Over the course of the next couple of weeks a trio of the brightest planets in the evening sky will slowly meetup to produce an impressive tight triangular formation the first two weeks in August.
But you don’t have to wait because you can go outside the next few nights already and watch as the planets, Venus, Mars and Saturn slowly converge low in the western sky just after sunset. This Saturday night – july 31st- planets Mars and Saturn will be their closest for the year – less than 2 degrees apart.
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Has NASA’s Kepler mission identified up to 140 candidate Earth-sized planets? Maybe, maybe not…. The internet is abuzz with chatter of new information NASA scientists may have released recently at a conference in the UK during a lecture on the Kepler mission and some of its preliminary exoplanet search findings.
Meanwhile, this tantalizing but admittedly speculative news comes on the heals of a new scientific paper released last week officially describing the first 6 weeks of operation of the space telescope. The authors say they may have found 706 possible candidate planets around distant star systems with “some of these sizes from as small as that of the Earth to larger than that of Jupiter” . At this point the NASA science team members are just saying that these numbers are referring to candidates earth-like planets that have apparent signatures they are looking for. But we have to take a deep breath and wait some more because a lot of followup work will have to be done any many of these early candidates will probably be eliminated as false positives in the coming months of observations and data analysis. But as Space.com reported last week, NASA researchers do believe that Earth-sized planets may be much more common. “Among the hundreds of candidate planets, a large percentage of them appear to be Earth-like – that is, small and rocky, rather than large and gassy, like Jupiter.”
Anyway, check out the following video of a talk given by one of the space telescope investigators. Definitely whets the appetite for hearing more…
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One of the greatest wonders of the night sky is the Milky Way and while you may not really be able to see it in all its splendor under a light polluted city, you can find it’s centre. First look for a giant Teapot pattern of stars low to the southern horizon. This marks the brightest stars in the constellation Sagittarius, the Archer. Coming out of the Teapot’s spout, like celestial steam, is the glow of the Milky Way galaxy. In fact when you stare at this region of the sky you are looking towards the centre of our galaxy more than 30,000 light years away. With telescopes and binoculars you will notice that this whole area is packed with countless number of stars. From a dark countryside locale a ghostly ribbon of light arches into the overhead sky – that celestial steam you see from the Teapot- continues to stretch across most of the late night summer sky. Amazing to think that what you are looking at is one of the spiral arms of our home galaxy – right there in front of you,
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This week we highlight the constellation Scorpius and a planetary parade in the evening sky.
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Both Thursday and Friday nights will see a stunning sky show with four planets – Saturn, Mars, Venus and Mercury – lined up in a diagonal row in the western sky at dusk. As an added bonus the crescent Moon will be joining the show for these two nights only.
No need to get away from the bright lights of the city to see these points of light. They will appear easily to the unaided eye from just about anywhere you have clear skies and a clear line of sight towards the low western horizon.
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I will post here some of the first and best videos and photos of today’s total solar eclipse from the South Pacific…
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The new moon will glide in front of the sun’s disk beginning at 2:40 p.m. EDT, casting a shadow on the Earth. The only land it will cross are the Cook Islands, Easter Island, a few scattered atolls, and the western side of southern Chile and Argentina.
Check out the LIVE video of the eclipse from Easter Island (broadcast starts at about 4 pm about 5 minutes before totality….
Tags: solar eclipse
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Check out the new set of images just released by the folks at the European Space Agency who were at the helm of the Rosetta probe that just zipped by the 130 km wide asteroid Lutetia. Now the spacecraft will be put into hibernation until its next stop in 2014 when it arrives at a comet and launches a small lander to its surface.
Tags: Lutetia, Rosetta
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This week we highlight the weekend sky show of Venus pairing up with the bright star Regulus.
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UPDATE July 10, 2 pm ET : Space Probe has zipped by space rock and has already beamed back images to Earth. First closeups of asteroid Lutetia will be released shortly after 5 pm Eastern Time. Watch here for LIVE web conference where scientists will show off those first photos.
Rosetta comet-chasing probe is expected to pass the asteroid Lutetia at a relative speed of 54 000 km/hr, when both are located some 454 million km from Earth int he asteroid belt. As 100 km wide Lutetia is a major scientific target of Rosetta’s mission, most of the orbiter and lander instruments will be on for flyby, studying the asteroid’s surface, dust environment, exosphere, magnetic field, mass and density.
Rosetta is perfectly lined up to skim by at 3162 km at (12:10 pm Eastern Time (18:10 CEST). Watch live web streaming video as it happens, along with mission control press conferences with the latest images begin beamed back from the spacecraft. Read my National Geographic story about the mission.
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