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March 08, 2013 | 7:00 a.m.

Comet Pan-STARRS in the night sky; how to watch the show

Comet Pan-STARRS captured by Terry Lovejoy of Australia.
Want to see a comet move through the night sky? You’re in luck. Comet Pan-STARRS has just  become visible in the northern hemisphere. And here’s the best part: You won’t even need a telescope to see the show. Scientists say the coma, or gaseous material surrounding the nucleus of the comet, should be as bright as the stars of the big dipper constellation and totally visible to the naked eye. But you will need a pair of regular birding binoculars in order to see the comet’s tail. The comet will only be visible  low in the sky, so you’ll need to find a location that gives you a clear view of the western horizon. Even small hills and buildings will likely obstruct your view. Look in the direction of the sunset, just after the sun has gone down. The star […]
Feb. 15, 2013 | 4:59 p.m.

Meteors and asteroids: What is the difference?

An image of the  meteor that streaked across the sky of Russia’s Ural Mountains on Friday morning . (AP Photo / Nasha gazeta, www.ng.kz)
A meteor brighter than the sun streaked across a portion of Russia on Friday. At the same time, an asteroid the size of half a football field was zipping by Earth, closer than the moon. But what is the difference between a meteor and an asteroid? According to NASA, an asteroid is a rocky body that orbits the sun. Some asteroids are the size of small boulders, others can be up to several miles in diameter. PHOTOS: Meteor streaks over Russia Larger asteroids are sometimes called planetoids or minor planets. Very small ones are called meteoroids. A meteoroid can be smaller than a marble. When an asteroid or a meteoroid enters the Earth’s atmosphere it burns up and creates a streak of light (a shooting star). That streak of light is called a meteor. Most meteors burn up entirely as […]
Feb. 15, 2013 | 12:53 p.m.

Asteroid zips safely past Earth

A handout illustration showing a diagram depicting the passage of asteroid 2012 DA14 through the Earth-moon system on Friday. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)
You can breathe deeply, people of Earth: Asteroid 2012 DA14 did not hit our planet. We are safe for now. The asteroid did, however, zip by at what NASA researchers called “a remarkably close distance” on Friday. At its closest approach on Friday at 11:25 a.m. PST, it was about 17,000 miles from the Earth’s surface, or about 1/10 the distance between Earth and the moon. That’s the closest an asteroid this size has ever come to Earth in recorded history. But the scientists at NASA were never worried that the asteroid would actually impact the planet. “Its orbit is very well known, we know exactly where it is going to go, and it cannot hit the Earth,” said Don Yeomans of NASA’s Near-Earth Object Program Office in a video statement days before the asteroid entered the Earth and moon system. The asteroid […]
Feb. 14, 2013 | 2:48 p.m.

Asteroid to fly by Earth on Friday: See it now

A screen grab of an animated GIF of asteroid 2012 DA14, obtained by the Faulkes Telescope South and animated by the Remanzacco Observatory. (LCOGT/Faulkes)
As asteroid 2012 DA14 continues to zoom ever closer to Earth, astronomers are releasing new images of the space rock, giving us a preview of what’s coming our way. One of our favorites is the animated image above, which shows the asteroid moving across the sky. The asteroid is the blob of light in the center of the image. That streak of light off to the right is a satellite that got in the way, a spokesperson for JPL told the Los Angeles Times. The data for the  animated image above was collected by the Faulkes Telescope South in Siding Springs, Australia, and animated by astronomers at the Remanzacco Observatory in Italy. It was taken Thursday, when the asteroid was still 465,000 miles away from Earth. At its closest approach Friday at about 11:25 a.m. PST, scientists say the asteroid […]
Feb. 14, 2013 | 8:17 a.m.

A Valentine’s Day rose for space lovers

Sh2-174 is an unusual ancient planetary nebula.  (T.A. Rector, University of Alaska Anchorage, and H. Schweiker WIYN and NOAO/AURA/NSF)
It’s Valentine’s Day and nothing says “I love you” like an image of a planetary nebula that looks like a gaseous rose glowing in outer space. The planetary nebula Sh2-174, pictured in the color composite image above, is a star in the process of losing is its outer layers at the end of its life. This phase usually lasts for 10,000 years before it fades out, leaving only the core of the star, known as the white dwarf, behind. Although 10,000 years may seem like a long time to us, for a star that might have a lifespan of 10 billion years, the planetary nebula stage is just a blip. ASTEROID: When and where to watch it online Sh2-174 is a bit unusual because the white dwarf is not in the center of the planetary nebula where you would expect it to […]
Feb. 13, 2013 | 2:30 p.m.

‘Young’ black hole is nearby, NASA says; doorway to a new universe?

A supernova remnant may contain the most recent black hole formed in the Milky Way galaxy, according to NASA. (X-ray: NASA/CXC/MIT/L.Lopez et al; Infrared: Palomar; Radio: NSF/NRAO/VLA )
Asteroid 2012 DA14 is bearing down on Earth, rattling nerves and making sci-fi fans’ eyes light up.  But the cool science news doesn’t stop there. Researchers believe they may have spotted the youngest black hole in the Milky Way galaxy, and — from scientists’ point of view —  it’s not far away. When it comes to black holes, it can be hard to differentiate the science from the science fiction.  Remember Nikodem Poplawski’s 2010 theory — that our universe is within a black hole — which is within another universe altogether.  That sounds like Disney’s 1979 film “The Black Hole.” ASTEROID: When and where to watch it online Stephen Hawking, theoretical physicist and cosmologist, recalls seeing the film in an essay on black holes, saying the hole in the film provides “a passage from one universe to another.”  He goes […]
Feb. 12, 2013 | 4:12 p.m.

Asteroid flyby on Friday: Where and when to watch it online

A handout illustration showing a diagram depicting the passage of asteroid 2012 DA14 through the Earth-moon system on Friday. (NASA/JPL-CALTECH)
An asteroid half  the size of a football field will come zipping past Earth at an almost uncomfortably close distance on Friday, and you can watch it online. If you were hoping to just crane your neck skyward and watch the space rock fly by overhead, think again: Though NASA scientists say this is the first time in recorded history that an asteroid this large will fly this close to Earth,  it will still appear too small to see with the naked eye. People in the Eastern Hemisphere may be able to spot the asteroid zoom by with the help of strong binoculars or a small telescope, but here in the Western Hemisphere, it will be nearly impossible to see it even with these visual aids because its closest approach will take place during daylight hours. Asteroid flyby: Call off […]
Feb. 11, 2013 | 3:24 p.m.

Pluto: Two moons need names, and you can help

This file image provided by NASA on Feb. 22, 2006, from its Hubble Space Telescope shows Pluto and three of its five moons. (AP Photo / NASA)
Two of Pluto’s moons need naming, and scientists are asking for your help. The moons are fairly recent discoveries, which is why they haven’t been given official names yet. The one  currently known as P4 was discovered in the summer of 2011. The one currently designated as P5 was discovered in the summer of 2012. Space discovery tradition holds that the person who finds a new object in space has 10 years to suggest a name for it.  But not just any old name will do — the International Astronomical Union has rules for these things. The proposed name should be 16 characters or less in length, only a single word, pronounceable (so no elaborate set of initials), non-offensive, and shouldn’t sound too much like the name of another minor planet or natural planetary satellite. PHOTOS: Awesome images from space By […]
Feb. 09, 2013 | 11:04 a.m.

A Mars first! Curiosity drills into bedrock

This rectangular version of a self-portrait of NASA's Mars rover Curiosity combines dozens of exposures taken by the rover's Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) on Feb. 3. 
The rover is at the patch of flat outcrop called John Klein. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)
For the first time, a robot has drilled into a rock on Mars and collected a sample, and scientists are patting themselves on the back.  The likelihood of high-fives also is extremely high. The Curiosity rover has extended its robotic arm and used the drill carried there to bore a hole 0.63 inches wide and 2.5 inches deep into John Klein, as the Martian rock was dubbed. Within that hole, scientists believe, is evidence of the wet environments that existed on Mars eons ago. But the successful use of the drill alone has scientists in a tizzy. This means that Curiosity is “a fully operating analytical laboratory on Mars,” said John Grunsfeld, with NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, in a news release. “This is the biggest milestone accomplishment for the Curiosity team since the sky-crane landing last August,” he said. Twitter […]
Feb. 07, 2013 | 12:41 p.m.

Earth-like planet just a ‘stroll’ away? Sci-fi knew that all along

In "Another Earth," that other planet was right over the horizon. (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
We’re in no danger of a Crisis on Infinite Earths, but the discovery of an Earth-like planet just 13 light-years away from our home sparks theories about similar planets that might reside in our galaxy — or, for the deep thinkers, even in other dimensions. Announced Wednesday by Harvard scientists, the new planet is about 76 trillion miles away, a distance that may seem impossibly far, but Harvard astronomer Courtney Dressing characterized the gap as just “a stroll in the park.” Alternate or similar Earths are commonplace in science fiction, scratching the same itch as speculative fiction and alternate histories — for instance, the longstanding “Elseworld” and “What-If?” offshoots from DC and Marvel. Below are some standout examples of Earth’s similar — yet entirely different — from our own, but feel free to add your own favorites in the comments […]
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