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Comet US10 Catalina: Our Guide to Act II

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Looking good… Comet US10 Catalina on September 7th, 2015. Image credit and copyright: Roger Hutchinson.

Itching for some cometary action? After a fine winter’s performance from Comet C/2014 Q2 Lovejoy, 2015 has seen a dearth of good northern hemisphere comets. That’s about to change, however, as Comet C/2013 US10 Catalina joins the planetary lineup currently gracing the dawn sky in early November. Currently located in the constellation Centaurus and shining at magnitude +6, Comet US10 Catalina has already put on a fine show for southern hemisphere observers over the last few months during Act I[click to continue…]


Video Caption: NASA/JAXA’s GPM satellite measured record rainfall that fell over the Carolinas from September 26 to October 5, 2015 from a plume of moisture from Hurricane Joaquin when it was located over the Bahamas and moved to Bermuda. The IMERG showed highest rainfall totals near 1,000 mm (39.3 inches) in a small area of South Carolina and rainfall between 700 and 900 mm (27.5 and 37.4 inches) over a large area of South Carolina. Credits: SSAI/NASA/JAXA, Hal Pierce
See below ground level images and videos of storm devastation

NASA’s advanced Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) weather satellite is tracking and recording the ‘1000 Year’ rainfall event heaping death and devastation across wide areas of South Carolina from the combined actions of a freak Nor’easter and Hurricane Joaquin – that reached a borderline Cat 5 status on Saturday, Oct. 3 with winds of 150 mph.

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley declared the historic and torrential rain fall to be a “1000 Year event” on Sunday, Oct. 4. “We have never seen anything like this.” Governor Haley and President Obama issued a “State of Emergency.” [click to continue…]

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Image: James Webb Space Telescope

NASA’s James Webb Telescope, shown in this artist’s conception, will provide more information about previously detected exoplanets. A new habitability index is aimed at helping the Webb team prioritize its search. Credit: NASA

Researchers at the University of Washington’s Virtual Planetary Laboratory have devised a new habitability index for judging how suitable alien planets might be for life, and the top prospects on their list are an Earthlike world called Kepler-442b and a yet-to-be confirmed planet known as KOI 3456.02.

Those worlds both score higher than our own planet on the index: 0.955 for KOI 3456.02 and 0.836 for Kepler-442b, compared with 0.829 for Earth and 0.422 for Mars. The point of the exercise is to help scientists prioritize future targets for close-ups from NASA’s yet-to-be-launched James Webb Space Telescope and other instruments.

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NASA's latest round of Discovery Program missions. Credit: NASA

NASA’s latest round of Discovery Program missions envision sending craft to study Venus, near-Earth objects, and asteroids. Credit: NASA

It’s no secret that there has been a resurgence in interest in space exploration in recent years. Much of the credit for this goes to NASA’s ongoing exploration efforts on Mars, which in the past few years have revealed things like organic molecules on the surface, evidence of flowing water, and that the planet once had a denser atmosphere –  all of which indicate that the planet may have once been hospitable to life.

But when it comes to the future, NASA is looking beyond Mars to consider missions that will send missions to Venus, near-Earth objects, and a variety of asteroids. With an eye to Venus, they are busy investigating the possibility of sending the Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble gases, Chemistry, and Imaging (DAVINCI) spacecraft to the planet by the 2020s.

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Astronomy Cast Ep. 387: Water on Mars… Again

Have you heard the big news? NASA has reported that Mark Whatney is alive and well on the surface of Mars. No, wait, they’ve reported that there’s water on Mars. Didn’t they already report this? Today we’ll update you on the latest discovery and what this means for the search for life on Mars.

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Astronomy Cast Ep. 386: Orbiting Observers

The atmosphere keeps us alive and breathing, but it really sucks for astronomy. Fortunately, humanity has built and launched space telescopes that get above the pesky atmosphere, where the skies are really clear. Let’s take a look at the past, current and future of orbital observation.

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Why Was September’s Lunar Eclipse So Dark?

The September 17, 2015 total lunar eclipse - the last of the recent tetrad of lunar eclipses over the past 17 months - was darker than expected. Several factors described below were in play. This photo was taken in Washington's Olympic National Park. Credit: Rick Klawitter

The September 17, 2015 total lunar eclipse was darker than expected. Several factors including the Moon’s location in Earth’s shadow and volcanic dust may have been at play. This photo was taken in Washington’s Olympic National Park during totality. Credit: Rick Klawitter

First off, a huge thank you to everyone who made and sent their Danjon scale estimate of the totally-eclipsed Moon’s brightness to Dr. Richard Keen, University of Colorado atmospheric scientist. Your data were crucial to his study of how aerosols in Earth’s atmosphere and other factors influence the Moon’s appearance.

Grateful for your help, Keen received a total of 28 observations from 7 different countries. [click to continue…]


Is Jupiter Our Friend Or Enemy?


This is a video – you should watch it!

Does Jupiter protect us from harm, or cause more objects to change trajectory and head towards Earth?
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Invest a Night in Vesta

Wanna see a protoplanet? The asteroid 4 Vesta is easily visible in nothing more than a pair of binoculars this month. Credit: NASA

Want to see a protoplanet? The asteroid 4 Vesta is easily visible in nothing more than a pair of binoculars this month. Credit: NASA

The brightest asteroid visible from Earth prowls across Cetus the Whale this month. Vesta shines at magnitude +6.3, right at the naked eye limit for observers with pristine skies, but easily coaxed into view with any pair of binoculars. With the moon now gone from the evening sky, you can start your search tonight.  [click to continue…]

Hurricane Joaquin captured on Oct. 2, 2015 by NASA Astronaut Scott Kelly from the International Space Station. Credit: NASA/Scott Kelly

Cat 4 Hurricane Joaquin captured on Oct. 2, 2015 by NASA Astronaut Scott Kelly from the International Space Station. Credit: NASA/Scott Kelly

As the powerful category 4 Hurricane Joaquin was pounding the Bahamas and packing winds of over 130 mph, NASA astronaut Scott Kelly captured a stunning photo of Joaquin on Friday morning, Oct. 2 from his perch aboard the International Space Station (ISS). As of today, Oct. 3. Joaquin has gained strength to 150 mph and is a borderline Cat 5 storm!

Coincidentally, Kelly snapped the photo within hours of the milestone 100th straight successful rocket launch by United Launch Alliance (ULA) on Oct. 2, of the firms Atlas V rocket carrying Mexico’s next generation Morelos-3 communications satellite from Florida to orbit. [click to continue…]

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