Blog Archives

What Is Pluto? A New Video from New Horizons

Is Pluto a planet? A dwarf planet? A Kuiper Belt Object? All — or none — of the above?

Pluto has been a topic of scientific fascination since Clyde Tombaugh discovered it in February 1930, and then a topic of controversy after the IAU reclassified it as a dwarf planet in 2006. While conversations continue over Pluto’s planetary identity, at least one theme carried through the talks at the Pluto Science Conference in July 2013. See if you can figure out what it is in the video above! (Hint: it’s not difficult.)

NASA’s New Horizons mission will help us understand worlds at the planetary frontier by making the first reconnaissance of Pluto in July 2015. Read more about the mission here.

#plutolives

Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

Take a Scenic Flight Through the Universe

I don’t typically post things here about deep-space stuff (just to stay on theme) but this was too cool not to share. It’s a visualization of the Universe made from data acquired by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey and shows the locations (and actual images, in most cases) of almost 400,000 galaxies as if we were in a starship soaring among them at many, many times the speed of light. (Without all the bothersome distortion effects of light-speed travel.)

Really, you’re going to want to full-screen this one. (And HD too if you can spare the bandwidth.)
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There’s a Jade Rabbit on the Moon!

Screenshot of a CCTV video showing the Yutu rover rolling onto the lunar surface (CCTV)

Screenshot of a CCTV video showing the Yutu rover rolling onto the lunar surface (CCTV)

There’s a rabbit on the Moon! A robot rabbit, that is — China’s Yutu rover (named after the mythological jade rabbit pet of the lunar goddess Chang’e) successfully deployed from the Chang’e-3 lander earlier this afternoon, completing the country’s first successful lunar landing and the first soft touchdown on the Moon by any nation since the Soviet Luna 24 mission in 1976. (“Soft” meaning not a crash impact, whether intentional or not.)

The image above is a screenshot from a YouTube video of the rover deployment from China Central Television — watch the full footage below:

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What Happened to Mars?

Mars wasn’t always the cold, dry world that it is today — billions of years ago it likely looked a lot more like Earth, with seas and rivers of liquid water on its surface and a thick atmosphere with air and clouds. But something happened over the course of Mars’ history to transform it from a warm, wet world to a cold, desiccated desert planet, and while there are many viable suggestions as to what process is responsible, no verdict has yet been delivered.

This video, just released by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, shows what Mars might have looked like four billion years ago. As the camera tracks back the clouds gradually disappear, the lakes and rivers turn to rubble-strewn plains and the skies change from blue to pale orange. As we rise above the dust clouds that roll across the planet, we see the first evidence of modern times: NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft, flying high overhead to investigate the mystery of a lost Mars.
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Alan Friedman on Photographing the Sun

Alan Friedman, Solar Photographer. (Click to play)

Alan Friedman, Solar Photographer. (Click to play)

I’ve featured many of Alan Friedman’s amazing photos of the Sun here on Lights in the Dark, starting from the very first one I came across via the venerable Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) in November 2009. I’ve even featured Alan’s work in several articles I’ve written for National Geographic NewsDiscovery News, and Universe Today. Alan runs an independent greeting card print shop in Buffalo, NY, and in his spare time likes to collect vintage hats, travel, do some astrophotography, and oh yeah, also take the most un-freakin’-believable photos of our home star in hydrogen alpha light from his own backyard.

(I hope you didn’t miss that part about the Sun.)

Photo of the Sun by Alan Friedman

Photo of the Sun by Alan Friedman (All rights reserved. Used with permission.)

Every year the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, England holds a contest for best astrophotography, and this year they visited three of the entrants to get the stories behind their photos. While it looks like Alan didn’t win a grand prize this year (but he did take second) the video above shows how — and why — he makes his photos.

“The coolest thing about the Sun for me as the subject for photography is it’s never the same two days in a row. And it’s the only star we can see detail on, at least with current technology.”

– Alan Friedman

It’s quite a beautiful video, and makes you feel like you’re a guest at Alan’s home looking up through his telescope along with him and his family.

You can find some images of Alan’s I’ve shared on Lights In The Dark here, and see more of Alan’s work on his Averted Imagination blog here.

Currently Alan’s sun photography is on display at the Orange County Great Park Gallery in Irvine, CA Thursdays through Sundays from Sept. 15 to Dec. 1. If you’re in the area, don’t miss the chance to check it out. Admission is free.

Video credit: Royal Observatory Greenwich/ Lonelyleap

This Video of a Sunspot in Motion Will Blow Your Mind

Yesterday, io9.com writer Robert Gonzalez shared a truly incredible image of a sunspot taken by the New Solar Telescope (NST) at Big Bear Solar Observatory in California. The detail of the magnetically-active region and surface of our home star is simply stunning, thanks to the NST’s new Visible Imaging Spectrometer — literally setting a new record for the most detailed visible-light image of a sunspot ever.

Really, go check it out.

In sharing the image on my Facebook page (you ARE following me there, right? :) )  I was alerted by follower Cody Reisdorf that such images aren’t new; sunspot photos and videos have been being captured for quite some time — albeit not to such a fine degree of clarity — by other observatories, notably the Swedish Solar Telescope (SST) located on the island of La Palma. The video above was made from SST observations in May 2010 by Vasco Manuel de Jorge Henriques of the  Institute for Solar Physics. It shows the mesmerizing magnetic movements of a sunspot, which is basically an optically-dark region on the Sun’s surface where upwelling magnetic fields prevent convection from occurring.

It doesn’t have the incredible clarity of the NST image, but it does show the dynamics of the Sun’s surface. Amazing to think these blemishes are each easily as large or larger than our entire planet…incredible!

Thanks to Bob Trembley (another LITD fan) for uploading the video to YouTube… so I didn’t have to.

Video credit: SST/ISP/Vasco Manuel de Jorge Henriques

This Day in Space History: One Small Step

Note: Reposted/updated article from 2012.

Panorama of the Eagle lunar module by Ed Hengeveld from JSC scans.

“That’s one small step for a man… one giant leap for mankind.”

I’m not sure what else need be said about the significance of what happened on this day in 1969, 44 years ago… it was a shining moment in human history, and will be — should be — remembered forever as an example of what people can achieve when challenged, driven and inspired.

Maybe more giant leaps have been made since then, and undoubtedly more will be made in the future, but this was the first… and to this date, still very much the biggest.
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