Submit a link Features Reviews Podcasts Video Forums More ▾

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.

Read the rest

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.) Mark

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.

Read the rest

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.”

Read the rest

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.

Read the rest

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. Xeni

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.

Cosmically speaking, we are over the hill

This entire universe is nearing the point where it's time to throw it a party full of black balloons and cheap Grim Reaper decorations, according to recent research by an international team of astronomers. They studied the rate at which stars are born and found that that rate is declining. In fact, most of the stars that will ever exist already do. We're only likely to increase the total by about 5% between now and the end of everything. So, you know. Have a great rest of your day. Maggie

November Eclipse

November Eclipse, a false color image of the moon shared in the Boing Boing Flickr Pool by BB reader Jason Brown in New Zealand.

Apparently, planets don't always orbit stars

Because sometimes nature just likes to mess with you, here's CFBDSIR2149. It's an object in space — a relatively nearby object in space, as evidenced by the fact that this is an actual picture of it — and scientists are pretty sure that it's a planet. If they're right, then CFBDSIR2149 is also a "rogue planet", so called because it doesn't actually orbit a star. Seriously. It's just hanging out in space, doing its own thing.

Also, it's not the first time a rogue planet has been identified.

In fact, these things are probably not even particularly rare. A 2011 study published in the journal Nature estimated that rogue planets might even outnumber normal stars by 2-to-1 in the Milky Way Galaxy.

It's worth noting that rogue planets do not seem to be Earth-like. For instance, CFBDSIR2149 is roughly the size of Jupiter and, with an estimated surface temperature of 850 degrees Fahrenheit, it is not exactly a pleasant place for people. As for rogue planets come from: That's a mystery. One of the things that makes CFBDSIR2149 special, according to Phil Plait, is that it's actually close enough to us that we can collect some good data on the thing.

Read Phil Plait's description of CFBDSIR2149 at the Bad Astronomy Blog

Read the research paper announcing the discovery of CFBDSIR2149

Read about rogue planets in a Science News story from last year

Image: CFHT/P. Delorme