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Global mosaic of Mars showing the dark basaltic Syrtis Major Planus region made from Viking Orbiter images. (NSSDC)

Global mosaic of Mars showing the dark basaltic Syrtis Major Planus region made from Viking Orbiter images. (NSSDC)

Mars is often referred to as the Red Planet. But its signature color is only skin-deep – or, I should say, dust-deep. Beneath its rusty regolith Mars has many other hues and shades as well, from pale greys like those found inside holes drilled by Curiosity to large dark regions that are the result of ancient lava flows. Now, researchers think we may have an actual piece of one of Mars’ dark plains here on Earth in the form of a meteorite that was found in the Moroccan desert in 2011.

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NASA's Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) observatory, on a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket, is seen after the mobile service tower was rolled back Friday, Jan. 30 at Space Launch Complex 2, Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.  Image Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

NASA’s Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) observatory, on a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket, is seen after the mobile service tower was rolled back Friday, Jan. 30 at Space Launch Complex 2, Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.
Image Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls
Story updated

At dawn this morning (Jan. 31) NASA launched an advanced Earth science satellite aimed at making measurements of our planet’s surface soil moisture and freeze/thaw states from space that will revolutionize our understanding of the water, energy, and carbon cycles driving all life on Earth, aid weather forecasting and improve climate change models.

NASA’s new Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) observatory thundered off the pad at [click to continue…]

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Awesome New Radar Images of Asteroid 2004 BL86


New video of 2004 BL86 and its moon

Newly processed images of asteroid 2004 BL86 made during its brush with Earth Monday night reveal fresh details of its lumpy surface and orbiting moon. We’ve learned from both optical and radar data that Alpha, the main body, spins once every 2.6 hours. Beta (the moon) spins more slowly.

The images were made by bouncing radio waves off the surface of the bodies using NASA’s 230-foot-wide (70-meter) Deep Space Network antenna at Goldstone, Calif.  Radar “pinging” reveals information about the shape, velocity, rotation rate and surface features of close-approaching asteroids. But the resulting images can be confusing to interpret. Why? Because they’re not really photos as we know it. [click to continue…]

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Computer generated simulation of an asteroid strike on the Earth. Credit: Don Davis/AFP/Getty Images

Computer generated simulation of an asteroid strike on the Earth. Credit: Don Davis/AFP/Getty Images

For decades, scientists have debated the cause of the mass extinction that wiped out the dinosaurs and other life 65 million years ago. While the majority of researchers agree that a massive asteroid impact at Chicxulub, Mexico is the culprit, there have been some dissenters. Now, new research is questioning just a portion of the asteroid/Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction scenario. While the scientists involved in the study don’t doubt that such an asteroid impact actually happened, their research shows it is just not possible that vast global firestorms could have ravaged our planet and be the main cause of the extinction.
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What Is the Longest River In The World?

The Nile River and Delta, viewed at night by the Expedition 25 crew on Oct. 28, 2010. Credit: NASA

The Nile River and Delta, viewed at night by the Expedition 25 crew on Oct. 28, 2010. Credit: NASA

Planet Earth boasts some very long rivers, all of which have long and honored histories. The Amazon, Mississippi, Euphrates, Yangtze, and Nile have all played huge roles in the rise and evolution of human societies. Rivers like the Danube, Seine, Volga and Thames are intrinsic to the character of some of our most major cities.

But when it comes to the title of which river is longest, the Nile takes top billing. At 6,583 km (4,258 miles) long, and draining in an area of 3,349,000 square kilometers, it is the longest river in the world, and even the longest river in the Solar System. It crosses international boundaries, its water is shared by 11 African nations, and it is responsible for the one of the greatest and longest-lasting civilizations in the world.

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Host: Fraser Cain (@fcain)

Guests:
Ramin Skibba (@raminskibba)
Dave Dickinson (@astroguyz / www.astroguyz.com)

Special Guest: Paul Hildebrandt from Fight For Space
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Exploring the Universe with Nuclear Power

Artist's concept of a Bimodal Nuclear Thermal Rocket in Low Earth Orbit. Credit: NASA

Artist’s concept of a Bimodal Nuclear Thermal Rocket in Low Earth Orbit. Credit: NASA

In the past four decades, NASA and other space agencies from around the world have accomplished some amazing feats. Together, they have sent manned missions to the Moon, explored Mars, mapped Venus and Mercury, conducted surveys and captured breathtaking images of the Outer Solar System. However, looking ahead to the next generation of exploration and the more-distant frontiers that remain to be explored, it is clear that new ideas need to be put forward of how to quickly and efficiently reach those destinations.

Basically, this means finding ways to power rockets that are more fuel and cost-effective while still providing the necessary power to get crews, rovers and orbiters to their far-flung destinations. In this respect, NASA has been taking a good look at nuclear fission as a possible means of propulsion.

In fact, according to presentation made by Doctor Michael G. Houts of the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center back in October of 2014, nuclear power and propulsion have the potential to be “game changing technologies for space exploration.”

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Can you see the comet? Four solar system objects adjusted for true brightness counterclockwise from the upper right: Earth, Enceladus, the Moon, and Comet 67/P. Credit: ESA/Rosetta Blog/NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute (Enceladus); ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/RSSD/INTA/ UPM/DASP/IDA and Gordan Ugarkovich (Earth); Robert Vanderbei, Princeton University (Moon); ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM (67P/C-G).

There’s darkness out there in the cold corners of the solar system.

And we’re not talking about a Lovecraftian darkness, the kind that would summon Cthulhu himself.  We’re talking of celestial bodies that are, well. So black, they make a Spinal Tap album cover blinding by comparison. [click to continue…]

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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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