At-a-glance map of current planetary exploration spacecraft

Emily Lakdawalla and her colleagues at one of my favorite science nonprofits The Planetary Society prepared this fascinating map titled "Where We Are: An At-A-Glance Spacecraft Locator." As William S. Burroughs once said, "This is the space age and we are here to go." Read the rest

Toy blocks that teach about our solar system

Thomas Romer of the excellent Chop Shop Studio in collaboration with the nonprofit Planetary Society designed these delightful solar system toy blocks to teach kids (and adults) about the wonders of outer space! He's launched a Kickstarter to fund the manufacturing of the wood blocks with debossed typography. They're $75/set. Thomas says:

We worked on the project for over a year and while I did the graphics, etc — they made sure all the data was accurate and totally up to date. It is a set of 20 blocks featuring the most interesting worlds of the Solar System. Notice I didn’t say “planets”. One of my main objectives is to show children (and adults) that planet or not doesn’t matter. There are worlds like Io and Europa that most have never heard of. Two moons are bigger than Mercury, never mind Pluto (also included).

Then each side is loaded with data like size, distance, interior, name, appearance and the missions we have sent to explore them.

When they are shipped to our (Kickstarter) backers they will be sold in the Planetary Society store and profits will be sent to support their overall mission.

"Planetary Blocks: Our Solar System" (Kickstarter)

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Incredible and unaffordable solar system wristwatch with orbiting planets

Van Cleef & Arpels' Midnight Planétarium timepiece features a mechanical orrery integrated in the watch face. It is only US$214,000. From the company:

The movement of each planet is true to its genuine length of orbit: it will take Saturn over 29 years to make a complete circuit of the dial, Jupiter will take almost 12 years, Mars 687 days, Earth 365 days, Venus 224 days and Mercury 88 days...

44 mm pink gold case; pink gold bezel; aventurine dial, pink gold sun and shooting star, serpentine Mercury, chloromelanite Venus, turquoise Earth, red jasper Mars, blue agate Jupiter, sugilite Saturn. Pink gold crown with sapphire case back. Matte black alligator strap with pink gold folding clasp. Self-winding mechanical movement (Stern Manufacture), equipped with a Christiaan Van der Klaauw module developed exclusively for Van Cleef & Arpels, 48 hour power reserve. Numbered edition

Midnight Planétarium Watch (via @pickover)

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Eyeball planets

I'm fascinated by painting of an extrasolar planet, credited to "Beau.TheConsortium" and apparently first posted to this SF Wiki. They're called "eyeball planets" -- similar to Earth, but tidally locked with their star, creating a vast polar ice cap on the dark side, a scorching desert facing the sun, and a band around the center where water melts from one side to the other and life happens. The extremes involved have made them a hot topic among those searching for life.

The sweet spot—let’s call it the “ring of life”—is at the terminator, the boundary between night and day. The ring of life is bounded by deserts on one side and ice on the other. There is a constant flow of water from the night side to the day side—a series of rivers, all flowing in the same direction. The Sun is fixed in the sky right at the horizon, and the area is in permanent light. Conditions are pretty much the same all the way across the ring of life. One can imagine vegetation following the rivers onto the day side until they dry up, with different ecosystems interspersed along the way. There could be mountains at the edge of the ice sheets, since the ice-covered continents would be heavily weighed down

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Gorgeous Mars flyover video rendered from real photos

Mars enthusiast Jan Fröjdman painstakingly composited a fictive flight above real Mars, based on actual images of the surface of Mars. The goal was to make some of Mars' fascinating topography feel more real. All that work paid off. Read the rest

Very beautiful (and very expensive) watch contains mechanical solar system model

The Geo. Graham Orrery Tourbillon integrates a mechanical solar system model with meteorites as planets. It is just $330,000. From Graham1965's description of the dial:

Blue lacquered dial with Geo.Graham Tourbillon Orrery inscription at 4 o'clock 3 scales - from the outside to the centre: hours and minutes scale, Gregorian calendar (365.25 days - Earth indicates the date), Zodiac scale (12 astrological signs - Earth indicates the zodiac sign). Counter-clockwise reading. Solar system: The Moon (from NWA4881 meteorite, Ø0.90 mm) The Earth (Kingman Turquoise, Ø3.20 mm) Mars (Tissint meteorite, Ø1.70 mm) The Sun (pink gold (18K) - hand-engraved Tourbillon bridge with 2 Phoenix heads inspired by George Graham decoration and a close set diamond at the centre (Ø2.50mm). Counter-clockwise reading. Off-centre skeleton pink gold (18K) hands with black Super-LumiNova coating

(via Uncrate) Read the rest

Mandala pattern traced by Earth and Venus as they orbit Sun

iBleeedorange posted this pretty GIF that shows the 5-fold pattern traced out by an imaginary line between the Earth and Venus.

Sunsunsun made an audio representation of the orbital relationship between Earth and Venus:

The left side is Venus and the right side is Earth. It takes about 1:36 to synch up, but it almost synchs up (the planets would be directly opposite each other) around 46 seconds in. Each 8 bars represents an orbit around the sun. Do not listen to this without headphones, it makes no sense without being able to separate them.

Make you own "dances of the planets" here.

[via] Read the rest

Tiny planet spotted, 3x as distant as Pluto

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

500 exoplanets to scale in a single image

One day, rich people will visit these worlds! This spectacular poster is the work of Martin Vargic: buy prints at his site.

P.S. latest doppler inferences indicate that planets depicted with of earthlike oceans and atmospheres may contain enormous quantities of halite.

[via] Read the rest

Beautiful footage of Jupiter

Jupiter is more beautiful than ever in this footage from NASA, as used by Adrienne Lafrance to illustrate her splendid article about the gas giant.

rom far away, the planet looks vaguely beige. But its clouds are a kaleidoscope of warm colors—alternately red, orange, pink, and tan, with some blue. That may be the effect of sunlight breaking down chemicals like ammonia, but scientists aren’t sure. “We still don't know what makes the clouds the colors they are,” Simon said. “Another thing we don’t know is: Why the storms last so long.”

In the future, the people who live around Jupiter are going to be really smug, aren't they?

Its reputation was once not so grand, Lafrance adds in a follow-up that astronomers used to find the painterly, swirling surface quite unpleasant.

It was generally hoped that, in couse [sic] of time, this much respected orb would see the error of his ways, and cease to assume the appearance of an inebriated planet.

Sad to relate, however, he has gone from bad to worse, and is just now showing, side by side with the red spot complained of, a number of white ones, which give his countenance an appearance truly sad to behold. No wonder that quiet, staid astronomers, who, from joking, stand aghast at such an exhibition.

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Tajikistan creates planet, names it after self

A central asian nation may have no easy path to the sea, but its future among the stars is assured—at least in its dreams.

Tajikistan's state new agency reports [translate] that the country has named "one of the small planets of the solar system" for itself, but did not specify exactly which one, or how it will come to be "between Mars and Jupiter" and have an orbital revolution equivalent to the 5-year term of the national parliamentary assembly.

According to the press release, the name was affirmed by the International Astrophysicists Union.

It was emphasized that the planet Tajikistan is located between the planets Mars and Jupiter, its distance from the Earth is 250 million kilometers, and from the Sun is 463 million kilometers. Tajikistan planet revolves around the sun once every five years.

Now the planet Tajikistan is at a very close distance to Earth and Tajik scholars engaged in the study of its physical and chemical properties, as well as the processes taking place on this planet.

President Emomali Rahmon expressed appreciation for the contribution of the Tajik scientists in the world of astrophysics, and expressed confidence that such valuable achievements require from our scientists and researchers more effort in the interests of the state and the nation, as well as all mankind.

Eurasianet suspects that "there are some unexplained aspects to the story."

For instance, the International Astrophysicists Union, if it indeed exists, appears to have no online presence. And were it a real organization, it would be rather odd for it to be getting into the business of naming planets, since that might be considered more strictly the domain of astronomers.

Read the rest

First near-Earth-size planet in “habitable zone” around sun-like star confirmed by NASA

Space truth, more awesome than fiction.

National Geographic's Pluto issue, autographed by NASA's New Horizons team

“How cool is this?”

NASA Ground team stands by for Pluto fly-by confirmation signal from New Horizons

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.

Watch live: Ground team standing by for New Horizons signal

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Pluto and other known “not-planets” in our solar system mapped in scale image montage

“Their non-planetary status is a handicap because these are the worlds that we need to get Earthlings excited about exploring.”

eBay forbids woman from selling property on the Sun

Alex Boese has a great article on About Entertainment on the history of people who claimed ownership of stars, moons, and planets and then sold deeds to plots of land on the heavenly bodies. And they had buyers!

In 2013, Maria Angeles Duran began selling plots of land on eBay. That, in itself, isn't unusual, but the land she was selling was located on the sun. She offered square-meter plots for the price of 1 euro each. By 2015, she had over 600 buyers, but then eBay pulled the plug on her, saying her auctions violated its "intangible goods" policy.

Duran didn't take this lying down. She sued the auction site for violation of contract, arguing that the sun is, indeed, a tangible object, and a Spanish court agreed to hear her case.

The Weird News Guide to Extraterrestrial Real Estate: Meet the people who own the sun, moon, and all planets everywhere Read the rest

The crazy storm on Saturn

Fun fact: Saturn has a storm that's every bit as big as Jupiter's better-known Great Red Spot. It's been spinning over Saturn's north pole for 30 years. And it's shaped like a hexagon. Read the rest

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