This week I recommend to follow @NASA_Wallops for interesting tweets from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, where suborbital and special orbital projects are tested. For more Twitter follow suggestions see our astronomy list @TheAstroBlog/astronomy
Hundreds of tiny moons may be orbiting Earth
The moon may look lonely, but it is far from alone. Small asteroids too dim to detect seem to stray into Earth’s orbit quite frequently and stay for short periods of time. We may even be able to bring one of these moonlets back to Earth for study. Researchers have long suspected that wandering asteroids might occasionally get snagged by Earth’s gravity and become temporary moons, and a few years ago one of these was spotted. Called 2006 RH120, it is a few metres across and wandered into orbit around Earth in July 2006 before drifting off again a year later.
Smoky Pink Core of Omega Nebula
A new image of the Omega Nebula, captured by ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT), is one of the sharpest of this object ever taken from the ground. It shows the dusty, rose-coloured central parts of this famous stellar nursery and reveals extraordinary detail in the cosmic landscape of gas clouds, dust and newborn stars. The colourful gas and dark dust in the Omega Nebula serve as the raw materials for creating the next generation of stars. In this particular section of the nebula, the newest stars on the scene — dazzlingly bright and shining blue-white — light up the whole ensemble.
How to Work for NASA, The Easy Way
OK, so you’ve always wanted to be an astronaut. But you looked at the application form and realised you weren’t quite what NASA needed. No problem! There’s an alternative. NASA just launched a new site to introduce programmers to open-source projects on which you can work with the space agency. Admittedly, for free, in your spare time. But hey, you’d be making a contribution, and that counts for something, right? Right now there are four open projects on code.NASA.gov, but the site’s in alpha, and a bunch more projects should arrive soon.
NASA’s Twin GRAIL Spacecraft Reunite in Lunar Orbit
The second of NASA’s two Gravity Recovery And Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) spacecraft has successfully completed its planned main engine burn and is now in lunar orbit. Working together, GRAIL-A and GRAIL-B will study the moon as never before. “NASA greets the new year with a new mission of exploration,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “The twin GRAIL spacecraft will vastly expand our knowledge of our moon and the evolution of our own planet. We begin this year reminding people around the world that NASA does big, bold things in order to reach for new heights and reveal the unknown.”
Habitable moons could be our best shot for discovering life on other worlds
We’ve already discovered 716 exoplanets, and there’s a thousand more candidates that astronomers are currently examining. We’ve yet to find any moons around these exoplanets, but that’s about to change. And these moons might well be home to alien life. Any planets capable of supporting complex life will almost certainly be found in the habitable zone, the narrow band around a star that’s neither too hot nor too cold to support life. Most of the exoplanets we’ve discovered so far are located in the hot zone right around the star, but there’s over a hundred planets we’ve found in the habitable zone.
Are Superluminal Neutrinos Possible? Pions Don’t Want to Decay Into Faster-Than-Light Neutrinos, Study Finds
When an international collaboration of physicists came up with a result that punched a hole in Einstein’s theory of special relativity and couldn’t find any mistakes in their work, they asked the world to take a second look at their experiment. Responding to the call was Ramanath Cowsik, PhD, professor of physics in Arts & Sciences and director of the McDonnell Center for the Space Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis. Online and in the Dec. 24 issue of Physical Review Letters, Cowsik and his collaborators put their finger on what appears to be an insurmountable problem with the experiment.
NASA reveals: We’re going to Jupiter!
The way things have been going lately over at NASA, it often seems like we’d be lucky just to see another moon mission before we all die. But some NASA researchers are still aiming high, beyond our own moon and beyond even Mars. That’s right; it’s time to land something on Jupiter’s moon, Europa. Researchers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) are working on a concept for a mission that would send two identical landers (in case one breaks down) to Europa to find out just how inhabitable the moon might be.
Beast With Four Tails: Milky Way Devouring Neighboring Dwarf Galaxies
The Milky Way galaxy continues to devour its small neighbouring dwarf galaxies and the evidence is spread out across the sky. A team of astronomers led by Sergey Koposov and Vasily Belokurov of Cambridge University recently discovered two streams of stars in the Southern Galactic hemisphere that were torn off the Sagittarius dwarf galaxy. This discovery came from analysing data from the latest Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS-III) and was announced in a recent paper that connects these new streams with two previously known streams in the Northern Galactic hemisphere.
NASA Spacecraft Captures Video of Year-End Sun Storms
The sun closed out 2011 with a flurry of activity, and a keen-eyed NASA spacecraft captured the dramatic outburst on video. NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) watched as our star erupted in dozens of storms during a 36-hour period on Dec. 29 and Dec. 30. The probe’s stunning video, taken in extreme ultraviolet light, shows spouts of plasma and intense flashes of radiation blasting from the solar surface. “Magnetic forces were violently pulling against each other, creating the frenetic activity,” SDO researchers wrote in an accompanying update.
New Computer Model Explains Lakes and Storms On Saturn’s Moon Titan
Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, is an intriguing, alien world that’s covered in a thick atmosphere with abundant methane. With an average surface temperature of a brisk -300 degrees Fahrenheit (about 90 kelvins) and a diameter just less than half of Earth’s, Titan boasts methane clouds and fog, as well as rainstorms and plentiful lakes of liquid methane. It’s the only place in the solar system, other than Earth, that has large bodies of liquid on its surface.
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