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New NASA Documentary Chronicles 50 Years of Spacewalks

Spacewalks have been described by astronauts as magical, amazing, and “holy moly!” This new 30-minute NASA documentary called “Suit Up!” celebrates 50 years of extravehicular activity (EVA) or spacewalks. 50 years ago this year, the first spacewalks were conducted by Russian Alexei Leonov in March 1965 and then American astronaut Edward White followed soon after in June 1965. The documentary features interviews with astronauts past and present, as well as other astronauts, engineers, technicians, managers from the history of spacewalks.
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Various meteorites from 2008 TC3. Credit: P. Jenniskens, et. al.  Click image for full description

Various meteorites from 2008 TC3 asteroid that landed in the Sudan in 2008.
Credit: P. Jenniskens, et. al.

Asteroids, meteors, and meteorites … It might be fair to say these rocks from space inspire both wonder and fear among us Earthlings. But knowing a bit more about each of them and how they differ may eliminate some potential misgivings. While all these rocks originate from space, they have different names depending their location — i.e. whether they are hurtling through space or hurtling through the atmosphere and impacting Earth’s surface.

In simplest terms here are the definitions:
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What’s better than a full 180-degree digital theater experience that takes you into the heart of our Sun to see how solar storms form? Why, all of that accompanied by a rumbling narration by Benedict Cumberbatch, of course.

The video above is a trailer for “Solar Superstorms,” a digital planetarium presentation distributed by Fulldome Film Society and co-produced by Spitz Creative Media, NCSA’s Advanced Visualization Lab, and Thomas Lucas Productions. It uses the monster Blue Waters supercomputers at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois to visualize the complex processes occurring in, on, and around the Sun. It might look a little weird in the flat 2D format above, but I can only imagine what it will be like to see it from inside a digital dome (and have the disembodied voice of Smaug/Sherlock/Khan thundering through the room!)

The film itself is still in production so I couldn’t find an official release date. But keep an eye out for it at your nearest planetarium and visit the FulldomeFilm.org catalog page for other films from the same distributor.

You can find a database of fulldome theaters and digital planetariums around the world here.

Video credit: Spitz Creative Media

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NASA’s Martian Curiosity rover looks backs to 1000 Sols of science and exploration on the surface of the Red Planet.  Robot wheel tracks lead back through valley dunes.  Gale Crater rim seen in the distant hazy background.  Sol 997 (May 28, 2015) navcam camera raw images stitched and colorized. Credit:  NASA/JPL-Caltech/ Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Looking back 1000 Sols on the Red Planet
NASA’s Martian Curiosity rover looks backs to 1000 Sols of science and exploration on the surface of the Red Planet. Robot wheel tracks lead back through valley dunes. Gale Crater rim seen in the distant hazy background. Sol 997 (May 28, 2015) navcam camera raw images stitched and colorized. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The Martian Curiosity celebrates 1000 Sols on Mars!

Marking the occasion with utter glee, the car sized robot snapped a cool mosaic view (above) looking back to 1000 Sols of high impact exploration and discovery on the Red Planet, showing her wheel tracks leading back through valley dunes from the foothills of humongous Mount Sharp and across the alien surface floor and out to the distant rim of the Gale Crater landing site she descended to nearly three years ago in August 2012. [click to continue…]

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Astronomy Cast Ep. 379: Fermi’s Atom Splitting

When he wasn’t puzzling the mystery of alien civilizations, Enrico Fermi was splitting atoms. He realized that when atoms were split, the neutrons released could go on and split other atoms, creating a chain reaction – and the most powerful weapons ever devised.
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Would We See the Aliens Coming?


If aliens were heading towards the Earth, would we see them coming?
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Allergies? Must Be Pollen Corona Season Again

A multi-ringed, oval shaped corona around the Sun on May 30, 2015 seen from northern Minnesota. The white spots are aspen seeds better known as "cotton fluff". Credit: Bob King

A multi-ringed, oval shaped pollen corona surrounds the Sun on May 30, 2015 as seen from northern Minnesota. The white spots are aspen seeds, better known as “cotton fluff”, and unrelated to the corona. Credit: Bob King

Don’t be surprised if you look up in the Sun’s direction and squint with itchy, watery eyes. You might be staring into billows of tree pollen wafting through your town. It’s certainly been happening where I live.

When conditions are right, billions of microscopic pollen grains consort to create small, oval-shaped rings around a bright Moon during the peak of the spring and early summer allergy season. With the Full Moon coming up this week, there’s no better time to watch for them.  [click to continue…]

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Will We Ever Colonize Mars?

Artist illustration of a Mars Colony. Image credit: NASA

Artist illustration of a Mars Colony. Image credit: NASA

Mars. It’s a pretty unforgiving place. On this dry, dessicated world, the average surface temperature is -55 °C (-67 °F). And at the poles, temperatures can reach as low as  -153 °C (243 °F). Much of that has to do with its thin atmosphere, which is too thin to retain heat (not to mention breathe). So why then is the idea of colonizing Mars so intriguing to us?

Well, there are a number of reasons, which include the similarities between our two planets, the availability of water, the prospects for generating food, oxygen, and building materials on-site. And there’s even the long-term benefits of using Mars as a source of raw materials and terraforming it into a liveable environment. Let’s go over them one by one…

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The Dwarf Planet Eris

Artist illustration of Eris. Image credit: NASA

Artist illustration of the dwarf planet Eris. Image credit: NASA

Eris is the largest dwarf planet in the Solar System, and the ninth largest body orbiting our Sun. Sometimes referred to as the “tenth planet”, it’s discovery is responsible for upsetting the traditional count of nine planets in our Solar System, as well as leading the way to the creation of a whole new astronomical category.
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NASA's InSight Mars lander spacecraft in a Lockheed Martin clean room near Denver. As part of a series of deployment tests, the spacecraft was commanded to deploy its solar arrays in the clean room to test and verify the exact process that it will use on the surface of Mars.  Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Lockheed Martin

NASA’s InSight Mars lander spacecraft in a Lockheed Martin clean room near Denver. As part of a series of deployment tests, the spacecraft was commanded to deploy its solar arrays in the clean room to test and verify the exact process that it will use on the surface of Mars. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Lockheed Martin

NASA’s ‘Journey to Mars’ is ramping up significantly with ‘InSight’ – as the agency’s next Red Planet lander has now been assembled into its flight configuration and begun a comprehensive series of rigorous and critical environmental stress tests that will pave the path to launch in 2016 on a mission to unlock the riddles of the Martian core.

The countdown clock is ticking relentlessly and in less than nine months time, NASA’s InSight Mars lander is [click to continue…]

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