Space

Scientists discover earth-like planet in Alpha Centauri star system – say hello to Proxima-B!

  Astronomers say it’s the most exciting thing since Childress’s 2003 Anti-Gravity Handbook (which they claim is impossible to put down) – the discovery of a new earth-like planet creatively named Proxima-B. It’s an incredible discovery because Proxima-B is roughly the same size as earth, the same mass as earth, and orbits a star in the habitable zone (the distance from the star which allows liquid water to exist). This of course means, yes, little green aliens! Proxima-B’s star, Proxima Centauri, is part of a triple-star system called Alpha Centauri and is the closest star to Earth. The three stars in Alpha Centauri include Alpha Centauri A, Alpha Centauri B, and Proxima Centauri (the star Proxima-B was found orbiting around). You can see Alpha Centauri in…
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Space

NASA satellite captures comet plunging into Sun at a mind-boggling 373 miles per second!

A sungrazer comet (technically known as Kreutz sungrazers) crashed into the sun on August 4, 2016 and lucky for us, the entire event was captured on video by NASA’s Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO). Analysis of the video shows the comet plunged into the sun at a mind-boggling 373 miles per second! That’s million miles per hour! At that speed, you could drive completely around the earth in about a minute. Kreutz sungrazers are fragments of larger comets, called Kreutz comets, that have broken apart as they neared the sun. When the sun pulls these smaller fragments toward it, they accelerate until eventually, they are vaporized by the intense forces near the sun. Kreutz comets travel around the sun on a path called the Kreutz…
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Space

Amazing gravitational waves discovery – what they are and why they’re so important

In 1916, Albert Einstein predicted that any event that disturbs spacetime will produce ripples that spread throughout the entire Universe. He called these ripples gravitational waves. This week, one hundred years after Einstein’s prediction, scientists revealed they had finally detected gravitational waves. The discovery being called the greatest scientific advance this century.  Here’s how they did it and why the discovery is such a big deal. What’s all this mumbo-jumbo about gravitational waves and spacetime? In scientific geek-speak, gravitational waves are disturbances in the fabric of spacetime. If you drag your finger through a bowl of water, you will notice waves follow the path of your finger and ripple outward towards the edge of the bowl. Einstein predicted that the same thing happens when a heavy object…
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Space

The Mars Curiosity rover happily whiling away its time working in the sand

This past week, NASA's Curiosity rover spent quite a bit of its time happily playing in the sand – on Mars.  In December 2016, Curiosity reached a new frontier on Mars – the Bagnold Dunes.  The dunes are located on the northwestern flank of Mount Sharp (officially given the rather geeky name, Aeolis Mons), a mountain at the center of the Gale Crater, and feature a landscape unlike anything Curiosity has come across before.  In fact, in some photos, the sandy dunes and mountainous Mars terrain in the background look quite earthly.   Here is Curiosity earlier in the year.  You can see the dunes in the distance as Curiosity makes it way toward them.   The dune to the left of Curiosity is Namib…
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Space

China’s Yuto rover sends back remarkable hi-def, full color pictures from Moon

China's Chang'e 3 lander and its little companion rover, Yutu, have sent back a set of truly remarkable pictures of the Moon's surface – all in full color and hi-def resolution!  These are the first photos taken from the surface of the moon in nearly 40 years. On December 23, 2013, the Chang'e 3 lander sent back this four-segment mosaic of Yutu (which means "Jade Rabbit" in Chinese) as it set off to study the Moon.   Chang'e 3 landed in a lava-filled crater, Mare Imbrium, the largest basin on the moon's near side.  In 2014, Chang'e 3 sent back this mosiac showing Yutu's seemingly willy-nilly tracks as it trekked across the surface of moon.   Here's what the rocks on the moon look like up…
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Space

Did you know China has a telescope on the Moon?

Did you know China has a telescope on the Moon? The 15-centimeter telescope was delivered to the moon aboard the Chang’e 3 lunar lander which landed on the moon in December 2013.  In the photo above, the small arrow points to the Chang'e 3 rover and the big arrow points to the Chang'e 3 lander and telescope base. If you’ve looked through a telescope before, you know that because of the earth’s rotation, the stars do not stay fixed in the viewfinder for very long. Since the moon rotates 27 times more slowly than Earth, the scope is much easier to stay fixed on stars.  The scope sees in ultraviolet light too, a big advantage for any telescope outside of the earth’s atmosphere. The telescope is remote…
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Space

Inversion layer creates picture that blurs the line between Earth and Space

A wonderfully beautiful picture taken on the outskirts of the Atacma Desert shows a Geminids meteor falling in a perfectly dark sky above the apparently daylight landscape surrounding the La Silla Observatory (Chile). The picture, appearing to show a night sky in the daytime, is difficult to believe is not two separate images. Alas, the image’s unusual characteristic is possible because of an "inversion layer" located slightly above the 7,900 foot observatory. An “inversion” is an unusual deviation from the normal atmospheric properties that vary with altitude. Normally the air within the lower atmosphere (called the troposphere) near the surface of the Earth is warmer than the air above it. This occurs because the lower atmosphere is heated from solar radiation striking the Earth’s surface.…
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Space

Here’s what it would have looked like had you been aboard New Horizons as if zoomed past Pluto

As NASA’s New Horizons space probe raced past Pluto, it snapped photos as fast as it could, beaming back pictures to the grinning geeks at NASA.  NASA then took the images and created this animated gif showing what it would look like had you hitched a rid aboard the spacecraft.  Each second of the movie represents about 30 minutes travel time for New Horizons. New Horizons flew about 7,800 miles above Pluto at a speed of about 32,435 miles per hour. It was launched on January 19, 2006 – over 9 years ago!  When it passed Pluto on July 15, 2015, it became the first spacecraft to explore the dwarf planet. New Horizons is alive and well and heading towards the Kuiper Belt.  This month,…
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Space

Just how fast does a space probe travel? Experience the movement of a space probe without turning to mush!

If you’ve ever ridden in a commercial airplane, such as a Boeing 747 jet, you were told the plane is travelling fast (about 550 MPH) but the scenery outside the plane seems to move sooooo slow. An SR-71 Blackbird plane, the airplane the United States government uses to spy on eh, overseas governments, travels significantly faster. At about 2,7000 MPH or Mach , clouds passing by a Blackbird appear to move noticeably faster than those outside a 747. Now step aboard a space probe and see how stunningly fast they move through the sky. Compare New Horizons space probe speed to Boeing 747 and SR-71 Blackbird A deep-space probe, such as the New Horizons probe which recently flew past Pluto, moves at an astonishing 36,000 MPH.…
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Space

….and here’s the first high-res image of Pluto

In the NASA press conference running right now, they released the first high-res image of Pluto.  So without further ado…   New Horizons is a space probe that was launched on January 19, 2006, as part of NASA's New Frontiers program.  The spacecraft was launched to study Pluto, its moons and the Kuiper Belt, performing flybys of the Pluto system and one or more Kuiper Belt Objects (KBOs).
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