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Why Is Venus So Horrible?

Venus really sucks. It’s as hot as an oven with a dense, poisonous atmosphere. But how did it get that way?
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Artist's conception of the Kepler Space Telescope. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Artist’s conception of the Kepler Space Telescope. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

It’s alive! NASA’s Kepler space telescope had to stop planet-hunting during Earth’s northern-hemisphere summer 2013 when a second of its four pointing devices (reaction wheels) failed. But using a new technique that takes advantage of the solar wind, Kepler has found its first exoplanet since the K2 mission was publicly proposed in November 2013.

And despite a loss of pointing precision, Kepler’s find was a smaller planet — a super-Earth! It’s likely a water world or a rocky core shrouded in a thick, Neptune-like atmosphere. Called HIP 116454b, it’s 2.5 times the size of Earth and a whopping 12 times the mass. It circles its dwarf star quickly, every 9.1 days, and is about 180 light-years from Earth.
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Comet Finlay on December 16th showing a bright coma and short tail. Credit: FRAM team

Comet Finlay on December 16th shows a bright coma and short tail. Its sudden rise  to 9th magnitude was confirmed on December 18th by Australian comet observer Paul Camilleri. The moderately condensed object is about 3 arc minutes in diameter. Credit: J. Cerny, M. Masek, K. Honkova, J. Jurysek, J. Ebr, P. Kubanek, M. Prouza, M. Jelinek

Short-period comet 15P/Finlay, which had been plunking along at a dim magnitude +11, has suddenly brightened in the past couple days to +8.7, bright enough to see in 10×50 or larger binoculars. Czech comet observer Jakub Cerny and his team photographed the comet on December 16th and discovered the sudden surge. Wonderful news!

While comets generally brighten as they approach the Sun and fade as they depart, any one of them can undergo a sudden outburst in brightness. You can find Finlay right now low in the southwestern sky at nightfall near the planet Mars. [click to continue…]

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For those following all the habitability results from the Curiosity rover lately, here’s a special treat — the Discovery Channel will air a behind-the-scenes documentary on the mission tonight (Dec. 18) at 10 p.m. Eastern.

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SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage rocket will attempt precison landing on this autonomous spaceport drone ship soon after launch set for Dec. 19, 2014 from Cape Canaveral, Florida.  Credit: SpaceX/Elon Musk

SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage rocket will attempt precison landing on this autonomous spaceport drone ship soon after launch set for Dec. 19, 2014, from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Credit: SpaceX/Elon Musk

In a key test of rocket reusability, SpaceX will attempt a daring landing of their Falcon 9 first stage rocket on an ocean platform known as the “autonomous spaceport drone ship” following the planned Friday, Dec. 19, blastoff on a high stakes mission to the International Space Station (ISS).

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the Dragon cargo freighter is slated to liftoff on its next unmanned cargo run, dubbed CRS-5, to the ISS under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract. In a late development, there is a possibility the launch could be postponed to January 2015. [click to continue…]

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