"It was one of those things that was a gift to humanity... We’re all going to lose for sure." Kepler's career is over, but not before answering one of mankind's most profound questions.
Skylab, NASA's budget space station, launched 40 years ago today. Designed as an orbiting optical laboratory, she served as a cold war weapon, underwent an historic salvage job, and was the site of America's first space mutiny before landing hard in Australia while waiting for the Space Shuttle to be invented.
The entire history of the exploration of the Solar System in one handy picture, as created by Olaf Frohn. (Requires HTML5.)
Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin was a towering figure in 20th-century astronomy. Born in 1900 in England, she won tuition to Newnham College where she studied botany, chemistry, and physics. After attending an astronomy lecture in 1919, she changed the focus of her future studies. She moved to the United States, where she went on to earn the first Ph.D awarded in astronomy from Radcliffe College. She later became the first female to be promoted to full-professor from within the faculty at Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and was the first woman to head a department at Harvard when she was appointed to the Chair of the Department of Astronomy. Amongst her numerous studies and advances, she challenge the belief that the sun was made of the same composition of the earth, furthered the study of metallicity of stars and the structure of the Milky Way. [more inside]
An intriguing essay on how young women in Georgian England were able to do science by hiding in the pursuits of the domestic arts.
"Women didn’t find it easy to participate in late eighteenth century science. Experimentation and discovery were not easily compatible with the ideals of domestic femininity – but there were women who rejected these social expectations and became active and renowned."
Using data provided by the Lowell Observatory and Minor Planet Center, this fascinating video provides a view of our knowledge of nearby asteroids and how closely their paths intersect with Earth's. The voiceover explains the count of objects, and what the colorations mean. [slyt]
Will Mars be rocked by a massive comet in 2014? Maybe a little. Maybe a lot. A comet will definitely pass close to the Red Planet on October 19, 2014. [more inside]
"Forget the old heliocentric model – our solar system is a vortex!" Part 1, Part 2. [via] [more inside]
Wired: The Most Badass Moons of our Solar System Mimas | Europa | Io | Enceladus | Hyperion | Iapetus | Charon | Triton | The Moon | Asteroid Moons | Titan | Phoebe
Finnish astrophotographer J-P Metsävainio has created some stunning 3D animations (more at his blog) of far-flung nebula. Phil Plait first pointed to them back in October. Today, there's a post on the Smithsonian Magazine's website about them.
Three days prior to its planned impact on a lunar mountain, mission controllers activated the camera aboard one of NASA's GRAIL twins to take some final photos from lunar orbit. The result is some of the best footage of the moon's surface captured so far. [more inside]
With the help of Stargazing Live, 10,506 citizen scientists are exploring the surface of Mars like never before.
Fomalhaut is a magnitude 1.16 star in the "Piscis Austrinis" or "Southen Fish," and one of the first stars discovered with an extrasolar planet (previously). It has been dubbed "The Eye of Sauron" after a stunning picture taken in 2008 of its debris ring. There was some controversy about the exoplanet, dubbed "Fomalhaut b" though as it turns out, its orbit is stranger than expected.
January 13, 2013 marks the 125th anniversary of the National Geographic Society. The Magazine is celebrating by taking a yearlong look at the past and future of exploration. [more inside]
At Cambridge University, the Project for Existential Risk is considering threats to humankind caused by developing technologies. It will be developing a prospectus for the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk, to be launched by the Astronomer Royal, a co-founder of Skype and the Bertrand Russell professor of philosophy. More detail from the university, while the news excites some journalists. [more inside]
In the telling it has the contours of a creation myth: At a time of great evil and great terror, a small group of scientists, among the world’s greatest minds, secluded themselves in the desert. In secrecy and silence they toiled at their Promethean task. They sought the ultimate weapon, one of such great power as to end not just their war, but all war. They hoped their work would salvage the future. They feared it could end everything. - Prometheus in the desert: from atom bombs to radio astronomy, New Mexico's scientific legacy
100,000 Stars [SLInteractive3DVisualization] (Seems to run best on Chrome or Safari and a decent graphics card)
Well now, this is an interesting discovery... Reexamination of data collect through HARPS has resulted in finding three additional planets bringing the total to six. One of which is safely within the goldilocks zone of its star.
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]
You may already be familiar with PhDComics (Previously) and the PhDMovie (Previously), but PhDComics.tv has now become a pretty fantastic resource for both researchers and laymen. [more inside]
The vanishing groves: A chronicle of climates past and a portent of climates to come – the telling rings of the bristlecone pine.
What do you mean you've never been to Alpha Centauri? Oh, for heavens sake mankind, it's only four light years away, you know.
A planet with about the same mass as Earth has been discovered in orbit around Alpha Centauri B, a star in the Alpha Centauri triple star system - the solar system's closest neighbor, a mere 4.3 light years away. Alpha Centauri B is very similar to the Sun, and this marks the first planet with a mass similar to Earth ever found around a Sun-like star. However, the planet is orbiting at a distance of about six million kilometers, much closer than Mercury is to the Sun in the Solar System, so temperatures above 400 degrees Celsius may make vacationing there unpalatable even for the most dedicated beach-goer. However, lead paper author Xavier Dumusque called it "a major step towards the detection of a twin Earth in the immediate vicinity of the Sun."
For the first time ever, a meteor has grazed in and out of Earth's atmosphere, slowing enough to become a temporary satellite that lasted a full orbit. In other astronomical news, a comet was discovered by a couple of Russian astronomers that appears to have all of the ingredients to be one of the greatest comets in our lifetimes, and maybe one of the greatest in human civilization's history. New comet might blaze brighter than the full Moon This will be the second great comet of 2013.
A comet has been discovered and we may get to see it. If it doesn't boil away first, we'll be able to see it November 29th, 2013, give or take a day. Lots of back-slapping on the comet email list. (Via.)
eXtreme Deep Field (1.4 MB JPG) is the deepest-ever view of the universe - a new assemblage of 10 years of Hubble Space Telescope photographs focused on a small area at the center of the original Ultra Deep Field. With a cumulative exposure time of 2 million seconds, XDF shows approximately 5,500 galaxies - some of them 10 billion times too faint to be seen with the naked eye.
Hubble's hidden treasures "Hubble has made over a million observations since launch, but only a small proportion are attractive images ... but the vast amount of data in the archive means that there are still many hundreds of beautiful images scattered among the valuable, but visually unattractive, scientific data that have never been enjoyed by the public. We call these pictures Hubble’s hidden treasures, and a few months ago, we invited the public to look through Hubble’s science archive to help us find them."
Mars: Adrift on the Hourglass Sea. Desolation and the Sublime on a Distant Planet. Mars-inspired artwork, commisioned by NASA, by Kahn & Selesnick (previously). [Via]
A history of the world. As seen from space. Over a really long stretch of time. If the Earth is about 4.5 billion years old, and Pangea split up only about 200 million years ago, what happened before then? I never knew that geologists could reconstruct the continents' movements from before Pangea. Not only that, but they can give us a preview of what comes next. Here's three possible ways the continents might be joined in 250 million years. In the big picture, researchers from U.C. Lancashire have just finished a model of the way the Milky Way Galaxy formed. [more inside]
After a period of relative stability, another leap second will occur on 2012 June 30 at 23:59:60 UTC. (Previously.) Proposals to decouple UTC from the Earth's irregular rotation (previously, previously) have stalled and the International Telecommunication Union has recently deferred the development of a continuous time standard. So enjoy your extra second while you can! [more inside]
Kelly Beatty of Sky & Telescope magazine has introduced the first entirely new Moon globe in 40 years using high-resolution data from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC). You may know LROC as the satellite that showed us the remains of the Apollo missions (previously). One nice detail is that they got the Moon's asphalt-like color correct.
The United States Department of Defense has generously "decided to give NASA two telescopes as big as, and even more powerful than, the Hubble Space Telescope." They apparently had some antiquated spy satellite hardware sitting around unused and unwanted. NASA still needs to find money to outfit them with recording instruments and pay a team to manage them, which may take 8 years
Missed the transit of Venus in 2004? Want to know if you'll be able to see the transit on June 5/6 from your location? Want a free badge-of-geekhood app for your iPhone? It's all right here! [more inside]
The Royal Observatory, Greenwich has put together the fantastic short video Measuring the Universe which briefly describes the different techniques used to allow us to calculate the vast distances to stellar objects in space. [via]
Have you looked at the sky today? You probably should. She would have been a hundred today, she just might have had a bit to do with how we understand our universe.
The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) Organisation recently announced a two site approach, in Australia-NZ and Southern Africa, a move that was applauded by the Australian team. Once fully operational in 2024, SKA's one square kilometre collecting area should lead to major advances in astronomy. [more inside]