Astounding finalist images for Astronomy Photographer of the Year

The Royal Museums Greenwich announced the shortlisted images from their Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2018 and the photos are absolutely breathtaking. They'll announce the winners in October. See more at: Insight Investment Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2018 shortlist gallery

Above: "RS34358_NGC 6726 and NGC 6727" by Mark Hanson, Warren Keller, Steve Mazlin, Rex Parker, Tommy Tse, David Plesko, Pete Proulx.

Below: "Aurorascape" by Mikkel Beiter; "Expedition to Infinity" by Jingpeng Liu

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Supersharp image of planet Neptune taken from the ground

This isn't taken by a far-flung probe on its way to Alpha Centauri, but from the ground on planet Earth. The European Space Agency: A "new technique called laser tomography [captures] images from the ground at visible wavelengths that are sharper than those from #Hubble."

To achieve this four brilliant lasers are fixed to UT4 that project columns of intense orange light 30 centimetres in diameter into the sky, stimulating sodium atoms high in the atmosphere and creating artificial Laser Guide Stars. Adaptive optics systems use the light from these “stars” to determine the turbulence in the atmosphere and calculate corrections one thousand times per second, commanding the thin, deformable secondary mirror of UT4 to constantly alter its shape, correcting for the distorted light.

Whoa.

Image: European Southern Observatory / P. Weibacher (AIP) Read the rest

Who owns the Moon?

A few days ago, we celebrated the 49th anniversary of the first Moon landing. But while the United States may have been the first to take that giant leap onto the surface and plant a flag, that doesn't mean the moon is a US colony. But the 1967 Outer Space Treaty that prevented a "land grab" on the Moon apparently doesn't address the exploitation of the Moon's resources. Space law professor Frans von der Dunk of the University of Nebraska explains over at Scientific American:

Countries such as the United States and Luxembourg (as the gateway to the European Union) agree that the moon and asteroids are “global commons,” which means that each country allows its private entrepreneurs, as long as duly licensed and in compliance with other relevant rules of space law, to go out there and extract what they can, to try and make money with it. It’s a bit like the law of the high seas, which are not under the control of an individual country, but completely open to duly licensed law-abiding fishing operations from any country’s citizens and companies. Then, once the fish is in their nets, it is legally theirs to sell.

On the other hand, countries such as Russia and somewhat less explicitly Brazil and Belgium hold that the moon and asteroids belong to humanity as a whole. And therefore the potential benefits from commercial exploitation should somehow accrue for humanity as a whole—or at least should be subjected to a presumably rigorous international regime to guarantee humanity-wide benefits.

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NASA's infrared map of Titan

Composed from 13 years of Cassini probe mission data, NASA's infrared-based map of Titan shows off one of the solar system's most promising worlds. Read the rest

The secret history of Marxist alien hunters

From the early days of the Russian Revolution through the space race and Cold War, a small but dedicated collection of communist UFOlogists believed in and sought out signs of extraterrestrial life, believing that discovery aligned with their goals of raising up the worker. Read the rest

Blob of liquid floating in zero gravity

From NASA Johnson: "Astronauts on the International Space Station dissolved an effervescent tablet in a floating ball of water, and captured images using a camera capable of recording four times the resolution of normal high-definition cameras. The higher resolution images and higher frame rate videos can reveal more information when used on science investigations, giving researchers a valuable new tool aboard the space station. This footage is one of the first of its kind. The cameras are being evaluated for capturing science data and vehicle operations by engineers at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama." Read the rest

First image of a newborn planet forming

The ESO's Very Large Telescope captured the first image of a planet forming in the swooshy swirl of space dust surrounding a similarly youthful star. The planet is the blurry yellow blob to the bottom right of center; the black blob in the middle is a blinker used to block direct light from the star, which would otherwise overwhelm the sensor.

It is located roughly three billion kilometres from the central star, roughly equivalent to the distance between Uranus and the Sun. The analysis shows that PDS 70b is a giant gas planet with a mass a few times that of Jupiter. The planet's surface has a temperature of around 1000°C, making it much hotter than any planet in our own Solar System.

Sounds like a great place to visit! Here's video with some more explanations and some artistic renderings of the solar system and the world itself.

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Videos of last night's SpaceX launch

It's an ISS supply run, but what a beautiful boat. Check out the plume -- "Holy Cow, look at that thing!" -- in this clip:

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What do they mean by "enhanced color" in space images?

The striking enhanced color image of blue-hued sand dunes on Mars led some readers to ask what that means. Above is a side-by-side image in what scientists call "true color" on the left and enhanced on the right. The color humans would perceive is probably somewhere between the two, depending on conditions. Here's the difference: Read the rest

Japanese space probe visits diamond-shaped asteroid

After a four-year journey, Japan's Hayabusa 2 returned its first image of Ryugu, a diamond-shaped asteroid far from Earth. Habayusa is going to shoot explosives at the rock, scoop up some of the bits released, then return home with them for study. From the BBC:

A copper projectile, or "impactor" will separate from the spacecraft, floating down to the surface of the asteroid. Once Hayabusa 2 is safely out of the way, an explosive charge will detonate, driving the projectile into the surface.

"We have an impactor which will create a small crater on the surface of Ryugu. Maybe in spring next year, we will try to make a crater... then our spacecraft will try to reach into the crater to get the subsurface material."

"But this is a very big challenge."

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VFX artist demonstrates just how big SpaceX rockets are

Because most people see SpaceX rocket launches on a small screen or from a great distance, here's a better sense of how enormous these vehicles are by adding them to real-world places. Read the rest

Watch a very detailed overview of the latest innovations for power in space

Improved super-thin solar panels and nuclear fission are all in development to handle the massive logistical problems of meeting power needs in space. Fraser Cain takes viewers through the newest developments, including NASA's new Kilopower Reactor. Read the rest

Human civilization likely alone

The good news: it's all ours. The bad news: there's nothing to stop us. A new model of civilization, arrived by taking the Drake equation and plugging in models of chemical and genetic transitions on paths to the origin of life, predicts that humanity is the only advanced one in observable space.

As Dr. Sanberg told Universe Today via email:

“One can answer [the Fermi Paradox] by saying intelligence is very rare, but then it needs to be tremendously rare. Another possibility is that intelligence doesn’t last very long, but it is enough that one civilization survives for it to become visible. Attempts at explaining it by having all intelligences acting in the same way (staying quiet, avoiding contact with us, transcending) fail since they require every individual belonging to every society in every civilization to behave in the same way, the strongest sociological claim ever. Claiming long-range settlement or communication are impossible requires assuming a surprisingly low technology ceiling. Whatever the answer is, it more or less has to be strange.”

Photo: ESA/Gaia/DPAC Read the rest

Mars has blue-hued sand dunes

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter snapped this giant Martian sand dune that has a turquoise blue hue in enhanced color. Read the rest

Rosetta probe's last images before colliding with comet

Now that's a pretty comet. ESA:

Enjoy this compilation of with the last images taken by Rosetta’s high resolution OSIRIS camera during the mission’s final hours at Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. As it moved closer towards the surface it scanned across an ancient pit and sent back images showing what would become its final resting place. Browse all images via the Archive Image Browser: https://imagearchives.esac.esa.int

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Hi rez images from NASA's 1967/8 Lunar Orbiters were withheld to hide US spying capabilities

In 1967, the Lunar Orbiter missions sent back exciting -- but grainy and low-rez -- photos of the moon's surface. Read the rest

Tiny home inspired by a lunar lander

Boat designer Kurth Hughes designed and built this far out home on the Columbia River in central Washington. It's just 250-square-feet but contains a bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, and dining nook with a table fashioned from Hughes's first sailboat. The geodesic dome skylight provides plenty of sunlight and a glorious view of the starry night. (Zillow)

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