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NASA scientists have determined that a primitive ocean on Mars held more water than Earth's Arctic Ocean and that the Red Planet has lost 87 percent of that water to space. Credit: NASA/GSFC

NASA scientists have determined that a primitive ocean on Mars held more water than Earth’s Arctic Ocean and that the Red Planet has lost 87 percent of that water to space. Water would have covered 20% of the globe about 3 billion years ago. Credit: NASA/GSFC

It’s hard to believe it now looking at Mars’ dusty, dessicated landscape that it once possessed a vast ocean. A recent NASA study of the Red Planet using the world’s most powerful infrared telescopes clearly indicate a planet that sustained a body of water larger than the Earth’s Arctic Ocean.

If spread evenly across the Martian globe, it would have covered the entire surface to a depth of about 450 feet (137 meters). More likely, the water pooled into the low-lying plains that cover much of Mars’ northern hemisphere. In some places, it would have been nearly a mile (1.6 km) deep.  [click to continue…]

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The Night Mars Was Closest to Earth

On Earth, Don Parker’s Mars images were hard to beat, but the Hubble Space Telescope—six times larger than his 16-inch ‘scope and, more importantly, above the atmosphere—easily pulled it off. In this pair of images taken around the time of the planet’s closest approach in 2003, the giant volcano Olympus Mons is the small, bright circular feature above center. Image courtesy Andrew Chaikin.

On Earth, Don Parker’s Mars images were hard to beat, but the Hubble Space Telescope—six times larger than his 16-inch ‘scope and, more importantly, above the atmosphere—easily pulled it off. In this pair of images taken around the time of the planet’s closest approach in 2003, the giant volcano Olympus Mons is the small, bright circular feature above center. Image courtesy Andrew Chaikin.

Editor’s note: On August 27, 2003 Mars was closer to Earth than at any time in human history. Author Andrew Chaikin asked Universe Today to tell the story of how he was fortunate enough to enjoy the event with Don Parker, a “superb planetary photographer and wonderful guy,” Chaikin wrote. “I first met Don, a retired anesthesiologist from Coral Gables, Florida, several weeks earlier when I journeyed with my telescope to Florida to photograph the Moon passing in front of Mars, an event called an occultation. I’d seen Don’s work for decades in Sky & Telescope magazine, but until the occultation we’d never met. I certainly had never imagined that he would turn out to be as much fun as he was, with a warped, wickedly bawdy sense of humor. Standing under the moon and Mars we bonded, and soon we were making plans for me to come down to his place for the closest approach.”

Don passed away on February 22, 2015. In his memory here’s an excerpt from Chaikin’s book, A Passion for Mars.

Godspeed, Don. See you on Mars.
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How Far Back Are We Looking in Time?

When we look out into space, we’re also looking back into time. Just how far back can we see?
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10 Interesting Facts About Volcanoes

A view of the Villarrica Volcano's Eruption In Chile on March 3, 2-15. Credit: Ariel Marinkovic/EPA /Landov.

A view of the Villarrica Volcano’s Eruption In Chile on March 3, 2-15. Credit: Ariel Marinkovic/EPA /Landov.

Want some volcano facts? Here are 10 interesting facts about volcanoes. Some of these facts you’ll know, and others may surprise you. Whatever the case, volcanoes are amazing features of nature that demand our respect.
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Book Review: Space Architecture

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Have you ever had one of those days when you just couldn’t complete another Fourier Transform no matter how many chocolate covered cacao nibs you consumed? You need to perk yourself up, maybe imagine something a little more exotic than a Volkswagen diesel scooting down a gravel road. Well then, pull up a chair and grab a copy of the last Architectural Design issue of 2014 entitled “Space Architecture – The New Frontier for Design Research”. Sure it’s got some pretty involved speculative prose, but the graphics are stupendous and will knock you right back into a can-do mindset.
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Watch the Aurora Shimmer and Dance in Real Time

I for one have never witnessed the northern lights in person, and like many people I experience them vicariously through the photography and videos of more well-traveled (or more polar-bound) individuals. Typically these are either single-shot photos or time-lapses made up of many somewhat long-exposure images. As beautiful as these are, they don’t accurately capture the true motion of this upper atmospheric phenomenon. But here we get a look at the aurora as it looks in real time, captured on camera by Jon Kerr from northern Finland. Check it out above or watch in full screen HD on YouTube.

The video was shot with a full-frame mirrorless Sony a7S. See more of Jon’s aurora videos on YouTube here.

Video credit: Jon Kerr. HT SunViewer on Twitter.

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What is the Closest Galaxy to the Milky Way?

Illustration of the Canis Dwarf Dwarf Galaxy, Credit:  R. Ibata (Strasbourg Observatory, ULP) et al./2MASS/NASA

Illustration of the Canis Dwarf Dwarf Galaxy and its associated tidal (shown in red) in relation to our Milky Way. Credit: R. Ibata (Strasbourg Observatory, ULP) et al./2MASS/NASA

Scientists have known for some time that the Milky Way Galaxy is not alone in the Universe. In addition to our galaxy being part of the Local Group — a collection of 54 galaxies and dwarf galaxies — we are also part of the larger formation known as the Virgo Supercluster. So you could say the Milky Way has a lot of neighbors.

Of these, most people consider the Andromeda Galaxy to our closest galactic cohabitant. But in truth, Andromeda is the closest spiral galaxy, and not the closest galaxy by a long shot. This distinction falls to a formation that is actually within the Milky Way itself, a dwarf galaxy that goes by the name of the Canis Major Dwarf Galax (aka. the Canis Major Overdensity).

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What Your Breakfast has in Common with Ceres

On March 6, the Dawn spacecraft will ease into orbit around the dwarf planet Ceres. This is the visit to a dwarf planet (New Horizons will flyby Pluto later this year) and scientists are eager to see its surface in detail. But did you know that Ceres got its name from the ancient Roman goddess of agriculture and grain crops? Think about that when you enjoy your breakfast!
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Bright Spots on Ceres Likely Ice, Not Cryovolcanoes

Ceres rotates in this sped-up movie comprised of images taken by NASA's Dawn mission during its approach to the dwarf planet. The images were taken on Feb. 19, 2015, from a distance of nearly 29,000 miles (46,000 kilometers). Dawn observed Ceres for a full rotation of the dwarf planet, which lasts about nine hours. The images have a resolution of 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) per pixel. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

Ceres rotates in this sped-up movie comprised of images taken by NASA’s Dawn mission during its approach to the dwarf planet. The images were taken on Feb. 19, 2015, from a distance of nearly 29,000 miles (46,000 kilometers). Dawn observed Ceres for a full rotation of the dwarf planet, which lasts about nine hours. The images have a resolution of 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) per pixel. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

As the Dawn spacecraft prepares to enter orbit around Ceres on March 6, the science team provided the latest images and a mission preview during a briefing on March 2. The images released yesterday show more of those unusual bright spots and lots of craters, and feature two new global views of Ceres: one spinning globe, and a mosaic of a flat map-view of Ceres’ surface.

But the most-talked about feature is the 90-km-wide (57-mile) crater with two bright spots.

“These spots are extremely surprising and have been puzzling to the team and everyone that has seen them,” said Deputy Principal Investigator Carol Raymond. “The team is really, really excited about this feature because it is unique in the solar system.”

Raymond added that the team will be revealing the true nature of spots with the public in real time as the spacecraft gets closer and is able to make a determination.

So what is the leading theory on the bright spots?
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Book Review: Emigrating Beyond Earth

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Do you believe that humans are the ultimate species and that we have a destiny to rule? Perhaps you’re being optimistic according to Cameron Smith and Evan Davies. Their book “Emigrating Beyond Earth: Human Adaptation and Space Colonization” provides an anthropologist’s view that splashes a certain amount of chagrin on the hubris of our culture. Yes, they say we can and indeed should become a spacefaring species. However, they do caution that this future for our species can be attained only if we proactively try.
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