You may be able to see blue auroras dance on Mars



If you travel to Mars, you just might be able to see the blue aurora lights of the red planet.

Scientists now think that Mars might also have aurora displays that can be seen with the naked eye, like Earth’s. This makes Mars only the second rocky planet expected to have auroras visible to the unaided eye, according to a new report from NASA, the European Space Agency and other partners

A combination of laboratory experiments and data gathered by spacecraft on and above Mars shows that the “most intense color” for the Martian aurora is probably blue, NASA said. ESA’s Mars Express satellite first spotted a Martian aurora from space in 2005, but NASA’s Maven mission confirmed the observation earlier this year Read more…

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Where’s Pluto? How to find the dwarf planet in the sky



With NASA’s New Horizons probe zeroing in on Pluto, due to pass it on July 14, attention of astronomers all over the world is focusing in on Pluto.

Let’s leave aside the question of whether Pluto is the smallest planet in the solar system or the largest of the Kuiper Belt Objects, and agree that whatever we call it, the distant world is an interesting and mysterious member of our planetary family.

Many amateur astronomers are interested in seeing Pluto with their own telescopes, and this is what we will discuss here. Pluto is at present around 14th magnitude, requiring a telescope with at least 8 inches (200mm) aperture to be seen. The good news is that it is traveling in front of a rich part of the Milky Way, so there will be plenty of guide-posts among the stars to help you find it. The bad news is that it is easily lost amongst those stars, because it will look no different from a 14th magnitude star Read more…

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Crowdfunded, Solar-powered Spacecraft Goes Silent

Last week saw the successful launch of the Planetary Society’s Lightsail spacecraft, the solar-powered satellite that runs Linux and was crowdfunded on Kickstarter. The spacecraft worked flawlessly for two days, but then fell silent, and the engineering team has been working hard on a fix ever since. They’ve pinpointed the problem: a software glitch. “Every 15 seconds, LightSail transmits a telemetry beacon packet. The software controlling the main system board writes corresponding information to a file called beacon.csv. If you’re not familiar with CSV files, you can think of them as simplified spreadsheets—in fact, most can be opened with Microsoft Excel. As more beacons are transmitted, the file grows in size. When it reaches 32 megabytes—roughly the size of ten compressed music files—it can crash the flight system.” Unfortunately, the only way to clear that CSV file is to reboot LightSail. It can be done remotely, but as anyone who deals with crashing computers understands, remote commands don’t always work. The command has been sent a few dozen times already, but LightSail remains silent. The best hope may now be that the system spontaneously reboots on its own.

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Skin ages faster in space, a new study looking at mice proves



While beauty creams on Earth often claim to have “antigravity” effects on the skin, a weightless environment may actually cause premature aging of the epidermis, according to a new study looking at mice.

Three mice that lived on the International Space Station for 91 days — the longest period that rodents have ever spent in space — suffered a 15% thinning in the dermis, the subsurface layer of the skin. This is the first study of the effects of a weightless environment on animal skin, the authors of the new study say.

One previous study on a human astronaut also showed thinning of the skin, as well as changes in elasticity and reduced healing, after six months in orbit. Another astronaut skin study called Skin-B is currently underway on the orbiting laboratory. The findings could have implications for the health of astronauts on long-duration spaceflights Read more…

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The exact moment the 1-year crew arrived at the International Space Station



An astronaut and cosmonaut launched on the first yearlong mission to the International Space Station in March, and a new video released by NASA shows the very moment they safely attach to the ISS.

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko’s historic mission started on March 27, when they launched to space from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan with cosmonaut Gennady Padalka. The Russian Soyuz spacecraft carrying the three crewmembers docked to the Space Station about six hours after it left Earth — less time than it takes to fly from Paris to New York.

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NASA photo shows new, close-up view of dwarf planet Ceres



A new, close-up view of Ceres shows the pock-marked surface of the dwarf planet as seen by the first probe to ever orbit the cosmic body.

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft took the new photo when it was flying about 3,200 miles, about 5,100 kilometers, from the surface of Ceres — the largest object in the main belt of asteroids between Mars and Jupiter — on May 23. The craft is now using its ion engine to move closer to the dwarf planet to continue mapping it and collecting data, according to NASA.

The new orbit will bring Dawn to about 2,700 miles (4,400 km) from Ceres when it reaches that orbit on June 3, NASA added Read more…

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Neil DeGrasse Tyson Urges America To Challenge China To a Space Race

An anonymous reader writes: According to a Tuesday story in the UK edition of the International Business Times, Neil deGrasse Tyson, the celebrity astrophysicist and media personality, advocates a space race between the United States and China. The idea is that such a race would spur innovation and cause industry to grow. The Apollo race to the moon caused a similar explosive period of scientific research and engineering development. You might prefer the Sydney Morning Herald piece on which the IB Times article is based.

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Black Hole Plays Pool With Plasma

the monolith writes: The Hubble Space Telescope is revealing that there is a pool game in progress, with a long shot being played out on a cosmic scale. It appears that the first recorded shot was observed in 1992, while subsequent canon shots were recorded between 1994 an 2014. In actuality, the shots are plasma, the current player is a black hole, and the playing surface is galactic space itself. The BBC has a story on the observations and interpretations, while the journal Nature has the paywalled in-depth article. The current score is unknown, and one can only hope that there were no life forms involved in the collision.

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A red cloud of space gas is giving astronomers a glimpse at star birth



A telescope in Chile recently captured a beautiful image of a star-forming region of the universe, where a red cloud of gas glows in a distant part of the sky. The image, and others like it, is providing astronomers with a peek into how stars are born and evolve

The nebula, called RCW 34, plays host to multiple young stars that heat the hydrogen gas around it

Once that gas is heated, reaching the edge of the gas cloud, it flows outward in a process called “champagne flow,” according to the European Southern Observatory (ESO). The ESO released the new image on Wednesday.

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SpaceX Cleared For US Military Launches

An anonymous reader writes: The U.S. Air Force has given private rocket company SpaceX clearance to launch military satellites into orbit. This disrupts the lock that Boeing and Lockheed Martin have had on military launches for almost a decade. SpaceX will get its first opportunity to bid for such launches in June, when the Air Force posts a contract to launch GPS satellites.

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