NASA Mars program facing steep budget cuts

CRIRES model-based computer-generated impression of the Plutonian surface, with atmospheric haze, and Charon and the Sun in the sky.

The official budget won’t be released until Monday, but word is NASA’s unmanned program will see big cuts and Mars missions will take the brunt of them. Sadly, when it comes to our budget priorities as of late, we are one screwed-up country: [Read more…]

Mars invades!

It may not have made the world news, but a Martian tried to sneak in under our radar cover last summer and set up residence in the desert of Northwest Africa not far from Morocco. But of course it was nothing biological, no LGM’s or off-world octopi, dammit! This was merely an inert piece of Mars. Chipped off the surface of the Red Planet eons ago, and newly fallen to earth after a no doubt long journey through the inner solar system. Needless to say, rocks form mars hitting earth are rare, and rarer still that we actually see one streak in. [Read more…]

Updated: Phobos-Grunt reentering upper atmosphere

Update 12:10 AM CDT: nothing official but it seems to have reentered and crashed into Pacific Ocean a few mins ago. Click image above for latest info.

Follow the latest events on Twitter using the hashtag #PhobosGrunt and follow @PHG_Reentry.

The ill-fated Phobos-Grunt mission, which would have returned samples from the tiny Martian satellite Phobos, will plunge into the stratosphere later today and become a spectacular meteor. Debris from the 15 ton spacecraft, which is carying more than 10 tons of toxic rocket fuel, is expected to strike the earth, although where exactly that happens is still literally up in the air: [Read more…]

The Hubble time machine vs young earth pastors

What can a young earther say? In stark irony to the poll of evangelical pastors “almost evenly split” on whether the earth, and presumably the universe, are a few thousand years old, the Hubble looks more than 13 billion years back in time and snapped the spectacular shot above. Those points and blobs are the first known generation of stars and galaxies to shine in an infant universe. [Read more…]

How big is Saturn?


 Answer: Pretty fucking big! I saw this on Phil’s site and of course had to swipe it immediately. What you’re seeing is an outline of the lower 48 states superimposed to scale on Saturn. The thin line bisecting the outline is the rings seen edge on, the banded items below the outline on Saturn’s surface are the shadows cast by dozens of major rings and hundreds of minor ones. You can’t even see the poles or the rounded limb of Saturn in this image, the planet is simply too large. Click image to embiggen and enlighten.

New scale for alien life proposed by astrobiologists

On a simmering ocean world, under an oversized blue-white star, the tendrils of one Qax reach out to the limb of another in the distance.

With over 700 exo-solar planets and counting, the infant intersection between astronomy and biology grew a new two-tiered rating system intended to identify worlds of interest. The first tier is obvious: earth-like worlds in mass and temperature, where water is a liquid (And pizza is not a vegetable). But the other set is less familiar: [Read more…]

Europa breathes

Approximate natural color (left) and enhanced color (right) view of leading hemisphere taken by NASA/JPL's Galileo in 1997

Europa, second satellite of Jupiter, has intrigued planetary scientists since Galileo first spied it and its three siblings through his telescope in 1610. It was these four satellites that exposed the theology of the Catholic Church for the fairytale it was at the height of the Church’s political power. When two Pioneer and two Voyager spacecraft barreled through the Jovian system in the 1970s, that interest turned into one of the most exciting fields in planetary astronomy. Europa is now perhaps the best bet for ET life, it may be one of the most earth-like worlds in our solar system in some respects, and new research suggests Europa not only has a vast subsurface, salty ocean, but that that ocean “breathes”. [Read more…]