SpaceX releases new video of Falcon 9 launch and landing

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SpaceX today published some wonderful new footage of its recent successful Falcon 9 launch and landing.

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Strange space balls fell in Vietnam

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Three strange metal spheres fell from the sky in Vietnam's Tuyen Quang province. They range in size and weight, with the smallest at 250 grams and the largest at 45 kilograms. According to the Ministry of Defense, they are likely compressed air tanks from an aircraft or rocket. That said, Nguyen Khoa Son of the National Research Program on Space Science and Technology suggests that they could be debris from a failed satellite launch. Apparently the balls were made in Russia.

(BBC News)

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Which is the most boring exoplanet?

Bland exoplanet OGLE 2005 BLG-390Lb and the shitty little red dwarf it orbits. Illo: Beschizza

Every other week, it seems, an exciting new discovery crops up in a distant star system. The latest is Wolf 1061c, the closest Earth-like world yet found, barely a probe's throw away at 14 light years. But this got me thinking: which is the least interesting exoplanet yet discovered?

To my inexpert eye, OGLE 2005 BLG-390Lb looks like a terrifically boring world. Though it was scientifically interesting early in the exoplanetary race due to its tiny size and vast distance from Planet Earth, this merely makes it the Rand Paul of planets.

It's at least 18,000 light years away, so we're not getting there until we can reach billions of other, more interesting worlds. And when someone does get there, they'll find what appears to be rocky blob well out of its star's habitable zone.

It's covered in abundant elements such as ammonia and nitrogen, all frozen solid because it's so cold. Its star is believed to be a red dwarf, which is to say, very boring in its own right.

"I wish I'd had a chance to visit OGLE 2005 BLG-390Lb," no-one will ever say.

But I could, of course, be completely wrong. I'm not an astronomer, after all. Tell us in the comments which exoplanet you are most bored by!

Previously: Extremely mundane places in Minecraft. Read the rest

You can now watch NASA rocket launches in 4K high-def video online

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You can now view NASA rocket launch videos in 4K high-definition glory, online.

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Look at Saturn's magnificent moon Titan!

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NASA just released this beautiful composite infrared view of Saturn's moon Titan. The Cassini spacecraft captured the image last month during its flyby about 6,200 miles above the moon's surface. From NASA:

The view looks toward terrain that is mostly on the Saturn-facing hemisphere of Titan. The scene features the parallel, dark, dune-filled regions named Fensal (to the north) and Aztlan (to the south), which form the shape of a sideways letter "H."

Several places on the image show the surface at higher resolution than elsewhere. These areas, called subframes, show more detail because they were acquired near closest approach. They have finer resolution, but cover smaller areas than data obtained when Cassini was farther away from Titan.

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Ridley Scott's revenge?

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Did Ridley Scott plan the most brutally delicious revenge against JPL or am I just making this stuff up? Read the rest

Watch all the exoplanets orbit their stars simultaneously

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The Kepler telescope has found 685 systems with 1705 exoplanets, and you can watch them whirr around together in this mesmerizing animation by astrocubs.

The data is from the NASA Exoplanet Archive. I made the visualization in Python: source code available here.

The fact that the worlds and systems we've observed are so different from our own is a limitation of our observations, not of the universe.

The orbits are shown to scale, but the planets are much larger than the orbits would suggest. Otherwise you wouldn't be able to see them. The planets are not to scale with one another, either. Also, the orbits wouldn't be perfectly circular, though I guess the animator might have made the simulation adhere to the laws of planetary motion an all the observed worlds have roughly-circular orbits. Of course the solar systems aren't this close tog—look, sshhhh, just watch it, it's pretty. Read the rest

These procedurally generated space bowls are killer

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Mirror Lake will make a procedurally generated bowl for you. Sometimes the bowl is empty, which sounds like a parable, but mostly it is just a bowl. Sometimes it is in space.

Click again, and you'll be greeted with another bowl. Other features of its landscape may include: mountains, trees, stones, ponds, birds, comets, planets, stars.

Mirror Lake was created by Katie Rose Pipkin for the recent Procedural Generation Jam, which encouraged people to make generative games, tools and art—to "make something that makes something." In this case, hauntingly pretty monochromatic space bowls.

Pipkin previously made a bot that creates tweets peppered with tiny star fields, and co-created another bot that draws and names procedurally generated moths.

If you want to see Mirror Lake in all its odd glory, trying expanding it to full screen; make sure the sound is up so you can hear the ambient hum. Even the bugs are nice to look at:

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Our Generation Ships Will Sink

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As noted in Cory's review, Kim Stanley Robinson's Aurora makes an undeniable case for ecological stewardship through a rigorous, gripping technological speculation about climate science, biology, space propulsion and sociodynamic factors. In this exclusive feature essay, Robinson explains the technology behind the best science fiction novel of 2015.

Watch 'xkcd' explain space travel using the simplest words possible

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"Rocket" is not one of the 1,000 most common words in the English language, so it's called an "up goer" in the excellent xkcd video that explains space travel in simple terms. It's adapted from xkcd creator Randall Munroe's book, Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words." Read the rest

Tiny planet spotted, 3x as distant as Pluto

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Astronomers have spied a cold world three times as distant from the Sun as Pluto. Read the rest

Moon Photography 101

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Are you planning on taking a trip to the Moon? If so, you'll want to create a commemorative photo album.  

The moon is a pretty desolate place and the truth is, you just don’t have a whole lot to work with. You’ve got moon dust, some craters and if you’re lucky, you’ve got some shadow and light.

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Explore the solar system in an immortal transhumanist body

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The space exploration game Sun Dogs comes with a promising description: "Sun Dogs is about exploring our inner solar system, altering your body, and embracing death." After playing, I deem it accurate. Read the rest

NASA looks directly at the sun so you don't have to, and it's gorgeous

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NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) in orbit keeps a constant vigil on the Sun to help us understand how solar variations impact life on Earth. Launched in 2010, the SDO is part of NASA's Living With a Star (LWS) Program. NASA just released this magnificent 4K video shot by the SDO of our star's nuclear fire. It's titled "Thermonuclear Art."

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Kim Stanley Robinson's "Aurora": space is bigger than you think

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Kim Stanley Robinson's Aurora is the best book I read in 2015, and by "best" I mean, "most poetic" and "most thought provoking" and "most scientific," a triple-crown in science fiction that's practically unheard of. I wouldn't have believed it possible, even from Robinson, had I not read it for myself.

Astronomer, NASA advisor, and serial sexual harasser Geoff Marcy to resign from UC Berkeley

Geoffrey Marcy, possibly contemplating his next victim. [NASA photo]

Geoff Marcy, a famous and respected American astronomer, has announced his intention to step down as a faculty member at the University of California, Berkeley, according to an email obtained by BuzzFeed News.

Marcy also works with NASA on the search for extraterrestrial life, via the NASA Kepler Mission.

Buzzfeed first broke today's news of Marcy's plans to step aside. It is the first real fallout he's facing from sexual harassment claims that the reported victims say were ignored for years.

Why would those claims be ignored by UC Berkeley? Because Marcy is kind of a big deal in the field of astronomy, and his name meant money for the struggling California academic institution. Read the rest

Far out space film made from NASA Apollo Archive images

Tom Kucy dug into the incredible motherlode of NASA's Project Apollo Archive of photos released last week to create this beautiful short film "Ground Control." Read the rest

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