India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) marked 100 days out from Mars on June 16, 2014 and the Mars Orbit Insertion engine firing when it arrives at the Red Planet on September 24, 2014 after its 10 month interplanetary journey.  Credit ISRO

India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) is closing in on the Red Planet and the Mars Orbit Insertion engine firing when it arrives on September 24, 2014 after its 10 month interplanetary journey. Credit ISRO

Now less than 25 days from the history making rendezvous with the Red Planet and the critical Mars Orbital Insertion (MOI) engine firing, India’s MOM is in good health!

The Mars Orbiter Mission, or MOM, counts as India’s first interplanetary voyager and the nation’s first manmade object to orbit the 4th rock from our Sun on September 24, 2014 – if all goes well. [click to continue…]

The crescent moon, Saturn and Mars will form a compact triangle in the southwestern sky in this evening August 31st. 3.5º separate the moon and Saturn; Mars and Saturn will be 5º apart. Stellarium

The crescent moon, Saturn and Mars will form a compact triangle in the southwestern sky in this evening August 31st. 3.5º separate the moon and Saturn; Mars and Saturn will be 5º apart. This view shows the sky looking southwest 45 minutes after sunset. Stellarium

Check it out. Look southwest at dusk tonight and you’ll see three of the solar system’s coolest personalities gathering for a late dinner. Saturn, Mars and the waxing crescent moon will sup in Libra ahead of the fiery red star Antares in Scorpius. All together, a wonderful display of out-of-this-world worlds.  [click to continue…]

Comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring passed between the Small Magellanic Cloud (left) and the rich globular cluster NGC 130 on August 29, 2014. Credit: Rolando Ligustri

Comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring wriggles between the globular clusters NGC 362 (upper left) and 47 Tucanae (NGC 104) while skirting the edge of the Small Magellanic Cloud on August 29, 2014. Credit: Rolando Ligustri

Now that’s pure gorgeous. As Comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring sidles towards its October 19th encounter with Mars, it’s passing a trio of sumptuous deep sky objects near the south celestial pole this week. Astrophotographers weren’t going to let the comet’s picturesque alignments pass without notice. [click to continue…]

Inside the Operations and Checkout Building high bay at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, technicians dressed in clean-room suits install a back shell tile panel onto the Orion crew module.  Credit: NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis

Inside the Operations and Checkout Building high bay at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, technicians dressed in clean-room suits install a back shell tile panel onto the Orion crew module. Credit: NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis

Fabrication of the pathfinding version of NASA’s Orion crew capsule slated for its inaugural unmanned test flight in December is entering its final stages at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) launch site in Florida.

Engineers and technicians have completed the installation of Orion’s back shell panels which will protect the spacecraft and future astronauts from the searing heat of reentry and scorching temperatures exceeding 3,150 degrees Fahrenheit. [click to continue…]

Radio Telescopes Resolve Pleiades Distance Debate

by Shannon Hall on August 29, 2014

An optical image of the Pleiades. Credit: NOAO / AURA / NSF

An optical image of the Pleiades. Credit: NOAO / AURA / NSF

Fall will soon be at our doorstep. But before the leaves change colors and the smell of pumpkin fills our coffee shops, the Pleiades star cluster will mark the new season with its earlier presence in the night sky.

The delicate grouping of blue stars has been a prominent sight since antiquity. But in recent years, the cluster has also been the subject of an intense debate, marking a controversy that has troubled astronomers for more than a decade.

Now, a new measurement argues that the distance to the Pleiades star cluster measured by ESA’s Hipparcos satellite is decidedly wrong and that previous measurements from ground-based telescopes had it right all along.

[click to continue…]