How to see the extraordinary "supermoon" on Monday

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On Monday November 14, we'll have the opportunity to see the full moon closer to Earth than its been since 1948, and won't be again until 2034. It will be a spectacular sight. From NASA:

The moon’s orbit around Earth is slightly elliptical so sometimes it is closer and sometimes it’s farther away. When the moon is full as it makes its closest pass to Earth it is known as a supermoon. At perigree — the point at which the moon is closest to Earth — the moon can be as much as 14 percent closer to Earth than at apogee, when the moon is farthest from our planet. The full moon appears that much larger in diameter and because it is larger shines 30 percent more moonlight onto the Earth....

The biggest and brightest moon for observers in the United States will be on Monday morning just before dawn. On Monday, Nov. 14, the moon is at perigee at 6:22 a.m. EST and “opposite” the sun for the full moon at 8:52 a.m. EST (after moonset for most of the US).

If you’re not an early riser, no worries. “I’ve been telling people to go out at night on either Sunday or Monday night to see the supermoon,” said Noah Petro, deputy project scientist for NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) mission. “The difference in distance from one night to the next will be very subtle, so if it’s cloudy on Sunday, go out on Monday. Any time after sunset should be fine.

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The Stars: The Definitive Guide to the Cosmos

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I’ve always been fascinated with the cosmos (who isn’t?), and I even once splurged for a telescope to put in the garden for my family to enjoy. But with only one college astronomy class (101) under my belt, my knowledge of the stars falls into the “Dummies” category. Which is why I loved DK’s new book, The Stars: The Definitive Visual Guide to the Cosmos.

Not that it’s only for dummies. The large 10.1 x 12.8 book is for astro newbies as well as the more seasoned who will enjoy the scenery and surely pick up some new stellar facts. It's for teens as well as adults, jam-packed with starry science that falls into three sections. The first, “Understanding the Cosmos,” covers the basics and beyond, from the Big Bang, starbirth, supernovae and neutron stars to black holes, colliding galaxies, galaxy clusters and a lot more.

“Constellations,” the second and largest section, is loaded with the significance and charts of constellations – some popular ones (like those from the zodiac) as well as many I’d never heard of before (like Vulpecula the fox and Monoceros the unicorn). The third, smallest section of the book, “The Solar System,” just touches on our sun and planets, and was the one section that the authors could have expanded.

In true DK fashion, The Stars compliments its smart yet accessible text with a heavy dose of charts, maps, sidebars, and brilliant photos. The authors managed to make every page highly fresh and engaging.

The Stars: The Definitive Guide to the Cosmos by DK 2016, 256 pages, 10.8 x 12.1 x 0.9 inches (hardcover) $26 Buy a copy on Amazon Read the rest

Hubble releases shimmering image of a youthful globular cluster

  Globular clusters offer some of the most spectacular sights in the night sky. These ornate spheres contain hundreds of thousands of stars, and reside in the outskirts of galaxies. The Milky Way contains over 150 such clusters — and the one shown in this NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image, named NGC 362, is one of the more unusual ones. As stars make their way through life they fuse elements together in their cores, creating heavier and heavier elements — known in astronomy as metals — in the process. When these stars die, they flood their surroundings with the material they have formed during their lifetimes, enriching the interstellar medium with metals. Stars that form later therefore contain higher proportions of metals than their older relatives. By studying the different elements present within individual stars in NGC 362, astronomers discovered that the cluster boasts a surprisingly high metal content, indicating that it is younger than expected. Although most globular clusters are much older than the majority of stars in their host galaxy, NGC 362 bucks the trend, with an age lying between 10 and 11 billion years old. For reference, the age of the Milky Way is estimated to be above 13 billion years. This image, in which you can view NGC 362’s individual stars, was taken by Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS).

Recent revised estimates upping the number of galaxies in the universe seem even more mind-boggling when contemplating this image released from Hubble this week. It shows NGC 362, one of about 150 globular clusters on the outskirts of just one galaxy, our own Milky Way. Read the rest

'Voyage of Time,' Terrence Malick IMAX film with Brad Pitt narration, is an awesome cosmic meditation

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You know what America needs right now? A little perspective.

For that, I recommend you head to your local IMAX theater and see Terrence Malick’s “Voyage of Time: The Imax Experience.” It's a psychedelic meditation on the history of the cosmos that's very kid-friendly, and a wonderful reminder of the big, big picture.

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Most detailed 3D map ever made of our Milky Way shows over one billion stars

A map created by the European Space Agency’s Gaia space telescope that shows a billion stars in the Milky Way.  (ESA)

The largest all-sky survey of celestial objects ever made by humans was released this month, using data from The European Space Agency (ESA)'s Gaia satellite.

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NASA’s Hubble Spots Possible Water Plumes Erupting on Jupiter's Moon Europa

NASA/ESA/W. Sparks (STScI)/USGS Astrogeology Science Center

Astronomers working with the NASA Hubble Space Telescope have captured images of what might be water vapor plumes erupting from the surface of Jupiter's moon Europa. “This finding bolsters other Hubble observations suggesting the icy moon erupts with high altitude water vapor plumes,” reports NASA. “ The observation increases the possibility that missions to Europa may be able to sample Europa’s ocean without having to drill through miles of ice.”

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NASA’s Curiosity Mars Rover Views Spectacular Layered Rock Formations of “Murray Buttes”

This view from the Mast Camera (Mastcam) in NASA's Curiosity Mars rover shows an outcrop with finely layered rocks within the "Murray Buttes" region on lower Mount Sharp.

Reports NASA today, “The layered geologic past of Mars is revealed in stunning detail in new color images returned by NASA's Curiosity Mars rover, which is currently exploring the 'Murray Buttes' region of lower Mount Sharp. The new images arguably rival photos taken in U.S. National Parks.”

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NASA launches OSIRIS-REx asteroid sample mission now speeding toward Bennu rendezvous

Image: NASA

NASA reports that its first ever asteroid sampling mission launched into space at 7:05 p.m. EDT Thursday from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, “beginning a journey that could revolutionize our understanding of the early solar system.”

OSIRIS-REx, which is short for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer, is headed to the near-Earth asteroid called Bennu.

The probe's job: Touch the asteroid (after asking consent first, and with a platonic vibe) so we can bring a small sample back to Earth for study. If all goes as planned after today's launch, the spacecraft will reach Bennu in 2018 and return a sample to Earth in 2023.

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Recreating Our Galaxy in a Supercomputer

Simulated view of our Milky Way galaxy, seen from a nearly face-on angle. This image was created by simulating the formation of our galaxy using a supercomputer, which, in this case, consisted of 2,000 computers linked together.(Hopkins Research Group/Caltech)

Astronomers at Caltech have created the most detailed computer simulation yet of how our Milky Way galaxy was formed, from inception billions of years ago as a loose collection of matter to its modern state as a massive, spiral disk of stars.

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NASA's Juno to Soar Closest to Jupiter This Saturday

This dual view of Jupiter was taken on August 23, when NASA's Juno spacecraft was 2.8 million miles (4.4 million kilometers) from the gas giant planet on the inbound leg of its initial 53.5-day capture orbit. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS

An update on the Juno mission, from NASA.

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NASA: 35 Years On, Voyager's Legacy Continues at Saturn

Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech

An update on the Voyager exploration program of Saturn from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

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Kepler Space Telescope Watches Stellar Dancers in the Pleiades Cluster

This image shows the famous Pleiades cluster of stars as seen through the eyes of WISE, or NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer.Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA

Here's a wonderful feature about my favorite constellation and the galaxy's most awesome telescope (at least one of them!) from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.

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The 2016 Perseid meteor shower peaks August 11-12. Here's how to watch!

Perseid meteors light up the sky in August 2009 in this time-lapse image  [NASA-JPL]
The Perseid meteor shower originates from the Swift-Tuttle comet, and is visible now through until August 24, 2016. The show is seen viewed from a northeastern direction in the northern hemisphere.

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Alien "megastructure" mystery deepens, but probably isn't a Dyson sphere

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KIC 8462862, a distant star, flickers erratically. Among the possibilities: occlusion by an alien "megastructure" surrounding it in space.

Though it sounds far-fetched, and there's no other evidence of intelligence emanating from the system, the flickering's gotten weirder. The star's total output has diminished continuously over the course of four years.

Jason Wright, the Penn State astronomer who first suggested that Tabby’s Star might be the site of a vast alien construction project, agreed that the new analysis lends credibility to Schaefer’s claim of century-long dimming. “The new paper states, and I agree, that we don’t have any really good models for this sort of behavior,” he said. “That’s exciting!”

Keivan Stassun, an astronomer at Vanderbilt who disputed the idea of long-term dimming, said that Tabby’s star continues to defy explanation. “[Montet’s] intriguing new findings suggest that none of the considered phenomena can alone explain the observations,” he told Gizmodo. “In the end, figuring out this puzzle may require accounting for a combination of effects.”

Or, they just decided to get the Dyson sphere finished ahead of schedule.

Photo from how to light objects from the inside, by Lightism. Read the rest

Smithsonian launches online Apollo 11 high-res 3D spacecraft model for moon landing's 47th anniversary

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One great way to commemorate the 47th anniversary of NASA's Apollo 11 moon landing, which took place this day in 1969, is to travel to the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC (highly recommended!), and see in person the "Columbia" spacecraft that carried astronauts to the moon. But for those of us who can't get to DC and are feeling the O.G. space spirit, starting today you can explore a virtual reality simulation of the capsule's interior, painstakingly digitized by Smithsonian staff.

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Twinkly, LED-studded bracelet featuring the Hubble's "celestial fireworks"

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Thinkgeek's $60 Star Spangled Bangle is skinned with the Hubble's amazing "celestial fireworks" image, with 15 recessed USB-charged LEDs run for 8 hours and recharge in an hour. (via Ohgizmo) Read the rest

1,300 Unknown Galaxies Discovered By South African Astronomers

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A group of South African astronomers announced on Saturday the discovery of more than a thousand galaxies never before known to have been seen or recorded by human beings. The astronomers “were showing off the first taste of the ultimate cosmic feast of what is to come, at least as seen from this particular dusty crumb called Earth,” writes Dennis Overbye at the New York Times:

Left: A patch of sky about as big as the full moon where the MeerKAT telescope discerned the radio glow of about 200 galaxies. Only a few (circled) had been previously observed; Right: A distant galaxy that is being blown up by a black hole at its center. Credit SKA South Africa

When it’s done, sometime around 2030, the Square Kilometer Array, as it is known, will be the largest telescope ever built on our planet. It will consist of thousands of radio antennas that will collectively cover a square kilometer (hence the name), spread out in mathematically intricate patterns in South Africa and Australia.

The telescope is being built by an international collaboration with its headquarters at the University of Manchester in England. The first phase, to be completed in 2023, will cost 650 million euros.

Astronomers estimate that it will pull some 35,000-DVDs-worth of data down from the sky every second. So much that it would take 2 million years to play on your smartphone.

For now the bounty consists of the radio glow of some 1,300 distant galaxies spotted in a patch of sky about 20 times the size of the full moon, where only 70 galaxies had been counted before.

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