On July 17th, NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) satellite completed its first survey of the entire sky viewable from Earth. After just seven months in orbit, WISE -- a precursor to the planned James Webb Space Telescope -- has returned more than a million images that provide a close look at celestial objects ranging from distant galaxies to asteroids. The first release of WISE data, covering about 80 percent of the sky, will be delivered to the astronomical community in May of next year, but in the meantime we can see some of the images and animations that NASA has released to date: Galleries (containing just a small selection of images): 1, 2, 3, 4. Videos and Animations: 1, 2 [more inside]
Tom Taylor's Twitter project, Low Flying Rocks, scrapes the NASA Near Earth Object database, and tweets when an object passes within 0.2 AU (30 million kilometres/18.6 million miles) of the Earth - something that apparently happens "a few times a week". [more inside]
The Planetary Society's Emily Lakdawalla has prepared a scale image of every asteroid and comet ever visited by a spacecraft. [more inside]
The European Space Agency's Rosetta craft has returned stunning images of the asteroid 21 Lutetia, including this one which couples Lutetia with a member of our planetary family. [more inside]
Planck telescope reveals ancient cosmic light. "The picture is the first full-sky image from Europe's Planck telescope which was sent into space last year to survey the oldest light in the cosmos. It took the 600m-euro observatory just over six months to assemble the map. It shows what is visible beyond the Earth to instruments that are sensitive to light at very long wavelengths - much longer than what we can sense with our eyes." [more inside]
The whole of Mars' surface was shaped by liquid water around four billion years ago, say scientists. Scientists with the best names possible for the job. [more inside]
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).
Early this morning, local time, two amateur astronomers independently captured images of something colliding with Jupiter. Anthony Wesley (cache) in Broken Hill, Australia noticed it first. Wesley spread the word and Christopher Go (cache) in Cebu City, Philippines also found that he'd documented the event, which occurred at 20:31 June 3, Universal Time. [more inside]
I take massive NASA images and make them easily viewable. Milky Way. Carina. To zoom, click on the pics. All Hubble Images Sorted by Resolution. Excellent Video Narrated by Morgan Freeman [clip from Cosmic Voyage]. [more inside]
Hubble spots a planet-eating star. The list of confirmed extrasolar planets numbers only 455; the first ones being discovered in 1990. That count is about to decrease. [more inside]
Moon Zoo is another project from Oxford astrophysicist Chris Lintott, the creator of Galaxy Zoo (previously: 1, 2, 3). Moon Zoo calls for citizen scientists to record the craters and boulders, among other things, on the Moon's surface. [more inside]
Obese, gluttonous, and cannibalistic is no way to go through life, son: profile of a multi-core galaxy 20 times larger than the Milky Way.
8 Wonders of the Solar System, Made Interactive. "What might future explorers of the solar system see? Find out by taking an interactive tour through the eyes of Hugo Award-winning artist Ron Miller. Text and narration by Ed Bell." [Via]
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.
The Forests of Mars featuring an avalanche on another planet. From the Bad Astronomy Blog. [more inside]
Scientists at NASA will announce the first findings from the Kepler mission next month. The results have caught scientists off-guard but they aren't giving any hints as to what mission co-investigator David Latham "was not prescient enough to anticipate". [more inside]
Zoom around the Milky Way at different wavelengths with Chromoscope: X-Ray, Visible, Hydrogen α, Far-IR, Microwave, Radio. (You can also download it.)
NASA's Fluxtimator helps calculate the meteor shower activity in your area. There will be one of the biggest meteor shower events of our lifetime, the Leonid Meteor shower of 2009. Start time: this Monday November 16, 2009 at 11:00pm EST. End Time: Tuesday, November 17, 2009 at 4:00am EST (best 2am to 4 am EST). An Atomic Age song in mp3 to celebrate: What Is A Shooting Star. [more inside]
Reprocess of Bubble Nebula Data. NGC 7635, also called the Bubble Nebula, is an emission nebula in the constellation Cassiopeia. It's created by stellar winds from a superhot star 40 times the size of our sun which whip the cloud of gas around the star into a bubble. [Via]
...the lyrics to that last song were basically taken from an encyclopedia written in the 50s, and since the 50s, some remarkable things have happened...In 1959, a number of songs about science were released on an album called Space Songs. One of these was later covered by the band They Might Be Giants: Why Does The Sun Shine? (The Sun Is A Mass of Incandescent Gas). Only one problem: it isn't--the song was based on an incorrect text from 1951. So they wrote an answer song to themselves: Why Does The Sun Really Shine? (The Sun Is a Miasma of Incandescent Plasma). Bonus link: see for yourself! (previously)
1,512 high-resolution images of Mars from the viewpoint of an airplane passenger. Previous photos: 1 2 3
The Anatomy of Spiral Arms, shows how galaxies naturally evolve to form grand-design two-arm spirals. The Hubble Ultra Deep Field in 3D. [more inside]
Galaxy Zoo 2: Help astronomers sort through 250,000 galaxies! The Sloan Digital Sky Survey found hundreds of thousands of galaxies which needed to be accurately classified; the original Galaxy Zoo project was a collaborative effort by tens of thousands of volunteers around the world to sort these galaxies into spiral and elliptical categories. Now, it's entered its second phase: describing the details of these galaxies. Read the tutorial, and then you can jump in and start classifying. [more inside]
August 11th marks the coming of Spring to Saturn's northern hemisphere, when the 170,000 miles wide rings turn edge-on to the sun and reflect almost no sunlight. The rings are only some 10 meters (30 feet) thick and made of mud and ice. As Saturn shifts towards its once every 15 year equinox, out-of-plane structures will cast long shadows across the rings' broad expanse, making them easy to detect (previously). Though you can't see the rings with the unaided eye, professional and amateur astronomers have captured the gas giant in its transition towards the equinox.
As Earth continues its pass through the debris field left by periodic Comet Swift-Tuttle on August 11 and 12, the annual Perseid Meteor Shower could deliver a double peak and a brief period of up to 200 meteors per hour. [more inside]
Sunday morning amateur astronomer Anthony Wesley captured a photo of an apparent asteroid or comet strike on Jupiter. Alerted by the announcement on the ALPO-Jupiter email list, other amateurs soon posted follow-up images. [more inside]
Welcome to the Universe - III: The Size of Things . . .we take a breif trip through the Solar System and beyond to see the size of the Universe. A youtube video by AndromedasWake about the scale of the Universe.
If extraterrestrial civilizations are monitoring our TV broadcasts, then this is what they are currently watching.
One of the hardest things for people to understand about the universe is just how big it is. There are three approaches typically used in describing its size. The first, the song, was pioneered by Monty Python (NSFWish, wireframe of naked woman) and then done just as masterfully by the Animaniacs. The second, the zoom method has been featured twice before here on the blue. The third method is the comparison method (skip to 1:30, unless you like looking at a image of the solar system with terrible distorted orbits), yielding some truly beautiful videos (this one found via the fantastic Bad Astronomy blog). These videos go, at most, as far as looking at the local cluster or the Virgo Supercluster. There are two videos that attempt to show the size of the entire universe, one unsuccessfully (although with great music) and one successfully. (Warning, all links except the first one, are to YT videos). [more inside]
"Workmanlike" astronomy: The Vatican Observatory, among the oldest astronomical centers in the world, brings a team of Jesuits to the papal summer residence. Its scientists play a large part in the church's efforts to reconcile faith with reason. [Previously.] [more inside]
"The arc of the Milky Way seen from a truly dark location is part of our planet's natural heritage," said Connie Walker, and astronomer from the U.S. National Optical Astronomy Observatory in Tucson, Arizona. Yet "more than one fifth of the world population, two thirds of the U.S. population and one half of the European Union population have already lost naked eye visibility of the Milky Way." In these areas, people are effectively living in perennial moonlight. They rarely realize it because they still experience the sky to be brighter under a full moon than under new moon conditions. "Reducing the number of lights on at night could help conserve energy, protect wildlife and benefit human health," astronomer Malcolm Smith of the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile. One study found an increased risk of breast cancer for women living in areas with the most light pollution (abstract). Some communities are embracing their dark skies, such as the New Zealand community of Tekapo, possibly home to first "Starlight Reserve," waiting on UNESCO's official approval. Not sure where to look in the vast night sky? Follow some guidelines, or check the view in Chile, Queensland, Australia, or Texas.
The lunar orbital spacecraft Selene, better known by its Japanese name Kaguya, has been sending back some incredible HD video, including some of Earth rising and the Moon's surface. [more inside]
Solar activity normally follows an 11-year cycle. The new cycle was originally predicted to start in early 2008, but despite a few sunspots appearing last year, the Sun still features a remarkable lack of activity - the deepest minimum since 1913. However, NASA's STEREO mission has seen indications that activity is increasing again, in the form of a coronal mass ejection (video [.mov, 3.3 Mb]), with an accompanying radio burst.
Atlantis. Hubble. And a big, yellow friend. Astrophotographer Thierry Legault managed to get amazing shots of Space Shuttle Atlantis approaching the Hubble Space Telescope during a transit of the sun. [more inside]
New burst vaporizes cosmic distance record. "NASA's Swift satellite and an international team of astronomers have found a gamma-ray burst from a star that died when the universe was only 630 million years old, or less than five percent of its present age. The event, dubbed GRB 090423, is the most distant cosmic explosion ever seen."
Astronomers searching for amino acids in space have discovered something unexpected -- the center of our galaxy tastes like raspberries and smells like rum. [more inside]
Around the World in 80 Telescopes Starting at 09:00 UT on April 3 (figure out what time that is for you here) join in for a 24 hour webcast visiting 80 of the world's astronomical observatories. What are the astronomers up to? What is it like to spend a night at a telescope? [more inside]
Tonight NASA is scheduled to launch the Kepler Mission (named after planetary legislator Johannes Kepler) with the goal of finding Earth size planets in orbit around stars in the Cygnus-Lyra region of the sky. Over the next 3 and a half years it will maintain a nearly unblinking gaze on the approximately 100 thousand stars in the region. NASA expects it to find about 50 Earth size planets, as well as hundreds that are larger. You can watch the launch live on NASA TV. [more inside]
Hacking the Sky: Robert Simpson writes astronomy tools for use with Google Earth, Google Sky, and Twitter.
World of Science contains budding encyclopedias of astronomy, scientific biography, chemistry, and physics. This resource has been assembled over more than a decade by internet encyclopedist Eric Weisstein with assistance from the internet community. MeFi visited Weisstein's Mathworld a couple years ago.