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Astronomy snapshot from the Boing Boing Flickr Pool: Perseids at Mt. Rainier, WA

"Mt Rainier & Perseid meteors, 8-12-13," Jamie Frank, shared in the BB Flickr Pool. "Around midnight random meteors were beginning to fly overhead but the coolest was the dancing lights on the right of the ones to come."

The Perseids, a prolific meteor shower associated with the comet Swift-Tuttle, recently peaked. If you're lucky, you can still view some "shooting stars" in the night sky, as August comes to a close. Here are viewing tips.

A view of the stars — anytime, anywhere

Never Ending Night is a project aimed at making a live feed of the starry night sky available online 24 hours a day. It's art — imagine a world where everyone can see the same patch of sky from the same perspective — influenced and facilitated by science. And you can help fund it.

Jupiter layer cake


Cakecrumbs, creator of the amazing Earth Cake, has topped that marvel with a Jupiter layer cake whose layers reveal the theoretical makeup of the gas giant. Its multiple layers represent "a core comprised mostly of rock and ice... surrounded by a layer liquid metallic hydrogen, and the outer layer is composed of molecular hydrogen."

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UK astronomers team up to search for alien intelligence

Astronomers in the UK are planning to explore the skies for signs of alien life, using a network of telescopes that can detect signals from other planets. The plans would make Britain the world's second-largest center for alien-hunting in the world, after America. [The Guardian]

Atlantis returns to Kennedy: a review of the space shuttle's new permanent exhibit

Space educator Sawyer “@thenasaman” Rosenstein, 19, is a hardcore space fan. His enthusiasm for space flight was captured in a 2011 Boing Boing special feature, and shines weekly in his “Talking Space” podcast. He traveled to Florida for the opening of the new permanent exhibit of Shuttle Atlantis at Kennedy Space Center, and shared photos with us. All images in this review are Sawyer’s. —Xeni Jardin.

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Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit at Kennedy Space Center: photos from opening night

Space educator Sawyer "@thenasaman" Rosenstein, 19, might also be described as a space fan. His enthusiasm for space flight was captured in this Boing Boing feature, and shines weekly in his "Talking Space" podcast. He traveled to Florida this weekend for the opening of the new permanent exhibit of Shuttle Atlantis at KSC, and shares these photos with us back home. All images in this post are Sawyer's so ask before you re-use them. —Xeni Jardin.


The Atlantis exhibit: 90,000 square feet, $100 million, and one precious piece of American space history. Give that to any organization and they'll come up with something pretty cool. Give it to Delaware North, the company that runs the Kennedy Space Center Visitor's Complex, and you get one of the most impressive displays I've ever seen.

Atlantis is displayed with quotes from the people who worked on her. There are more than 60 interactive exhibits. The orbiter steals the show. These pictures do not do the experience justice, but I hope it'll give you, Boing Boing readers, a glimpse into what was done at Kennedy. And I hope it inspires you to go and see it yourself.

A view from underneath the model external tank and solid rocket boosters. They are impressive in size and visible for miles.

Space history is a beautiful thing.

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Ants and Stars: Bruce Sterling and Jasmina Tesanovic visit the Sardinia Radio Telescope in Italy

Writers Jasmina Tesanovic and Bruce Sterling visit the Sardinia Radio Telescope, a large, fully steerable radio telescope currently which was recently completed near San Basilio, in province of Cagliari in Sardinia, Italy.

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Vintage futures: Next Stop Mars, 1952

In the Boing Boing Flickr Pool, reader JMV shares this wonderful scan of a 1952 feature from the Vancouver Sun's "Weekend Picture Magazine" on the coming age of travel to Mars.

Illustration by Edgar Ainsworth.

"It will probably be some 50 years before any safe space flight from Earth to another planet and back is made, but there seems now to be very little doubt that the dreams of Roger Bacon in AD 1249 and Albertus Magnus in 1280 have left the realm of Wellsian imaginings and become a practical proposition."

Here's a larger size. Guess they didn't think of Rovers!

Tumblog of Greatness: F*ck Yeah, Female Astronauts


Valentina Tereshkova, first woman in space, launch date June 16, 1963.

A wonderful website: fuckyeahfemaleastronauts.tumblr.com [new expletive-free URL] womeninspace.tumblr.com.

Only 10% of people in space have been women, and on tumblr that seemed even less. so here it is for your inspiration. Fuck yeah! Female Astronauts!

(via s.e. smith)

Hemispherical Earth cake with crust, mantle and core


This brilliant hemispherical cake depicting the Earth's surface and approximating its core was baked by Rhiannon of Baking Adventures in Melbourne, Australia. She baked a cake inside a cake, formed a crust of chocolate buttercream, and then applied the seas, continents and islands with marshmallow fondant.


When I started this cake I was determined for pin-point accuracy. I was going to make every country and every island so damn accurate a pilot could use it as their navigation system. But by the time I got to Europe, it was more like, "Yeah, that's the general shape." By the time I got to the Americas I was wondering if that continent was even necessary. I missed a whole heap of islands above Australia and settled instead for the main ones. Cutting out the countries wasn't that cake walk I'd imagined it to be.

I finally got to a finished look for the cake and let my sister take it off my hands. She brought me back a slice so I could share a picture of the inside with you all. The red layer is orange Madeira sponge, the yellow is lemon Madeira sponge and the white cake was a vanilla buttercake.

Commission: Earth Structural Layer Cake (via Geekologie)

Life of astronaut Sally Ride honored in Kennedy Center tribute


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.

Her Sally Ride Science organization reached out to girls, encouraging them to pursue careers in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields, where a gender gap persists.

At the PBS NewsHour website, read the column Miles wrote immediately following Ride's death in July 2012, 17 months after she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

The Red Rose of Saturn

Carolyn Porco, Cassini Imaging Team Leader and CICLOPS director, writes:

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.

Here are the images, in glorious hi-rez [ciclops.org].

How far away from Earth is Mars?

D.S. Deboer says "Check this out! It's neat and really helped me grasp how far away Mars is. (Hint: It's really, really, really far away.)"

How Far is it to Mars?

(Ben shared this in the Google + Boing Boing Community. Join us there for fun link sharing and conversation!)

Space probe Voyager 1 reaches outer edges of solar system

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."

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World's largest space telescope now under construction in Utah

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.

Aerospace contractor Alliant Techsystems is building what will be the world's largest space telescope in Magna, Utah. When completed, the James Webb Space Telescope is designed to be at least 100 times more powerful than the Hubble Space Telescope, and will open our eyes to never-before-seen planets and galaxies. There's a Webb cam (hurr hurr, get it?) on NASA's James Webb Space Telescope website, where you can observe the construction process. They reached one big milestone on Friday, with the completion of a support structure wing, shown in the photograph above. (Thanks, @bwjones!)

NASA: in Martian soil, Mars rover finds conditions once suited for ancient life

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

Big news from NASA JPL this afternoon:
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."
More at the MSL mission website. [NASA]

Images from Cassini's final targeted flyby of Saturn's Moon Rhea

Carolyn Porco, who is the Cassini Imaging Team Leader and Director of CICLOPS in Boulder, CO, writes:

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.

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What exploded over Russia? Space researchers explore, with infrasound sensors

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.

A NASA news item today explains how scientists are piecing together what happened, using infrasound sensors operated by the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO).

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Alan Friedman takes mind-blowing photos of the sun from home

Colossal has a gallery of Alan Friedman's stunning sun photography. (Here's Friedman's TEDx Talk from December).

[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.

Alan Friedman’s Astonishing HD Photographs of the Sun Shot from his Own Backyard

Astronaut Chris Hadfield's otherworldly Earth landscapes, from space

"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.

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50-meter asteroid will come within 17,000 miles of Earth on 2/15/2013

"Since regular sky surveys began in the 1990s," says Don Yeomans of NASA's Near Earth Object Program says, "we've never seen an object this big get so close to Earth." That's about 5% of the average distance between the Earth and the Moon. (See also: The Last Policeman: solving a murder before an asteroid wipes out life on Earth.)

The 'Comet of the Century' ... and other night-sky highlights for 2013

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.)
The 'Comet of the Century' ... and other night-sky highlights for 2013

(Image: 365::225 - The Dark Half, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from badcomputer's photostream)

Is our solar system missing a planet?

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.

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We left the moon 40 years ago today. Will we ever return?

It was forty years today (at 22:54:37 UT) that human beings left the moon for the last time. Miles O’Brien remembers Commander Gene Cernan’s last words from the moon, lofty, rehearsed and memorized: “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.”

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Geminids Meteor shower: How to watch the big fireworks in the sky tonight

The Geminids Meteor shower is coming! Space reporter Miles O’Brien speaks with AtronomyNow.com’s night sky consultant, Mark Armstrong.

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Weird meteor shower to peak tomorrow night

The Geminids are one of the big deal meteor showers that happen every year. In fact, they're regarded as one of the most reliable and impressive. They're also a little strange.

Most meteor showers happen when Earth and a comet cross paths, slingling rocks, dust, and debris from the comet's tail into our atmosphere. The sudden influx of shooting starts that results is a highly noticeable event and humans have been recording them for millennia.

The Geminids are different. They sort of just appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, back in 1862. And it wasn't until the 1980s that scientists were finally able to identify the thing that was producing them. At which point, ish got weirder.

That's because the object, known as 3200 Phaethon, is really confusing. It doesn't seem to be a comet. At least, not a normal, healthy, functioning comet. It doesn't even have a tail. In fact, at this point most scientists think it's probably an asteroid, which then leads to still-yet-unexplained question of where all the meteors come from. Asteroids, after all, do not typically accumulate tails of small rocks. So far, the best guess has to do with 3200 Phaethon's orbit, which over the course of about a year and a half takes it closer to the Sun than Mercury and then back out further from the Sun than Mars. Those wild temperature swings might lead to the asteroid cracking and throwing off dust and debris, which then becomes meteors. But, as a NASA info page pointed out in 2010, that explanation doesn't totally cut it.

The amount of dust 3200 Phaethon ejected during its 2009 sun-encounter added a mere 0.01% to the mass of the Geminid debris stream—not nearly enough to keep the stream replenished over time.

According to the International Meteor Organization, you can expect the Geminids to peak tomorrow night, around 5:30 pm, Central Time. But this is a big shower, so you're likely to see something even if you can't hit the exact peak.

Also: While you're watching for meteors, also keep an eye out for an upcoming feature here by Miles O'Brien, which will delve into the latest in Geminid science!

Read the 2010 NASA info page on the Geminids and an earlier NASA piece that describes a different theory for their origins.

Make use of The Bad Astronomy guide to meteor watching

Image: Geminid Meteor. Just one., a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from tydence's photostream

We almost got cold cocked by an asteroid, yo

Two days ago, astronomers spotted a new asteroid. Early this morning, the sonofabitch nearly hit our planet.

Solar system quilt from 1876

NewImage

Amateur astronomer Ellen Harding Baker of Cedar County, Iowa made this stunning solar system quilt in 1876. The quilt is now in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution. From the Smithsoian's History Explorer:

Ellen used the quilt as a visual aid for lectures she gave on astronomy in the towns of West Branch, Moscow, and Lone Tree, Iowa. Astronomy was an acceptable interest for women in the nineteenth century and was sometimes even fostered in their education.
"Ellen Harding Baker's "Solar System" Quilt"

The Milky Way

A wonderful night-sky photo shared in the BB Flickr Pool by Dave Hensley: "Unadjusted jpg made from 16bit/channel tiff created by a linux stacking script I wrote; operating on a series of images I captured over vacation."

Orionids in Aspen

"Orionid Meteors over Aspen Highlands and Pyramid Peak," by Thomas O'Brien, shared in the Boing Boing Flickr Pool. About the photo, Thomas explains:
12 shots stacked into one frame. I shot 750 images and ended up with 35 photos with meteors in them but only used 12 since the rest were very faint.