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What Was Here Before the Solar System?


The Solar System is 4.5 billion years old, but the Universe is much older. What was here before our Solar System formed?
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These images show Pluto in the latest series of New Horizons Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) photos, taken May 8-12, 2015. Hints of possible complex surface geology and the polar cap first seen in April are visible. Credit: NASA

These images show Pluto in the latest series of New Horizons Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) photos, taken May 8-12, 2015. Hints of possible complex surface geology and the polar cap first seen in April are visible. Credit: NASA

Hey Pluto, it’s great to see your face! Since sending its last batch of images in April, NASA’s New Horizons probe lopped off another 20 million miles in its journey to the mysterious world.  Among the latest revelations: the dwarf planet displays a much more varied surface and the bright polar cap discovered earlier this spring appears even bigger.
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SpaceX Falcon 9 and Dragon blastoff from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on April 14, 2015 at 4:10 p.m. EDT  on the CRS-6 mission to the International Space Station. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

SpaceX Falcon 9 is now certified for USAF launches. SpaceX Falcon 9 and Dragon blastoff from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on April 14, 2015 at 4:10 p.m. EDT on the CRS-6 mission to the International Space Station. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Story updated

The U.S. Air Force announced Tuesday that they have certified SpaceX to launch the nations critical and highly valuable national security satellites on the firms Falcon 9 rocket, thereby breaking the decade old launch monopoly held by launch competitor United Launch Alliance (ULA). ULA is a joint venture owned by aerospace giants Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

The Air Force’s goal in approving the SpaceX Falcon 9 booster is aimed at drastically cutting the high cost of access to space by introducing competition in the awarding of military mission launch contacts. [click to continue…]

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The fascinating surface of Jupiter’s icy moon Europa looms large in this newly-reprocessed color view, made from images taken by NASA's Galileo spacecraft in the late 1990s. This is the color view of Europa from Galileo that shows the largest portion of the moon's surface at the highest resolution.  Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute

The fascinating surface of Jupiter’s icy moon Europa looms large in this newly-reprocessed color view, made from images taken by NASA’s Galileo spacecraft in the late 1990s. This is the color view of Europa from Galileo that shows the largest portion of the moon’s surface at the highest resolution. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute

In a major move forward on a long dreamed of mission to investigate the habitability of the subsurface ocean of Jupiter’s mysterious moon Europa, top NASA officials announced today, Tuesday, May 26, the selection of nine science instruments that will fly on the agency’s long awaited planetary science mission to an intriguing world that many scientists suspect could support life.

“We are on our way to Europa,” proclaimed John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, at a media briefing today outlining NASA’s plans for a mission dedicated to launching in the early to mid-2020s. “It’s a mission to inspire.” [click to continue…]

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The International Space Station in orbital twilight during the departure of STS-119 Space Shuttle Discovery. Image credit: NASA/STS-119

The summer season means long days and short nights, as observers in the northern hemisphere must stay up later each evening waiting for darkness to fall. It also means that the best season to spot that orbital outpost of humanity—the International Space Station—is almost upon us. Get set for multiple passes a night for observers based in mid- to high- northern latitudes, starting this week. [click to continue…]

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Astronomy Cast Ep. 378: Rutherford and Atoms

Physicists knew the interior of the atom contained protons, neutrons and electrons, but they didn’t understand exactly how they were organized. It took Ernest Rutherford to uncover our modern understanding.
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How Long Will Our Spacecraft Survive?


There are many hazards out there, eager to disrupt and dismantle the mighty machines we send out into space. How long can they survive to perform their important missions?
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Carnival of Space #406

Carnival of Space. Image by Jason Major.

Carnival of Space. Image by Jason Major.

This week’s Carnival of Space is hosted by Stefan Lamoureaux at the Links Through Space blog.

Click here to read Carnival of Space #406.
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Martian Reminder of a Pioneering Flight.  Names related to the first solo nonstop flight across the Atlantic have been informally assigned to a crater NASA's Opportunity Mars rover is studying. This false-color view of the "Spirit of St. Louis Crater" and the "Lindbergh Mound" inside it comes from Opportunity's panoramic camera.  Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell Univ./Arizona State Univ.

Martian Reminder of a Pioneering Flight. Names related to the first solo nonstop flight across the Atlantic have been informally assigned to a crater NASA’s Opportunity Mars rover is studying. This false-color view of the “Spirit of St. Louis Crater” and the “Lindbergh Mound” inside it comes from Opportunity’s panoramic camera. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell Univ./Arizona State Univ.
See additional Opportunity photo mosaics below

The science team leading NASA’s long-lived Opportunity rover mission is honoring the pioneering solo nonstop trans-Atlantic flight of aviator Charles Lindbergh by assigning key features of the Mars mountain top crater area the rover is now exploring with names related to the historic flight.

Opportunity is now studying an elongated crater called “Spirit of St. Louis” and an unparalleled rock spire within the crater called “Lindbergh Mound” which are [click to continue…]

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A shadowed cliff on comet 67P/C-G imaged by Rosetta in Oct. 2014 (Credits: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM – CC BY-SA IGO 3.0)

A shadowed cliff on comet 67P/C-G imaged by Rosetta in Oct. 2014 (Credits: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM – CC BY-SA IGO 3.0)

The latest image to be revealed of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko comes from October 27, 2014, before the Philae lander even departed for its surface. Above we get a view of a dramatically-shadowed cliff separating two regions on 67P, the high, smooth plateaus of Babi and the boulder-strewn, slumped valley of Aten. Both are located on the larger lobe of the comet, while parts of the Ma’at region on the smaller “head” lobe can be seen in the distance at upper left. (You can see a regional map of comet 67P here.)

The image scale is about 75 cm (2.4 feet) per pixel and the entire image spans 770 meters across – about half a mile. Based on that, the cliff is easily over 190 meters (630 feet) high!

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