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 →

Meteorite Confirms 2 Billion Years of Volcanic Activity on Mars Mars is renowned for having the largest volcano in our Solar System, Olympus Mons. New research shows that Mars also has the most long-lived volcanoes. The study of a Martian meteorite confirms that volcanoes on Mars were active for 2 billion years or longer. A lot of what we know about the volcanoes on Mars we’ve learned from Martian meteorites that have made it to Earth. The meteorite in this study was found in Algeria in 2012. Dubbed Northwest Africa 7635 (NWA 7635), this meteorite was actually seen travelling through Earth’s atmosphere in July 2011.Read More →

A Novel Concept For Braking Breakthrough Starshot In April of 2o16, Russian billionaire Yuri Milner announced the creation of Breakthrough Starshot. As part of his non-profit scientific organization (known as Breakthrough Initiatives), the purpose of Starshot was to design a lightsail nanocraft that would be capable of reaching the nearest star system – Alpha Centauri (aka. Rigel Kentaurus) within our lifetime. Since its inception, the scientists and engineers behind the Starshot concept have sought to address the challenges that such a mission would face. Similarly, there have been many in the scientific community who have also made suggestions as to how such a concept couldRead More →

Superbowl Smackdown: Watch the Moon Occult Aldebaran on Sunday Can you see it? Dave Walker accidentally (!) caught Aldebaran near the daytime Moon on October 19th, 2016. Image credit and copyright: Dave Walker Author’s note: This Superbowl Sunday event and 101 more like it are featured in our latest free e-book, 101 Astronomical Events for 2017, out now from Universe Today. Sure, this Superbowl Sunday brings with it the promise of sacks, fumbles and tackles… but have you ever seen the Moon run down a star in the end zone? Just such an event, referred to as an occultation, happens this weekend for folks livingRead More →

Get Away From It All with these Amazing DTM Views of Mars By day, Kevin Gill is a software engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. But on nights and weekends he takes data from spacecraft and turns them into scenes that can transport you directly to the surface of Mars. Gill is one of many so-called “amateur” image editing enthusiasts that take real, high-resolution data from spacecraft and create views that can make you feel like you are standing on the surface of Mars, or out flying around the Solar System. Gasa Crater on Mars. Rendered using Autodesk Maya and Adobe Photoshop. HiRISE data processedRead More →

Preleminary Results In NASA Twins Study Released In 1996, something remarkable happened at NASA. Twin brothers Mark and Scott Kelly were accepted into NASA; Mark as a shuttle pilot, and Scott into technical operations on the ground, at least initially. Eventually, both brothers became astronauts. They are the only siblings to have both been in space. Whether it was intentional or not, having twin brothers gave NASA an important opportunity. They could use one twin as a control group, and send the other on a prolonged mission into space. That allowed NASA to carry out important research on the effects of space travel on theRead More →

What is the Weather like on Mars? Mars is often referred to as “Earth’s Twin”, due to the similarities it has with our planet. They are both terrestrial planets, both have polar ice caps, and (at one time) both had viable atmospheres and liquid water on their surfaces. But beyond that, the two are quite different. And when it comes to their atmospheres and climates, Mars stands apart from Earth in some rather profound ways. For instance, when it comes to the weather on Mars, the forecast is usually quite dramatic. Not only does Martian weather vary from day to day, it sometimes varies fromRead More →

Outstanding Opportunity Rover Making ‘Amazing New Discoveries’ 13 Years After Mars Touchdown 13 Years on Mars! On Christmas Day 2016, NASA’s Opportunity rover scans around vast Endeavour crater as she ascends steep rocky slopes on the way to reach a water carved gully along the eroded craters western rim. This navcam camera photo mosaic was assembled from raw images taken on Sol 4593 (25 Dec. 2016) and colorized. Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/Marco Di Lorenzo NASA’s truly outstanding Opportunity rover continues “making new discoveries about ancient Mars” as she commemorates 13 Years since bouncing to a touchdown on Mars, in a feat that is “truly amazing” –Read More →

What is a Butte? During the 16h century, Spanish explorers ventured north from Mexico looking for gold and the legendary “Seven cities of Cibola”. What they found instead were some of the most amazing natural formations in the world, which are today known as “buttes”. To the local Hopi, Navajo, and other indigenous nations, these features – which resemble tall, isolated plateaus – have been regarded as sacred sites since time immemorial. By the beginning of the 19th century, the term “butte” entered common parlance and quickly became adopted by the geological community. And while their existence was something of a mystery for thousands ofRead More →

Vortex Coronagraph A Game Changer For Seeing Close In Exoplanets The study of exoplanets has advanced a great deal in recent years, thanks in large part to the Kepler mission. But that mission has its limitations. It’s difficult for Kepler, and for other technologies, to image regions close to their stars. Now a new instrument called a vortex coronagraph, installed at Hawaii’s Keck Observatory, allows astronomers to look at protoplanetary disks that are in very close proximity to the stars they orbit. The problem with viewing disks of dust, and even planets, close to their stars is that stars are so much brighter than objectsRead More →

Carnival of Space #494 This week’s Carnival of Space is hosted by Brian Wang at his Next Big Future blog. Click here to read Carnival of Space #494 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 want to help out, sign upRead More →

SpaceX Shuffles Falcon 9 Launch Schedule, NASA Gets 1st Launch from Historic KSC Pad 39A SpaceX is repurposing historic pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida for launches of the Falcon 9 rocket. Ongoing pad preparation by work crews is seen in this current view taken on Jan. 27, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – SpaceX announced Sunday (Jan. 29) a significant shuffle to the Falcon 9 launch schedule, saying that a key NASA mission to resupply the space station is moving to the head of the line and will now be their first mission to launch from historic pad 39ARead More →

What is a Planet? Humanity’s understanding of what constitutes a planet has changed over time. Whereas our most notable magi and scholars once believed that the world was a flat disc (or ziggurat, or cube), they gradually learned that it was in fact spherical. And by the modern era, they came to understand that the Earth was merely one of several planets in the known Universe. And yet, our notions of what constitutes a planet are still evolving. To put it simply, our definition of planet has historically been dependent upon our frame of reference. In addition to discovering extra-solar planets that have pushed theRead More →

Unprecedented Views of Saturn’s Rings as Cassini Dances Death Spiral As the Cassini spacecraft moves ever closer to Saturn, new images provide some of the most-detailed views yet of the planet’s spectacular rings. From its “Ring-Grazing” orbit phase, Cassini’s cameras are resolving details in the rings as small as 0.3 miles (550 meters), which is on the scale of Earth’s tallest buildings. On Twitter, Cassini Imaging Team Lead Carolyn Porco called the images “outrageous, eye-popping” and the “finest Cassini images of Saturn’s rings.” Project Scientist Linda Spilker said the ridges and furrows in the rings remind her of the grooves in a phonograph record. TheseRead More →

Messier 33 – The Triangulum Galaxy 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. One of these isRead More →

NASA Tribute Exhibit Honors Fallen Crew 50 Years After Apollo 1 Tragedy The new tribute to Apollo 1 at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center was opened during a dedication ceremony on Jan. 27, 2017, 50 years after the crew was lost – with a keynote speech by Kennedy Space Center Director and former astronaut Bob Cabana. The entrance to the Apollo 1 tribute shows the three astronauts who perished in a fire at the launch pad on Jan. 27, 1967 during training for the mission. The astronauts are, from left, Gus Grissom, Ed White II and Roger Chaffee. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com KENNEDY SPACE CENTER VISITOR COMPLEX,Read More →

A Proposal For Juno To Observe The Volcanoes Of Io To accomplish its science objectives, NASA’s Juno spacecraft orbits over Jupiter’s poles and passes repeatedly through repeatedly hazardous radiation belts. Two Boston University researchers propose using Juno to probe the ever-changing flux of volcanic gases-turned-ions spewed by Io’s volcanoes. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech Jupiter may be the largest planet in the Solar System with a diameter 11 times that of Earth, but it pales in comparison to its own magnetosphere. The planet’s magnetic domain extends sunward at least 3 million miles (5 million km) and on the back side all the way to Saturn for a total ofRead More →

Harvard Physicist Creates Metallic Hydrogen Using Diamond Vise For some time, scientists have been fascinated by the concept of metallic hydrogen. Such an element is believed to exist naturally when hydrogen is placed under extreme pressures (like in the interior of gas giants like Jupiter). But as a synthetic material, it would have endless applications, since it is believed to have superconducting properties at room temperature and the ability to retain its solidity once it has been brought back to normal pressure. For this reason, condensed matter physicists have been attempting to create metallic hydrogen for decades. And according to a recent study published inRead More →

Four Planet System Directly Imaged In Motion Located about 129 light years from Earth in the direction of the Pegasus constellation is the relatively young star system of HR 8799. Beginning in 2008, four orbiting exoplanets were discovered in this system which – alongside the exoplanet Formalhaut b – were the very first to be confirmed using the direct imaging technique. And over time, astronomer have come to believe that these four planets are in resonance with each other. In this case, the four planets orbit their star with a 1:2:4:8 resonance, meaning that each planet’s orbital period is in a nearly precise ratio withRead More →