22,000 mile per hour winds, magma clouds that rain rocks, and planets where you could fly by flapping your arms in a wingsuit. These are some of the remarkable phenomena scientists believe are possible on nearby planetary bodies. Read the rest
NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is expected to radio home any minute now. We're watching on NASA TV. The moment will end a nearly 22-hour radio blackout as the probe focused on a series of close-up observations of Pluto and its moons.
From SpaceFlight Now:
Engineers expect to lock on to a carrier signal, then start receiving housekeeping data on the status of the New Horizons spacecraft. No science data will come down during Tuesday night’s pass.
“The reason why you’re not seeing more things immediately is because the spacecraft is spending all its time making the observations of the Pluto system,” says Hal Weaver, New Horizons’ project sciences from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland. “That’s what we wanted to do. Of course, you want to optimize the scientific return from the mission.
A signal from New Horizons will be a celebratory moment for the hundreds of engineers and scientists working on the mission. The cessation of communications was part of the plan going into the flyby because New Horizons carries a fixed antenna, meaning mission managers have to choose between contacting Earth and conducting scientific work at Pluto.
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." Read the rest
Filmmaker Matt Checkowski sends word of two cool new documentary shorts he produced for the University of California video series "Onward California." These episodes focus on the work of a UC Santa Cruz astrophysicist who has discovered two potentially human-inhabitable planets.
Most of the universe is incredibly hostile, it's a vacuum, it's freezing-cold space or you're burning hot near a star. The first habitable planet found outside our solar system is in a habitable-zone orbit; it's a place of refuge from the unbelievable harshness of the universe. This episode of Onward California follows Steve Vogt, a UC Santa Cruz professor of astronomy and astrophysics, into the Lick Observatory, where he has devoted years of research to find earth-like planets.