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I was recently reminded how much I still enjoy this endlessly zooming video from 1968, “Powers of Ten”:

You’ve got to watch the video for the narration and the kickin’ soundtrack. For a modern, interactive take, check out “The Scale of the Universe" by Cary Huang. Get some perspective!


I made a little video back in February featuring some other great ways to appreciate the scale of the universe, in both time and space. 

Explore them below:


Saturn’s Rings Reveal How to Make a Moon
Disturbances in the icy rings of Saturn have given scientists an insight into how moons are made.
Writing in the journal Icarus this week, Professor Carl Murray from Queen Mary’s Astronomy Unit reports that recently discovered disturbances at the very edge of Saturn’s outer bright A ring result from a small icy object that formed within the ring and which may be in the process of migrating out of it. They have nicknamed the object, ‘Peggy’.
"We hadn’t seen anything like this before," explained Professor Murray. "We may be looking at the act of birth, where this object is just leaving the rings and heading off to be a moon in its own right," he said.
Saturn’s rings are a small-scale version of discs of ice and dust that surround young stars. One reason for high interest in how moons form in Saturn’s rings is insight into how Earth and other planets may have formed and migrated within a disc around our star, the sun.
The image was taken with Cassini’s narrow angle camera on April 15, 2013, nearly nine years into Cassini’s examination of Saturn’s rings and moons. The discovery image and more than 100 others examined in the past year reveal a variety of arcs and other features at the outer edge of Saturn’s A ring, including un-anticipated discontinuities at the edge of the A ring. Professor Murray and his team attribute all these features to a nearby object’s gravitational effects on ring particles.
Many of Saturn’s 62 known moons are mainly water ice, like the particles that make up the rings. From that fact and others, such as a general progression in size of the larger of the icy moons being farther from Saturn, researchers have recently proposed that the icy moons formed as agglomerations of ring particles and then moved outward, merging with other moons on the way.
"The theory holds that Saturn long ago had a much more massive ring system capable of giving birth to larger moons," adds Professor Murray. "As the moons formed near the edge, they depleted the rings and evolved, so the ones that formed earliest are the largest and the farthest out. The mass of the ring system that produced them has been getting smaller with time."
It is possible that formation process has ended at Saturn, with rings now too depleted to make more moons. That’s why the Peggy discovery has generated excitement.
Peggy would likely never have been detected if it had migrated beyond the outer edge of the ring, where its gravitational signature would be too weak to cause visible effects in the rings. If it ends up orbiting beyond the rings, then it cannot keep growing by catching more particles. Breaking into smaller pieces, it may not even survive.
Professor Murray and his team are lucky to have spotted this example of moon birth at just the right time, and are now wringing from the observations all that they can learn about this process. In particular, they are seeing that older, bigger siblings may play a role in the formation of a new moon.
IMAGE….This disturbance visible at the outer edge of Saturn’s A ring could be caused by an object replaying the birth process of icy moons. Writing in the journal Icarus, Professor Carl Murray from Queen Mary’s Astronomy Unit reports that recently discovered disturbances at the very edge of Saturn’s outer bright A ring result from a small icy object that formed within the ring and which may be in the process of migrating out of it. They have nicknamed the object, ‘Peggy’. This image is a portion of an observation recorded by the narrow-angle camera of Cassini’s imaging science subsystem on April 15, 2013. The bright feature at the edge of the A ring is about 750 miles (about 1,200 kilometers) long. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute


The Science Report

by Stuart Gary

Ancient story tells of star’s variable nature

I’ve just written a story for ABC Science about how the Aboriginal people of central Australia may have known about the variable star Betelgeuse, long before modern European astronomers.

The discovery was uncovered while researchers were examining the records of famous amateur anthropologist Daisy Bates.

Early last century, Bates spent 16 years living among the people of South Australia’s Great Victoria Desert, recording their language, customs, and oral traditions.

Bates’ published accounts and journal entries are part of an ongoing project to develop a complete picture of Aboriginal sky knowledge and star lore.

One ancient story accurately describes the variability of the red giant star Betelgeuse, which brightens and fades over a period of about 400 days.

Using a telescope and modern scientific methods, Sir John Herschel first described the variability of Betelgeuse in 1836.

If you missed my radio report on the story and want to find out more, check out the online version at:

(Source: starstuffblog)


Space Shuttle Atlantis from ISS

via spaceexp
#WhatIsNASAFor? assembling systems in space to improve humanity’s understanding of our global impact, while viewing the Earth new heights.


Perception of the surreal by Younes Ahlafi

(via sagansense)


Corpse Stars Could Nurture Life on Alien Planets

White dwarfs may be dying, but their light could be just right to sustain life as we know it. That could make habitable planets even more common than we think.

Many planet-hunting missions have focused on finding rocky exoplanets around sun-like stars, based on the notion that an exact Earth twin would be a prime breeding ground for alien life.

White dwarfs, by contrast, would seem unlikely hosts. These smouldering cores form when stars around the same mass as our sun reach the end of their lives. First the stars balloon to red giants, then they shed their outer gas layers and leave behind dim, ultradense orbs not much larger than Earth itself.

Still, previous work suggested that the stellar corpses could maintain habitable zones, regions where liquid water can exist on a planet’s surface, for more than 8 billion years. As our own solar system is 4.5 billion years old, a habitable world around a white dwarf should have plenty of time to give rise to some form of life.

Now a new study shows that an Earth-like planet in a white dwarf’s habitable zone would get light at the right wavelengths to sustain photosynthesis. Crucially, such a world would not get too much damaging ultraviolet radiation, which can stop life in its tracks.

Luca Fossati at the Open University in the UK and his colleagues started by assuming that this hypothetical planet has an atmosphere similar to Earth’s.

By simulating the conditions created by a white dwarf, the team calculated the amount of starlight that would reach the planet’s surface. They then compared the results with the wavelengths of light DNA absorbs, particularly UV waves known to damage DNA.

The researchers found that the planet would get just 1.65 times as much UV light as Earth does (arxiv.org/abs/1207.6210). “The dose is remarkably benign from an astrobiological perspective,” says Fossati.

For the optical wavelengths that play roles in photosynthesis, the team found conditions almost identical to those on Earth.

Planets surrounding red dwarf stars have also been proposed as alternative sites for life, says Fossati, in part because these small, cool stars are the most common in our galaxy. But they can experience intense stellar activity, including flares of radiation bigger than the ones that affect Earth. White dwarfs are less temperamental, and would provide life with a more stable home, says Fossati.

“The team’s evaluation of habitable planets at white dwarfs is an excellent way to smash preconceptions about these systems,” says Jay Farihi at the University of Leicester in the UK.

Full Article

Another shot of my studio. Still need to cover up majority of the walls, needs more space. :)

Ritchey-Chreitien Telescope and the Milky Way

Milky Way and meteor streak above the dome of the 32” Ritchey-Chreitien telescope at Appalachian State University’s Dark Sky Observatory.