Eurpoa…. here we come

“NASA plots daring flight to Jupiter’s watery moon”


(Credit: NASA/JPL/Ted Stryk)

On March 4, 2014 Charles Bolden, NASA Administrator, released a statement which includes, “In the coming year, we’ll build on our nation’s record of breathtaking and compelling scientific discoveries and achievements in space, with science missions that will reach far into our solar system, reveal unknown aspects of our universe and provide critical knowledge about our home planet.  It includes funding for missions to Mars and the formulation for a mission to Jupiter’s moon, Europa.”

It looks as though we may finally go to a ‘local’ body that will hold many surprises and in astronomical distances Europa is so very close.

Europa is just begging us to visit and the Europa Clipper is one mission.

This artist’s impression of Europa makes the place look more exotic than Mars.

(Credit: Chris Weeks)

Water Vapor Discovered on Nearby Alien Planet

Tau Bootis B

Have you ever heard of the exoplanet, Tau Boötis b?  Well, it was discovered back in 1996 and is one of the closest exoplanets to us.   Tau Boötis b is about 51-light-years away and is considered to be a “hot Jupiter” because it is a gas giant orbiting close to its parent star.  Now, with the advances in techniques used to scan planetary atmospheres, something else has been discovered about  Tau Boötis b:  the fact that it has water vapor.

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New Neighbors in Space

multi_transits_many_full_0[1]…715 new planets… orbit 305 stars, revealing multiple-planet systems much
like our own solar system. Nearly 95 percent of these planets are smaller than
Neptune, which is almost four times the size of Earth. …To verify this bounty
of planets, a research team co-led by Jack Lissauer, planetary scientist at
NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif…used a technique called
verification by multiplicity, which relies in part on the logic of probability.
…Kepler observed hundreds of stars that have multiple planet candidates.
Through a careful study of this sample, these 715 new planets were verified.
This method can be likened to the behavior we know of lions and lionesses. In
our imaginary savannah, the lions are the Kepler stars and the lionesses are the
planet candidates. The lionesses would sometimes be observed grouped together
whereas lions tend to roam on their own. If you see two lions it could be a lion
and a lioness or it could be two lions. But if more than two large felines are
gathered, then it is very likely to be a lion and his pride. Thus, through
multiplicity the lioness can be reliably identified in much the same way
multiple planet candidates can be found around the same star.

“Four years ago, Kepler began a string of announcements of first hundreds, then
thousands, of planet candidates –but they were only candidate worlds,” said
Lissauer. “We’ve now developed a process to verify multiple planet candidates in
bulk to deliver planets wholesale, and have used it to unveil a veritable
bonanza of new worlds.”

…Four of these new planets are less than 2.5 times the size of Earth and orbit in their

sun’s habitable zone, defined as the range of distance from a star where the surface

temperature of an orbiting planet may be suitable for life-giving liquid water.

…This latest discovery brings the confirmed count of planets outside our solar system to
nearly 1,700. As we continue to reach toward the stars, each discovery brings us
one step closer to a more accurate understanding of our place in the galaxy.

The findings papers will be published March 10 in The Astrophysical Journal

and are available for download at:

Intelligent Life Could Be Found by 2040

Intelligent Life by 2040

Back in 1960, Astronomer Frank Drake started scanning two sun-like stars with an 85-foot wide antennae in West Virginia.  His goal: search for signs of life.  Over the past 50 years, thanks to the advantage of significant advances in electronics, digital technology, and some help from other people, that search has really ramped up.  This month, Seth Shostak of the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute in Mountain View, CA, claims it is now estimated that by 2040 enough star systems will have been scanned to have discovered alien-produced electromagnetic signals.

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A Rare Sight: You Can See Venus During The Day This Week

venus in the sky at day

Besides the Sun and Moon, Venus is the brightest celestial body.  It’s so bright that you can even see it during the daytime.  Tomorrow morning, and the rest of the week, you can see Venus in the morning sky just before sunrise.  That is, if it is a clear sky when you go out.  Depending on where you are, Venus is about two fists above the horizon.

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SPLAT………. New Crater on Mars


Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

A dramatic, fresh impact crater dominates this image taken by the High
Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA’s Mars
Reconnaissance Orbiter on Nov. 19, 2013.  Researchers used HiRISE to examine
this site because the orbiter’s Context Camera had revealed a change in
appearance here between observations in July 2010 and May 2012, bracketing the
formation of the crater between those observations.(NASA)


 Observation Toolbox

Acquisition date: 19 November 2013 Local Mars time: 2:57 PM
Latitude (centered): 3.677° Longitude (East): 53.428°
Range to target site: 266.5 km (166.5 miles) Original image scale range: 26.7 cm/pixel (with 1 x 1 binning) so objects ~80 cm across are resolved
Map projected scale: 25 cm/pixel and North is up Map projection: Equirectangular
Emission angle: 0.5° Phase angle: 45.7°
Solar incidence angle: 46°, with the Sun about 44° above the horizon Solar longitude: 51.4°, Northern Spring
For non-map projected products:
North azimuth: 97° Sub-solar azimuth: 29.3°
For map-projected products
North azimuth: 270° Sub solar azimuth: 203.5°


                                                        NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona


Scientists at ESA have developed a Sound System that could kill you.

ESA develops sound system that can kill you

In order to test whether or not a satellite could withstand the sound blast of a launcher as it takes off and flies through the atmosphere, the scientists at the European Space Agency have developed a sound system so extreme it may be able to kill a human being if they stood in front of it.

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NASA Responds to Lawsuit over Mars Donut

NASA responds to Mars Donut lawsuit

A little while ago I blogged about the mysterious donut-like object that suddenly appeared on the surface of Mars at the base of the Opportunity rover.  NASA concluded that it was only a rock and probably got there by being kicked up from one of Opportunity’s wheels while it moved from point A to point B.  Well, now NASA has a lawsuit brought against them by someone that thinks the object is more than meets the eye and he wants the investigation to go further.

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Happy Chinese New Year!

Happy Chinese New Year, everyone! Lets ring in the Year of the Horse.


Chinese New Year is one of those floating holidays that seems to fall on a different day each year, why is this?

Throughout history, civilizations around the world have used celestial objects to track the passage of time. People used the movements of the Sun, Moon, or stars to define a calendar for their society to live by. Today the majority of the world uses the Gregorian calendar, which is based on the orbit of the Earth around the Sun, or the Solar Year. Lunar calendars use the duration of the Moon’s orbit around the Earth, or the Lunar Month. Lunisolar calendars use a combination of both. Although most countries around the world use the standard Gregorian calendar for official government purposes, citizens of these countries often use a Lunar or Lunisolar calendar to mark important social and religious festivals.

The modern Chinese calendar is known as the Han calendar, it is Lunisolar. Like other Lunisolar calendars, the Han calendar takes into account a Solar Year as well as a Lunar month. The Han calendar uses the tropical solar year, which uses the seasons (the solstices) as the reference for the passage of a year. The Chinese calendar references the Winter Solstice specifically.

The New Year is observed on the day of the second new moon after the Winter Solstice, and occasionally on the third new moon. For the majority of us who use the Gregorian calendar this often translates to the first new moon of the new year.

redenvelopesFollowing several days of preparation, at midnight last night the festivities for Chinese New Year kicked off. It is a time of renewal, wishes of good fortune, and paying respect to friends and family. The observation of the new year actually lasts for 15 additional days, each having their own symbolic rituals and customs. One of the most well known traditions is the gift of red envelopes to friends and family. These envelopes often contain money, in amounts that correspond to lucky numbers. They are usually presented to younger people, and sometimes they are ornately decorated.

So, why Year of the Horse? The Chinese Zodiac, like the western zodiac, is separated into twelve signs. Unlike the Western Zodiac that associates each sign with a segment of the Solar Year, the Chinese Zodiac associates each sign with a single year in a twelve year cycle. Follow the link above to learn more, it gets even more complex than that! Last year according to the Han calendar was the year of the Snake, before that the year of the Dragon. Once we reach the Gregorian year 2020 the year of the Rat, the cycle will begin again.

So go forth, wish you friends and neighbors peace and happiness, and ask your family members for red envelopes filled with money! The Year of the Horse has begun.