Eye of the furnace: Hubble captures close-up of spiral galaxy NGC 1097

From NASA's Image of the Day blog: "This face-on galaxy, lying 45 million light-years away from Earth in the southern constellation of Fornax (The Furnace), is particularly attractive for astronomers. NGC 1097 is a Seyfert galaxy. Lurking at the very center of the galaxy, a supermassive black hole 100 million times the mass of our sun is gradually sucking in the matter around it. The area immediately around the black hole shines powerfully with radiation coming from the material falling in."

NASA Johnson Style (Gangnam Style Parody)

Best one yet, guys! NASA Johnson Style is a volunteer outreach video project created by the students of NASA's Johnson Space Center. It was created as an educational parody of Psy's Gangnam Style. The lyrics and scenes in the video have been re-imagined in order to inform the public about the amazing work going on at NASA and the Johnson Space Center. Lyrics and "making of" information here! (thanks, Aileen Graef)

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

40th anniversary of the Blue Marble photo

LIFE blue marble

Today is the 40th anniversary of the "Blue Marble," the iconic photo taken by the crew of the Apollo 17. More on the photo and its impact at LIFE.com and Wikipedia. Here's NASA's original caption:

View of the Earth as seen by the Apollo 17 crew traveling toward the moon. This translunar coast photograph extends from the Mediterranean Sea area to the Antarctica south polar ice cap. This is the first time the Apollo trajectory made it possible to photograph the south polar ice cap. Note the heavy cloud cover in the Southern Hemisphere. Almost the entire coastline of Africa is clearly visible. The Arabian Peninsula can be seen at the northeastern edge of Africa. The large island off the coast of Africa is Madagascar. The Asian mainland is on the horizon toward the northeast."

What's up with NASA's warp drive spaceship?

Here's the best way I can sum up this story: Yes, some NASA scientists are working on a design for a warp drive. No, that doesn't mean warp drives are real.

Warp drives — as a purely theoretical thing and/or science-fiction plot device — involve manipulating space-time to allow a spaceship to go faster than the speed of light. It's basically loophole that would allow you to get around those pesky laws of physics. Swiss bank account:taxes::Warp drives:speed of light. You get the picture.

Harold White of NASA’s Johnson Space Center is currently leading an effort to design a warp drive space ship. But, as Amy Teitel explains in a story for Vice's Motherboard, the fact that this is happening does not necessarily mean a real working warp drive is possible. It's more about the fact that NASA is partly in the business of letting really smart people try things that are kind of crazy and unlikely, if they can back up the idea with a reasonably plausible hypothesis. Speculative research is a thing that happens.

The problem is that breaking the light barrier isn’t at all like breaking the sound barrier. The sound barrier–properly, the aerodynamic effects of pressure waves interacting with a body as it approaches the speed of sound–was broken with a cleverly engineered aircraft and an at-the-time state of the art rocket engine.

Bell’s X-1 was, importantly, a physical aircraft made of matter, not made of sound. But the atoms and molecules that make up all matter are connected by electromagnetic fields, and that’s the same stuff that light is made of. So when it comes to breaking the light barrier, it’s like breaking through light with light (sort of… ask Brian Greene). As NASA poses the question, “How can an object travel faster than that which links its atoms?” It’s a very different matter.

Another issue special relativity brings up is the light speed barrier. Moving takes energy, and the faster you move the more energy you use. So, theoretically, to move at the cosmic speed limit of light you need an infinite amount of energy. That’s a distinct barrier if there ever was one.

Read the rest of the story at Vice's Motherboard

Cool things to find (Curiosity parody of "Dumb ways to die")

What might the Curiosity rover find on Mars? So many cool things. Maybe friends that hug your face! Maybe Nixon's secret tapes! Or maybe even something less easily fit into song lyrics, like significant amounts of Martian methane.

This video, made by Cinesaurus, is a parody of "Dumb Ways to Die", an adorably demented public safety message from Australia's Metro Trains Melbourne. If you've not seen that yet, you should check it out as well.

Thanks to Andrew Balfour and Michael Bernstein!

NASA downplays still-unannounced findings from Mars

Just before Thanksgiving, the lead mission scientist for the Curiosity rover told NPR that his team had found something that would "be one for the history books." Naturally, we all began speculating about the presence of life, giant obelisks, and half-buried Statues of Liberty. Yesterday, however, a different NASA spokesman basically asked the world to not get its hopes up too high, revising the level of importance down from "earthshaking" to "interesting". So far, nobody has said what, exactly, was discovered. (Via Colin Schultz)

Report: Now that election's decided, NASA may announce new manned lunar mission

Space.com spoke to space policy expert John Logsdon, a professor emeritus at George Washington University, about rumors that NASA may soon unveil new manned moon missions.

"Plans have probably already been cleared with the Obama Administration but have been kept under wraps in case Republican candidate Mitt Romney won," according to Space.com.

As the Independent notes, these comments sync with remarks by NASA deputy chief Lori Garver at a conference in September. (via Jenny Winder)

This NASA simulation of a galaxy is begging for a snazzy soundtrack

This computer simulation uses what we know about physical forces in the universe to model how a galaxy might have been born, and how it might grow over 13.5 billion years.

This cosmological simulation follows the development of a single disk galaxy over about 13.5 billion years, from shortly after the Big Bang to the present time. Colors indicate old stars (red), young stars (white and bright blue) and the distribution of gas density (pale blue); the view is 300,000 light-years across. The simulation ran on the Pleiades supercomputer at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., and required about 1 million CPU hours. It assumes a universe dominated by dark energy and dark matter.

The result is a beautiful (if silent) video that is significantly labeled as public domain. It seemed like something you guys might enjoy playing around with.

Check out this Wikipedia article for more information on the growth of galaxies

Via labgrab

Sandy, as viewed from the International Space Station (pics)

Said one astronaut on the ISS just now, during the video transmission I screengrabbed these stills from: "We just flew over the big storm down there, hope everyone's doing okay." Source: NASA TV.

Read the rest

Carl Sagan's Cosmos: The Meat Planet (with pork volcano)

"A giant planet with a liquid interior full of liquid beef and pork, into which a thousand earths would fit."

Darren Cullen of Spelling Mistakes Cost Lives and friend Mark Tolson edited together this 'lost episode' of Carl Sagan's Cosmos, about a fabled Meat Planet, with details of its famous pork volcano, Mount Sustenance, "well-known to astronomers since the time of Galileo."

If NASA would focus on the important planets, the delicious bacon-y ones like this, perhaps we'd have a real future in space exploration. Astronomy-gastronomy!

Curiosity's big idea: Was Mars ever a habitable planet?

This video interview with Ashwin Vasavada, Deputy Project Scientist of the Mars Science Laboratory, is a nice overview of the what everybody's favorite currently operational Mars rover is looking for.

NASA finds Cookie Monster on surface of Mercury

Image: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab/Carnegie Institution of WA

"The superposition of younger craters on older craters (in this case two smaller craters upon the rim of an older crater) can result in landforms that appear to resemble more familiar shapes to human eyes." Definitely Cookie Monster. More: NASA.

(thanks, Miles O'Brien)

Shuttle Endeavour transits Los Angeles this weekend, en route to her final resting place

NASA orbiter Endeavour is squeezing her way through tree-stripped streets of Los Angeles this weekend, en route to a permanent retirement home at the California Science Center.

Here's a Google Map of the route, with stopping points. Big shuttle is big. Bigger than the streets that must accommodate her. Basically, the whole thing is like the ultimate slow-speed car chase, but with fewer live news choppers overhead.

Above: BB reader Troy B. Asher caught Endeavour parked in a parking lot today. More of his pix here.

SpaceX Dragon spacecraft successfully attaches to ISS

For the second time in 2012, a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft has connected with the International Space Station. ISS expedition 33 crew members Akihiko Hoshide and Sunita Williams grappled Dragon and attached it to the station, completing a critical stage of the SpaceX CRS-1 cargo resupply mission.