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16 Apr

Birth of New Saturn Moon Captured By NASA's Cassini Spacecraft

Pia18078-968Welcome to the universe, Peggy.

NASA's Cassini spacecraft has captured what appears to be the birth of a new moon -- nicknamed Peggy -- around Saturn.

As reported in the journal Icarus, signs of the new moon's birth comes from "disturbances" along the Saturn's A ring, the outermost ring; for instance, Cassini sighted "an arc about 20 percent brighter than its surroundings." The baby moon is only about 0.5 miles wide and may eventually "coalesce into a slightly larger moon and move outward, establishing its own orbital path around Saturn."

"We have not seen anything like this before," study lead author Carl Murray of Queen Mary University of London said. "We may be looking at the act of birth, where this object is just leaving the rings and heading off to be a moon in its own right."

Saturn has dozens of moons including Enceladus, which recently revealed evidence of an underground ocean, and Titan, where waves appear to have been spotted on a surface lake.

NASA reports Cassini will "move closer to the outer edge of the A ring in late 2016 and provide an opportunity to study Peggy in more detail and perhaps even image it."

Saturn is a pretty popular planet lately. Let's learn more!

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Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

15 Apr

Watch Monday Night's Total Lunar Eclipse And Blood Moon In Just One Minute

If you weren't able to stay up late enough to watch Monday night's total lunar eclipse and the stunning blood-red moon that resulted, don't worry. In just one minute, watch this NASA timelapse of the eclipse and rising red moon:

And because a picture is worth 1,000 words...


Did you stay up to watch the eclipse? Tell us about it! Tonight on Close Encounters at 10/9c, one child sees something even stranger than a red moon outside her window. What were these lights?

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Image Credit: NASA Ames Research Center/Brian Day

14 Apr

How To See Tonight's Total Lunar Eclipse And Blood Moon

506482main_trio_eclipse_lgSo, you want to see a total lunar eclipse? Then plan to stay up late tonight and cross your fingers that clouds aren't in the way, because if you're in North America this could be your last chance to see one this clearly until 2019.

Monday night is the first of four consecutive total eclipses, at six-month intervals, that will also bring a "blood moon" into the night sky. Tonight's event begins at around 2:00 a.m. EDT and should be visible from both North and South America.

The remaining total lunar eclipses of the set -- known as a tetrad -- will occur on October 8, 2014; April 4, 2015; and September 28, 2015.

One stunning feature of tonight's eclipse will be the blood-red moon lighting the night sky -- and no, it's not a sign of the apocalypse, as some doomsdayers believe; the burnt-orange appearance is created by light dispersion. (Astronomers rarely use the term "blood moon"; a red moon is usually called a "Hunter's Moon.")

Astronomer Fred Espenak explains that the moon could take on "a dramatically colorful appearance, ranging from bright orange to blood red," while NASA gives a more poetic explanation:

"Imagine yourself standing on a dusty lunar plain looking up at the sky. Overhead hangs Earth, nightside down, completely hiding the sun behind it. The eclipse is underway.

You might expect Earth seen in this way to be utterly dark, but it's not. The rim of the planet is on fire! As you scan your eye around Earth's circumference, you're seeing every sunrise and every sunset in the world, all of them, all at once. This incredible light beams into the heart of Earth's shadow, filling it with a coppery glow and transforming the Moon into a great red orb." estimates that around 922 million people worldwide will be able to see tonight's total lunar eclipse. If it's too cloudy to watch from home, you can tune into NASA's livestream.

Tonight is also the chance to see Mars up close when it passes within 57 million miles of Earth, its closest approach in six years.

Will you stay up tonight to watch the moon turn red? Let us know -- and learn more about the moon in this quick trip to Space School:

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Credit: Fred Espenak/NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

11 Apr

Land Rover Basically Just Introduced An Invisible Car

Invisible cars aren't just for science fiction movies anymore.

Land Rover's new "Transparent Bonnet" (American translation: car hood) makes the front of the car practically invisible.

Here's how it works, according to the auto maker:

"Cameras located in the vehicle's grille capture data used to feed a Head-Up Display, effectively creating a 'see-through' view of the terrain through the bonnet and engine bay, breaking new ground in visual driver assistance."

We feel compelled to point out that the vehicle is not actually invisible; it just appears that way to the car's driver: "The technology enables a driver climbing a steep incline or manoeuvring in a confined space to see an augmented reality view capturing not only the terrain in front of the car but also the angle and position of the front wheels."

The concept will be introduced at next week's New York International Auto Show but before you get too excited about driving an invisible vehicle, Slate notes that "it's unclear when or even if Land Rover plans to usher the Bonnet out of the concept stage and onto the road."

Watch a demonstration of the technology at work:

Driving an invisible car is neat but you know what's really cool? Extreme vertical driving. Take a sneak peek at this clip from Saturday night's Outrageous Acts of Science, premiering at 10/9c:

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10 Apr

This Is Why You Should Always Cover Your Mouth And Nose When You Sneeze

It's spring, which for millions of Americans means more than just blooming blossoms and longer days: it's also allergy season.

Just in time for the coughs and sneezes that accompany seasonal allergies comes a new paper from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that reveals the true momentum -- and incredible range -- of mucus droplets.


You might have expected larger mucus droplets to traveler farther than smaller ones but that's not the case, according to the paper:

"Indeed, the study finds, the smaller droplets that emerge in a cough or sneeze may travel five to 200 times further than they would if those droplets simply moved as groups of unconnected particles — which is what previous estimates had assumed."

Rather than individual droplets, picture a cloud of mucus being expeled from a sneezer's nose and mouth. As The Washington Post puts it, "the sneezer emerges from a new study less as someone to be handed a Kleenex and comforted than as a smokestack belching infectious clouds into rooms, ventilation systems and beyond."

And don't -- don't -- cover a sneeze with your hands. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends using a tissue or, if one isn't available, sneezing into your elbow.

Don't have a tissue handy? A paper towel can substitute; here's how paper towels are made:

How It's Made is all new tonight at 9/8c!

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9 Apr

The First Instagram Photo From Space Beats Your Instagrammed Selfie

Behold, Instagram has crossed into a new frontier: space.

Astronaut Steven "Swanny" Swanson shared this snapshot on the official Instagram feed of the International Space Station with a pretty understated caption: "Back on ISS, life is good." The photo was taken in the ISS' seven-window cupola, which has a 360-degree view.

On May 12, 2009, American astronaut Mike Massimino sent the first tweet from space (he composed the tweet in orbit and emailed it to NASA officials on the ground to post):

Eight months later, on January 22, 2010, astronaut TJ Creamer sent the first real-time tweet from space:

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8 Apr

Mars Aligns With Sun And Earth Tonight; Here's How You Can See It

Tuesday is an exciting night for astronomers, space buffs and anyone else interested in exploring the cosmos as the "opposition of Mars" occurs, a once-every-26-months event.

"During opposition, Mars and the sun are on directly opposite sides of Earth," according to NASA. "From our perspective on our spinning world, Mars rises in the east just as the sun sets in the west. Then, after staying up in the sky the entire night, Mars sets in the west just as the sun rises in the east."

"Artist's concept of Mars Opposition on December 24, 2007. The distances between the sun, the planets, and the distant nebula are not to scale." Credit: NASA's Mars Exploration Program

On the grand scale of the universe, Mars will be relatively near to Earth tonight and even closer on the night of April 14, when the red planet will be "just" 57 million miles away; for comparison, Mars came within 34.6 million miles of Earth back in August 2003.

Not only will Mars be in Earth's neighborhood on April 14 but later that evening be a total lunar eclipse will be another can't-miss cosmic event. (More about that here.)

How can you watch tonight's Mars-sun-Earth alignment? An amateur telescope should be able to pick out the red planet, which will shine nearly 10 times brighter than a 1st magnitude star.

You can also watch the opposition live online: Slooh will stream the event on YouTube and the Virtual Telescope Project hosts a livestream with commentary from an astrophysicist.

Have you ever seen an out-of-this-world volcano while stargazing? Learn more:

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7 Apr

Stunning, 'Graceful' Solar Flare Revealed In New NASA Video

The power of the sun is on full display in a new video from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory showing a magnificent M-class solar flare.

M-class flares are 10 times less powerful than X-class flares, the most powerful solar flares. The April 2 solar event was an M6.5 flare, an exponentially more powerful flare than one catagorize as an M1.

Solar flares are eruptions of radiation from the sun that, if intense enough, can disrupt communications systems on Earth.

Peaking at 10:05 a.m. EDT, the "graceful" flare is shown in "in a blend of two wavelengths of extreme ultraviolet light: 304 Angstroms and 171 Angstroms, colorized in yellow and red, respectively."

In late March, NASA released spectacular images of a fierce X-class solar flare.

Learn more about solar flares:

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4 Apr

Hidden Ocean On Saturn Moon Enceladus Could Support Life

Pia18071_enceladus-interiorIt was just last month that waves were detected on Titan, Saturn's largest moon. Now comes news that NASA's Cassini spacecraft has detected signs of a sea beneath Enceladus, another Saturn moon, "furthering scientific interest in the moon as a potential home to extraterrestrial microbes."

The findings were published in the journal Science on April 4.

"The main implication is that there are potentially habitable environments in the solar system in places which are completely unexpected," said Luciano Iess, one of the study's authors, in a video. "Enceladus has a surface temperature of about minus 180 degrees Celsius, but under that surface there exists liquid water." says the discovery "confirms suspicions many researchers have had about Enceladus since 2005, when NASA's Cassini spacecraft first spotted ice and water vapor spewing from fractures near the moon's south pole."

The six-mile-deep ocean is hidden beneath Enceladus' ice exterior, which may be as much as 19 to 25 miles thick and, according to NASA, makes Saturn's icy moon one of the "most likely places in our solar system to host microbial life."

"Material from Enceladus’ south polar jets contains salty water and organic molecules, the basic chemical ingredients for life," said Cassini project scientist Linda Spilker in a statement. "Their discovery expanded our view of the 'habitable zone' within our solar system and in planetary systems of other stars. This new validation that an ocean of water underlies the jets furthers understanding about this intriguing environment." 

Mars remains an intriguing candidate for life as evidence emerges that the red planet was once covered in water. It could have even had life before Earth did:

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Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

3 Apr

Bill Clinton 'Wouldn't be Surprised' If Aliens Visit Earth, Former President Tells Jimmy Kimmel

During President Bill Clinton's two-term tenure in office, one of the questions he wanted answered was: "What's inside Area 51?"

Area 51 is, of course, a top-secret military installation located north of Las Vegas; it was only in December 2013 that a U.S. president publicly acknowledged Area 51's existence, a moment that occurred in a joke by President Obama.

Appearing on Jimmy Kimmel Live Wednesday night, Clinton said he "wouldn't be surprised" if aliens visit Earth, and that he "had people go look at the records on Area 51 to make sure there was no alien down there."

Unfortunately for believers, "there are no aliens there." Clinton also had all of the papers reviewed from the Roswell UFO incident and said if he'd learned there were extraterrestrials out there, he would have told the American people.

The truth may still be out there, the former president said:

"We know now we live in an ever-expanding universe. We know there are billions of stars and planets, literally, out there. And the universe is getting bigger. We know from our fancy telescopes that just in the last two years more than 20 planets have been identified outside our solar system that seem to be far enough away from their suns and dense enough that they might be able to support some form of life. So it makes it increasing less likely that we’re alone."

Watch President Bill Clinton talk aliens with Jimmy Kimmel:

If astronauts encounter a UFO, NASA has a set procedure in place. See what happened when astronauts on the International Space Station saw something strange outside the space station:

Are you a believer like President Clinton?

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