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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...

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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

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."

MarsOpposition20072-br
"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."

Space.com 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

2 Apr

One Night Only: Mars Comes Closest To Earth On Same Night As A Total Lunar Eclipse

Clear your calendar for the night of April 14 as two remarkable space events occur within hours of each other: the "opposition of Mars," when the red planet will come within 92 million kilometers of Earth, and a total lunar eclipse.

Ninety-two million kilometers (about 57 million miles) may sound like a vast distance -- it's more than a six-month flight for NASA's fastest rockets -- but in space terms, that's practically next door.

As NASA explains,

"Astronomers call this event an "opposition of Mars" because Mars and the Sun are on opposite sides of the sky.  Mars rises in the east at sunset, and soars almost overhead at midnight, shining burnt-orange almost 10 times brighter than a 1st magnitude star."

April 8 is the actual date of opposition but on April 14, Mars will be even closer to Earth; in fact, as the date draws nearer the distance between Earth and Mars decreases by about 300 kilometers each minute.

If you're an "experienced astro-photographer," your view of Mars may be even more extraordinary, says NASA:

"Experienced astro-photographers using state-of-the-art digital cameras can tease out even more—for example, dust storms, orographic clouds over Martian volcanoes, and icy fogs in the great Hellas impact basin. The view has been described by some observers as "Hubblesque.""

Later that evening, the total lunar eclipse will require staying up into the early hours of April 15... but it should be well worth the wait. The event starts at 12:54 a.m. EDT and the total lunar eclipse begins at 3:07 a.m. EDT, according to Astronomy magazine; for nearly 80 minutes, the moon will be in shadow.

The eclipse is the first in a tetrad of lunar eclipses, the above video from NASA Science explains, with three more following at six-month intervals: October 8, 2014; April 4, 2015; and September 28, 2015. What makes this tetrad unique is that all four eclipses will be visible from all or parts of the United States, according to the video.

Watch for the sky to take on "a dramatically colorful appearance, ranging from bright orange to blood red." No word, however, on whether we'll be able to see the Mars blueberries:

Will you stay up all night April 14-15 to see Mars and the total lunar eclipse?

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1 Apr

You've Always Wanted To Know How Astronauts Poop In Space

This is not an April Fools' Day joke: NASA released a video Monday showing where astronauts' "solid waste" goes on the International Space Station.

Astronaut Mike Hopkins, who returned to Earth in March after spending 166 days in space, shows how he installs the number two receptacle:

Among the dirty details: a suction hose connected to the toilet prevents anything from floating away and controls the smell.

"Where do you go to the bathroom?" is the most common question astronauts receive and a previous ISS tour showed off the four kinds of toilet paper available to the space station's residents.

Why four types of TP? In her tour, which included the "orbital outhouse," astronaut Suni Williams said it's personal preference whether astronauts opt to use coarse Russian toilet paper or disinfectant wipes.

Learn more about the space station, including details from its inception:

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26 Mar

This Is The Milky Way Like You've Never Seen It Before

We knew our galaxy was pretty awesome... but this new view is absolutely extraordinary.

This 'GLIMPSE' comes courtesy of the NASA Spitzer Space Telescope, which turned more than 2.5 million infrared images taken over a 10-year period into GLIMPSE360, a zoomable, 360-degree interactive panorama of the Milky Way.

"If we actually printed this out, we'd need a billboard as big as the Rose Bowl Stadium to display it," said Robert Hurt, an imaging specialist at NASA's Spitzer Space Science Center, in a statement. "Instead, we've created a digital viewer that anyone, even astronomers, can use."

GLIMPSE360 captures just three percent of our sky, yet that view encompasses more than half of all stars in the Milky Way.

"You've seen the result of over two-and-a-half

The Spitzer Telescope "has spent more than 10 years studying everything from asteroids in our solar system to the most remote galaxies at the edge of the observable universe," according to NASA.

NASA has also turned to crowdsourcing for identifying new characteristics of our galaxy. The Milky Way Project seeks help from citizen scientists to classify and catalog bubbles, star clusters, galaxies and more in the Milky Way; there have currently been more than 933,000 classifications.

Learn more about why the Milky Way is so special:

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25 Mar

The Spacesuit Of The Future Looks Like Something Out Of A Sci-Fi Movie

While the Buzz Lightyear-inspired Z-1 spacesuit proved a pop culture favorite, NASA has moved forward with its spacesuit makeover by unveiling the Z-2 Suit and three prospective cover layers for its next prototype. 

"We haven't had to design a spacesuit to operate in a surface environment since we went to the moon," Daniel Huot, a NASA public affairs official, told NBC News. "As you can imagine, a lot of things have changed, and this is going to incorporate the features that astronauts are going to be wearing when we go to Mars."

Among the cutting-edge technology used in construction of the suit will be "3D human laser scans" and 3D-printed hardware.

The first fully-built Z-2 isn't expected to be finished until November 2014, but now through April 15 the public can vote for their favorite design.

Ladies and gentlemen, your spacesuit candidates are...

Biomimicry: "draws from an environment with many parallels to the harshness of space: the world's oceans."

Bio_spaceCenter_full

Technology: "pays homage to spacesuit achievements of the past while incorporating subtle elements of the future."

Tech_nbl_full

Trends in Society: "based off of just that: being reflective of what every day clothes may look like in the not too distant future."

Trend_rocks_full

As of Tuesday morning, "Technology" was leading the competition with nearly two-thirds of the vote.

Tell us: Which spacesuit design is your favorite?

Learn more about some of NASA's earliest spacesuits:

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Photos via NASA

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