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Watch the Aurora Shimmer and Dance in Real Time

I for one have never witnessed the northern lights in person, and like many people I experience them vicariously through the photography and videos of more well-traveled (or more polar-bound) individuals. Typically these are either single-shot photos or time-lapses made up of many somewhat long-exposure images. As beautiful as these are, they don’t accurately capture the true motion of this upper atmospheric phenomenon. But here we get a look at the aurora as it looks in real time, captured on camera by Jon Kerr from northern Finland. Check it out above or watch in full screen HD on YouTube.

The video was shot with a full-frame mirrorless Sony a7S. See more of Jon’s aurora videos on YouTube here.

Video credit: Jon Kerr. HT SunViewer on Twitter.

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What is the Closest Galaxy to the Milky Way?

Illustration of the Canis Dwarf Dwarf Galaxy, Credit:  R. Ibata (Strasbourg Observatory, ULP) et al./2MASS/NASA

Illustration of the Canis Dwarf Dwarf Galaxy and its associated tidal (shown in red) in relation to our Milky Way. Credit: R. Ibata (Strasbourg Observatory, ULP) et al./2MASS/NASA

Scientists have known for some time that the Milky Way Galaxy is not alone in the Universe. In addition to our galaxy being part of the Local Group — a collection of 54 galaxies and dwarf galaxies — we are also part of the larger formation known as the Virgo Supercluster. So you could say the Milky Way has a lot of neighbors.

Of these, most people consider the Andromeda Galaxy to our closest galactic cohabitant. But in truth, Andromeda is the closest spiral galaxy, and not the closest galaxy by a long shot. This distinction falls to a formation that is actually within the Milky Way itself, a dwarf galaxy that goes by the name of the Canis Major Dwarf Galax (aka. the Canis Major Overdensity).

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What Your Breakfast has in Common with Ceres

On March 6, the Dawn spacecraft will ease into orbit around the dwarf planet Ceres. This is the visit to a dwarf planet (New Horizons will flyby Pluto later this year) and scientists are eager to see its surface in detail. But did you know that Ceres got its name from the ancient Roman goddess of agriculture and grain crops? Think about that when you enjoy your breakfast!
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Bright Spots on Ceres Likely Ice, Not Cryovolcanoes

Ceres rotates in this sped-up movie comprised of images taken by NASA's Dawn mission during its approach to the dwarf planet. The images were taken on Feb. 19, 2015, from a distance of nearly 29,000 miles (46,000 kilometers). Dawn observed Ceres for a full rotation of the dwarf planet, which lasts about nine hours. The images have a resolution of 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) per pixel. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

Ceres rotates in this sped-up movie comprised of images taken by NASA’s Dawn mission during its approach to the dwarf planet. The images were taken on Feb. 19, 2015, from a distance of nearly 29,000 miles (46,000 kilometers). Dawn observed Ceres for a full rotation of the dwarf planet, which lasts about nine hours. The images have a resolution of 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) per pixel. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

As the Dawn spacecraft prepares to enter orbit around Ceres on March 6, the science team provided the latest images and a mission preview during a briefing on March 2. The images released yesterday show more of those unusual bright spots and lots of craters, and feature two new global views of Ceres: one spinning globe, and a mosaic of a flat map-view of Ceres’ surface.

But the most-talked about feature is the 90-km-wide (57-mile) crater with two bright spots.

“These spots are extremely surprising and have been puzzling to the team and everyone that has seen them,” said Deputy Principal Investigator Carol Raymond. “The team is really, really excited about this feature because it is unique in the solar system.”

Raymond added that the team will be revealing the true nature of spots with the public in real time as the spacecraft gets closer and is able to make a determination.

So what is the leading theory on the bright spots?
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Book Review: Emigrating Beyond Earth

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Do you believe that humans are the ultimate species and that we have a destiny to rule? Perhaps you’re being optimistic according to Cameron Smith and Evan Davies. Their book “Emigrating Beyond Earth: Human Adaptation and Space Colonization” provides an anthropologist’s view that splashes a certain amount of chagrin on the hubris of our culture. Yes, they say we can and indeed should become a spacefaring species. However, they do caution that this future for our species can be attained only if we proactively try.
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The first known reference of a Mini-Moon? A perigee versus apogee Full Moon from 2011. Credit and copyright: Ken Lord.

Supermoons. Blood Moons. Moons both Black and Blue… by now, you’d think that there was nothing new under the Sun (or Moon, as it were) when it comes to new unofficial lunar terminology.

Sure, the Moon now seems more colorful than controversial viral dress shades. Love it or loathe it, the Internet can sure set a meme in motion. And this week’s Full Moon on Thursday evening offers up one of our faves, as the most distant Full Moon of 2015 occurs on March 5th. Yup, the Mini-Moon is indeed once again upon us, a time when the Full Moon appears slightly smaller than usual as seen from the Earth. But can you really tell the difference? [click to continue…]

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Carnival of Space #395

Carnival of Space. Image by Jason Major.

Carnival of Space. Image by Jason Major.

The tent is up! This week’s Carnival of Space is hosted by Pamela Hoffman at the Everyday Spacer blog.

Click here to read Carnival of Space #395.
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Kamikaze Comet Loses its Head

Headless comet D1 SOHO photographed in evening twilight on Feb. 28. Credit: Michael Jaeger

Headless comet D1 SOHO photographed in evening twilight on Feb. 28. The comet survived its Feb. 19 perihelion passage but soon after crumbled apart to form a cloud of glowing dust. Credit: Michael Jaeger

Like coins, most comet have both heads and tails. Occasionally, during a close passage of the Sun, a comet’s head will be greatly diminished yet still retain a classic cometary outline. Rarely are we left with nothing but a tail. How eerie it looks. Like a feather plucked from some cosmic deity floating down from the sky. Welcome to C/2015 D1 SOHO, the comet that almost didn’t make it.  [click to continue…]

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Why Don’t We Search for Different Life?


If we really want to find life on other worlds, why do we keep looking for life based on carbon and water? Why don’t we look for the stuff that’s really different?
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Technicians work on NASA’s 20-foot-tall Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) mated quartet of stacked observatories in the cleanroom at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., on May 12, 2014.  Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com

Technicians work on NASA’s 20-foot-tall Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) mated quartet of stacked observatories in the cleanroom at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., on May 12, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com

NASA’s first mission dedicated to study the process in nature known as magnetic reconnection undergoing final preparation for launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida in just under two weeks time.

The Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) mission is comprised of a quartet of identically instrumented observatories aimed at providing the first three-dimensional views of a [click to continue…]

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