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What Did We Learn About Pluto?

GuideToSpace207v2

This is a video – you should watch it!

We’ve only had blurry images of Pluto up until New Horizons. So what did we learn when we got up close and personal with Pluto and its moons?
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A test version of NASA's Orion spacecraft successfully landed under two main parachutes in the Arizona desert Aug. 26, 2015 at the U.S. Army's Yuma Proving Ground. Credit: NASA

A test version of NASA’s Orion spacecraft successfully landed under two main parachutes in the Arizona desert Aug. 26, 2015 at the U.S. Army’s Yuma Proving Ground. Credit: NASA

What would happen to the astronaut crews aboard NASA’s Orion deep space capsule in the event of parachute failures in the final moments before splashdown upon returning from weeks to years long forays to the Moon, Asteroids or Mars?

NASA teams are evaluating Orion’s fate under multiple scenarios in case certain of [click to continue…]

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The Full Moon at 10:30 p.m. last night (Aug. 30). Even at 25° altitude, it glowed a deep, dark orange due to heavy smoke from western forest fires. Credit: Bob King

The Full Moon at 10:30 p.m. last night (Aug. 29). Even at 25 degrees altitude, it glowed a deep, dark orange caused by heavy smoke from western forest fires. Credit: Bob King

Did you see the Moon last night? I walked outside at 10:30 p.m. and was stunned to see a dark, burnt-orange Full Moon as if September’s eclipse had arrived a month early. Why? Heavy smoke from forest fires in Washington, California and Montana has now spread to cover nearly half the country in a smoky pall, soaking up starlight and muting the moonlight.

If this is what global warming has in store for us, skywatchers will soon have to take a forecast of “clear skies” with a huge grain of salt. [click to continue…]

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The Dwarf Planet Orcus

Artist's impression of the Trans-Neptunian Object (TNO) 90482 Orcus. Credit: NASA

Artist’s impression of the Trans-Neptunian Object (TNO) 90482 Orcus. Credit: NASA

Since the early 2000s, more and more objects have been discovered in the outer Solar System that resemble planets. However, until they are officially classified, the terms Kuiper Belt Object (KBO) and Trans-Neptunian Object (TNO) are commonly used. This is certainly true of Orcus, another large object that was spotted in Pluto’s neighborhood about a decade ago.

Although similar in size and orbital characteristics to Pluto, Orcus is Pluto’s opposite in many ways. For this reason, Orcus is often referred to as the “anti-Pluto”, a fact that contributed greatly to the selection of its name. Although Orcus has not yet been officially categorized as a dwarf planet by the IAU, many astronomers agree that it meets all the requirements and will be in the future.

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Levi Joraanstad, a student at North Dakota State University displays his telescope, which police mistook for a rifle. Image via WDAY TV, Fargo, North Dakota.

Levi Joraanstad, a student at North Dakota State University displays his telescope, which police mistook for a rifle. Image via WDAY TV, Fargo, North Dakota.

One more thing amateur astronomers might need to worry about besides clouds, bugs, and trying to fix equipment malfunctions in the dark – and this one’s a little more serious.
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An artist’s conception shows the New Horizons spacecraft flying past a Pluto-like object in the Kuiper Belt, the ring of icy material that lies billions of miles away from the sun. (Credit: Alex Parker / NASA / JHUAPL / SwRI)

An artist’s conception shows the New Horizons spacecraft flying past a Pluto-like object in the Kuiper Belt, the ring of icy material that lies billions of miles away from the sun. (Credit: Alex Parker / NASA / JHUAPL / SwRI)

NASA and the science team behind the New Horizons mission to Pluto and beyond have settled on the popular choice for the spacecraft’s next flyby: It’s 2014 MU69, an icy object a billion miles beyond Pluto that’s thought to be less than 30 miles (45 kilometers) wide.

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A Full Moon in all its horizontal glory. When near the horizon, refraction squeezes the lunar disk into an oval. Scattering removes the shorter wavelengths of white light, leaving the Moon a rich red or orange. Credit: Bob King

A Full Moon in all its horizontal glory. When near the horizon, refraction squeezes the lunar disk into an oval. Scattering removes the shorter wavelengths of white light, coloring the Moon a rich red or orange. Credit: Bob King

Who doesn’t love a Full Moon? Occurring about once a month, they never wear out their welcome. Each one becomes a special event to anticipate. In the summer months, when the Moon rises through the sultry haze, atmosphere and aerosols scatter away so much blue light and green light from its disk, the Moon glows an enticing orange or red. [click to continue…]

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The Gas (and Ice) Giant Uranus

Uranus as seen by NASA's Voyager 2. Credit: NASA/JPL

Uranus as seen by NASA’s Voyager 2. Credit: NASA/JPL

Uranus, which takes its name from the Greek God of the sky, is a gas giant and the seventh planet from our Sun. It is also the third largest planet in our Solar System, ranking behind Jupiter and Saturn. Like its fellow gas giants, it has many moons, a ring system, and is primarily composed of gases that are believed to surround a solid core.

Though it can be seen with the naked eye, the realization that Uranus is a planet was a relatively recent one. Though there are indications that it was spotted several times over the course of the past two thousands years, it was not until the 18th century that it was recognized for what it was. Since that time, the full-extent of the planet’s moons, ring system, and mysterious nature have come to be known.

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Are Martian Dust Storms Dangerous?

GuideToSpace206v2

This is a video – you should watch it!

Just how dangerous are the terrifying dust storms that swarm Mars?
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The Dwarf Planet Quaoar

Credit: reborbit.com

Artist’s impression of the Kuiper Belt Object and possible dwarf planet Quaoar. Credit: reborbit.com

The vast Kuiper Belt, which orbits at the outer edge of our Solar System, has been the site of many exciting discoveries in the past decade or so. Otherwise known as the Trans-Neptunian region, small bodies have been discovered here that have confounded our notions of what constitutes a planet and thrown our entire classification system for a loop. Of these, the most famous (and controversial) discovery was undoubtedly Eris.

First observed in 2005 by Mike Brown and his team, the discovery of Eris overturned decades of astronomical conventions. But both before and since then, many other “dwarf planets“, “plutoids” and “Trans-Neptunian Objects” (TNOs) have been found that further illustrated the need for reclassification. This includes the Kuiper Belt Object (KBO) 5000 Quaoar (or just Quaoar), which was actually discovered three years before Eris.

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