Sunday, July 23, 2017

Watch an astrophysicist explain how NASA's next space telescope will help us time-travel through the Universe

Watch an astrophysicist explain how NASA's next space telescope will help us time-travel through the Universe:

In just less than two years, NASA is slated to launch the most powerful space telescope that’s ever been built. It’s the James Webb Space Telescope, of JWST, and it’s being hailed as the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope that is currently in orbit around Earth. There’s a key difference, though, between the spacecraft. Whereas Hubble sees the Universe in mostly visible light, JWST will observe the cosmos in the infrared — a type of light that can’t be seen but is associated with heat emission. The JWST will capture this kind of light using a segmented mirror more than 20 feet across, allowing the observatory to look deeper into the Universe, and further back in time, than ever before.

At the end of last year, NASA celebrated the...
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This rocky ‘super-Earth’ planet may be in just the right spot for hosting life

This rocky ‘super-Earth’ planet may be in just the right spot for hosting life:

In a rare find, a rocky “super-Earth” planet has been located orbiting around a cool dwarf star — and it’s just a mere 39 light years away. The world gets its “super” nickname because it’s a bit bigger and slightly more massive than our own planet. But just like Earth, this planet sits in the coveted habitable zone, the region around a star where temperatures are just right for liquid water to pool on a planet’s surface. That make this place an exciting candidate in the search for life outside our Solar System.

Dubbed LHS 1140b, the planet was first spotted in September 2014 by a group of telescopes in the mountains of southern Chile. The telescopes, part of the MEarth-South telescope array, saw the planet as it passed in front of its...

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A satellite captured a video of its fellow satellites rocketing to space

A satellite captured a video of its fellow satellites rocketing to space:

A shoebox-sized satellite caught a glimpse of a Soyuz rocket launch that sent 73 satellites flying into space last week. Snapping one photo every second, the tiny Dove satellite caught two and a half minutes of the Soyuz rocket’s flight — starting with liftoff.

The timing was serendipitous. San Francisco-based satellite company Planet learned only five hours before the launch that its Dove satellite could be in the right place at the right time to catch the rocket’s flight on camera. The company maneuvered the little satellite over the launchpad in Kazakhstan. Traveling at more than 15,000 miles per hour, the Dove shot enough pictures for the company to assemble the stills into a short video.

One of the coolest things a Dove cubesat...
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Get hyped for this year’s total solar eclipse by watching a partial one seen from space

Get hyped for this year’s total solar eclipse by watching a partial one seen from space:

On August 21st, the United States will have an epic front row seat to a total solar eclipse — one that can be seen from the coasts of South Carolina to Oregon. Because of the country’s unique vantage point, the event has been appropriately named the Great American Eclipse, and people have already solidified their travel plans so that they can get the best view of the astronomical phenomenon. Of course, we still have some time to go before the event takes place, so if you need an eclipse fix in the meantime, NASA has something just for you: a partial eclipse seen from space.

Seen by NASA’s Solar Dynamic Observatory — tasked with staring at the Sun every day
NASA’s Solar Dynamic Observatory — tasked with staring at the Sun every day —...

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NASA is flying a probe to the Sun named after the man who changed our understanding of stars

NASA is flying a probe to the Sun named after the man who changed our understanding of stars:

NASA is naming its upcoming mission to “touch the Sun” after Eugene Parker, a prominent astrophysicist who discovered the existence of solar wind — the charged particles that are constantly streaming from our star. The mission, originally named Solar Probe Plus, will now be called the Parker Solar Probe. It’s the first time NASA has named one of its missions after a scientist who is still alive. Parker discovered solar wind in the 1950s and is about to celebrate his 90th birthday.

The Parker Solar Probe is NASA’s plan to send a spacecraft closer to our Sun than ever before. The probe, which is being developed by Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, is supposed to launch on top of a Delta IV Heavy rocket in either July or August of...

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This cheesy cruise lets you watch an eclipse at sea that you can easily see from land

This cheesy cruise lets you watch an eclipse at sea that you can easily see from land:

For a few minutes on August 21st, the Moon will completely block the Sun for anyone watching the skies along a 70-mile-wide swath of North America from Oregon to South Carolina. The rest of the continent will get to see a partial eclipse lasting a few hours. The big event is being called the Great American Eclipse. But, for anyone looking to not actually be on American soil for it, well, you can apparently watch it from sea.

The Royal Caribbean cruise company is pitching a “brag-worthy adventure to idyllic islands in the Caribbean” where “guests on Oasis of the Seas will be treated to a full slate of eclipse-themed activities.”

Although the partial eclipse will only last for two to three hours, die-hard eclipse fans can extend the...

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To mine the Moon, private company Moon Express plans to build a fleet of robotic landers

To mine the Moon, private company Moon Express plans to build a fleet of robotic landers:

Today, private spaceflight company Moon Express unveiled its grand plans to build a robotic outpost on the South Pole of the Moon as early as 2020. To do this, the Florida-based company wants to create a new class of spacecraft, called the MX Robotic Explorers, to land and deliver payloads to the lunar surface. The ultimate goal is to have permanent robots on the Moon that can mine the pole for water and minerals — resources that can then be sold for profit.

Moon Express has long been vocal about its desire to mine the Moon, but this is the first time the company has detailed exactly how. Its plans start with the MX-1E robotic lander, a vehicle the company is currently working on. Roughly as tall as a person, the MX-1E can land up to 66...

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This DNA-mimicking protein can make gene editing more precise and safe

This DNA-mimicking protein can make gene editing more precise and safe:

Scientists have discovered a virus-made protein that can block the powerful gene-editing tool CRISPR-Cas9 from cutting DNA. The protein allows researchers to better control CRISPR so that it doesn’t snip unintended pieces of genetic code. In the future, the technique could be used to make gene editing more precise — and safe.

The protein, called AcrIIA4, switches gene editing off by mimicking DNA: it basically acts like a decoy, fooling CRISPR’s molecular scissors into thinking they're cutting actual DNA. Scientists at several institutions — including CRISPR pioneer Jennifer Doudna at the University of California, Berkeley — showed that the protein could reduce undesired gene changes in human blood cells. The findings were published...

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NASA just released Juno’s first stunning close-ups of Jupiter’s giant storm

NASA just released Juno’s first stunning close-ups of Jupiter’s giant storm:

NASA’s Juno spacecraft has sent back the first photos from its close flyby over Jupiter’s famous Great Red Spot. The mysterious, extraterrestrial cyclone — which is twice as wide as Earth — has captivated scientists since the 1800s. Now, people can see the closest ever view of the massive storm for themselves.

Juno has been orbiting Jupiter for a little over a year on a mission to study the planet’s interior, atmosphere, and magnetosphere. Its elliptical orbit around the planet takes the probe close to the surface for a few hours every 53 days. These are called perijove passes — and on July 10th, Juno completed its seventh. A little after its closest approach, Juno’s camera, JunoCam, snapped a few shots of the storm from about 5,000...

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A Russian Soyuz rocket provided a ride share to space for more than 70 satellites this morning

A Russian Soyuz rocket provided a ride share to space for more than 70 satellites this morning:

A Russian Soyuz rocket launched a whopping 73 satellites into space this morning, sending the spacecraft into three different orbits around Earth. The satellites — ranging from tiny probes the size of a shoebox to a half-ton satellite the size of a car — rode together into space, arranged in a tall tower stacked on top of the rocket. It’s the most amount of satellites a Soyuz has ever put into space at one time.

This mission was essentially a rocket ride share, as the satellites belong to various companies and universities. The largest number of satellites on the mission belong to Planet — a San Francisco-based company looking to create a huge constellation of space probes that can constantly observe Earth. The company was able to pack...

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These animals will live on Earth until the Sun dies

These animals will live on Earth until the Sun dies:

We already know tardigrades — those tiny eight-legged water creatures — are as tough as they are ugly. They can survive for 30 years in a freezer and live in space and other extreme temperatures. But a new study paints things in bleaker terms: these creatures will outlive all of us. They will be around for 10 billion years. They will survive until the Sun dies.

For the study, published in Scientific Reports, astrophysicists at Oxford and Harvard University calculated the probability of objects in space colliding into the Earth, boiling the oceans dry, and killing everything.

The key finding, write the scientists, is that no space phenomena are strong enough to dry up the oceans completely, and so the tardigrades can make do with what’s...

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Feel like you’re zooming over Pluto and its moon Charon with NASA’s new 3D animations

Feel like you’re zooming over Pluto and its moon Charon with NASA’s new 3D animations:

It was two years ago, on July 14th, 2015, that NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft flew by Pluto — marking the first time we had ever explored this mysterious small world. The probe whizzed by within 7,750 miles of the dwarf planet’s surface and snapped the first ever close-up images of Pluto and its weird moons. Now, New Horizons is way beyond Pluto, journeying to another object at edge of the Solar System. But you can relive the flyby with this new animation from NASA that takes you over Pluto’s unique terrain.

Members of the New Horizons mission team put together the animation using data collected by the spacecraft, as well as elevation models of Pluto’s surface. The video starts just southwest of Sputnik Planitia — the huge plains of...

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This probe paved the way for studying gravitational waves from space — and now it’s been shut off

This probe paved the way for studying gravitational waves from space — and now it’s been shut off:

Yesterday, the European Space Agency said goodbye to one of its spacecraft that has helped pave the way for a new method of studying the Universe: the LISA Pathfinder, a car-sized probe that has been testing out technology needed to detect ripples in the fabric of space-time — called gravitational waves — from space. LISA Pathfinder completed its mission in June with resounding success. Now, the ESA has shut down the vehicle and sent it on a course far away from Earth — that way the spacecraft doesn’t become another piece of space junk that interferes with future missions.

LISA Pathfinder was always meant to be the opening act for a future mission called the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna, or LISA. Meant to launch sometime in the...

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NASA is uploading hours of aerospace history on YouTube

NASA is uploading hours of aerospace history on YouTube:

NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center is in the process of uploading hundreds of videos of rare test flight, launch, and landing footage to YouTube and the agency’s website. It’s all part of a continued effort to better open access to NASA’s archives, as well as help inform the public about the types of research and record-setting milestones the agency achieves each year across various fields of aerospace engineering.

About 300 out of a total 500 clips have been uploaded to YouTube thus far, with some footage going back many decades. The clips include everything from the assembly of the D-558 Skystreak aircraft back in 1947 to a 1991 takeoff of a Lockheed Martin SR-71 stealth jet to hypersonic test flights of the unmanned NASA X-43A...

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Elon Musk suggests SpaceX is scrapping its plans to land Dragon capsules on Mars

Elon Musk suggests SpaceX is scrapping its plans to land Dragon capsules on Mars:

Today, Elon Musk suggested that SpaceX will abandon its plans to land the company’s Dragon capsule on Mars — a mission the company had been aiming to do as early as 2020.

SpaceX will not fully develop the landing technique it was going to use to land the Dragon on Mars. Known as the Red Dragon mission, the capsule was meant to lower itself to solid ground using engines embedded in its hull, and then touch down gently on landing legs in a method known as propulsive landing. But Musk said the company will come up with another way to land vehicles on the Martian surface.

“I'm pretty confident that is not the right way. There's a far better approach.”
“There was a time when I thought that the Dragon approach to landing on Mars... would be...

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Google Street View lands on the International Space Station

Google Street View lands on the International Space Station:

If you’ve always wanted to poke around inside a spaceship but don’t ever wish to leave the safety of Earth, Google Street View now lets you explore the International Space Station (ISS) right from your computer.

Astronauts have been working and living on the ISS for the past 16 years, and Street View now allows you to explore everything from the sleeping quarters to where the space suits are kept. This is the first time Street View has ventured beyond planet Earth, and the first time the feature also comes with handy little dots you can click on to launch notes that explain what everything does. The notes detail things like where the astronauts work out to stay fit, the kinds of food they eat and where scientific experiments are...

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The team that took us to Pluto briefly spotted their next target at the edge of the Solar System

The team that took us to Pluto briefly spotted their next target at the edge of the Solar System:

This weekend, a team of scientists who sent the first spacecraft to Pluto caught a brief glimpse of their vehicle’s next destination: a tiny, primitive space rock at the edge of the Solar System. Members of the mission team trekked down to a remote part of Argentina and spotted the distant object with numerous telescopes as it passed in front of a background star, blocking out the star’s light. It was a momentary eclipse — known as an occultation — and though it lasted just seconds, the sighting will provide useful information about the shape and size of the object that the spacecraft will visit next year.

That spacecraft is New Horizons, which famously flew within 8,000 miles of Pluto in July 2015. The vehicle was never meant to stop at...

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Those weird radio waves that were puzzling astronomers have a new explanation

Those weird radio waves that were puzzling astronomers have a new explanation:

Last week, astronomers at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico announced they had picked up some strange radio signals coming from a small red dwarf star, and they couldn’t quite figure out what was causing them. Now, it seems they have an answer: it turns out these bizarre radio signals most likely came from the transmissions of a couple of satellites.

The radio signals initially perplexed the astronomers. A solar flare from the star could have caused the signals, but the waves weren’t at the right frequency. The astronomers said it was possible that the waves came from nearby satellites, but the structure of the signal made it seem like the waves had traveled a long way through space to reach Earth. No explanation perfectly fit the...

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Apollo 11: Catching Some Sun

Apollo 11: Catching Some Sun:

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2017 July 22

See Explanation. Clicking on the picture will download the highest resolution version available.
Explanation: Bright sunlight glints and long dark shadows mark this image of the lunar surface. It was taken July 20, 1969 by Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first to walk on the Moon. Pictured is the mission's lunar module, the Eagle, and spacesuited lunar module pilot Buzz Aldrin unfurling a long sheet of foil also known as the Solar Wind Composition Experiment. Exposed facing the Sun, the foil trapped particles streaming outward in the solar wind, catching a sample of material from the Sun itself. Along with moon rocks and lunar soil samples, the solar wind collector was returned for analysis in earthbound laboratories.

Fanatic Frontier: Treks to Comic-Con 2017

Fanatic Frontier: Treks to Comic-Con 2017:

Fanatic Frontier: Treks to Comic-Con 2017
A fan dressed up as Iron Man at the 2016 Comic-Con International in San Diego. At the 2017 con, a panel discussed real-world Iron Man-like technologies.
Credit: Matt Cowan/Getty Images

SAN DIEGO -- Greetings from the happiest place on Earth for fans of comic books and science fiction — Comic-Con International in San Diego!

I'm here at the convention to report on some of the science fiction and real-world science being discussed. We'll be updating this page with small tidbits from the convention, so check back in to get more updates.

And for truly extensive coverage of the con, be sure to check out our sister site Newsarama, your source of comic book news, reviews and all things genre entertainment. [Comic-Con 2017: A Space Fan's Guide]

The state of Iron Man tech

How close is humanity to living in a world where people commute to work in individual flight suits like the one that Iron Man wears? Well, inventor Richard Browning certainly isn't claiming that such a thing is on the horizon, but he has invented a jet-engine-powered flight suit and has used it to levitate above the ground for about 10 seconds at a time.

During a panel discussion on Thursday (July 20), Browning discussed how he quit a corporate career in the oil and gas industry to create his company, Gravity, which is building the suit.

"Our technology combines body-mounted [miniaturized] jet engines with a specially designed exoskeleton allowing vertical takeoff and flight," according to the company website. "The 'Daedalus,' our mark 1 jet-engine suit, is pioneering an entirely new category in aviation history."

At the panel, Browning discussed the physical demands of wearing the suit, and said the movie "Iron Man" starring Robert Downey Jr. does a pretty good job of showing what it was like for Browning to try to learn to balance himself in his suit.

In a TED Talk he delivered in April, Browning showed footage of himself trying to keep his body steady using various arrangements of the miniature jet engines on his arms, legs and back. He said that with the current arrangement, which has a pair of engines on each arm, he must physically balance against about 130 kilograms of force (about 300 lbs. of force) on each side. For that reason, he's started doing intense calisthenics training.

Unlike the fictional Tony Stark's suit, which runs on an equally fictional device called the Arc Reactor, Browning's suit designs have run on jet fuel or kerosene. They burn about 1 liter (0.26 gallons) of fuel per minute, he said, which would add up quickly over a 20- or 30-minute commute. Browning said he doesn't see any safe way to utilize a more energy-dense fuel, so the next step might to be adding some kind of airfoil that would keep the rider aloft and help the individual move forward without the engine running constantly.

Also on the panel was Chris Gerty, an informatics system team lead at NASA's Johnson Space Center. Gerty is working on new spacesuit designs for NASA, and he discussed some new ideas he and his colleagues are working on to put digital displays inside spacesuit helmets — not unlike those portrayed inside Tony Star's suits in the "Iron Man" movies. For real-world astronauts, these displays could provide information about how the suit's critical systems are functioning, Gerty said.

When astronauts on the International Space Station go for spacewalks, teams down on Earth monitor the spacewalkers' suits. But that setup won't work on Mars, because it takes at least a few minutes for a signal to travel from Earth to the Red Planet, Gerty said. The status of an astronaut's suit will have to be monitored by a colleague who is also on Mars, or by the astronaut.

Gerty and Browning were joined on the panel by stuntwoman and actress Zoe Bell — who is the second person to test fly the flight suit — and Adam Draper, founder of Boost VC, an investment firm that focuses on futuristic technology and is backing Gravity. While discussing his reasons for investing in companies like Gravity, Draper said, "The future either looks like 'Mad Max' or 'Star Trek.' Whenever I can make it look a little more like 'Star Trek,' I invest."

Follow Calla Cofield @callacofield. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Google+. Original article on

Not Aliens: Weird Radio Signal from Star Likely Has Duller Explanation

Not Aliens: Weird Radio Signal from Star Likely Has Duller Explanation:

Not Aliens: Weird Radio Signal from Star Likely Has Duller Explanation
The signal that seemed to emanate from the red dwarf star Ross 128, as detected by the Arecibo Observatory in May 2017 (enclosed in the red frame).
Credit: PHL @ UPR Arecibo

A strange radio signal that seemed to emanate from a small nearby star probably came from Earth-orbiting satellites, astronomers say.

Late last week, researchers announced that, on May 12, the 1,000-foot-wide (305 meters) Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico detected a bizarre radio signal in the vicinity of Ross 128, a red dwarf star that lies just 11 light-years from Earth.

The signal was theoretically consistent with a transmission from an alien civilization, the astronomers said, though they stressed that hypothesis was "at the bottom of many other explanations." Indeed, they pegged the leading candidates as flares from Ross 128, emissions from some other object in the same field of view as the star, and a burst from one or more high-orbiting satellites. [13 Ways to Hunt Intelligent Aliens]

Now, follow-up observations — by Arecibo, as well as the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia and the Allen Telescope Array (ATA) in northern California — point to this last hypothesis as the most likely, team members said.

"The best explanation is that the signals are transmissions from one or more geostationary satellites," Abel Mendez, director of the Planetary Habitability Laboratory at the University of Puerto Rico, wrote in a statement today (July 21). (Geostationary satellites circle Earth at an altitude of about 22,300 miles, or 35,800 kilometers.)

"This explains why the signals were within the satellite’s frequencies and only appeared and persisted in Ross 128; the star is close to the celestial equator, where many geostationary satellites are placed," Mendez added. "This fact, though, does not yet explain the strong dispersion-like features of the signals (diagonal lines in the figure); however, it is possible that multiple reflections caused these distortions, but we will need more time to explore this and other possibilities."

But even though it's likely that the Ross 128 signal has a prosaic explanation, scientists should still follow up on similar detections in the future, stressed Seth Shostak, a senior astronomer at the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute in Mountain View, California.

"The historic lesson is clear — these things pop up, and you have to follow them up, because you never know what's going to be the real one, or even if there will ever be a real one," Shostak, who was involved in the recent ATA observations of Ross 128, told earlier this week. "Following up is mandatory."

Follow Mike Wall on Twitter @michaeldwall and Google+. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook or Google+. Originally published on

2017 Solar Eclipse Science Will Star Planes, Radio Waves and Citizen Help

2017 Solar Eclipse Science Will Star Planes, Radio Waves and Citizen Help:

2017 Solar Eclipse Science Will Star Planes, Radio Waves and Citizen Help
This view of a 2010 total solar eclipse combines ground-based views (gray and white) taken from the South Pacific and space-based images from the SOHO spacecraft, which used a coronagraph to block out the sun and thus can't view as close to its surface.
Credit: Williams College Eclipse Expedition - Jay M. Pasachoff, Muzhou Lu and Craig Malamut; SOHO's LASCO image courtesy of NASA/ESA; solar disk image from NASA's SDO; compositing by Steele Hill, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

With the 2017 total solar eclipse only one month away, scientists from several science organizations highlighted how studying the sun during an eclipse will help improve understanding of the behavior of Earth's closest stellar neighbor.

The Aug. 21 eclipse's totality path will span 14 different states coast to coast, taking roughly 91 minutes to cross the country. While the location of greatest eclipse is Hopkinsville, Kentucky, the time of totality will average about 2.5 minutes across all locations.

Officials from NASA, the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) came together yesterday (July 21 to discuss their plans during a press conference in Boulder, Colorado. [The Best ISO-Certified Gear to See the 2017 Solar Eclipse]

"The neat thing about this — as a scientist, and is someone who has kids — is the whole lower 48 [states] will be in shadow," said Scott McIntosh, director of NCAR's High Altitude Observatory. Some states will see only partial eclipses, while others will see the sun totally disappear. The event will provide opportunities for millions of amateurs to get involved with the science alongside professional astronomers, McIntosh added. (Make sure to observe proper eye safety during the eclipse.)

Because millions of people will be rushing to the small band of totality, however, the Department of Transportation has a special website available for the best routes. That's something people should check ahead of eclipse day, said Madhulika "Lika" Guhathakurta, the NASA lead scientist for the 2017 eclipse. "Traffic is going to be a nightmare," she said.

The eclipse is also well-timed, as the science community gears up for some major science projects that will focus on the sun. The Parker Solar Plus Probe will launch in 2018 to provide an unprecedented close-up view of the sun's corona, its superhot outer atmosphere. And in 2020, the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope will act like a "microscope of the sun," as the 4-meter telescope begins gathering high-resolution imagery of Earth's closest stellar neighbor.

The science of totality

Astronomers can easily create an artificial eclipse for a particular observer using a device called a coronagraph, which blocks most of the sun except for its corona, its superheated outer atmosphere. Scientists want to study this feature of the star to better understand how energy is transmitted from the sun into space.

The corona "is a fairly blustery environment," McIntosh said, pointing out that the Earth is affected by the "space weather" that the corona's changes generate. The strongest solar flares can induce outages in satellites and power lines, which is another reason NASA and other organizations are interested in learning about the connection between the sun and the Earth's environment, he said.

The moon will provide an advantage, however, over a coronagraph when the eclipse occurs, the researchers said. The moon is 400 times smaller than the sun and, coincidentally, about 400 times closer to Earth — meaning it can cover the surface of the sun perfectly if the two bodies are aligned. A coronagraph, however, needs to be a bit larger than the sun's surface to avoid damage to the telescope.

"The moon is a perfect occulter. It blocks the surface of the sun just perfectly, so you can see very low into the solar atmosphere," said Carrie Black, the NSF's associate program director in the Division of Atmospheric and Geospace Sciences.

In particular, scientists will be interested in studying the "low corona," where most of the sun's activity is generated. Black said this zone — which is also where space weather originates — is of particular interest to the federal government, which is "investing a lot of money and organizing folks" to protect communications links and the power grid from space weather event.

Additional information about the sun's behavior comes from NASA's missions across the solar system, said Guhathakurta. NASA's many orbital missions at Mars and the New Horizons mission that flew by Pluto in 2015, for instance, can provide a new perspective because they can measure how its particles have changed energy or direction as they travel further out than Earth. This provides additional information to help forecast the sun's activity, Guhathakurta said.

Incidentally, the moon's topography will also influence which regions on the Earth experience totality during the eclipse, as the moon is not a flat surface; it is full of craters and mountains that affect the shadow passing across the Earth's surface. Data from NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter is available to help people predict where they should be standing in the United States to get the best view.

Science projects

Here is a partial list of science observations going on (a full list from today's discussion is at

  • Solar-Eclipse Induced Changes in the Ionosphere Over the Continental U.S. (led by Phil Erickson and Nancy Wolfe Kotary of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Haystack Observatory): This will look at the electrically charged region of the sun's atmosphere, which is in part affected by sunlight. During an eclipse, cold spots can cause ionospheric disturbances that ripple across the atmosphere. The team will study these disturbances across the United States using a huge network of more than 6,000 sensors on the Earth, as well as NASA's space-based Thermosphere Ionosphere Mesosphere Energetics and Dynamics (TIMED) mission.
  • EclipseMob: Crowdsourcing for Radio Propagation in the Ionosphere (a National Science Foundation project led by Jill Nelson of George Mason University): This will measure the ionosphere's response to low-frequency radio waves to better understand this region of the atmosphere, especially how the ionosphere can block low-frequency radio broadcasts. Using two transmitters that probe the ionosphere, students and the public will operate receivers and attempt to receive the data at certain frequencies.
  • Chasing the 2017 Eclipse (led by Amir Caspi of the Southwest Research Institute): Two NASA WB-57 airplanes (flying from NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston) will observe the sun and Mercury during the total solar eclipse, in both visible and infrared light. These aircraft will operate at 50,000 feet (15,000 m) of altitude and provide about 8 minutes of data of totality, nearly triple of what is available at ground level. Because the planes fly above 90 percent of the Earth's atmosphere, they will provide accurate measurements of the solar corona to see how energy propagates through the sun.
There also are crowdsourcing projects available, such as:

  • Eclipse Megamovie: This will collect images from more than 1,000 volunteer photographers and amateur astronomers (and anyone else who is interested) to make a view of the total eclipse during its journey across the United States.
  • Citizen CATE (Continental-America Telescopic Eclipse): This will take images of the inner solar corona, using 60 telescopes used by high schools, universities and citizen scientists. The goal is to get high-resolution imagery of the corona for 90 minutes.
  • iNaturalist (California Academy of Sciences): This iTunes app will let people record the observations of organisms at their eclipse-watching locations. The academy suggests people record observations 30 minutes before totality, during totality and 30 minutes after totality.
Editor's note: has teamed up with Simulation Curriculum to offer this awesome Eclipse Safari app to help you enjoy your eclipse experience. The free app is available for Apple and Android, and you can view it on the web.

Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Google+. Original article on

Final New Moon Sunday Starts the Countdown to the Great American Eclipse

Final New Moon Sunday Starts the Countdown to the Great American Eclipse:

Final New Moon Sunday Starts the Countdown to the Great American Eclipse
A sketch by Spanish astronomer José Joaquin de Ferrer shows the sun's corona extending outward during a total solar eclipse June 16, 1806.
Credit: José Joaquin de Ferrer

It seems that everyone is eagerly awaiting the shady drama that will be enacted in the skies over North America on Aug. 21. It is a play whose script was written eons ago: On that third Monday in August, the celestial wanderings of the sun, Earth and moon will cause our natural satellite to pass directly in front of the sun, resulting in a total eclipse on Aug. 21.

The narrow band of totality, averaging some 70 miles (113 kilometers) wide and stretching about 2,500 miles (4,023 km) from the Pacific coast of Oregon to the Atlantic coast of South Carolina, will provide a spectacle that has not been seen from any part of the contiguous United States in nearly 40 years.

To say that this has been an eagerly awaited astronomical event is an understatement. [The Best ISO-Certified Gear to See the 2017 Solar Eclipse]

Decades of anticipation

On Aug. 31, 1932, the New York Times ran a headline stating that a total solar eclipse that was to sweep across New England that day would be the last "really good" eclipse for the United States (from a logistical standpoint) until 2017.

Samuel Alfred Mitchell, professor of astronomy at the University of Virginia, was quoted as saying:

"It thus appears that after our eclipse of 1932 has passed into memory there will not be an opportunity to view a total eclipse of the sun from the continent of the United States, under conditions that are really favorable and promise scientific success until August 21, 2017; 85 years hence."

On March 7, 1970, during a telecast of a solar eclipse from Valdosta, Georgia, over the CBS Television Network, the late Charles Kuralt asked Kenneth Franklin of New York's Hayden Planetarium about the next total eclipse that would be accessible to folks "down South." Franklin then mentioned an eclipse that was still far in future: "The next eclipse that will pass across this nation and go out along the Carolinas will be in the year 2017." Noted Kuralt: "That's a pretty long time (47 years) to wait."

"Well," countered Franklin, "unfortunately, that's the way of the world."

Final countdown

It's difficult to say exactly when most people started counting down to this upcoming eclipse, but you might say that we could start an "official" or "final" countdown this weekend — on Sunday (July 23) at 5:46 a.m. EDT. That will be the moment of the new moon, and it will also be the last new moon before next month's solar eclipse.

On Sunday morning, the moon will pass in close proximity to the sun but will go completely unseen. At its closest, it will be situated 2.8-degrees south of the sun, or about 5.5 moon widths below the solar disk; a complete miss, so no eclipse of the sun at least for this month. Like a celestial clock, the moon will continue to move in its orbit around the Earth, on its way to keeping its long-awaited rendezvous with the sun in late August. [Total Solar Eclipse 2017: When, Where and How to See It (Safely)]

When the moon and sun cross paths

The interval from one new moon to the next is referred to as a "synodic" month, derived from the Late Latin word synodus, which means "meeting."

For indeed, at new moon, the moon "meets" the sun.

Next month, when the moon comes around to the sun's position once again, it will be near a point in space (called a "node"), where the moon can cross paths with the sun as seen from our earthly perspective, producing an eclipse of the sun.

Or as astronomer Leslie Peltier noted in his popular autobiography, "Starlight Nights" (Harper & Row, 1965): "Only during an eclipse of the sun can we note the instant when the old moon, moving eastward, crosses the median line of the sun and becomes a fresh new moon just starting out on another monthly lifetime."

Discrepancy in timing? 

But wait a minute. That next new moon will come on Aug. 21 at 2:30 p.m. EDT. That's almost 29.5 days after this Sunday's new moon. But it takes only 27.3 days for the moon to make one revolution around the Earth.

So where did the extra 2.2 days come from?

It may surprise you that there is more than one type of lunar months. In addition to the synodic month, there is also the sidereal month. If we were to align the position of the moon with a particular fixed star in the sky, it would take the moon about 27.3 days to return to a position where the moon is once again aligned with that star. And the moon will have also made one complete circuit in its orbit around the Earth in that same interval.

But if we note when the moon is most closely aligned with the sun, and then follow the moon for 27.3 days until it reaches that exact point in the sky again, the sun would no longer be there.

In fact, the sun's position would have shifted approximately 30 degrees farther to the east compared with the moon's position. So, in order to catch up with the sun in our sky, the moon will have to travel another two days to reach it. [Here Is NASA's Advice for Watching the 2017 Solar Eclipse]

The reason that the sun's position shifts to the east is due to Earth revolving around the sun. As a result, the sun's position in the sky is not fixed like the stars, but changes; it appears from our earthly vantage point to move eastward against the background stars by about 30 degrees each month. Think of a circle of 360 degrees and then divide that 360 by 12 (the number of months). We would get 30. (Of course, Earth's orbit is not a perfect circle and we take about 365.2422 days to go around the sun, compared to 360, but you get the general idea.)

And that's why even though it takes the moon just over 27 days to circle our Earth, it takes just over two additional days to go from one new moon to the next.

Meanwhile, remember the day this weekend (Sunday) and the time (5:46 a.m. EDT) marking the moment of the July new moon. When the moon cycles around the sky and turns new again one synodic month from now, on Aug. 21, the long-awaited "Great American Eclipse" will finally take place.

Editor's note: has teamed up with Simulation Curriculum to offer this awesome Eclipse Safari app to help you enjoy your eclipse experience. The free app is available for Apple and Android, and you can view it on the web.

Joe Rao serves as an instructor and guest lecturer at New York's Hayden Planetarium. He writes about astronomy for Natural History magazine, the Farmers' Almanac and other publications, and he is also an on-camera meteorologist for Fios1 News in Rye Brook, New York. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Google+. Original article on

'Stargate' Franchise Is Coming Back with 'Stargate Origins'

'Stargate' Franchise Is Coming Back with 'Stargate Origins':

'Stargate' Franchise Is Coming Back with 'Stargate Origins'
"Stargate Origins," a 10-episode prequel series to the Stargate science fiction franchise, will debut on MGM's Stargate Command digital streaming service launching in Fall 2017.
Credit: Stargate Origins/MGM

Fans of "Stargate," rejoice! The science fiction franchise is getting a revival with "Stargate Origins," a new digital series that will serve as a prequel to the existing Stargate universe, which celebrates the 20th anniversary of its TV debut this year.

MGM announced the new Stargate TV series at San Diego Comic-Con, debuting a teaser trailer on Friday (July 21) for new show. The series will follow the character of Catherine Langdon during the early years of the titular Stargate's discovery in 1928. It will be a 10-episode series available on Stargate Command, a digital streaming site MGM will be launching this fall. So Stargate fans will likely have to sign up for the streaming service to see the new show, much like how CBS's digital streaming service CBS All Access will host the upcoming "Star Trek: Discovery" series. Get full San Diego Comic-Con 2017 coverage from Newsarama,'s sister site, this weekend.

"'Stargate Origins' will explore a brand new chapter in Catherine Langford’s early history surrounding the extraordinary portal," MGM representatives said in July 20 statement. "Young Catherine embarks on an unexpected adventure to unlock the mystery of what lies beyond the Stargate in order to save Earth from unimaginable darkness."

MGM representatives said that Stargate Command will offer fans "exclusive access to a variety of Stargte assets and content from the franchise's nearly 25-year history." The franshise began with the 1994 feature film "Stargate" and debuted on television with the series "Stargate: SG-1." [Comic-Con 2017: A Space Fan's Guide]

"We've been eager to revisit the Stargate franchise, and create an all-new story that honors the founding mythos and gives loyal fans more mystery and adventure," said Kevin Conroy, President of Digital & New Platforms at MGM in the statement. "We view 'Stargate Origins' as a thank you to fans who have been keeping the spirit of the franchise alive for nearly 25 years. With the increasing popularity of digitally native content that can be streamed to any device, MGM is committed to the production of premium linear mid-form content and are proud to launch with 'Stargate Origins.'"

Email Tariq Malik at or follow him @tariqjmalik and Google+. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Google+

Syfy's 'Krypton' Has a Time Travel DC Twist ... and Adam Strange & Brainiac

Syfy's 'Krypton' Has a Time Travel DC Twist ... and Adam Strange & Brainiac:

Syfy's 'Krypton' Has a Time Travel DC Twist ... and Adam Strange & Brainiac
Syfy is bringing Superman's homeworld to life in the new TV series "Krypton" airing in 2018.
Credit: Syfy

Updated July 22, 2017 at 5:06 p.m. ET: More information - and more twists - have been revealed at Comic-Con about Syfy's "Krypton."

"It's a show that, although it takes place centuries ago on Krypton about the House of El, it's about a conspiracy from the present that has traveled back in time to to Krypton to prevent Superman's legacy from ever happening," Johns said at the show's panel (via The Hollywood Reporter). The 2018 show will start in the present as a group of DC villains jump back in time in an attempt to prevent the creation of Superman. And two heroes go back into the past to stop them: Adam Strange and Hawkwoman.

The 2018 show will start in the present as a group of DC villains jump back in time in an attempt to prevent the creation of Superman. And two heroes go back into the past to stop them: Adam Strange and Hawkwoman.

"Adam Strange and Hawkwoman come to Krypton trying to stop the conspiracy and save Superman's legacy," Johns continued. "Doomsday will be in the show. Brainiac is long overdue to be on screen like that."

Johns stated that "Krypton" will be seperate from the DCEU and other DC TV shows - that's despite original show co-creator David S. Goyer saying several years ago it would be connected to Man of Steel.

The showrunners said they knew that a show set entirely in the past would be unteniable for viewers, and came up with these twists.

"It changes the stakes of the show completely. ... It's not a look backwards. It's quite unique," said co-showrunner Cameron Welsh. "It allows us to deepen and expand upon the known mythology."

Johns then recited Adam's first lines from the show - seemingly from memory: "'I'm from a planet called Earth, my name is Adam Strange, I come from a time long after this and I need you to help me save the legacy of your grandson."

Johns said that in addition to those mentioned, other classic DC characters would appear later in Krypton's run.

"Krypton" will premiere in 2018 on Syfy.

Get full San Diego Comic-Con 2017 coverage from Newsarama,'s sister site, this weekend.

Originally published on our sister site Newsarama.

Spock Has a Sister .. No, Really, and the New 'Star Trek: Discovery' Trailer

Spock Has a Sister .. No, Really, and the New 'Star Trek: Discovery' Trailer:

Spock Has a Sister .. No, Really, and the New 'Star Trek: Discovery' Trailer
Sonequa Martin-Green portrays the lead role of Michael Burnham in "Star Trek: Discovery," which premieres Sept. 24, 2017.
Credit: CBS

Among the reveals Saturday at the "Star Trek: Discovery" panel at San Diego Comic-Con is that lead character Micheal Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) is the biological daughter of Spock's mother Amanda , and Spock's father Sarek is her surrogate father.

The character was also raised on Vulcan.

As to how the show is going to thread the needle of introducing a heretofore unrevealed major character in Star Trek canon, Executive Producer Alex Kurtzman told the Comic-Con audience, "We're aware. You'll see where it's going, but we are staying consistent with canon."

And here is the new trailer:

Watch the explosive trailer for the next chapter of the Star Trek franchise. #StarTrekDiscovery premieres Sept 24.
— Star Trek: Discovery (@startrekcbs) July 22, 2017
"Star Trek: Discovery" premieres Sept. 24 on CBS before moving to the CBS All Access app, which requires a paid subscription, for the remainder of the first season.

Get full San Diego Comic-Con 2017 coverage from Newsarama,'s sister site, this weekend.

Originally published on our sister site Newsarama.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Phobos: Moon over Mars

Phobos: Moon over Mars:

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2017 July 21

See Explanation. Clicking on the picture will download the highest resolution version available.

Phobos: Moon over Mars

Image Credit: NASA, ESA, Zolt Levay (STScI) - Acknowledgment: J.Bell (ASU) and M.Wolff (SSI)

Explanation: A tiny moon with a scary name, Phobos emerges from behind the Red Planet in this timelapse sequence from the Earth-orbiting Hubble Space Telescope. Over 22 minutes the 13 separate exposures were captured near the 2016 closest approach of Mars to planet Earth. Martians have to look to the west to watch Phobos rise, though. The small moon is closer to its parent planet than any other moon in the Solar System, about 3,700 miles (6,000 kilometers) above the Martian surface. It completes one orbit in just 7 hours and 39 minutes. That's faster than a Mars rotation, which corresponds to about 24 hours and 40 minutes. So on Mars, Phobos can be seen to rise above the western horizon 3 times a day. Still, Phobos is doomed.

Tomorrow's picture: to catch some sun

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Authors & editors: Robert Nemiroff (MTU) & Jerry Bonnell (UMCP)

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Friday, July 21, 2017

World's 1st Laser Weapon Is Ready to Blast Rogue Drones

World's 1st Laser Weapon Is Ready to Blast Rogue Drones:

World's 1st Laser Weapon Is Ready to Blast Rogue Drones
The newly developed Laser Weapon System (LaWS) is situated on the USS Ponce, which is deployed to the Persian Gulf.
Credit: John F. Williams/US Navy

The world's first laser weapon — one that can "kill" threatening, airborne drones — is ready for action, according to news sources.

The laser, known as the Laser Weapons System (LaWS), may seem as though it were pulled straight from a James Bond movie, but it's entirely functional and can shoot with stunning accuracy, the U.S. Navy told CNN. The LaWS is currently deployed aboard the USS Ponce, an amphibious transport ship, in the Persian Gulf.

"Operationally, it works just like a laser pointer," Lt. Cale Hughes, a LaWS officer, told CNN. "There's a chamber inside with special materials that release photons." [7 Technologies That Transformed Warfare]

The LaWS laser beam is completely silent and invisible. It's also fast: The laser travels at the speed of light (186,000 miles per second, or about 300,000 kilometers per second), meaning it's about 50,000 times the speed of an incoming intercontinental ballistic missile, such as the one North Korea is testing, the Navy told CNN.

The $40 million system requires a team of three to operate it and a small generator to power its electricity supply, according to the Navy.

However, each blast is relatively cheap. "It's about a dollar a shot," Hughes told CNN.

In addition to being able to take down threats in the air, the LaWS can hit and disable objects in the water. The laser's accurate blasts, heated to thousands of degrees, might even mean fewer casualties in combat, Inez Kelly, a U.S. Naval Forces Central Command science adviser, told CNN.

For instance, if the laser is aimed at an enemy boat, operatives can "take out exactly the engine, and not necessarily damage anything else," Kelly said. "That type of precision weapon work is something that you don't really get with conventional weapons, because there tends to be more collateral damage."

Under Geneva Convention rules, armed forces are not allowed to use laser weapons directly against people, reported, a site that tracks the photonics industry. The U.S. will abide by that protocol, Rear Adm. Matthew Klunder, chief of naval research, said in 2014 at a news conference in Washington, D.C., according to

The U.S. Navy is already developing second-generation systems that might be able to target threats other than drones and water vessels. These missions are classified, but when asked whether the LaWS could shoot and destroy missiles, USS Ponce Capt. Christopher Wells said "maybe" and smiled, according to CNN.

Original article on Live Science.

Liftoff? Icy Jets of Saturn Moon Enceladus Fly in NASA Photo

Liftoff? Icy Jets of Saturn Moon Enceladus Fly in NASA Photo:

Liftoff? Icy Jets of Saturn Moon Enceladus Fly in NASA Photo
Saturn's moon Enceladus releases jets of water ice as imaged by the Cassini spacecraft in April. The moon shines in reflected Saturn light, while the jets are backlit by the sun.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

A photo of Saturn's moon Enceladus looks poised for liftoff as jets fly from its southern hemisphere.

While Enceladus can't fly — at least outside of its ordinary orbit around the ringed planet — its remarkable icy jets intrigue scientists because they hint at a subsurface ocean that could support life.

The photo, taken by the Cassini spacecraft, spotlights the moon's Saturn-facing hemisphere, which is 313 miles across (504 km), according to NASA's image caption. The jets are backlit by sunlight, while the front shines with light reflected back from Saturn. Cassini was 502,000 miles (808,000 km) from Enceladus when it captured the visible-light image with its narrow-angle camera on April 13, and the image shows 3 miles (5 km) per pixel.

Enceladus' fierce jets emerge from a series of ridges in its southern hemisphere nicknamed "tiger stripes." Cassini first spotted the jets in 2005, and dove through the plumes multiple times; in 2015, it passed within 30 miles (50 km) of the moon's surface while sampling their composition. Data from that flyby suggested that its subsurface ocean might have enough energy, suggested by the existence of molecular hydrogen, to host life similar to microbes on Earth. Besides water ice, the plumes contain traces of methane, ammonia, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, salts and simple organic molecules.

Cassini is a collaboration among NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency, and it has orbited Saturn since 2004. The probe is in the Grand Finale phase of its mission, as it makes close flybys between Saturn and its rings before plunging down into the planet's atmosphere Sept. 15. That dive is partially motivated by a desire to protect the little icy moon — as Cassini ran out of fuel, its orbit could have become unstable and led to it crashing and contaminating moons in Saturn's neighborhood.

Email Sarah Lewin at or follow her @SarahExplains. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Google+. Original article on

Future Space Colony? Maybe We Should Look Beyond Mars to Saturn's Titan Moon

Future Space Colony? Maybe We Should Look Beyond Mars to Saturn's Titan Moon:

Future Space Colony? Maybe We Should Look Beyond Mars to Saturn's Titan Moon
NASA's Cassini spacecraft, Saturn, and Titan, Saturn's largest moon.
Credit: Cassini Model: Brian Kumanchik, Christian Lopez. NASA/JPL-Caltech. Migrated to Maya & materials updated by Kevin M. Gill

NASA and Elon Musk’s SpaceX are focused on getting astronauts to Mars and even one day establishing a colony on the Red Planet — but what if their attention is better directed elsewhere? A new paper in the Journal of Astrobiology & Outreach suggests that humans should instead establish a colony on Titan, a soupy orange moon of Saturn that has been likened to an early Earth, and which may harbor signs of "life not as we know it."

"In many respects, Saturn's largest moon, Titan, is one of the most Earth-like worlds we have found to date," NASA says on its website. "With its thick atmosphere and organic-rich chemistry, Titan resembles a frozen version of Earth, several billion years ago, before life began pumping oxygen into our atmosphere."

To be clear, Titan could have microbes — or, at the least, chemistry that resembles prebiotic life — but it is no Earth. The moon is perpetually covered in an orange cloud, and its atmosphere is not human-friendly. But Titan's gravity is walkable (14 percent that of Earth), radiation on the surface is less than on Mars due to its thick clouds, and it offers various sources from which visitors might generate energy.

As the paper's author, Amanda Hendrix, pointed out in a previous book that she co-authored, Beyond Earth: Our Path to a New Home in the Planets, Titan has massive deposits of hydrocarbons — compounds generally associated with petroleum and gas. Data from NASA's Cassini probe has shown that Titan has hundreds of times more liquid hydrocarbons than all of the known oil and natural gas reserves on Earth.

A simulation of the view from the ground on Titan.
Credit: Kevin M. Gill

Beyond Earth points out that people on Titan could get energy from these compounds if they use a separate combustion source that helps circumvent that fact that there's no oxygen in the moon’s atmosphere. But Hendrix's new research also discusses other ways of generating chemical energy, such as treating acetylene (an abundant compound) with hydrogen.

"In this paper, I wanted to dig into the chemical energy options a bit deeper and also look into alternative energy possibilities," said Hendrix, a staff scientist at the non-profit Planetary Science Institute. "My co-author, Yuk Yung, and I looked at chemical, nuclear, geothermal, solar, hydropower, and wind power options at Titan. The paper is designed to be a high-level first look at some of these topics."

RELATED: Saturn's Titan Moon May Offer a Glimpse of Life as We Don't Know It

While Hendrix said it's possible to generate such energy using technology that we have available today, she noted that there are ways that we could get even more out of Titan’s environment with the proper study. For example, more solar power would be generated if we learned about the capabilities of different photovoltaic cell materials — and most importantly, how they would behave on Titan.

Hydro power would require better mapping of Titan's abundant lake regions, including their topography and their flow rate. Even wind power would require some research into airborne wind turbines — but Hendrix said all of these options are promising.

"I imagine that, as here on Earth, a combination of energy sources will be useful on Titan," she said. "In particular, solar energy (using large arrays) and wind power (using airborne wind turbines) may be particularly effective."

RELATED: A City on Mars: Elon Musk Details SpaceX's Plan to Colonize the Red Planet

Delivered properly, the energy needs would be more than enough for a small outpost. Instead of just sending humans on a one-shot mission to look for life on the surface, for example, Hendrix envisions a future that could generate power for years. One scenario — solar arrays over 10 percent of Titan's surface area — would generate power needs of a population of roughly 300 million, equivalent to that of the United States.

"This is just an initial estimate, of course, but what we're talking about is something much larger than a short-term human science mission to Titan," Hendrix said.

With NASA's stated goal of sending humans to Mars by the 2030s, however, space agencies remain focused on Mars exploration. While the Cassini robotic mission at Saturn and its moons wraps up observations this September, NASA and the European Space Agency are planning even more missions to Mars in the coming years. Saturn doesn't really figure into the plans, although NASA is thinking about eventual missions to Uranus, Neptune, and Jupiter's moon Europa.

Originally published on Seeker.

A Huge Asteroid Hitting Mars 4 Billion Years Ago May Have Shaped the Red Planet

A Huge Asteroid Hitting Mars 4 Billion Years Ago May Have Shaped the Red Planet:

A Huge Asteroid Hitting Mars 4 Billion Years Ago May Have Shaped the Red Planet
A composite pictures of (from left to right) Mars, Phobos, and Deimos. A giant impact could have formed these two small moons, according to a new paper.
Credit: NASA

The peculiar geological features on Mars have long puzzled astronomers and planetary scientists. The north of the planet is mostly smooth lowlands while the south is higher and full of craters, and the Red Planet’s interior has a striking abundance of rare metals.

Researchers have proposed various explanations for these elements, positing that they may have been shaped by such forces as ancient oceans, extraterrestrial plate tectonics, or a massive asteroid strike. The latter idea, known as the "single impact hypothesis," has picked up steam of late, and was just given a shot in the arm by a new paper that argues that the sculpting of Mars and its two small moons was largely determined by a huge impact early in the solar system's history.

In this scenario, a celestial body that was roughly the size of Ceres, a dwarf planet in the asteroid belt, collided with the Red Planet and tore away a part of its northern hemisphere, leaving behind large deposits of metallic elements. Additionally, debris from the asteroid circled the planet and eventually coalesced into Phobos and Deimos, the two tiny moons that orbit Mars — at least for now. (Scientists estimate that Phobos will either break up or slam into Mars in a few million years.)

RELATED: Mars May Have Been Born in the Asteroid Belt

"We showed in this paper — that from dynamics and from geochemistry — that we could explain these three unique features of Mars," said Stephen Mojzsis, a professor in the University of Colorado Boulder's department of geological sciences and a co-author of the paper, in a statement. "This solution is elegant, in the sense that it solves three interesting and outstanding problems about how Mars came to be."

The research, which Mojzsis produced in collaboration with Ramon Brasser, an astronomer at the Earth-Life Science Institute at the Tokyo Institute of Technology in Japan, was recently published in Geophysical Research Letters. It looked at Martian meteorite samples that landed on Earth. These samples had more rare metals (like iridium, osmium or platinum) than expected, hinting that Mars received a lot of impacts from small, rocky asteroids that carried these elements with them.

The scientists estimated that these rare metals account for about 0.8% of the mass of Mars.

RELATED: NASA's Curiosity Rover Traces Ancient Environmental Changes on Mars

They then ran simulations with asteroids of various sizes to determine what size would best fit the Martian geology. The answer was a huge asteroid about 745 miles across (1,200 kilometers) — nearly the length of the state of California. The simulations suggest this behemoth slammed into Mars about 4.43 billion years ago, just 700 million years after the solar system was formed. Several smaller impacts occurred in the eons that followed.

The researchers theorize that after the big impact took place, there were distinct areas of asteroid material and Red Planet rock on the surface. Over time, however, erosion, wind, and other processes on the surface swept the two reservoirs together in a mixture.

Mojzsis and Brasser next plan to use UC Boulder's Martian meteorite archives to see how the composition of these meteorites differs or remains the same, depending on how old the meteorites are.

Originally published on Seeker.

In 'Valerian,' International Space Station Evolves into Interstellar Metropolis

In 'Valerian,' International Space Station Evolves into Interstellar Metropolis:

In 'Valerian,' International Space Station Evolves into Interstellar Metropolis
The city of Alpha in Luc Besson's latest fantasy film, "Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets," shares a few similarities to the existing International Space Station, which is highlighted in the opening scene of the movie.
Credit: STX Films and Europacorp

In the new adventure movie "Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets," directed by Luc Besson, the title city of Alpha has a present-day origin: the International Space Station.

The opening of "Valerian" — a film inspired by the popular French comic series "'Valérian et Laureline," created by Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières — has a scene that showcases the International Space Station (ISS) as it grows into a galactic United Nations, hosting meet-and-greets with representatives from Earth and, later, aliens. It grows physically, too, until it is large enough that it needs to be moved out of low-Earth orbit. [Read our full "Valerian" review!]

The fictional metropolis Alpha was inspired by Point City, which was first written about in the sixth volume of the "Valerian and Laureline" graphic novel series, entitled "Ambassador of the Shadows."
Credit: Dargaud

The ISS' evolution is a plausible one: The station has a history of bringing cultures together to build itself and to exchange ideas. In "Valerian," the first greeting in the montage takes place in the not-too-distant year 2020, where two human astronauts are shown embracing, and as we advance in time, we see increasingly strange aliens introduce themselves to humans on board the station.

Certainly, the international crews that have continuously occupied the existing ISS since 2000 would have milder reactions to meeting foreign astronauts than hypothetically meeting alien life-forms. However, the ISS was nevertheless groundbreaking in its ability to unite five space agencies to expand scientific research possibilities and to mend older nationalistic divisions. Many of the space programs involved with the station — NASA (United States), Roscosmos (Russia), CSA (Canada), JAXA (Japan), ESA (Europe) — include countries that have warred with one another in the last century.

This image is a side-by-side view of early space station concepts in fact and fiction. In the decade following these illustrations, the "Valerian and Laureline" comic was written, later inspiring director Luc Besson to create the 2017 "Valerian" film.
Credit: Karl Tate,

Early concepts for the ISS had the space station taking the shape of a giant wheel. Wernher von Braun developed an ISS station concept in 1952 that was round in order to provide simulated gravity through rotation, with a capacity to house dozens of scientists, according this infographic.

Science-fiction storytellers were clearly inspired by these concepts, and a few years later, in 1968, Stanley Kubrick's film "2001: A Space Odyssey" developed a model for a space station that was in a similar wheel shape. The year before, 1967, the first issue of "Valerian and Laureline" was published by Dargaud, according to "Valerian" film representatives. Point Central, a vast space station that lies at the crossroads of space that inspired Alpha in the film adaptation, appeared a few years later, in the 1975 comic "Valerian Vol 6: Ambassador of the Shadows."

Right now, NASA and U.S. officials have only promised to fund the ISS through 2024, so it's uncertain what the future will hold for the orbiting lab. But as crews from around the world work together to research and live in space, science-fiction writers have inspiration to continue writing tales of the ISS expanding someday into that kind of vibrant metropolis.

Mission specialists Lopez-Alegria and Herrington working on a newly installed Port One (P1) truss on the International Space Station in 2002.
Credit: NASA

Follow Doris Elin Salazar on Twitter @salazar_elin. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Google+. Original article on