We know space is big, but trying to understand how big is tricky. Say you stare up at the sky and identify stars and constellations in a virtual planetarium, you can't quite fathom how far away all those stars are (previously, twice). Even if you could change your point of view and zoom around in space to really see 100,000 nearby stars (autoplaying ambient music, and there are actually 119,617 stars mapped in 3D space), it's still difficult to get a sense of scale. There's this static image of various items mapped on a log scale from XKCD (previously), and an interactive horizontal journey down from the sun to the heliosphere with OMG Space (previously). You can get a bit more dynamic with this interactive Scale of the Universe webpage (also available in with some variants, if you want the sequel [ previously, twice], the swirly, gravity-optional version that takes some time to load, and the wrong version [previously]), but that's just for the scale of objects, not of space itself. If you want to get spaced out, imagine if If the Moon Were Only 1 Pixel, and travel from there (previously). This past March, BBC Future put out a really big infographic, which also takes a moment to load, but then you can see all sorts of things, from the surface of Earth out to the edge of our solar system.
Is the epically orbiting Pluto, the only planet to be named by a female, about to be reinstated its first class status asks the Independent, eight years after the International Astronomical Union controversially downgraded it to dwarf or minor planet. Since this move, more moons have been discovered and the case for righting this alleged planetary prejudice has continued to be made. While some headlines of today misleading claim that its planetary status has been restored, the public vote has so far been in favor. Scientists have debated, but questions remain over whether returning planetary citizenship to Pluto would also mean having to greencard the larger Eris, Ceres or other bodies in our solar system.
If the Moon Were Only 1 Pixel is a tediously accurate model of the Solar System that Josh Worth made to explain to his daughter just how difficult it is to go on holiday to Mars.
I am a staunch believer in leading with the bad news, so let me get straight to the point. Earth, our anchor and our solitary haven in a hostile universe, is in a precarious situation. The solar system around us is rife with instability.[more inside]
"Help Us Name the Moons of Pluto!" Pluto may have lost is designation as a full-fledged-planet in 2006 (after 'dwarf planet' Eris was discovered that is larger than it), but it still gets plenty of attention by astronomers. In the last two years, the Hubble Space Telescope discovered two more moons of Pluto, which have not yet been named. So Mark Showalter of the SETI Institute is doing an online survey. [more inside]
The cosmos is also within us, we're made of star-stuff. We are a way for the cosmos, to know itself.
Cosmos: A Personal Voyage is a thirteen-part television series of one hour shows written by Carl Sagan, Ann Druyan, and Steven Soter, that was aired at the tail end of 1980 and was - at the time - the most widely watched series in the history of American public television. It is best introduced by an audio excerpt of one of his books, The Pale Blue Dot. Inside is a complete annotated collection of the series. [more inside]
What lives where in the Solar System. Fantastic Adventure covers from 1939/40 depicting the kind of lifeforms they think each planet can support. [more inside]
Pluto may have been downsized in 2006, but it's still living large, moon wise: A fourth moon has been discovered orbiting the dwarf planet.
Our solar system may have a ninth planet -- or a tenth, if you're a Pluto sentimentalist. Tyche, which astronomers suspect lurks in the Oort cloud, fifteen thousand times farther away from the sun than the Earth, is thought to be a gas giant four times the size of Jupiter. We may know for sure in April.
The Cassini team announced a possible cyrovolcano on Titan. A key difference between this find and cyrovulcanism on Enceladus is the probable existence of a thousand-meter peak and lobe-shaped flows similar to terrestrial vulcanism. Their video release explains the evidence with 3-d models of the features. More speculative, Guillaume Robuchon speculates that Pluto might have liquid water under an icy surface, assuming it has enough of a rocky core to support heat production through radioactive decay.
People have been upset about Pluto's demotion for some time now. (While classical music fans have just had a love/hate relationship with this whole process.) But astronomical hate mail has never been as cute as the missives Neil deGrasse Tyson has received over the years from tots upset at poor Pluto's ouster.
In 1897, the Indiana House of Representatives passed a bill mandating that the ratio of the circumference to the diameter of a circle (pi) was 3.2. Now, 112 years later, their neighbors in the Illinois Senate have passed a resolution redefining Pluto as a planet, at least when it passes through the Illinois night sky. Of course, Pluto may not even travel through the Illinois night sky for some time.
Space volcano. The New Horizons space probe, en route to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt, captures an amazing image of the Tvashtar volcano on Jupiter's moon Io.
Bad News: (pdf) In the continuing degredation of Pluto, the former planet has been assigned a number establishing it among the ranks of
bitty rocks dwarf planets, so now we have the name of 134340 Pluto. In good news, 2003 UB313 is now 136199 Eris. Commence hailing!
Who will condemn the "mean-spirited" International Astronomical Union for their demotion of Pluto from the planetary roster, causing "psychological harm among some... who question their place in the universe and worry about the instability of universal constants"? The California State Assembly, that's who!
At forty miles (64.4 km) from Pluto to Sun, the Maine Solar System Model is the largest complete three-dimensional scale model of the solar system in the world. What, you didn't know there was more than one? And yes, Pluto is staying put.
My very elegant mother just sat upon ninjas... the textbooks, mnemonic devices and more will have to be changed today. Pluto has been demoted from its status as planet to a dwarf planet. We now have 8 in our solar system. The debate is not at all new, and its apparent resolution may not matter to our everyday lives, but it's just a little weird to think of all of the things that will have to be retroactively edited or amended as a result.
The New Horizons spacecraft will be the first man-made object to visit our controversial sibling planet. An Atlas V will be used to launch the craft to the fastest speed that man has ever hurled an object to the heavens. Due to this and the small size of Pluto, the probe will only be capable of one flyby. Today is the first day in the launch window that the rocket is hoped to be launched.
Most of us were expecting that astronomers would discover a tenth planet and name it Persephone. A mostly harmless author preferred Rupert. One clique of New Age doomsayers claims that it is "Nibiru," or "Planet X,", which will come in 2003 to wreak havoc and usher in a new era under (I kid you not) our new alien overlords. Well, hang it all. Planet #9.5 has been discovered, and they called it "Quaoar." And I think Pluto is pissed.
NASA's 2003 budget cancels the Europa and Pluto missions. Instead it seeks to produce nuclear powered propulsion. I am sad about the Europa and Pluto missions, I was really looking forward to those, but I am intrigued by the prospect of nuclear propulsion in space.
It was now or not for 200 years, and it was starting to look like it wouldn't be for another 200 years with the initial exploration funding cutbacks by Bush & Co. But reason has prevailed in the house and senate, and a Pluto mission is back in the plan. I never did find out why Bush opposed this mission. Maybe he thought that $30 million was too extravagent for a trip to Disneyland.
Will the Pluto mission once again get cancelled? I mean, now that Pluto isn't a planet anymore; apparently, it's been downgraded to "big ball of ice." After all those years of service, of faithful rotation, that steadfast revolve, how can they just kick a planet out like that?! It's a travesty, I tell you -- a travesty!