Can We Launch Nuclear Waste Into the Sun? When I look at the Sun, I don’t see a warm life-giving orb, nourishing all living creatures here on Earth. No, I see that fiery ball as a cosmic garbage compactor. A place I can dump all my household garbage, to make room for new impulse purchases. I mean, the Sun is right there, not doing anything right? It’s hotter than any garbage incinerator, and it’s the gravitational well at the heart of the Solar System. Get me a rocket, let’s blast that waste into oblivion. Okay, I suspect it’s going to get expensive, so let’s justRead More →

Watch the Moon Make a Pass at Earth’s Shadow, Then Kiss Regulus This Valentine’s Weekend The Moon occults Regulus of January 15th, 2017. Image credit and copyright: Lucca Ruggiero In the southern hemisphere this weekend in the ‘Land of Oz?’ Are you missing out on the passage of Comet 45/P Honda-Mrkos-Pajdušáková, and the penumbral lunar eclipse? Fear not, there’s an astronomical event designed just for you, as the Moon occults (passes in front of) the bright star Regulus on the evening of Saturday, January 11th. The entire event is custom made for the continent of Australia and New Zealand, occurring under dark skies. Now for theRead More →

The Magellenic Clouds Stay Connected By A String Of Stars Astronomers have finally observed something that was predicted but never seen: a stream of stars connecting the two Magellanic Clouds. In doing so, they began to unravel the mystery surrounding the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC) and the Small Magellanic Cloud (SMC). And that required the extraordinary power of the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Gaia Observatory to do it. The Large and Small Magellanic Clouds (LMC and SMC) are dwarf galaxies to the Milky Way. The team of astronomers, led by a group at the University of Cambridge, focused on the clouds and on one particularRead More →

Uber Brings In NASA Engineer To Build Flying Cars Flying cars have become something of a hot ticket item of late. In the past few years, companies like Terrafugia, Aeromobil and Moller International have all grabbed headlines with their particular designs. And soon enough, international transportation giant Uber could be joining the ranks of those looking to turn a popular staple of science fiction into science fact. In a move to expand their ride-sharing services to the skies, the company recently hired NASA aerospace engineer Mark D. Moore to spearhead Uber Elevate. For 30 years, Moore has worked for NASA, researching advanced aircraft and technologiesRead More →

31 Years After Disaster, Challenger Soccer Ball Finally Gets To Orbit The Challenger disaster is one of those things that’s etched into people’s memories. The launch and resulting explosion were broadcast live. Professional astronauts may have been prepared to accept their fate, but that doesn’t make it any less tragic. There’ve been fitting tributes over the years, with people paying homage to the crew members who lost their lives. But a new tribute is remarkable for its simplicity. And this new tribute is all centred around a soccer ball. Ellison Onizuka was one of the Challenger seven who perished on January 28, 1986, when theRead More →

Carnival of Space #495 The tent is up! This week’s Carnival of Space is hosted by Kimberly Arcand at the Chandra X-Ray Observatory blog. Click here to read Carnival of Space #495. And if you’re interested in looking back, here’s an archive to all the past Carnivals of Space. If you’ve got a space-related blog, you should really join the carnival. Just email an entry to carnivalofspace@gmail.com, and the next host will link to it. It will help get awareness out there about your writing, help you meet others in the space community – and community is what blogging is all about. And if you really wantRead More →

Curiosity’s Martian Chronicles Rife With Intriguing Inconsistencies The study of Mars’ surface and atmosphere has unlocked some ancient secrets. Thanks to the efforts of the Curiosity rover and other missions, scientists are now aware of the fact that water once flowed on Mars and that the planet had a denser atmosphere. They have also been able to deduce what mechanics led to this atmosphere being depleted, which turned it into the cold, desiccated environment we see there today. At the same time though, it has led to a rather intriguing paradox. Essentially, Mars is believed to have had warm, flowing water on its surface atRead More →

Cassini Images Of Enceladus Highlight Possible Cradle For Life During its long mission to Saturn, the Cassini spacecraft has given us image after spectacular image of Saturn, its rings, and Saturn’s moons. The images of Saturn’s moon Enceladus are of particular interest when it comes to the search for life. At first glance, Enceladus appears similar to other icy moons in our Solar System. But Cassini has shown us that Enceladus could be a cradle for extra-terrestrial life. Our search for life in the Solar System is centred on the presence of liquid water. Maybe we don’t know for sure if liquid H2O is requiredRead More →

SpaceX Awaits FAA Falcon 9 Launch License for 1st Pad 39A Blastoff on NASA ISS Cargo Flight SpaceX crews are renovating Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center for launches of commercial and human rated Falcon 9 rockets as well as the Falcon Heavy, as seen here during Dec 2016 with construction of a dedicated new transporter/erector. New rocket processing hangar sits at left. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – With liftoff tentatively penciled in for mid-February, SpaceX still awaits FAA approval of a launch license for what will be the firms first Falcon 9 rocket to launch from historic pad 39ARead More →

Watch Comet 45P Honda-Mrkos-Pajdušáková Fly Past Earth This Week A recent image of Comet 45P from February 4th. Image credit and copyright: Hisayoshi Kato. Hankering for some cometary action? An interplanetary interloper pays us a visit this weekend, sliding swiftly through the pre-dawn northern hemisphere sky. If you’ve never caught sight of periodic comet 45/P Honda-Mrkos-Pajdušáková, this week is a good time to try. Currently shining at magnitude +6.5, the comet makes a close 0.08 AU (7.4 million miles or 12.3 million kilometers) pass near the Earth on Saturday, February 11, at 14:44 Universal Time (UT) or 9:44 AM Eastern Standard Time. This is theRead More →

How Long is a Day on Venus? Venus is often referred to as “Earth’s Sister” planet, because of the various things they have in common. For example, both planets reside within our Sun’s habitable zone (aka. “Goldilocks Zone“). In addition, Earth and Venus are also terrestrial planets, meaning they are primarily composed of metals and silicate rock that are differentiated between a metallic core and a silicate mantle and crust. Beyond that, Earth and Venus could not be more different. And two ways in which they are in stark contrast is the time it takes for the Sun to rise, set, and return to theRead More →

A Black Hole’s Record Breaking Lunch Does a distant black hole provide a new definition of pain and suffering? The black hole, named XJ1500+0154, appears to be the real-life equivalent of the Pit of Carkoon, the nesting place of the all-powerful Sarlacc in Star Wars, which slowly digested its victims. Over ten years ago, this giant black hole ripped apart a star and has since continued a very long lunch, feasting on the stars’ remains. Astronomers have been carefully monitoring this slow ‘digestion,’ because it is so unusual for what are called tidal disruption events (TDEs), where tidal forces from black holes tear stars apart.Read More →

Messier 34 – the NGC 1039 Open Star Cluster Welcome back to Messier Monday! In our ongoing tribute to the great Tammy Plotner, we take a look at the Triangulum Galaxy, also known as Messier 33. Enjoy! During the 18th century, famed French astronomer Charles Messier noted the presence of several “nebulous objects” in the night sky. Having originally mistaken them for comets, he began compiling a list of them so that others would not make the same mistake he did. In time, this list (known as the Messier Catalog) would come to include 100 of the most fabulous objects in the night sky. OneRead More →

Ancient Annular: Dating Joshua’s Eclipse The May 2012 annular eclipse low to the horizon. Image credit and copyright: Jared Bowens. Astronomy turns up in fascinating junctures in history. Besides just the romantic angle, we can actually pin down contextual events in ancient history if we can tie them in with a spectacle witnessed in the heavens. A recent look at the story of ‘Joshua’s eclipse’ is one such possible tale. Lunar and solar eclipses are especially dramatic events, something that would have really made the ancients stop and take notice. A recent study published in an edition of the Beit Mikra Journal (in Hebrew) byRead More →

See a Flirtatious Lunar Eclipse This Friday Night This sequence of photos taken on October 18, 2013 nicely show the different phases of a penumbral lunar eclipse. The coming penumbral eclipse will likely appear even darker because Earth’s shadow will shade to the top (northern) half of the Moon rich in dark lunar “seas” at maximum. Credit: AstroTripper 2000 Not many people get excited about a penumbral eclipse, but when it’s a deep one and the only lunar eclipse visible in North America this year, it’s worth a closer look. What’s more, this Friday’s eclipse happens during convenient, early-evening viewing hours. No getting up in the raw hoursRead More →

Juno Buzzes Jupiter a mere 4,300 Km’s above the Cloud Tops On July 4th, 2016, NASA’s Juno spacecraft made history when it became the second mission to establish orbit around Jupiter – the previous being the Galileo spacecraft, which orbited the planet from 1995 to 2003. Since that time, it has circled the massive gas giant three times, collecting data on the gas giant’s composition, interior and gravity field. This past Thursday, February 1st, the mission conducted its fourth orbit of the planet. In the process, the spacecraft collected more vital data on the gas giant and snapped several dozen pictures. And in what isRead More →

Used SpaceX Booster Set for Historic 1st Reflight is Test Fired in Texas SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage previously flown to space is test fired at the firms McGregor, TX rocket development facility in late January 2017. Credit: SpaceX The first orbit class rocket that will ever be reflown to launch a second payload to space was successfully test fired by SpaceX engineers at the firms Texas test facility last week. The once fanciful dream of rocket recycling is now closer than ever to becoming reality, after successful completion of the static fire test on a test stand in McGregor, Texas, paved the path toRead More →

The Race To Image Exoplanets Heats Up! Thanks to the deployment of the Kepler mission, thousands of extrasolar planet candidates have been discovered. Using a variety of indirect detection methods, astronomers have detected countless gas giants, super Earths, and other assorted bodies orbiting distant stars. And one terrestrial planet (Proxima b) has even been found lurking in the closest star system to Earth – Proxima Centauri. The next step, quite logically, is to observe these planets directly. Hence why the Subaru Coronagraphic Extreme Adaptive Optics (SCExAO) instrument was commissioned at the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ) in  Mauna Kea, Hawaii. Designed to allow forRead More →

The Cassiopeia Constellation Welcome back to Constellation Friday! Today, in honor of the late and great Tammy Plotner, we will be dealing with the “keel of the ship”, the Carina constellation! In the 2nd century CE, Greek-Egyptian astronomer Claudius Ptolemaeus (aka. Ptolemy) compiled a list of all the then-known 48 constellations. This treatise, known as the Almagest, would used by medieval European and Islamic scholars for over a thousand years to come, effectively becoming astrological and astronomical canon until the early Modern Age. One of the most famous of these constellations is Cassiopeia, which is easily recognized by its W-shape in the sky. As oneRead More →

Weekly Space Hangout – February 3, 2017: Meredith Rawls & the LSST Host: Fraser Cain (@fcain) Special Guest: Meredith Rawls Meredith is a Postdoctoral Researcher in the Department of Astronomy at the University of Washington. She writes software to prepare for the coming onslaught of data from the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope and studies weird binary stars. She is also the lead organizer of the ComSciCon-Pacific Northwest workshop for STEM graduate students in Seattle this March. Meredith holds degrees in physics and astronomy from Harvey Mudd College, San Diego State University, and New Mexico State University. When she’s not science-ing or telling people all aboutRead More →