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

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

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

….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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Space

What are the bright flashes coming from Ceres, the dwarf planet between Mars and Jupiter?

The dwarf planet, Ceres, continues to puzzle NASA scientists as its Dawn spacecraft approaches the planet to begin its orbit around the mysterious object. The latest images from Dawn were taken about 29,000 miles away from Ceres and have revealed two mysterious bright flashes of light on the planet’s surface. The two bright spots of light appear next to each other in the bottom of a huge crater or volcanic depression. Dawn will go into orbit around Ceres on March 6, 2015 after which NASA will receive higher resolution photographs from the spacecraft. NASA explained, "The brightest spot continues to be too small to resolve with our camera, but despite its size it is brighter than anything else on Ceres. This is truly unexpected and…
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Space

NASA plans to explorer the moons of Saturn with… a submarine?

Titan, one of Saturn’s 60 something moons, is covered with lakes and seas of liquid methane which means landing a spaceship on Titan would be quite difficult. But landing a spaceship *under* the methane seas of Titan… well, that’s an entirely new set of problems – and NASA intends to figure out how to do it. To explore Titan’s undersea world, NASA proposes development of a submersible autonomous vehicle – in other words, a remote-controlled submarine.  By 2040, they would like to send this submarine to Titan’s largest northern sea, Kraken Mare, which is comparable in size to the Great Lakes in the United States. The submarine will investigate Titan’s ocean to discover and determine its chemical composition, how its currents flow, and what the…
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Space

New jaw-dropping Hi-Def photo of Eagle nebula’s “Pillars of Creation”

The iconic photo of the Eagle nebula’s “Pillars of Creation”, showing three “trunks” of gas and dust forming new stars, was taken in 1995 by the Hubble telescope. In 2014, after installation of a new camera with twice the resolution of the earlier one, a new hi-def photo of the Pillars of Creation has been released – and this one is just as draw-dropping as the original. Check it out above (the original photo is below).   Sources: NASA
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Space

NASA spots odd circular structure in middle of Mars lava flows

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory published a perplexing photo yesterday along with the question, “What is this enigmatic landform?”  The photo shows a large, mile wide, circular structure surrounded by a sea of smooth-looking lava flows. NASA scientists believe the mound may be lava that has pushed up beneath the lava flow (the lab rats think it’s a a giant mutant Martian amoeba). They noted: “It looks as if material is missing from the mound, so it is also possible that there was a significant amount of ice in the mound that was driven out by the heat of the lava. There are an array of features like this in the region that continue to puzzle scientists.” The image was captured via HiRISE, one of six…
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Physics and math

Bowling ball and feather falling in world’s largest vacuum chamber

BBC ran a great segment demonstrating two objects falling in a vacuum at the same rate. The experiment was conducted in NASA’s Space Power Facility in Ohio and used a bowling ball and a feather to demonstrate the remarkable principle of physics. The facility used for this experiment, a space simulation chamber, is the world’s largest vacuum chamber. Originally built to be a nuclear test chamber, the huge room has thick concrete and aluminum walls and a huge series of pumps used to create the outerspace-like environment. To create the vacuum, the doors to the facility are sealed and air is pumped out until only about 2 grams of air are left inside the gigantic chamber (yep, there’s no oxygen in that room so entering…
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Space

Sun gets in Halloween spirit – makes spooky jack-o’lantern face for all its fans

The Sun showed its Halloween spirit this week by putting on its best spooky jack-o’lantern face.  The incredible image above was captured by NASA on October 8, 2014 and shows active regions on the sun combined to create the spooky image.  The sun's active regions, a storm of magnetic fields, appear brighter because they are emitting more light and energy.  This image above blends together two sets of wavelengths at 171 and 193 Angstroms, typically colorized in gold and yellow, to create a particularly Halloween-like appearance. Sources: NASA, ABC News
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