy, the Canis Major Dwarf Galaxy, would take you about 25,000 light-years.

As the phrase “light year” implies, that’s the distance that light travels in a year. It’s as fast as anything can travel, at least as best as we can understand it. Sometimes referred to as a “cosmic speed limit“, going as fast as light (or even faster) is impossible for a physical object, according to Albert Einstein’s measurements a century ago. As you get faster and faster, he showed, your mass increases to infinity. But there’s still discussion around that.

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Watch: New Documentary Follows the Hunt for Gravitational Waves

Mon, 21/04/2014 - 22:31

A newly released documentary brings you behind the scenes in the hunt for gravitational waves. The 20-minute film, called “LIGO, A Passion for Understanding,” follows the scientists working to create one of the most powerful scientific tools ever made: the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatories (LIGO). You can watch the documentary above.
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Our Guide to the Bizarre April 29th Solar Eclipse

Mon, 21/04/2014 - 18:36

The 2013 partial eclipse rising over the Vehicle Assembly Building along the Florida Space Coast. This month's solar eclipse will offer comparable sunset views for eastern Australia. Photo by author.

The 2013 partial eclipse rising over the Vehicle Assembly Building along the Florida Space Coast. This month’s solar eclipse will offer comparable sunset views for eastern Australia. Photo by author.

Will anyone see next week’s solar eclipse? On April 29th, an annular solar eclipse occurs over a small D-shaped 500 kilometre wide region of Antarctica. This will be the second eclipse for 2014 — the first was the April 15th total lunar eclipse — and the first solar eclipse of the year, marking the end of the first eclipse season. 2014 has the minimum number of eclipses possible in one year, with four: two partial solars and two total lunars.(...)
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Stunning Original Drawing of the Latest SpaceX Launch

Mon, 21/04/2014 - 17:40

 Wendy Clark.

An original pencil illustration of the SpaceX CRS-3 Falcon 9 Dragon launch on April 18, 2014. Credit and copyright: Wendy Clark.

Here’s something you don’t see much anymore: an original pencil drawing of a launch. This drawing by Wendy Clark from the UK is reminiscent of the pre-spaceflight days, before we had actual images of launches, and just our dreams of spaceflight. This isn’t the first time Clark has drawn a launch (here’s an article we posted of her drawings of the MAVEN launch and the final space shuttle launch) but this one is almost a contrast in themes: the latest technology in launches from the upstart SpaceX team vs. an old-school, old fashioned, by-hand product.

For this drawing, she reiterated what she told us previously: “Don’t let anyone tell you drawing a rocket is easy!” Clark said on Flickr. “The Strongback was a complete dog of an object to draw, such a maze of engineering.”

She also captured the ‘dirty’ side of launches: “Dust and gravel being thrown up everywhere, and the lovely Falcon 9 rocket was a little grubby on lift-off and I’ve tried to reflect that in the drawing,” she said.

Thanks to Wendy Clark for sharing her work on Universe Today’s Flickr site. See more of her drawings and photography on her own Flickr page.

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Carnival of Space #350

Mon, 21/04/2014 - 16:27

Carnival of Space. Image by Jason Major.

Carnival of Space. Image by Jason Major.

This week’s Carnival of Space is hosted by Nicole Gugliucci at her Cosmoquest blog.

Click here to read Carnival of Space #350
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Video: Carolyn Porco Discusses Her Life at Saturn

Mon, 21/04/2014 - 15:42

Space historian Andrew Chaikin sat down with planetary scientist Carolyn Porco, and she discusses how her career has ended up focusing on the Saturn system. I love how Porco relates how even she has been “blown away” by some of the imagery sent back by the missions — just like the rest of us! — saying she’s had to call members of her team several times to verify she wasn’t looking at computer simulations vs. real images.

Planetary scientists Carolyn Porco. Via NASA/JPL.

Planetary scientists Carolyn Porco. Via NASA/JPL.

Enjoy this candid interview of one of the leading planetary scientists of our day.


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Easter Sunday Space Station Rendezvous and Berthing for SpaceX Dragon Freighter Successful

Sun, 20/04/2014 - 13:28

 NASA TV

SpaceX Dragon resupply spacecraft arrives for successful berthing and docking at the International Space Station on Easter Sunday morning April 20, 2014. Credit: NASA TV

The SpaceX 3 Dragon commercial cargo freighter successfully arrived at the International Space Station (ISS) on Easter Sunday morning, April 20, as planned and was deftly captured by Expedition 39 Commander Koichi Wakata at 7:15 a.m. EDT at the controls of the Canadian built robotic arm.

The next step due shortly is berthing of Dragon at the Earth facing port of the Harmony module at approximately 9:30 a.m. EDT.

Berthing was officially completed at 10:06 a.m. EDT while the massive complex was soaring 260 miles above Brazil.

This story is being updated as events unfold. The mission is the company’s third cargo delivery flight to the station.(...)
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Echoes of Chelyabinsk: Another Fireball Explodes Over Russia

Sun, 20/04/2014 - 00:33


Why does Russia seem to get so many bright meteors? Well at 6.6 million square miles it’s by far the largest country in the world plus, with dashboard-mounted cameras being so commonplace (partly to help combat insurance fraud) statistically it just makes sense that Russians would end up seeing more meteors, and then be able to share the experience with the rest of the world!

This is exactly what happened early this morning, April 19 (local time), when a bright fireball flashed in the skies over Murmansk, located on the Kola Peninsula in northwest Russia near the border of Finland. Luckily not nearly as large or powerful as the Chelyabinsk meteor event from February 2013, no sound or air blast from this fireball has been reported and nobody was injured. Details on the object aren’t yet known… it could be a meteor (most likely) or it could be re-entering space debris. The video above, some of which was captured by Alexandr Nesterov from his dashcam, shows the object dramatically lighting up the early morning sky.

One Russian astronomer suggests this bolide may have been part of the debris that results in the Lyrid meteor shower, which peaks on April 22-23. (Source: NBC)

Source: RT.com

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SpaceX Makes Strides Towards 1st Stage Falcon Rocket Recovery during Space Station Launch

Sat, 19/04/2014 - 07:31

  Alan Walters/AmericaSpace

Blastoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on April 18, 2014. Credit: Alan Walters/AmericaSpace
Story updated

The powerful SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that launched successfully on a cargo delivery run for NASA bound for the Space Station on Friday, April 18, from Cape Canaveral, Fla, also had a key secondary objective for the company aimed at experimenting with eventually recovering the rockets first stage via the use of landing legs and leading to the boosters refurbishment and reuse further down the road.

Marking a first of its kind test, this 20 story tall commercial Falcon 9 rocket was equipped with a quartet of landing legs to test controlled soft landing techniques first in the ocean and then back on solid ground at some later date this year or next – by reigniting the 1st stage engines for a guided touchdown.(...)
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