American astronaut Sally Ride monitors control panels from the pilot's chair on the flight deck in 1983. Photo by Apic/Getty Images, via PBS NewsHour.
Tonight, PBS NewsHour science correspondent Miles O'Brien will serve as master of ceremonies in a Kennedy Center gala honoring the life and legacy of astronaut Sally Ride. The tribute will highlight her impact on the space program and her lifelong commitment to promoting youth science literacy.
One of the most gorgeous sights we have been privileged to see at Saturn, as the arrival of spring to the northern hemisphere has peeled away the darkness of winter, has been the enormous swirling vortex capping its north pole and ringed by Saturn's famed hexagonal jet stream.
Today, the Cassini Imaging Team is proud to present to you a set of special views of this phenomenal structure, including a carefully prepared movie showing its circumpolar winds that clock at 330 miles per hour, and false color images that are at once spectacular and informative.
Artist concept of NASA's Voyager spacecraft. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech
The Voyager 1 space craft, which was launched in 1977 to explore outer planets, has entered a new region on its way out of our solar system.
It's now more than 11 billion miles (18 billion km) away from Earth and it detected "two distinct and related changes in its environment on August 25, 2012," according to a paper published in Geophysical Research Letters today and reported by Reuters earlier this week. "The probe detected dramatic changes in the levels of two types of radiation, one that stays inside the solar system, the other which comes from interstellar space."
Technicians complete the primary mirror backplane support structure wing assemblies for NASA's James Webb Space Telescope at ATK's Space Components facility in Magna, Utah. ATK recently completed the fabrication of the primary mirror backplane support structure wing assemblies for prime contractor Northrop Grumman on the Webb telescope. Photo: Northrop Grumman/ATK, via NASA.
These images compare rocks seen by NASA's Opportunity rover and Curiosity rover at two different parts of Mars. On the left is " Wopmay" rock, in Endurance Crater, Meridiani Planum, as studied by the Opportunity rover. On the right are the rocks of the "Sheepbed" unit in Yellowknife Bay, in Gale Crater, as seen by Curiosity. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/MSSS
An analysis of a rock sample collected by NASA's Curiosity rover shows ancient Mars could have supported living microbes. Scientists identified sulfur, nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and carbon -- some of the key chemical ingredients for life -- in the powder Curiosity drilled out of a sedimentary rock near an ancient stream bed in Gale Crater on the Red Planet last month.
"A fundamental question for this mission is whether Mars could have supported a habitable environment," said Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA's Mars Exploration Program at the agency's headquarters in Washington. "From what we know now, the answer is yes."
Cassini's very last targeted flyby of Saturn's moon, Rhea, occurred this past weekend, and images from that event are now on the ground and available for your discerning examination.
Take a good, long, luxurious look at these sights from another world, as they will be the last close-ups you'll ever see of this particular moon.
The bizarre explosion in the skies over in Russia on Feb. 15, 2013 left scientists dumfounded. The asteroid 2012 DA14 was expected to pass some 17K miles over Indonesia, but the Russian impactor wasn't foreseen: it flew from the direction of the sun where telescopes couldn't see it, and surprised everyone hours before the more-publicized asteroid's flyby.
[Alan Friedman] points a telescope skyward from his backyard in downtown Buffalo, directly into the light of the sun. Using special filters attached to his camera Friedman captures some of the most lovely details of the Sun’s roiling surface. The raw images are colorless and often blurry requiring numerous hours of coloring, adjusting and finessing to tease out the finest details, the results of which hardly resemble what I imagine the 10-million degree surface of Sun might look like. Instead Friedman’s photos appear almost calm and serene, perhaps an entire planet of fluffy clouds or cotton candy.
"Venezuelan valley framed by misty clouds - mysterious, beautiful and surreal."—Chris Hadfield
As I've blogged before, Canadian Astronaut Chris Hadfield is currently living in space aboard the International Space Station (ISS) as Flight Engineer on Expedition 34 and he has been tweeting absolutely stunning photographs of Earth. Follow him on Twitter, for daily photo updates. Hadfield has captured some of the devastating floods hitting Australia this week, in images like the one below.
Cosmic Log has a terrific list of night-sky highlights for 2013. Some of them look interesting enough to keep me up past my strictly-observed 9 PM bedtime.
November-December for Comet ISON: Will ISON shine "brighter even than the full moon" a year from now? That seems hard to believe right now, but by next autumn, astronomers should have a good idea just how much of a phenomenon the comet could turn into. NASA's Curiosity rover may be able to snap a picture when ISON passes by Mars in September, and it could become visible to the naked eye in October. It's due to come well within a million miles of the sun at perihelion on Nov. 28 — and that will be the most dramatic moment for skywatchers. Some comets, like last year's Comet Elenin, break up when they slingshot around the sun. Others, like Comet Lovejoy, survive the encounter spectacularly. If ISON lucks out, we could well be raving about the Great Christmas Comet of 2013 by this time next year. (Just don't believe anyone who tells you it's a doomsday comet.)
Possibly, according to some scientists who are trying to understand the early days of Sol and friends.
One way that researchers study events like the creation of the solar system is to model what might have happened using computer software. The basic idea works like this: We know a decent amount about the physical laws (like gravity) that govern the creation of planets and the formation of a solar system. So scientists can take those laws, and program them into a virtual universe that also includes other real-world data ... like what we know about the make-up of the Sun and the planets orbiting it. Then, they recreate history. Then they do it again. Over and over and over, thousands of times, the scientists witness the creation of our solar system.
It doesn't happen the same way each time. Just like you can get a very different loaf of bread out of multiple attempts and baking the same general recipe. But those recreations start to give us an idea of which scenarios were more likely to have happened, and why. If our solar system tends to form in one way and resist forming in another, we have a stronger basis for assuming that the former way was more likely to be what really happened.
That's what you're seeing in this study, which Charles Q. Choi writes about for Scientific American.
Computer models showing how our solar system formed suggested the planets once gravitationally slung one another across space, only settling into their current orbits over the course of billions of years. During more than 6,000 simulations of this planetary scattering phase, planetary scientist David Nesvorny at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo., found that a solar system that began with four giant planets [as ours currently has] only had a 2.5 percent chance of leading to the orbits presently seen now. These systems would be too violent in their youth to end up resembling ours, most likely resulting in systems that have less than four giants over time, Nesvorny found.
Instead, a model about 10 times more likely at matching our current solar system began with five giants, including a now lost world comparable in mass to Uranus and Neptune. This extra planet may have been an "ice giant" rich in icy matter just like Uranus and Neptune, Nesvorny explained.
It was forty years today (at 22:54:37 UT) that human beings left the moon for the last time. Commander Gene Cernan's last words as stood on the moon were lofty, rehearsed and memorized:
"As I take man's last step from the surface, back home for some time to come (but we believe not too long into the future), I'd like to just say what I believe history will record: That America's challenge of today has forged man's destiny of tomorrow. And, as we leave the Moon at Taurus-Littrow, we leave as we came and, God willing, as we shall return: with peace and hope for all mankind."
His real last words uttered on the moon, just before hitting the button that would launch the "Challenger" Lunar Module carrying him and Harrison "Jack" Schmitt back to the orbiting Command Module "America" were more apt for a card-carrying member of the "Right Stuff Club".
"Okay, Jack, let's get this mutha outta here," said Cernan.
Cernan's autobiography "The Last Man on the Moon" is a great read. Among the things you might find surprising: Cernan crashed a Bell B-13 (M*A*S*H) helicopter into still water at Cape Canaveral in January of 1971 nearly killing himself.
Mother Nature is offering up her best fireworks show of the year tonight. All you have to do is hope for clear skies, pour a warm beverage in a thermos, put on some layers and head outside tonight to take it all in.
I am talking about the Geminids Meteor shower which emanates from the Gemini constellation. Finding it should not be hard - even for a night sky newbie. Find Sirius. Up and to the right will be Orion's Belt. Up a little higher to the left will be Gemini. The meteors will emanate from there (astronomers call this the radiant).
NASA is running a chat during the shower and will also be sending out a live image from the Marshall Spaceflight Center on their Ustream channel tonight. This is nice if you would prefer to stay warm and in your jammies! More on all of this here.
There are, of course some apps for this if you have trouble navigating in the dark. Star Walk is a good one for the Apple Nation. I cannot personally vouch for anything Android, but I would guess the Google Sky Map would be a good place to start.
They show goes on from about 9:00pm until 4:30am wherever you happen to be. Peak viewing should be around midnight to 1:00am
To get some deeper gouge, I Skyped the folks at AtronomyNow.com. I spoke with their night sky consultant, Mark Armstrong. You can watch, or read the transcript, or both!