Geminid Meteors over Xinglong Observatory : Where do Geminid meteors come from? In terms of location on the sky, as the featured image composite beautifully demonstrates, the sand-sized bits of rock that create the streaks of the Geminid Meteor Shower appear to flow out from the constellation of Gemini. In terms of parent body, Solar System trajectories point to the asteroid 3200 Phaethon – but this results in a bit of a mystery since that unusual object appears mostly dormant. Perhaps, 3200 Phaethon undergoes greater dust-liberating events than we know, but even if so, exactly what happens and why remains a riddle. Peaking last week, over 50 meteors including a bright fireball were captured streaking above Xinglong Observatory in China. Since the Geminids of December are one of the most predictable and active meteor showers, investigations into details of its origin are likely to continue. via NASA

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Dreamed of Being an Astronaut?

TweetChat with Astronaut Serena Auñón

Astronaut Serena Auñón hosted a TweetChat where she answered your questions on what it’s like to be an astronaut.

We’re currently accepting applications for the next astronaut class, until Feb. 18. You can find get details and apply HERE. The job posting is available on USAJobs.

Here are a few of the great questions she was asked:

You can check out the full conversation at the #BeAnAstronaut hashtag on Twitter. 

Follow astronaut Serena Auñón on Twitter.

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NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day 2016 February 12 

Two Black Holes Merge 

Just press play to watch two black holes merge. Inspired by the first direct detection of gravitational waves by LIGO, this simulation video plays in slow motion but would take about one third of a second if run in real time. Set on a cosmic stage the black holes are posed in front of stars, gas, and dust. Their extreme gravity lenses the light from behind them into Einstein rings as they spiral closer and finally merge into one. The otherwise invisible gravitational waves generated as the massive objects rapidly coalesce cause the visible image to ripple and slosh both inside and outside the Einstein rings even after the black holes have merged. 

Dubbed GW150914, the gravitational waves detected by LIGO are consistent with the merger of 36 and 29 solar mass black holes at a distance of 1.3 billion light-years. The final, single black hole has 62 times the mass of the Sun, with the remaining 3 solar masses converted into energy in gravitational waves.

Vision & Microgravity...Can We See the Connection?

What do nutrition and genetics have in common? They could all be linked to vision problems experienced by some astronauts. We see people going up to space with perfect vision, but need glasses when the return home to Earth.

Why Does This Study Matter?

We want to be able to send astronauts to Mars, but losing vision capability along the way is a BIG problem. Discovering the cause and possible treatments or preventions will help us safely send astronauts deeper into space than ever before. 

It’s Like Solving a Mystery

We already have an idea of why vision changes occur, but the real mystery remains…why do some astronauts have these issues, and other’s don’t?

Now, let’s break it down:

Nutrition is more than just what you eat. It includes how those things work inside your body. The biochemistry behind how your muscles make energy, how your brain utilizes glucose and how vitamins help with biochemical functions…it’s all part of nutrition.

Genetics also play a part in the vision changes we’re seeing in space. Data shows that there are differences in blood chemistry between astronauts that had vision issues and those that did not. We found that individuals with vision issues had different blood chemistries even before their flight to space. That means that some astronauts could be predisposed to vision issues in space.

Just in January 2016, scientists discovered this possible link between genetics, nutrition and vision changes in astronauts. It makes it clear that the vision problem is WAY more complex than we initially thought. 

While we still don’t know exactly what is causing the vision issues, we are able to narrow down who to study, and refine our research. This will help find the cause, and hopefully lead to treatment and prevention of these problems.

Fluid Shifts

The weightless environment of space also causes fluid shifts to occur in the body. This normal shift of fluids to the upper body in space causes increased inter-cranial pressure which could be reducing visual capacity in astronauts. We are currently testing how this can be counteracted by returning fluids to the lower body using a “lower body negative pressure” suit, also known as Chibis.

Benefits on Earth

Research in this area has also suggested that there may be similarities between astronaut data and individuals with a clinical syndrome affecting 10-20% of women, known as polycystic ovary syndrome. Studying this group may provide a way to better understand vision and cardiovascular system effects, which could also advance treatment and prevention for both astronauts and humans on Earth with this disease.

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