This week I recommend to follow @martiansoil for lots of interesting tweets about the planet Mars and space exploration. For more Twitter follow suggestions see our astronomy list @TheAstroBlog/astronomy
Space challenges for 2011
A new year brings with it new hopes for the future, and new resolutions to do things better, or differently, than before. The new year also brings with it its fair share of challenges, though, not to mention unresolved problems and other baggage from the previous year. Spaceflight is no exception to this. The past year was a tumultuous one for civil space in particular, as the Obama Administration rolled out a budget proposal with significant changes for the agency’s human spaceflight plans, triggering a vociferous debate that raged into the fall.
Will commercial space flight ruin the enviroment back on Earth?
Travel has long had an environmental cost: gasoline, jet fuel, spandex pants for bicycling. With space tourism soon to become a common occurrence, what will be the environmental price? Nobody likes thinking about the environmental impact of space travel. The environmental movement is admirable, but it’s tied to unstinting realism — you can’t have everything. You have to moderate packaging, energy use, living space, and modes of travel. Everything has a cost, and that cost has to be minimized, even though it can’t be eliminated. Meanwhile, space travel lends itself to the excesses of the imagination. It’s an endless universe full of new worlds and possibilities. One of those possibilities — tourists heading off into space — seems close to coming true.
The Milky Way’s (almost) identical twin
In my Top 14 Astronomy Pictures of 2010, I started off with a galaxy I called the Milky Way’s fraternal twin; it looks a lot like ours, but has some differences that were worth pointing out. In one of those coincidences that makes me smile, only a few days later the folks at Hubble Space Telescope released another spiral galaxy image, and this one… well, it’s a beauty. That’s really something! It’s so pretty I made it my desktop image. Click it to see it in all its 2800 x 2400 pixel galactaliciousness.
Solar Research Instrument ‘Fills the Gap,’ Views Sun’s Innermost Corona
During a total eclipse of the Sun, skywatchers are awed by the shimmering corona — a faint glow that surrounds the Sun like gossamer flower petals. This outer layer of the Sun’s atmosphere is, paradoxically, hotter than the Sun’s surface, but so tenuous that its light is overwhelmed by the much brighter solar disk. The corona becomes visible only when the Sun is blocked, which happens for just a few minutes during an eclipse. Now, an instrument on board NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), developed by Smithsonian scientists, is giving unprecedented views of the innermost corona 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
The cold arms and hot, hot heart of the fuzzy maiden
Hot (and cold) on the heels of my posting the infrared view of the nearby spiral M33, the European Space Agency just published this incredible picture of our other spiral neighbor, M31, the Andromeda Galaxy! Oh my. This is a composite of two orbiting observatory images: the far infrared using Herschel (colored orange), and the X-ray emission using XMM-Newton (blue). There’s so much to see! That’s not surprising, since at 2.5 million light years away, Andromeda is the closest big galaxy to us, and presents itself with loads of detail.
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