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What Asteroid 2004 BL86 and Hawaii Have in Common

Toes of a pahoehoe flow advance across a road in Kalapana on the east rift zone of Kilauea Volcano, Hawaii and the binary asteroid 2004 BL86. Credit: U.S. Geological Survey (left) and NASA/JPL-Caltech

Toes of a pahoehoe flow of basaltic lava advance across a road in Kalapana from the Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii (left). Meanwhile scientists have just determined that the main body of visiting binary asteroid 2004 BL86 is composed of similar material. Credit: U.S. Geological Survey (left) and NASA/JPL-Caltech

At first glance, you wouldn’t think Hawaii has any connection at all with asteroid 2004 BL86, the one that missed Earth by 750,000 miles (1.2 million km) just 3 days ago. One’s a tropical paradise with nightly pig roasts, beaches and shave ice; the other an uninhabitable ball of bare rock untouched by floral print swimsuits.

But Planetary Science Institute researchers Vishnu Reddy and Driss Takir would beg to differ. [click to continue…]

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Do You See a Mountain or a Crater in This Picture?

A fresh 1-km wide crater on Mars, captured by the HiRISE camera on the Mar Reconnaissance Orbiter. Or does it look like a mountain to you? Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona.

A fresh 1-km wide crater on Mars, captured by the HiRISE camera on the Mar Reconnaissance Orbiter. Or does it look like a mountain to you? Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona.

Yesterday, we posted an image taken by the HiRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) of an unusual crater formed by a triple-asteroid. We noticed some comments on the article and on social media of people who said, “hey, that looks like a mountain, not a crater!”

Thanks to our brains, this is a common illusion! Depending on the angle of the Sun when the picture was taken, images of craters taken from overhead (i.e. from orbit) may appear to be a mountain. Here on Earth, we’re used to seeing sunlight coming from overhead, and our brain interprets what we see with the assumption that the sunlight *must* always come from above. Satellite photos of terrain, however usually only show shadows when the light source is nearly horizontal with the surface.

There’s an easy fix for this illusion: flip the image over so it appears the sunlight is coming from above. We’ve done that for you, below:
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What’s Happening in the Universe Right Now?


If Dr. Who has taught us anything, it’s that time is kind of crazy. And we’re not just talking about time travel here, we’re talking about regular old “now”. Well, what “now” means depends on where you are and how fast you’re moving.
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How would our horizon look if Earth orbited around another star, such as Alfa-Centauri, Sirius, or Polaris? Roscosmos TV has released two new videos that replace our familiar Sun and Moon with other stars and planets. While these are completely fantastical — as Earth would have evolved very differently or not evolved at all in orbit around a giant or binary star — the videos are very well done and they give a new appreciation for the accustomed and comforting views we have. The Sun video is above; the Moon below:
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Are we seeing the convergence of a century of space science and science fiction before our eyes? Will Musk and SpaceX make 2001 Space Odyssey a reality? (Photo Credit: NASA, Apple, SpaceX, Tesla Motors, MGM, Paramount Pictures, Illustration – Judy Schmidt)

Are we seeing the convergence of a century of space science and science fiction before our eyes? Will Musk and SpaceX make 2001 Space Odyssey a reality? (Photo Credit: NASA, Apple, SpaceX, Tesla Motors, MGM, Paramount Pictures, Illustration – Judy Schmidt)

In Kubrick’s and Clark’s 2001 Space Odyssey, there was no question of “Boots or Bots”[ref]. The monolith had been left for humanity as a mileage and direction marker on Route 66 to the stars. So we went to Jupiter and Dave Bowman overcame a sentient machine, shut it down cold and went forth to discover the greatest story yet to be told.

Now Elon Musk, born three years after the great science fiction movie and one year before the last Apollo mission to the Moon has set his goals, is achieving milestones to lift humans beyond low-Earth orbit, beyond the bonds of Earth’s gravity and take us to the first stop in the final frontier – Mars – the destination of the SpaceX odyssey.

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