Rise of the Super Telescopes: The Giant Magellan Telescope We humans have an insatiable hunger to understand the Universe. As Carl Sagan said, “Understanding is Ecstasy.” But to understand the Universe, we need better and better ways to observe it. And that means one thing: big, huge, enormous telescopes. In this series we’ll look at 6 of the world’s Super Telescopes: The Giant Magellan Telescope The Overwhelmingly Large Telescope The 30 Meter Telescope The European Extremely Large Telescope The Large Synoptic Survey Telescope The James Webb Space Telescope The Giant Magellan Telescope The Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) is being built in Chile, at the LasRead More →

Elon Musk Announces Daring SpaceX Dragon Flight Beyond Moon with 2 Private Astronauts in 2018 SpaceX CEO Elon Musk announced plans on Feb. 27, 2017 to launch a commercial crew SpaceX Dragon to beyond the Moon and back with two private astronauts in 2018 using a SpaceX Falcon Heavy launching from the Kennedy Space Center. Credit: SpaceX KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – Breaking News – Elon Musk, billionaire founder and CEO of SpaceX, announced today (27 Feb) a daring plan to launch a commercial manned journey to beyond the Moon and back in 2018 flying aboard an advanced crewed Dragon spacecraft paid for by twoRead More →

This is Actual Science. Crystals at the Earth’s Core Power its Magnetic Field Whether or not a planet has a magnetic field goes a long way towards determining whether or not it is habitable. Whereas Earth has a strong magnetosphere that protects life from harmful radiation and keeps solar wind from stripping away its atmosphere, planet’s like Mars no longer do. Hence why it went from being a world with a thicker atmosphere and liquid water on its surface to the cold, desiccated place it is today. For this reason, scientists have long sought to understand what powers Earth’s magnetic field. Until now, the consensusRead More →

Carnival of Space #498 This week’s Carnival of Space is hosted by Allen Versfeld at his Urban Astronomer blog. Click here to read Carnival of Space #498. And if you’re interested in looking back, here’s an archive to 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, signRead More →

NASA Studies Whether to Add Crew to 1st SLS Megarocket Moon Launch in 2019 NASA’s Space Launch System rocket will be the most powerful rocket in the world and, with the agency’s Orion spacecraft, will launch America into a new era of exploration to destinations beyond Earth’s orbit. Their first integrated mission is planned as uncrewed, but NASA now is assessing the feasibility of adding crew. Credits: NASA/MSFC KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – At the request of the new Trump Administration, NASA has initiated a month long study to determine the feasibility of converting the first integrated unmanned launch of the agency’s new Space LaunchRead More →

SETI Has Already Tried Listening to TRAPPIST-1 for Aliens The Trappist-1 system has been featured in the news quite a bit lately. In May of 2016, it appeared in the headlines after researchers announced the discovery of three exoplanets orbiting around the red dwarf star. And then there was the news earlier this week of how follow-up examinations from ground-based telescopes and the Spitzer Space Telescope revealed that there were actually seven planets in this system. And now it seems that there is more news to be had from this star system. As it turns out, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute was alreadyRead More →

The Cepheus Constellation Welcome back to Constellation Friday! Today, in honor of the late and great Tammy Plotner, we will be dealing with the King of Ethiopia himself, the Cepheus 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 these is the northern constellation of Cepheus, named after the mythological king of Ethiopia. Today, it is one of theRead More →

Supernova Blast Wave Still Visible After 30 Years 30 years ago today, a supernova explosion was spotted in the southern hemisphere skies. The exploding star was located in the Large Magellanic Cloud — a satellite galaxy of the Milky Way – and Supernova 1987A was the brightest and nearest supernova explosion for modern astronomers to observe. This has provided an amazing opportunity to study the death of a star. Telescopes around the world and in space have been keeping an eye on this event, and the latest images show the blast wave from the original explosion is still expanding, and it has plowed into aRead More →

Weekly Space Hangout – February 24, 2017: 7 New Exoplanets Around Trappist-1 and More! Host: Fraser Cain (@fcain) Guests: Paul M. Sutter (pmsutter.com / @PaulMattSutter) Morgan Rehnberg (MorganRehnberg.com / @MorganRehnberg) Kimberly Cartier ( KimberlyCartier.org / @AstroKimCartier ) Their stories this week: Discovery of 7 exoplanet system Trappist-1 Alan Stern proposes a new definition of a planet Juno to stay in longer orbit We use a tool called Trello to submit and vote on stories we would like to see covered each week, and then Fraser will be selecting the stories from there. Here is the link to the Trello WSH page (http://bit.ly/WSHVote), which you canRead More →

Wow, Mars Sure Can Be Pretty For a supposedly dead world, Mars sure provides a lot of eye candy. The High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRise) aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) is our candy store for stunning images of Mars. Recently, HiRise gave us this stunning image (above) of colorful, layered bedrock on the surface of Mars. Notice the dunes in the center. The colors are enhanced, which makes the images more useful scientifically, but it’s still amazing. HiRise has done it before, of course. It’s keen vision has fed us a steady stream of downright jaw-dropping images of Elon Musk’s favorite planet. CheckRead More →

It Might Be Possible to Refreeze the Icecaps to Slow Global Warming One of the most worrisome aspects of Climate Change is the role played by positive feedback mechanisms. In addition to global temperatures rising because of increased carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions, there is the added push created by deforestation, ocean acidification, and (most notably) the disappearance of the Arctic Polar Ice Cap. However, according to a new study by a team of researchers from the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University, it might be possible to refreeze parts of the Arctic ice sheet. Through a geoengineering technique thatRead More →

NASA Fires a Rocket into the Northern Lights, for Science! Not only is it aurora season in Alaska, its sounding rocket season! NASA started launching a series of five sounding rockets from the Poker Flat Research Range in Alaska to study the aurora. The first of these rockets for this year, a Black Brant IX, was launched in the early morning hours of February 22, 2017. The instrument on board was an Ionospheric Structuring: In Situ and Groundbased Low Altitude StudieS (ISINGLASS) instrumented payload, which studies the structure of an aurora. The Black Brant IX sounding rocket carried instruments to an altitude of 225 milesRead More →

Ring of Fire: Catch the Only Annular Solar Eclipse of 2017 This Sunday The May 2012 annular solar eclipse. Image credit and copyright: Kevin Baird. ‘Tis the season… eclipse season that is, as a spectacular “ring of fire” annular solar eclipse marks the end of the first of two eclipse cycles for 2017. And although the annular path for this eclipse passes through some sparsely populated parts of the southern hemisphere, we just might get some amazing live views, courtesy of modern technology and some intrepid observers willing to adventurously trek after the shadow of the Moon. Unlike many of the uncertainties in life, eclipses areRead More →

SpaceX Dragon Arrives at Space Station with Tons of Earth and Human Science Experiments SpaceX CRS-10 Dragon supply ship launched on Feb. 19, 2017 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida successfully arrives at the International Space Station on Feb. 23, 2017 for capture and berthing at station port on the Harmony module. Credit: NASA KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – A SpaceX Dragon supply ship jam packed with more than 2.5 tons of critical science gear, crew supplies and 40 mice successfully arrived this morning at the International Space Station (ISS) – where six humans from the US, Russia and France are living and workingRead More →

Planet 9 Can’t Run Forever. Two Asteroids Give Up Some Clues Last year, Caltech astronomers Mike Brown and Konstantin Batygin found indirect evidence for the existence of a large planet in the outer reaches of our Solar System — likely located out past Pluto — and since then, the search has been on. The latest research continues to show signs of an unseen planet, the hypothetical Planet 9. Astronomers using the Gran Telescopio CANARIAS (GTC) in the Canary Islands looked at two distant asteroids called Extreme Trans Neptunian Objects’ (ETNOs), and spectroscopic observations show and their present-day orbits could be the result of a pastRead More →

Here’s an Aerial View of a Massive Iceberg Shearing away from Antarctica Located along the east coast of the Antarctic Peninsula is the Larsen Ice Shelf. Named after the Norwegian Captain who explored the ice front back in 1893, this ice shelf has been monitored for decades due to its close connection with rising global temperatures. Essentially, since the 1990s, the shelf has been breaking apart, causing collapses of considerable intensity. According to the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), the section of the ice sheet known as the Larsen C Ice Shelf could be experiencing a collapse of its own soon enough. Based on video footageRead More →

Get Ready for the First Pictures of a Black Hole’s Event Horizon It might sound trite to say that the Universe is full of mysteries. But it’s true. Chief among them are things like Dark Matter, Dark Energy, and of course, our old friends the Black Holes. Black Holes may be the most interesting of them all, and the effort to understand them—and observe them—is ongoing. That effort will be ramped up in April, when the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) attempts to capture our first image of a Black Hole and its event horizon. The target of the EHT is none other than Sagittarius A,Read More →

Huge News, Seven Earth-Sized Worlds Orbiting a Red Dwarf, Three in the Habitable Zone In what is surely the biggest news since the hunt for exoplanets began, NASA announced today the discovery of a system of seven exoplanets orbiting the nearby star of TRAPPIST-1. Discovered by a team of astronomers using data from the TRAPPIST telescope in Chile and the Spitzer Space Telescope, this find is especially exciting since all of these planets are believed to be Earth-sized and terrestrial (i.e. rocky). But most exciting of all is the fact that three of these rocky exoplanets orbit within the star’s habitable zone (aka. “Goldilocks Zone”).Read More →

Here’s Something We Never Thought We’d See on a Comet: Shifting Dunes The Rosetta mission’s close-up views of the curiously-shaped Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko have already changed some long-held ideas about comets. But here’s more: there’s a ‘wind’ blowing across the comet’s surface, creating moving shifting dunes. “The approach to comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko by the spacecraft Rosetta has revealed the presence of astonishing dune-like patterns,” wrote Philippe Claudin, of the Institute of Industrial Physics and Chemistry, Paris, France, in his new paper, noting the unusual and unexpected conditions found on Comet 67P. Left, an image of comet Chury showing outgassing of water vapor, which entrains dust (© ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM).Read More →

How Long is a Year on Venus? Venus and Earth have many similarities. Both are terrestrial planets, meaning that they are composed predominately of metal and silicate rock, which is differentiated between a metal core and a silicate mantle and crust. Both also orbit the Sun within its habitable zone (aka. “Goldilocks Zone“). Hence why Venus and Earth are often called “sister planets”. However, Venus is also starkly different from Earth in a number of ways. It’s atmosphere, which is composed primarily of carbon dioxide and small amounts of nitrogen, is 92 times as dense as Earth’s. It is also the hottest planet in theRead More →