"I never imagined that flying to space would give me a different view of our entire galaxy," tweeted Expedition 41 astronaut Alexander Gerst from the International Space Station in September 2014. Credit: Alexander Gerst / Twitter

“I never imagined that flying to space would give me a different view of our entire galaxy,” tweeted Expedition 41 astronaut Alexander Gerst from the International Space Station in September 2014. Credit: Alexander Gerst / Twitter

While NASA often speaks about the power of Earth observation from the International Space Station, the picture above from one of the astronauts on board now shows something else — you can get an awesome view of the Milky Way.

With the view unobscured by the atmosphere, the picture from Expedition 41 European astronaut Alexander Gerst shows that his perch on the ISS is pretty amazing. We wonder how it compares to some of the desert or mountaintop observatories here on Earth! And there are astronomical experiments on board, such as this one that may have found dark matter.

Below we’ve handpicked some of the best recent pictures from Gerst and NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman, a crewmate, as they take in the wonder of our planet and the universe.

[click to continue…]

This Exoplanet Has Prematurely Aged its Star

by Shannon Hall on September 18, 2014

 X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO/I.Pillitteri et al; Optical: DSS; Illustration: NASA/CXC/M.Weiss

Optical and X-ray images of the star WASP 18. X-ray Credit: NASA / CXC / SAO / I.Pillitteri et al; Optical Credit: DSS; Illustration Credit: NASA / CXC / M.Weiss

Hot young stars are wildly active, emitting huge eruptions of charged particles form their surfaces. But as they age they naturally become less active, their X-ray emission weakens and their rotation slows.

Astronomers have theorized that a hot Jupiter — a sizzling gas giant circling close to its host star — might be able to sustain a young star’s activity, ultimately prolonging its youth. Earlier this year, two astronomers from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics tested this hypothesis and found it true.

But now, observations of a different system show the opposite effect: a planet that’s causing its star to age much more quickly.

[click to continue…]

Sandy Ridges Pose A Mystery For Future Martian Beach Vacations

by Elizabeth Howell on September 18, 2014

A September 2014 image from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter showing transverse aeolian ridges. Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

A September 2014 image from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter showing transverse aeolian ridges. Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

What are these thick dune-like features on Mars, and how were they formed? Scientists are still trying to puzzle out these ridges, which you can see above in a more tropical region of the Red Planet called Iapygia, which is south of Syrtis Major. The thick ridges were captured from orbit by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE), and we’ve included some more intriguing pictures below the jump.

[click to continue…]

Saturn-Circling Cassini Spacecraft Plumbs Titan’s Seas Next Week

by Elizabeth Howell on September 18, 2014

Titan's thick haze. Image: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute.

Titan’s thick haze. Image: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute.

Is the surf up yet on Titan? As the moon of Saturn moves towards northern summer, scientists are trying to spot signs of the winds picking up. This weekend, the Cassini spacecraft plans a look at the the largest body of liquid on Titan, Kraken Mare, to see if there are any waves on this huge hydrocarbon sea.

[click to continue…]

United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying the CLIO mission for Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company launched at 8:10 p.m. EDT September 16, 2014 from Space Launch Complex-41 on  Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com

United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying the CLIO mission for Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company launched at 8:10 p.m. EDT September 16, 2014 from Space Launch Complex-41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, FL – On a gloomy night and delayed by rain showers and thick threatening clouds to the very last moment of a two and a half launch window, the completely clandestine satellite known only as CLIO climbed slowly from a Cape Canaveral launch pad atop the thunderous flames of an Atlas V rocket on Tuesday evening on a mysterious mission to orbit.

Under a veil of secrecy for an unknown US government customer, the clouds cleared just enough to finally launch CLIO on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V booster at 8:10 p.m. EDT September 16, 2014 from Space Launch Complex-41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. [click to continue…]