AstroBlog Follow Friday & Weekly Stumbles For 2012-01-27

Weekly Stumbles:

Revisiting the 'Pillars of Creation'Revisiting the ‘Pillars of Creation’
In 1995, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope took an iconic image of the Eagle nebula, dubbed the “Pillars of Creation,” highlighting its finger-like pillars where new stars are thought to be forming. Now, the Herschel Space Observatory has a new, expansive view of the region captured in longer-wavelength infrared light. The Herschel mission is led by the European Space Agency, with important NASA contributions. The Eagle nebula is 6,500 light-years away in the constellation of Serpens.

Spectacular Northern Lights From Solar Storm Wow SkywatchersSpectacular Northern Lights From Solar Storm Wow Skywatchers
A dazzling display of auroras lit up the far northern skies Tuesday night (Jan. 24) in a supercharged light show captured on camera by skywatchers around the world. “I was screaming from excitement like a small kid at Christmas,” said skywatcher Jens Buchmann, who watched the northern lights dance across the sky from Kiruna, Sweden. The northern lights show was sparked by an intense solar flare that erupted from the sun late Sunday (Jan. 22).

Giant Asteroid Vesta Likely Cold and Dark Enough for IceGiant Asteroid Vesta Likely Cold and Dark Enough for Ice
Though generally thought to be quite dry, roughly half of the giant asteroid Vesta is expected to be so cold and to receive so little sunlight that water ice could have survived there for billions of years, according to the first published models of Vesta’s average global temperatures and illumination by the sun. “Near the north and south poles, the conditions appear to be favorable for water ice to exist beneath the surface,” says Timothy Stubbs of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and the University of Maryland.

A vision for a new frontier purpose for American spaceflightA vision for a new frontier purpose for American spaceflight
This nation has lost sight not only of what its purpose could and should be, but even a sense of the importance of any collective purpose. Beyond the usual areas where we disagree in our culture, the US no longer defines itself as it should, or worse, we let others define us and not care as we focus inward on our own individual, frequently hollow, pursuits at the expense of our civic duties. Worse, too, many of us — both as individuals and corporations — no longer define ourselves as American, even shunning nationalistic pride as something they are above, something that should be outgrown and left behind.

Strongest Solar Radiation Storm Since 2005Strongest Solar Radiation Storm Since 2005
NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center — the nation’s official source of warnings and alerts about space weather and its impacts on Earth — has issued a watch for a geomagnetic storm associated with a bright flare on the sun Sunday evening (Jan. 22, 2012). The storm could arrive Tuesday morning, with possible impacts to navigation, the power grid and satellites. Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) forecasters have also issued a warning for ongoing “strong” solar radiation storming.

Russian Cargo Ship Leaves Space Station Ahead of Next VehicleRussian Cargo Ship Leaves Space Station Ahead of Next Vehicle
After 82 days docked to the International Space Station, a Russian Progress resupply freighter pulled away Monday afternoon (Jan. 23) to fly independently into a higher orbit for deployment of a science satellite and setting the stage for another cargo ship launching to the outpost later this week. The Progress M-13M spacecraft reached the station Nov. 2 to deliver three tons of equipment, food, rocket fuel, air and water. It was marked resumption of the Russian-provided supply chain after the August launch failure of the previous ship.

Sunshade Geoengineering More Likely to Improve Global Food Security, Research SuggestsSunshade Geoengineering More Likely to Improve Global Food Security, Research Suggests
Carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of coal, oil, and gas have been increasing over the past decades, causing Earth to get hotter and hotter. There are concerns that a continuation of these trends could have catastrophic effects, including crop failures in the heat-stressed tropics. This has led some to explore drastic ideas for combating global warming, including the idea of trying to counteract it by reflecting sunlight away from Earth.

Celestial Stunner: Venus to Cross Face of Sun This YearCelestial Stunner: Venus to Cross Face of Sun This Year
On your 2012 calendar, be sure to put a big red circle around June 5. On that day, a celestial occurrence that will not be seen by human eyes until well into the 22nd century — the year 2117 to be exact — will take place. The planet Venus will cross the face of the sun. Through the balance of this winter season and well into the spring of 2012, Venus will gradually climb higher in the sky and grow progressively brighter, eventually becoming an “evening lantern” for those commuting home from work and school.

Photo from NASA Mars Orbiter Shows Wind's HandiworkPhoto from NASA Mars Orbiter Shows Wind’s Handiwork
Some images of stark Martian landscapes provide visual appeal beyond their science value, including a recent scene of wind-sculpted features from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The scene shows dunes and sand ripples of various shapes and sizes inside an impact crater in the Noachis Terra region of southern Mars. Patterns of dune erosion and deposition provide insight into the sedimentary history of the area.

Caution and optimism about the future of human spaceflightCaution and optimism about the future of human spaceflight
Last Saturday marked the half-year anniversary of the end of one era of human spaceflight. It was six months earlier — July 21, 2011 — that the space shuttle Atlantis touched down at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, ending the 135th and final mission of the shuttle program. Today, the shuttles still shuffle around KSC, as Atlantis did last week when it was moved into the Vehicle Assembly Building, but those activities are not part of pre-launch preparations but instead work to prepare the orbiters for delivery to the museums that will be their final resting places.

Durable NASA Rover Beginning Ninth Year of Mars WorkDurable NASA Rover Beginning Ninth Year of Mars Work
Eight years after landing on Mars for what was planned as a three-month mission, NASA’s enduring Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity is working on what essentially became a new mission five months ago. Opportunity reached a multi-year driving destination, Endeavour Crater, in August 2011. At Endeavour’s rim, it has gained access to geological deposits from an earlier period of Martian history than anything it examined during its first seven years.

Hundreds of Meteorites Uncovered in AntarcticaHundreds of Meteorites Uncovered in Antarctica
A gang of heavily insulated scientists has wrapped up its Antarctic expedition, with its members thawing out from the experience, but pleased to have bagged more than 300 space rocks. They are participants in the Antarctic Search for Meteorites program, or ANSMET for short. Since 1976, ANSMET researchers have been recovering thousands of meteorite specimens from the East Antarctic ice sheet. ANSMET is funded by the Office of Polar Programs of the National Science Foundation.

NASA's Kepler Announces 11 New Planetary Systems Hosting 26 PlanetsNASA’s Kepler Announces 11 New Planetary Systems Hosting 26 Planets
NASA’s Kepler mission has discovered 11 new planetary systems hosting 26 confirmed planets. These discoveries nearly double the number of verified Kepler planets and triple the number of stars known to have more than one planet that transits, or passes in front of, the star. Such systems will help astronomers better understand how planets form. The planets orbit close to their host stars and range in size from 1.5 times the radius of Earth to larger than Jupiter. Fifteen are between Earth and Neptune in size.

The difficult road to the MoonThe difficult road to the Moon
In recent years we have witnessed renewed interest in missions to the Moon. In addition to the United States and Russia, who dominated the exploration of the Moon during the first two decades of the Space Age, there are now many new players in the game, including the European Space Agency, Japan, China, and India. While recent missions continue to add much to our knowledge about the Moon, only fifty years ago such voyages required the mastery of cutting-edge technology and frequently ended in disappointing failure.

Classifying Solar EruptionsClassifying Solar Eruptions
Solar flares are giant explosions on the sun that send energy, light and high speed particles into space. These flares are often associated with solar magnetic storms known as coronal mass ejections (CMEs). While these are the most common solar events, the sun can also emit streams of very fast protons — known as solar energetic particle (SEP) events — and disturbances in the solar wind known as corotating interaction regions (CIRs). All of these can produce a variety of “storms” on Earth that can — if strong enough — interfere with short wave radio communications, GPS signals, and Earth’s power grid, among other things.

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