Blog Archives

Fireball Explodes Over Russia… Again

Why does Russia seem to get so many bright meteors? Well, at 6.6 million square miles it’s by far the largest country in the world plus, with dashboard-mounted cameras being so commonplace (partly to help combat insurance fraud) mathematically it just makes sense that Russians would end up seeing more meteors, and then be able to share the experience!

A bolide detonated over Murmansk, Russia on April 19, 2014

A bolide explodes over Murmansk, Russia on April 19, 2014 (Credit: Alexandr Nesterov)

This is exactly what happened early this morning, April 19 (local time), when a bright fireball flashed in the skies over Murmansk in the Kola Peninsula, located in northwest Russia near the border of Finland. Luckily not nearly as large or powerful as the Chelyabinsk meteor event from February 2013, no sound or air blast from this fireball has been reported, and details on the object aren’t yet known (could be a meteor, could be space debris). The video above, captured in part by Alexandr Nesterov from a dashcam, shows the object lighting up the early morning sky. Check it out, and follow me on Twitter for more details as they are released. Heads up!


Cassini Uncovers Even More Evidence for Enceladus’ Hidden Ocean

A concept of the subsurface structure of Saturn's moon Enceladus (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

A concept of the subsurface structure of Saturn’s moon Enceladus (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

It’s been suspected for nearly a decade that Saturn’s 315-mile-wide moon Enceladus harbors a hidden ocean beneath its frozen crust, thanks to observations by the Cassini spacecraft of icy plumes spraying from its southern pole, and now scientists have even more evidence supporting its existence: Doppler measurements of the moon’s gravity taken during Cassini’s flybys show variations indicative of a subsurface southern sea as deep as the Pacific’s Mariana Trench!

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Rings Discovered Around an Asteroid

Artist's impression of the view from the asteroid Chariklo. Credit: ESO/L. Calçada/Nick Risinger (

Artist’s impression of the view from the asteroid Chariklo. Credit: ESO/L. Calçada/Nick Risinger (

We all know that Saturn is encircled by a system of rings, and perhaps you also know about the fainter rings around Uranus, Jupiter, and Neptune. But today, ESO astronomers have revealed a surprising discovery: there are also rings surrounding the asteroid 10199 Chariklo, a small, distant world orbiting the Sun far beyond Saturn.

This makes 250-km-wide Chariklo the fifth world ever found to have rings, after the four planets mentioned previously, and, based on the observations, it could also even have its own moon.

“As well as the rings, it’s likely that Chariklo has at least one small moon still waiting to be discovered,” said Felipe Braga-Ribas of the Observatório Nacional/MCTI in Rio de Janeiro who planned the observation campaign and is lead author on the new paper.

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On the Lunatic Fringe: LADEE’s First Pictures of the Moon

Image of the Moon and stars from NASA's LADEE spacecraft, Feb. 8, 2014 (NASA/Ames)

Image of the Moon and stars from NASA’s LADEE spacecraft, Feb. 8, 2014 (NASA/Ames)

It’s getting so a spacecraft can’t take a decent picture these days without SOMEONE getting in the way! (*Ahem* MOON.) But then it just might be the lunatic we’re looking for…

The image above is one of five that were downlinked by NASA’s Lunar Atmospheric Dust Environment Explorer — aka LADEE (that’s “laddie” à la Mr. Scott, not “lady” à la Jerry Lewis) — and was taken on Feb. 8 with its wide-angle star tracker camera. We see a small portion of the lunar terrain illuminated by reflected light from the Earth from the spacecraft’s position about 156 miles above the Moon, which is about 100 miles lower than the ISS orbits above the Earth.

While not a particularly detailed image of the Moon like something we’d see from LRO, it’s still neat to see it close up and on its night side! The star tracker instrument is mainly a calibration tool for navigation… but that doesn’t mean it’s blind. (Just a wee bit farsighted.)

Read more about this in my Discovery News article.

A Ceres of Surprises: the Largest Asteroid is a Water World

Artist's interpretation of Ceres, the largest object in the main asteroid belt. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Artist’s interpretation of Ceres, the largest object in the main asteroid belt. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

By now you must know about the jets of ice particles blasting out of Saturn’s moon Enceladus, and maybe have even heard about the recent discovery of water vapor issuing forth from Jupiter’s frozen moon Europa. But now we know of another spray-happy world out there: Ceres, which at 591 miles across is our solar system’s smallest dwarf planet but the largest object in the  asteroid belt. New findings from ESA’s Herschel Space Observatory reveal that this diminutive world is jetting water vapor out into space, proving both that it has an icy surface and that water does in fact exist in the main asteroid belt, which stretches out between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. Read more below: Read the rest of this entry

Wake Up, Rosetta!

Frame from 'Chasing A Comet – The Rosetta Mission'. Credit: DLR (CC-BY 3.0)

Frame from ‘Chasing A Comet – The Rosetta Mission’. Credit: DLR (CC-BY 3.0)

It’s being called “the most important alarm clock in the solar system” —  tomorrow, Monday January 20, at 10:00 GMT (which is 5:00 a.m. for U.S. East Coasters like me) the wake-up call will ring for ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft, bringing it out of hibernation after over two and a half years in preparation of its long-awaited rendezvous with a comet later this year.

The signal will incite the warming of Rosetta’s star trackers, which allow it to determine its orientation in space. Six hours later its thrusters will fire to stop its slow rotation and ensure that its solar arrays are receiving the right amount of sunlight. Using its thawed-out star trackers Rosetta will aim its transmitter towards Earth and, from 500 million miles (807 million km) away, will send a thumbs-up message that everything is OK and it’s time to get to work.

From that distance the transmission will take 45 minutes to reach us. Rosetta’s first signal is expected between 17:30 – 18:30 GMT (12:30 – 1:30 p.m. ET).

And, if all is well, Rosetta has a very exciting year ahead! Read the rest of this article here.

UPDATE Jan. 20: Rosetta has awoken! This afternoon at 18:18 UTC, after 48 minutes of increasingly tense anticipation, a signal was received from the spacecraft by both NASA’s Deep Space Network in Goldstone, CA and the ground station in Canberra, Australia. Rosetta is up and running and so far seems to be in good condition — Go Rosetta and Philae! Read the full story from ESA here.

The Brightest Lights: 12 Awesome Space Stories of 2013

1400-image mosaic of Earthlings waving at Saturn on July 19, 2013 (NASA/JPL)

1400-image mosaic of Earthlings waving at Saturn on July 19, 2013 (NASA/JPL)

What a year for space exploration! With 2013 coming to a close I thought I would look back on some of the biggest news in space that I’ve featured here on Lights in the Dark. Rather than a “top ten” list, as is common with these year-end reviews, I’m going to do more of a month-by-month (hence the 12) to help recollect some of the amazing stories and sights that 2013 has brought us. And with some of the big headliners we’ve seen this year it’s easy to lose sight of the smaller (but no less fascinating) discoveries — so I’ll be sure to include some of those too. After all, when it comes to learning about the Universe there’s no “little” news!

Ready? Let’s go!

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