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Boeing and SpaceX are building private spaceships to resume launching US astronauts from US soil to the International Space Station in 2017. Credit: NASA

Boeing and SpaceX are building private spaceships to resume launching US astronauts from US soil to the International Space Station in 2017. Credit: NASA

After a hiatus of six long years, US astronauts will finally launch to space in a revolutionary new pair of private crew capsules under development by Boeing and SpaceX, starting in 2017, that will end our sole source reliance on the Russians for launching our astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS). [click to continue…]

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A triple crater in Elysium Planitia on Mars. Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona.

A triple crater in Elysium Planitia on Mars. Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona.

At first glance, you many not guess that this feature on Mars is an impact crater. The reason it looks so unusual is that it likely is a triple impact crater, formed when three asteroids struck all at once in the Elysium Planitia region.

Why do planetary scientists think the three craters did not form independently at different times? [click to continue…]

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How to Fight for the “Fight for Space” Documentary

Can documentary films actually change the way people think about a topic? Films like “The Thin Blue Line,” “The Triumph of Will,” and “Harlan County USA” are definitely documentaries that swayed both local public opinion and world views on specific topics. Film producer Paul Hildebrandt is hoping his upcoming documentary film “Fight for Space” will not only help sway public opinion and inform people about space exploration but also help policymakers better understand NASA.

“This is a unique space documentary, as it covers the space program from a policy perspective,” Hildebrandt said, “looking at the detailed reasons why the NASA budget has been cut over the years, why certain decisions were made, and what the future of our human space flight effort looks like.”
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All photos credit and copyright: Andrew Symes.

An Iphone portrait of the classical solar system. All photos credit and copyright: Andrew Symes.

Got a smartphone and a telescope?

It’s a sight now common at many star parties. Frequently, you see folks roaming through the darkness, illuminated smartphone aimed skyward. Certainly, the wealth of free planetarium apps has done lots to kindle a renewed interest in the night sky. [click to continue…]

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Astronomers See a Massive Black Hole Tear a Star Apart

When a star encounters a black hole, tidal forces stretch the star into an elongated blob before tearing it apart, as seen in these images from a computer simulation by James Guillochon of Harvard University.

When a star encounters a black hole, tidal forces stretch the star into an elongated blob before tearing it apart, as seen in these images from a computer simulation by James Guillochon of Harvard University.

A telescope peers into the blackness of deep space. Suddenly – a brilliant flash of light appears that wasn’t there before. What could it be? A supernova? Two massively dense stars fusing together? Perhaps a gamma ray burst?

Five years ago, researchers using the ROTSE IIIb telescope at McDonald Observatory noticed just such an event. But far from being your run-of-the-mill stellar explosion or neutron star merger, the astronomers believe that this tiny flare was, in fact, evidence of a supermassive black hole at the center of a distant galaxy, tearing a star to shreds.

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