The Big Dipper Enhanced  : Do you see it? This common question frequently precedes the rediscovery of one of the most commonly recognized configurations of stars on the northern sky: the Big Dipper. This grouping of stars is one of the few things that has likely been seen, and will be seen, by every human generation. In this featured image, however, the stars of the Big Dipper have been digitally enhanced they do not really appear this much brighter than nearby stars. The image was taken earlier this month from France. The Big Dipper is not by itself a constellation. Although part of the constellation of the Great Bear , the Big Dipper is an asterism that has been known by different names to different societies. Five of the Big Dipper stars are actually near each other in space and were likely formed at nearly the same time. Relative stellar motions will cause the Big Dipper to slowly change its apparent configuration over the next 100,000 years. via NASA

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Later today, a Russian rocket is scheduled to carry a Russian cosmonaut and an American astronaut to the International Space Station, where they will live for a full year, twice as long as people usually stay.

No American has lived in space for longer than 215 days. Only a few people have ever gone on space trips lasting a year or more — the longest was 437 days—and they’re all Russian cosmonauts. The last year-plus stay in space occurred nearly two decades ago.

What’s more, NASA’s upcoming mission offers scientists a unique opportunity to study the effect of spaceflight on the human body. That’s because the astronaut making the trip, Scott Kelly, has an identical twin brother, Mark Kelly, who’s a retired NASA astronaut.

NASA To Study A Twin In Space And His Brother On Earth

Photo Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

Aurora in the Backyard : On the night of March 17/18 this umbrella of northern lights unfolded over backyards in Vallentuna, Sweden about 30 kilometers north of Stockholm. A result of the strongest geomagnetic storm of this solar cycle, auroral displays were captured on that night from back and front yards at even lower latitudes, including sightings in the midwestern United States. A boon for aurora hunting skywatchers, the space storm began building when a coronal mass ejection, launched by solar activity some two days earlier, struck planet Earth’s magnetosphere. So what’s the name of the backyard observatory on the right of the wide field view? That’s Carpe Noctem Observatory, of course. via NASA

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The entire team here at Endeavorist would like to extend our utmost support and respect to astronaut Scott Kelly; who, today, will embark on a mission of profound implications for humanity’s spacefaring future

Accompanied by Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko, the pair will journey to the International Space Station for a yearlong stay. Although their orbital accommodations will provide a literal out-of-this-world vantage point, Kelly and Komienko have 365 days of work ahead of them. Just 255 miles above our terrestrial sanctuary, science performed on the ISS will help researchers understand how humans adapt and respond to extended periods of time spent in space.

Further significance of this mission will be provided by the NASA study between Scott’s brother - retired astronaut Mark Kelly - who happens to also be Scott’s identical twin. Analyzation of genetic, molecular, and physiological data from both brothers (one in orbit, the other on Earth) will coincide with tests being performed on Scott and Mark simultaneously. 

Twins, and the space that separates them. Commander of Expedition 45/46 Astronaut Scott Kelly (right) and his brother, former astronaut Mark Kelly. Photo by Robert Markowitz/NASA.

One of the questions which seeks to be explored: why do more than half of U.S. astronauts experience vision changes during long-duration spaceflight? It’s suspected that microgravity conditions in space cause body fluids to shift from to the head from the lower body, which can cause puffiness of the face and sinus congestion. Jennifer Fogerty, a Clinical Translational Scientist at NASA explains this phenomena further here

In another unprecedented study regarding extended off-planet habitation, Scott Kelly will draw blood samples prior to a spacecraft returning to Earth from the ISS, sending them home to an epigenetics lab to study how our DNA expresses itself whilst in different environments. These unfrozen samples provided by Scott will present exquisite data while comparatively analyzing blood samples provided by Mark here on Earth. With NASA gearing up to send human astronauts to the far reaches of space beyond the Moon, research like this is invaluable. 

Andrew Feinberg, MD and Director for the Center for Epigenetics whose lab will be leading the twin studies experiment, illustrates the significance of the study:

NASA is working on this science project that’s the greatest in the history of civilization. They’re turning humankind from an Earth-dwelling species into a space-exploring species. One day, humankind will be a species that can settle on other planets. It might be a hundred years before we have humans living on Mars, but this is a whole new kind of science. It’s a multi-generational effort.

To follow the Kelly mission, tune into Time Magazine’s new editorial series “A Year in Space” for the trailer, latest news, and episodes as they’re released.

Ambitious research such as this embodies the curiosity that drives us in pursuit of the unknown, which is something we value deeply and strive to make possible for all through Endeavorist.org. To all the scientists, researchers, astronauts, and explorers — we salute you. 

Godspeed, Kelly brothers.

Do you have a project or research you’d like to launch? Are you a student, researcher, organization or professor? Join the Endeavorist network and we’ll help you get started. Together, we can #freescience.

NGC 2403 in Camelopardalis

Magnificent island universe NGC 2403 stands within the boundaries of the long-necked constellation Camelopardalis. Some 10 million light-years distant and about 50,000 light-years across, the spiral galaxy also seems to have more than its fair share of giant star forming HII regions, marked by the telltale reddish glow of atomic hydrogen gas. The giant HII regions are energized by clusters of hot, massive stars that explode as bright supernovae at the end of their short and furious lives. A member of the M81 group of galaxies, NGC 2403 closely resembles another galaxy with an abundance of star forming regions that lies within our own local galaxy group, M33 the Triangulum Galaxy. Spiky in appearance, bright stars in this colorful galaxy portrait of NGC 2403 lie in the foreground, within our own Milky Way.

Image Credit & Copyright: Martin Pugh

Last October Comet Siding Spring flew by Mars at a velocity of 56 km/h.

Until it was relatively close there was some worry regarding the safety of the space missions on the planet. Comet Siding Spring might have sent meteors into the planet!

Thankfully, as it got nearer, the path of the comet became visibly harmless and what resulted instead was essentially seven free comet missions as the entire fleet of NASA’s Martian spacecraft, Europe’s Mars Express and India’s Mars Orbiter Mission all made scientific observations of the nearby comet.

(Image credit: NASA, ESA, PSI, JHU/APL, STScI/AURA)