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Planetary Society to launch solar sail test flight in May

A tiny spacecraft designed to be pushed through space by ultra-thin “solar sails” will be launched in May by a U.S.-based non-profit group, 10 years after its first failed attempt.

The Planetary Society announced Monday that its LightSail spacecraft will blast off on a test flight aboard an Atlas V rocket. The society is a non-profit space advocacy organization co-founded by the late astronomer Carl Sagan and headed by Bill Nye, best known as the Science Guy from his popular TV show.

The LightSail spacecraft, a tiny cube satellite about the size of a loaf of bread, is expected to unfurl its four solar sails in June. The triangular sails are made of Mylar, about a quarter of the thickness of a garbage bag, and have a combined area of 32 square metres — equivalent to two parking spaces.

Solar sails are designed to capture the momentum from solar energy photons using large, mirrored surfaces. The small, continuous acceleration allows a spacecraft propelled by solar sails to reach high speeds over time.

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Consider that the human machine, while good at decoding the basics of our immediate environment – like when it’s day or night or when a creature is about to eat us – has very little talent for decoding how the rest of nature works without the tools of science. If we want to know what’s out there then we require detectors other than the ones we are born with. In nearly every case, the job of a scientific apparatus is to transcend the breadth and depth of our senses.
—  Neil deGrasse Tyson

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day 2015 January 27

Our Galaxy’s Magnetic Field from Planck

What does the magnetic field of our Galaxy look like? It has long been known that a modest magnetic field pervades our Milky Way Galaxy because it is seen to align small dust grains that scatter background light. Only recently, however, has the Sun-orbiting Planck satellite made a high-resolution map of this field. Color coded, the 30-degree wide map confirms, among other things, that the Galaxy’s interstellar magnetism is strongest in the central disk. The rotation of charged gas around the Galactic center creates this magnetism, and it is hypothesized that viewed from the top, the Milky Way’s magnetic field would appear as a spiral swirling out from the center. What caused many of the details in this and similar Planck maps — and how magnetism in general affected our Galaxy’s evolution — will likely remain topics of research for years to come.

what happens if when you die your soul becomes a new star in the galaxy, and thats why when you stare up at the sky there are literally trillions of stars looking down at you, that its all our ancestors watching over us? i think i’d like to believe that, because no one would really ever leave you, you’d still get to see them, you’d just have to wait till the sky becomes dark. 

-10.04pm thoughts

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5 Ancient Planets which are almost as old as our Universe

Five small planets orbit an 11.2 billion-year-old star, making them about 80 per cent as old as the universe itself. That means our galaxy started building rocky planets earlier than we thought.

NASA’s Kepler space telescope spotted the planets around an orange dwarf star called Kepler 444, which is 117 light years away and about 25 per cent smaller than the sun.

Orange dwarfs are considered good candidates for hosting alien life because they can stay stable for up to 30 billion years, compared to the sun’s 10 billion years, the time it takes these stars to consume all their hydrogen. For context, the universe is currently 13.8 billion years old.

Eclipse

One glimpse blinding, turning slowly
Gently shift each other’s axis
Share totality’s alignment
As we merge and flood the sky

You are like the heavens to me
Full of strange and distant wonder
I will fill my heart with silver
Radiate a golden light

Diamond ring as birds fall silent
Every feathered heartbeat stops
Seconds stretching, timeless, endless
Lost

Our wide earth becoming smaller
From this sudden cosmic distance
Though it’s newly filled with splendour
Sometimes shadows stir behind

But there’s promise in the silence
In the vastness of the night
Mirroring, magnetic, moving
Perfect in each other’s eyes.