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Comet Siding Spring near Mars in a composite image by the Hubble Space Telescope, capturing their positions between Oct. 18 8:06 a.m. EDT (12:06 p.m. UTC) and Oct. 19 11:17 p.m. EDT (Oct. 20, 3:17 a.m. UTC). Credit: NASA, ESA, PSI, JHU/APL, STScI/AURA

Comet Siding Spring near Mars in a composite image by the Hubble Space Telescope, capturing their positions between Oct. 18 8:06 a.m. EDT (12:06 p.m. UTC) and Oct. 19 11:17 p.m. EDT (Oct. 20, 3:17 a.m. UTC). Credit: NASA, ESA, PSI, JHU/APL, STScI/AURA

We’ve seen spectacular images of Comet Siding Spring from Mars spacecraft, showing just how close the small body was to the Red Planet when it whizzed by Sunday (Oct. 19). But how close were the two objects actually, in the sky? This Hubble Space Telescope composite image shows just how astoundingly near they were.

Above are two separate exposures taken Oct. 18-19 EDT (Oct. 18-20 UTC) against the same starry field image from another survey. It was a complicated shot to get, NASA explains, but it does serve as a powerful illustration of the celestial close encounter.

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The ALMA array, as it looks now completed and standing on a  Chilean high plateau at 5000 meters (16,400 ft) altitude. The first observations with ALMA of Titan have added to the Saturn moon's list of mysteries. {Credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO) / L. Calçada (ESO)}

The ALMA array, as it looks completed and standing on a Chilean high plateau at 5000 meters (16,400 ft) altitude. The first observations with ALMA of Titan have added to the Saturn moon’s list of mysteries. {Credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO) / L. Calçada (ESO)}

A new mystery of Titan has been uncovered by astronomers using their latest asset in the high altitude desert of Chile. Using the now fully deployed Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) telescope in Chile, astronomers moved from observing comets to Titan. A single 3 minute observation revealed organic molecules that are askew in the atmosphere of Titan. The molecules in question should be smoothly distributed across the atmosphere, but they are not.
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Image Credit: Paramount Pictures

Kip Thorne’s concept for a black hole in Interstellar. Credit: Paramount Pictures

While he was working on the film Interstellar, executive producer Kip Thorne was tasked with creating the black hole that would be central to the plot. As a theoretical physicist, he also wanted to create something that was truly realistic and as close to the real thing as movie-goers would ever see.

On the other hand, Christopher Nolan – the film’s director – wanted to create something that would be a visually-mesmerizing experience. As you can see from the image above, they certainly succeeded as far as the aesthetics were concerned. But even more impressive was how the creation of this fictitious black hole led to an actual scientific discovery.
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Two Comet Groups Discovered Around Beta Pictoris

This artist’s impression shows exocomets orbiting the star Beta Pictoris.  Credit: ESO/L. Cacada

This artist’s impression shows exocomets orbiting the star Beta Pictoris. Credit:
ESO/L. Cacada

Between the years 2003 and 2011, the High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher – better known as HARPS – made more than a thousand observations of nearby star, Beta Pictoris. On board the ESO 3.6-metre telescope at the La Silla Observatory in Chile, the sensitive instrument normally combs the sky nightly in search of exoplanets, but lately it has contributed to another astounding discovery… exocomets! [click to continue…]

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Which is the main culprit for the terminal Cretaceous extinction: the Chicxulub impact or Deccan Traps volcanism? Upper Image: Donald Davis, NASA JPL Lower Image: USGS

Which is the main culprit for the terminal Cretaceous extinction: the Chicxulub impact or Deccan Traps volcanism? Upper Image: Donald Davis, NASA JPL
Lower Image: USGS

About sixty five and a half million years ago, the Earth suffered its largest known cosmic impact. An asteroid or comet nucleus about 10 km in diameter slammed into what is now the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico. It gouged out a crater 180 to 200 km in diameter: nearly twice as large as the prominent crater Copernicus on Earth’s moon. But did this impact really cause the extinction of the dinosaurs and many other forms of life? Many earth scientists are convinced that it did, but some harbor nagging doubts. The doubters have marshaled a growing body of evidence for another culprit; the enormous volcanic eruptions that produced the Deccan Traps formation in India. The skeptics recently presented their case at a meeting of the Geological Society of America in Vancouver, Canada, on October 19. [click to continue…]

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