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A Water World?

View from a water world

The first Earth-sized exoplanet orbiting within the habitable zone of another star has been confirmed by observations with both the W. M. Keck Observatory and the Gemini Observatory. The initial discovery, made by NASA's Kepler Space Telescope, is one of a handful of smaller planets found by Kepler and verified using large ground-based telescopes. It also confirms that Earth-sized planets do exist in the habitable zone of other stars. 

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Space / Astronomy Spotlight10

Look Deep Into the Universe

Thursday April 17, 2014

See Galaxies!

What do you see if you look out at the universe? From Earth's surface, you see stars, planets, and galaxies. Of all these objects, galaxies are the most fascinating and evocative, but also tougher to spot in the sky than the others. Yes, there are a few naked-eye galaxies: the Andromeda Galaxy, and the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds. If you want to be complete, of course the Milky Way Galaxy is extremely easy to spot, but only because we're IN it. Most other galaxies are outside ours and they require magnification (binoculars and telescopes) if you want to see more than fuzzy blob of light. Astronomers have always seen many more galaxies with their larger research observatories, but nowadays, with the advent of advanced telescopes, such as Hubble Space Telescope, they're seeing a LOT more galaxies than they used to!

Image of galaxies

This image shows a galaxy cluster set against a backdrop of more distant galaxies. This is a remarkable cross-section of the universe, showing objects at different distances and stages in cosmic history. They range from cosmic near neighbors to objects seen in the early years of the universe. (See the Hubble web page for this story to view a larger image.)


Cosmos for the Next Generation

Thursday April 17, 2014

Are you watching Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey? In the U.S., it airs on Sundays on Fox TV and on Mondays on National Geographic Channel. You can also see episodes online at CosmosOnTV.com.For space enthusiasts, astronomers, and others simply interested in learning more about our universe, this program is the one to see. It's the next generation of a series begun by Dr. Carl Sagan in 1980, a series that set a whole generation of astronomers and science writers on their career paths.

This new iteration of Cosmos is for the next generation of astronomers and writers, but really, it's for all of us. Astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson is the host of the show, which is co-written by Ann Druyan and Stephen Soter. He's a good storyteller and has extensive background in astronomy and astrophysics. The stories he tells are tightly scripted, well visualized, and take viewers from Earth to the limits of the observable universe, from the science of today to the science of pre-history. A recent episode called A Sky Full of Ghosts taught us about the electromagnetic spectrum, and the information about distant objects hidden in the light they emit or reflect.It featured an animation of the venerable English astronomer Sir William Herschel, walking on the beach with his son John (who later became an astronomer). The voice was supplied by the English actorSir Patrick Stewart, a nice touch.


Saturn May Have a New Moon

Tuesday April 15, 2014

Cassini Spots a New Object in Saturn's Rings

If you're out stargazing over the next few months, at some point, you will notice the planet Saturn. On these April nights, it's rising late in the evening (right now around 10 p.m. or thereabouts), so you have to stay up to find it. But, it's well worth the look. The rings alone give this planet an otherworldly and fascinating appearance.

Those of us who gaze at Saturn from our backyards aren't the only ones watching this planet. The Cassini spacecraft, which has been studying the Saturn system since 2004, has been our eyes, ears, and planetary science exploring, sending back incredible images and data. It has sent the Huygens probe to the surface of Saturn's largest moon, Titan, returning amazing information about this weird world. Cassini has also found an ocean of salty water beneath the icy surface of the moon Enceladus, mapped the rings, and shown us the beauty of Saturn's ever-changing cloud tops. Recently, it documented the formation of a small icy object within one of the planet's outermost rings. It could be a new moon, forming from the chunks of ice that orbit Saturn and form its rings.

A possible new moon in Saturn's A ring.

A possible new moon of Saturn, discovered as part of a disturbance in Saturn's outermost A ring. Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute.

The object shows up in images taken with Cassini's narrow angle camera on April 15, 2013, and shows disturbances at the very edge of the A ring. One of these disturbances is an arc about 20 percent brighter than its surroundings, 750 miles (1,200 kilometers) long and 6 miles (10 kilometers) wide. Scientists also found unusual features in the usually smooth profile at the ring's edge. It's likely that the arc and its features are caused by the gravitational effects of a nearby object.


Watch the Moon Turn Red

Friday April 11, 2014

simulated view of lunar eclipse

How the April 14-15, 2014 lunar eclipse could look during totality. The Moon will be near the bright star Spica. Created by Carolyn Collins Petersen using Stellarium open source software. Click image for a larger version.)

Experience a Total Lunar Eclipse!

On April 15th, in the wee hours of the morning, you have a chance to see one of nature's most awe-inspiring events: a total lunar eclipse. People are referring to this one as a Blood Moon because at totality (the darkest part of the eclipse), the Moon will appear a deep red color. Observers across the Americas, and parts of the Pacific will able to witness it beginning late Monday night April 14 into the early morning of April 15th. (For a complete list of what locations on Earth will see this eclipse, check out NASA's Eclipse Web page.)

What You Will See

So, what is a lunar eclipse? These rare events happen atFull Moon, when the Moon moves into Earth's shadow as it orbits our planet. The entire eclipse takes almost 6 hours (5 hours 43 minutes). First, it slips into the penumbra at the western edge of the shadow. At first, you won't notice much because the Moon is still quite bright. Then, about an hour later, the Moon will begin entering theumbra, the darkest part of Earth's shadow. This is when you will start to notice the Moon slowly taking on color -- anywhere from a ruddy brown to a coppery red. The Moon will spend just over an hour (1 hour 17 minutes) in the umbra. Then it will slowly move out into the eastern part of the penumbra, and finally exit Earth's shadow completely.

When Should I Look?

Here's a short timeline of events. Times are approximate.

The eclipse begins at 4:53 AM UT (April 15) 12:53 AM EDT, 11:53 AM CDT (April 14th),  10:53 PM MDT, 9:53 PM PDT, 6:53 PM Hawai'i time.

Totality begins at 7:08 AM UT (April 15), 3:08 AM EDT, 2:08 AM CDT, 1:08 AM MDT, 12:08 AM PDT, 9:08 PM Hawai'i (April 14)

Totality ends at 8:23 AM UT (April 15), 4:23 AM EDT, 3:23 AM CDT, 2:23 AM MDT, 1:23 AM PDT, 10:23 PM Hawai'i (April 14)

Eclipse ends at 10:35 AM UT (April 15), 6:36 AM EDT (below horizon), 5:35 AM CDT, 4:35 AM MDT, 3:35 AM PDT, 12:35 AM Hawai'i


Lunar eclipse timeline

A timeline of the April 14-15, 2014 lunar eclipse, based on data from NASA. Click image for a larger version.


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