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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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Two RD-181 integrated with the Orbital ATK Antares first stage air frame at the Wallops Island, Virginia Horizontal Integration Facility (HIF). Return to flight launch is expected sometime during Spring 2016.  Credit: NASA/ Terry Zaperach

Two RD-181 integrated with the Orbital ATK Antares first stage air frame at the Wallops Island, Virginia Horizontal Integration Facility (HIF). Return to flight launch is expected sometime during Spring 2016. Credit: NASA/ Terry Zaperach

Orbital ATK is on the rebound with return to flight of their Antares rocket slated in early 2016 following the catastrophic launch failure that doomed the last Antares in October 2014 on a resupply mission for NASA to the International Space Station (ISS).

Engineers are making “excellent progress” assembling a modified version of Antares that is currently on track to blast off as soon as [click to continue…]

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NASA's Dawn spacecraft spotted this tall, conical mountain on Ceres from a distance of 915 miles (1,470 kilometers). The mountain, located in the southern hemisphere, stands 4 miles (6 kilometers) high. Its perimeter is sharply defined, with almost no accumulated debris at the base of the brightly streaked slope. The image was taken on August 19, 2015.Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft spotted this tall, conical mountain on Ceres from a distance of 915 miles (1,470 kilometers). The mountain, located in the southern hemisphere, stands 4 miles (6 kilometers) high. Its perimeter is sharply defined, with almost no accumulated debris at the base of the brightly streaked slope. The image was taken on August 19, 2015.Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

The Dawn spacecraft is now orbiting just 1,470 kilometers (915 miles) above Ceres’ surface, and the science team released these latest images. Above is a closest view yet of the so-called ‘pyramid’ on Ceres, although the closer Dawn gets, the less this feature looks like a pyramid. It’s actually more like a conical mountain with a flat top, almost like a butte.

And if you’re like me and you see a crater instead of a mountain, just turn the picture over (or stand on your head). Below, we’ve turned the image upside down for you:
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Ice Giants at Opposition

Moons

Moons at opposition… check out the amazing captures of the moons of Uranus and Neptune! Image credit and copyright: Efrain Morales

It seems as if the planets are fleeing the evening sky, just as the Fall school star party season is getting underway. Venus and Mars have entered the morning sky, and Jupiter reaches solar conjunction this week. Even glorious Saturn has passed eastern quadrature, and will soon depart evening skies. [click to continue…]

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