The entire history of the exploration of the Solar System in one handy picture, as created by Olaf Frohn. (Requires HTML5.)
Carl Sagan wrote, “We began as wanderers, and we are wanderers still. We have lingered long enough on the shores of the cosmic ocean. We are ready at last to set sail for the stars.” But how will humans or our machine representatives fly to the stars? [more inside]
Sunspots, first observed by Galileo, normally follow an 11-year cycle. We are into a few years into (recorded) cycle number 24 but according to NASA it's looking rather underpowered. Nobody is certain exactly what the consequences will be, but one distinct possibility is a cold period; a previous low in solar activity, the Maunder minimum, is correlated with a brief Little Ice Age. Nobody really knows how this unusual solar weather pattern might interact with human-caused climate change. Previously, albeit somewhat controversially.
An 'armchair astronomer' named David Martines has found something on Google Mars which he believes is some kind of space station. Allegedly, NASA is investigating the image. Another theory says that what he sees is a "linear streak artifact produced by a cosmic ray".
Emily Lakdawalla has published the first 42 of 99 Voyager Mission Status Bulletins (thanks to space fan Tom Faber). Before the days of the internet, updates on space missions were distributed via newsletter. From 1977-1990 NASA published these Voyager newsletters to update scientists and enthusiasts. Both Voyager I and Voyager II are still out there, hurtling toward the stars. Voyager I and II weekly status updates from 1995-present are currently available online. Lakdawalla will be publishing the rest of the bulletins after she indexes them.
The Ice Fracture Explorer is Joseph Shoer's concept for an unmanned expedition into the oceans of Europa. [via]
The Carnegie Institution for Science reports "a much higher water content in the Moon’s interior than previous studies." For decades, the moon's water content was estimated at less than 1 part per billion; the new estimates range from 64 ppb to 5 parts per million. A scientist at Washington University said, "We can now finally begin to consider the implications—and the origin—of water in the interior of the Moon.” There's more at NASA and the BBC, and the full paper is available at PNAS (PDF).
" It was beyond description, really, it was mind-blowing," she said. "I'm surprised at how surprised I am at the beauty and the clarity of these images. They are shocking to me."