If asteroids were stars, the Milky Way would be too close for comfort

Tuesday, 7 July, 2015

I must have been too preoccupied with tax matters and the like last Tuesday, 30 June, being the end of the financial year hereabouts, to notice that it was also Asteroid Day.

There are who knows how many of these objects hurtling around the solar system, and one of the aims of the day named in their honour, is to raise awareness of the risks they pose to Earth, while also seeking global cooperation in devising strategies to detect and deflect any that may pose a threat.

To mark the occasion, Scott Manley created this 360 degree video rendering of the night sky, that presents asteroids that are in the vicinity of Earth, as star like objects. It’s a relatively busy space out there, isn’t it? And what you see there are only the one percent of such objects that we so far know about…

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Sights we’ve seen in the solar system between here and Pluto

Friday, 3 July, 2015

It’s just a little over a week until NASA’s New Horizons space probe makes its closet approach to dwarf planet Pluto. The fun begins in earnest in the weeks following the flyby, when the data collected by the probe reaches Earth.

While we wait for that to happen, here’s a collection of images taken by other probes, of some of the planets and moons in the solar system, in the past.

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The Buran programme, the Soviet space shuttle that didn’t take off

Monday, 15 June, 2015

Photo by Ralph Mirebs

The Soviet Union, and then later the Russian Federation, aspired to a space shuttle programme, but only one craft, of a number that were built, ever went into Earth orbit, in 1988, an un-crewed flight at that. The Buran programme, as it was known, was eventually suspended in 1993.

While some of the vessels, or what was constructed of them, before the programme was terminated, can be found in various locations in Russia, this collection of photos by Ralph Mirebs, is about all that now remains of the Buran programme.

It’s unfortunate that more didn’t come of the project, considering the resources that had been expended into it.

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Might this be a flag that speaks for Earth?

Wednesday, 27 May, 2015

International Flag of Planet Earth on Mars

If we ever are to begin colonising other planets and moons in the solar system, and who knows, one day, even further afield, the undertaking would surely be an international effort. And if we were ever to a plant flag on one of those distant bodies, we would need one that represented the planet, not a single nation.

Enter then the International Flag of Planet Earth, as designed by Stockholm based art director Oskar Pernefeldt, an emblem that embodies Earth’s lifeforms and its biosphere.

Centered in the flag, seven rings form a flower – a symbol of the life on Earth. The rings are linked to each other, which represents how everything on our planet, directly or indirectly, are linked. The blue field represents water which is essential for life – also as the oceans cover most of our planet’s surface. The flower’s outer rings form a circle which could be seen as a symbol of Earth as a planet and the blue surface could represent the universe.

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What the International Space Station lacks? Coffee. But not for long

Thursday, 23 April, 2015

Crew of the International Space Station will soon be able to brew a real cup of coffee, and the “ISSpresso” machine no less, a collaborative design effort, is to soon to be installed on the station. There’s no excuse for staying on Earth now…

The espresso maker is dubbed ISSpresso – ISS standing for International Space Station. Italian coffee giant Lavazza joined forces with the Turin-based engineering company Argotec and the Italian Space Agency to provide a specially designed machine for use off the planet. NASA certified its safety.

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A WOW! signal for the new millennium?

Thursday, 9 April, 2015

I wasn’t going to let a story like this slip through unlinked.

A number of radio telescopes across the world have since – what do you know – 2001, been detecting mysterious signals from somewhere outside the galaxy. Sure, radio waves are a dime a dozen in this cluttered universe, many celestial objects naturally emit radio signals, but these transmissions stand out as they are seemingly adhering to a mathematical pattern.

Then there’s this:

No one knows what causes them, but the brevity of the bursts means their source has to be small – hundreds of kilometres across at most – so they can’t be from ordinary stars. And they seem to come from far outside the galaxy.

The WOW! signal was a radio signal detected in 1977 by Jerry R Ehman, on the no longer in use Ohio State University Radio Observatory, as part of a sweep of the sky for the SETI project.

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Mars, the best views we have from the ground, so far

Wednesday, 1 April, 2015

There’s a couple of high definition images of the surface of Mars to seen here… what do you think, the best view we’ll have of the ground of the red planet this side of Mars One? Come to think of it, these just might be the best views, full stop.

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Giving names to the features we’re about to discover on Pluto

Monday, 30 March, 2015

Pluto and Charon, artist's impression

In mid July, NASA space probe New Horizons makes its closest approach to Pluto. If past experience is anything to go, the encounter, which will offer astronomers and scientists access to data hitherto only dreamed of, is likely to re-write much of what we know, or thought we knew, of this distant member of the solar system.

To say nothing of the photos we should soon be seeing. Instead of the current blurred, pixelated, images of the (dwarf) planet, we will possess high definition pictures of an actual, real world, plus its largest moon, Charon, ready to have its featured named as we see fit.

Needless to say, this will be no small task, and NASA, together with the International Astronomical Union, are interested in hearing your suggestions for such names. Get going though, submissions close on 7 April.

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A day on Mars may be just a little too long for humans

Friday, 13 March, 2015

A day on Mars, or to be more precise, a complete planetary rotation, lasts about forty minutes longer than it does on Earth. You’d think that would make the red planet ideal for human settlement, if we can look passed the numerous difficulties of setting up camp there of course.

After all, who doesn’t want more hours in the day, even if it’s only not quite one full hour? It would appear that things aren’t quite that simple however. So wired are humans to an exact twenty-four hour day, the additional forty minutes provided daily on Mars would actually prove to be rather exhausting for us:

It turns out if you’re on Earth, that extra time wears thin pretty quickly. If you’re on Mars, or at least work by a Mars clock, you have to figure out how to put up with the exhausting challenge of those extra 40 minutes. To be exact, the Martian day is 24 hours, 39 minutes, and 35 seconds long, a length of day that doesn’t coincide with the human body’s natural rhythms. Scientists, Mars rover drivers, and everyone else in the space community call the Martian day a “sol” to differentiate it from an Earth day. While it doesn’t seem like a big difference, that extra time adds up pretty quickly. It’s like heading west by two time zones every three days. Call it “rocket lag.”

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A catalogue of space probes in flight

Tuesday, 3 March, 2015

With Pluto bound space probe New Horizons rapidly approaching its destination, and who knows, about to turn all we know of the solar system’s best known dwarf planet on its head, Spaceprob.es allows us to check in on the numerous other active craft that are trawling interplanetary and interstellar space, on our behalf.

Leading the charge is Voyager 1, at a distance of almost twenty billion kilometres, or eighteen hours and seven minutes light travel time, from Earth, while the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter is virtually above our heads, some 372,000 kilometres away.

By the way, if you’re interested in checking out Voyager 1’s approximate location in the night sky, give or take a few light minutes, here are some directions.

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