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Solar System

NASA map of over 1,400 potential Earth-striking asteroids (Image: NASA)

There’s something comforting about a map with “You are here” marked on it, but not when the arrow points to a spot where giant asteroids are whizzing by like cannon balls in a pirate movie. NASA has released a map of the inner Solar System showing the orbits of the 1,400 Potentially Hazardous Asteroids (PHA) known as of early this year. According to the agency, the plots show the orbits of asteroids over 460 ft (140 m) in diameter that pass within 4.7 million miles (7.5 million km) of Earth.  Read More

Europa (Image: NASA/JPL/Ted Stryk)

It's an icy inhospitable world, a little smaller than our own Moon: Europa. It's one of Jupiter's four largest satellites, the Galilean moons named after the polymath astronomer who discovered them in 1610. At the surface, the temperature never climbs above about -160º C (-256º F), yet it's thought that beneath the frozen epidermis there could be a liquid saltwater ocean. Were that the case, Europa would be about the best candidate for extraterrestrial life in the Solar System, albeit life in microbial form. That Europa could harbor life isn't news. That NASA is now considering landing a robot on Europa's surface is, and the agency has one or two ideas about what a robot should do when it gets there.  Read More

Time exposure of the 2007 Perseids (Image: NASA)

Early August always brings with it the promise of a spectacular show in the form of the Perseid meteor shower. This shower, which peaks August 11-13, is one of the most reliable and active meteor displays throughout the year. A new NASA study also shows that more Perseid meteors are fireballs (averaging over 100 per year) than in any other meteor shower.  Read More

You are here (Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute)

If the midweek hump has you in a contemplative spirits, this stunning image of Earth as pictured by the Cassini spacecraft from Saturn, 898 million miles (1.44 billion kilometers) away, may offer a little context. The Earth and the Moon appear to be seemingly insignificant specks from the perspective of the spacecraft from its orbit around the gas giant, the second biggest planet in the Solar System. But as it turns out, Cassini is actually talking us up.  Read More

A representation of our heliosphere traveling through the interstellar medium to produce a...

Although never actually observed, it has long been assumed that as our Solar System careers through the Universe, the heliosphere, or solar bubble, has a tail trailing behind it like a comet's. For the first time, NASA's Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX), which was launched back in 2008, has mapped the boundaries of this tail, revealing it is shaped like a four-leaf clover.  Read More

Michigan's proposed 3U CubeSat interplanetary spacecraft (Photo: University of Michigan)

CubeSats are one of the wonders of our day. They allow projects with small budgets and smaller equipment to access low Earth orbit (LEO) at achievable costs. Seeing greater potential for these miniaturized modular satellites, Professor Benjamin Longmire of the University of Michigan is heading a team to install a miniature plasma thruster system into a 3U CubeSat, enabling the vehicle to leave LEO and cruise much of the Solar System. Funding for the project is being sought through Kickstarter.  Read More

PayPal is looking to extend its brand across the Solar System (Image: Digitally-altered fr...

PayPal has teamed with the SETI Institute and the Space Tourism Society to start preparations for the coming upheavals of Solar System commerce. Having whetted their teeth on global commerce, PayPal is looking forward to the challenge of figuring out how to let John or Jill check their balance when they are living on Mars or visiting the Orbital Technologies commercial space station. It's answer is PayPal Galactic.  Read More

Composite of 25 separate images of the Sun captured buy NASA's SDO (Photo: NASA/SDO/AIA/S....

Three years ago the very first images from the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) were beamed back to earth. Since then, NASA’s SDO has effectively had continuous coverage of the Sun’s rise towards solar maximum, the period of the most intense solar activity in the 11 year solar cycle. NASA has now provided a fascinating snapshot of this ongoing research in the form of a time-lapse video that squeezes three years of solar activity into three minutes of footage.  Read More

The Voyager gauge (Image: NASA)

The history of spaceflight is filled with great images, such as Neil Armstrong setting foot on the Moon or Viking 1’s first images from Mars, but some of the most dramatic events haven’t any images to accompany them. As NASA's two Voyager spacecraft leave the Solar System, there won’t be any historic pictures sent back. Instead, that invisible boundary between our system and interstellar space will be marked by readings taken by the instruments of the spacecraft. NASA has placed a readout on the Voyager mission home page that shows two of three key factors that will let the public know when this momentous milestone has been reached.  Read More

Artist's impression of Voyager 1 (Image: NASA)

Has Voyager 1 left the Solar System? Is it officially the first spacecraft to reach interstellar space? It depends on whom you ask. NASA says no, but W.R. Webber of the New Mexico State University Department of Astronomy and F.B. McDonald of the University of Maryland Institute of Physical Science and Technology say yes. They contend that the unmanned, nuclear-powered probe left the Solar System on August 25, 2012 at a distance of 121.7 AU (18.2 billion km) from the Sun when its instruments on board detected a major shift in cosmic ray intensity.  Read More

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