The building blocks of life might be hanging out on Titan, one of Saturn’s moons. Cornell University scientists believe they have proven that life only requires the existence of one chemical: hydrogen cyanide, which can be found all over the universe and is the most common hydrogen-containing compound on Titan’s surface. Source

Sunrise Solstice over Stonehenge : Today the Sun reaches its northernmost point in planet Earth’s sky. Called a solstice, the date traditionally marks a change of seasons – from spring to summer in Earth’s Northern Hemisphere and from fall to winter in Earth’s Southern Hemisphere. The featured image was taken during the week of the 2008 summer solstice at Stonehenge in United Kingdom, and captures a picturesque sunrise involving fog, trees, clouds, stones placed about 4,500 years ago, and a 4.5 billion year old large glowing orb. Even given the precession of the Earth’s rotational axis over the millennia, the Sun continues to rise over Stonehenge in an astronomically significant way. via NASA


Antarctic bedrock

Years of flights over cold southern wastes, satellite data and extensive computer power produced the 25 million+ data points used to create this video of the land beneath the White Continent’s superficial coating of ice. Known as Bedmap2, it adds to a previous version compiled in 2001 with a resolution two whole orders of magnitude greater (think 10 turning into 100 and then 1,000). It also unites many previous local surveys into a proper overview of the land beneath as well as creating a detailed baseline of the current state of the ice sheet, which if melted would contribute 58 metres to global sea levels. The data will also provide a basis for modellers working on the ice sheets and the grounding features in the bedrock beneath in order to have an idea what might happen as the world continues warming.


Image credit: British Antarctic Survey/NASA


The WHIRLPOOL GALAXY is located in the constellation Canes Venatici and is thought to be about 23 million light years from the Milky Way.

It is an interacting, grand-design galaxy. An interacting galaxy is a galaxy whose gravitational field is being disturbed by another galaxy. On a minor scale, it’s when a satellite galaxy is interacting with a major galaxy. But this can also occur when galaxies are colliding with one another. A grand-design galaxy is simply a galaxy whose spiral arms are prominent and well-defined.

The other galaxy featured in the first photo is known as NGC 5195. This is a dwarf galaxy that is interacting with the Whirlpool Galaxy. It is having an affect on the Whirlpool’s gravitational field. It was thought that the Whirlpool Galaxy was in front of NGC 5195, but after further research they discovered something else. The two galaxies are actually connected to each other by a dust-rich tidal bridge.

Being one of the best known galaxies in the sky, the galaxy and its companion are easily identified by amateur astronomers and may even be seen with a pair of binoculars. It is often studied by astronomers to learn more about galaxy structure and interactions.

Got any questions/facts about the Whirlpool Galaxy? Send me a message and we can talk about it! Stay tuned for tomorrow’s galaxy! 


NASA’s upcoming asteroid mission to answer a lot of significant questions

In September 2016, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will start travelling to a near-Earth asteroid called Bennu to make a detailed survey, harvest a sample of surface, and return it to Earth for study. 

Bennu is one of the most potentially hazardous asteroids, as it has a relatively high probability of impacting the Earth late in the 22nd century. OSIRIS-REx (the Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer) will determine Bennu’s physical and chemical properties, which will be critical to know in the event of an impact mitigation mission.

Furthermore, asteroids like Bennu contain natural resources such as water, organics, and precious metals, and could one day be a vast new source of scarce material if the financial and technological obstacles can be overcome. 
“The mission will develop important technologies for asteroid exploration that will benefit anyone interested in exploring or mining asteroids, whether it’s NASA or a private company,“ said Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona, Tucson, principal investigator for the mission.

The mission’s primary purpose, which I left last, is to get insights into the origin of life and the Earth’s oceans from the samples, since asteroids are "leftovers” from our solar system’s formation. 

OSIRIS-REx will orbit the sun for a year, then use Earth’s gravitational field to assist it on its way to Bennu. In August 2018, OSIRIS-REx’s approach to Bennu will begin. It will use an array of small rocket thrusters to match the velocity of Bennu and rendezvous with the asteroid. 
The process of detailed survey will last over a year, and, as part of it, OSIRIS-REx will map potential sample sites. 

To identify these sites the spacecraft is equipped with the Visible and Infrared Spectrometer that will measure the spectral signatures of Bennu’s mineralogical and molecular components. After the selection of the final site, the spacecraft will briefly touch the surface of Bennu to retrieve a sample.

There is also the Thermal Emission Spectrometer onboard, and using information gathered by both spectrometers, the science team will study how Bennu’s orbit is affected by surface heating and cooling throughout its day (the Yarkovsky Effect). The asteroid is warmed by sunlight and re-emits thermal radiation in different directions as it rotates. This asymmetric thermal emission gives Bennu a small but steady push, thus changing its orbit over time. Understanding this effect will help scientists study Bennu’s orbital path, improve our understanding of the Yarkovsky effect, and improve our predictions of its influence on the orbits of other asteroids.

In March 2021, the window for departure from the asteroid will open, and OSIRIS-REx is planned to return the sample capsule in September 2023

more information:
image credit: NASA & Dimitri Gerondidakis

One year on our only home

Sitting at the Lagrange 1 point between our globe and the sun (a place where a satellite can maintain a stable orbit balancing between the gravitational field of two planetary bodies) is NOAA’s DSCOVR satellite launched a year ago. Its main function is as a space weather monitoring station, keeping an eye on solar flares and the wind of particles endlessly streaming out from the sun. Having now completed its first year, this video shows our world, with some slowdowns for the lunar eclipse passing across our planet and a spectacular trio of cyclones. The photos were snapped every couple of hours with the EPIC camera (designed to observe aerosols and ozone in the atmosphere, cloud height, vegetation cover and our world’s reflectivity), creating the time lapse video presented here.


Image credit: NASA

Puzzling a Sky over Argentina

(via APOD; Image Credit & Copyright: Sergio Montúfar; Acknowledgement: Planetario Ciudad de La Plata / CASLEO observatory )

Can you find the comet? True, a careful eye can find thousands of stars, tens of constellations, four planets, three galaxies, and the central band of our Milky Way Galaxy – all visible in the sky of this spectacular 180-degree panorama. Also, if you know what to look for, you can identify pervasive green airglow, an earthly cloud, the south celestial pole, and even a distant cluster of stars. But these are all easier to find than Comet 252P/LINEAR. The featured image, taken in el Leoncito National Park, Argentina in early April, also features the dome of the Jorge Sahade telescope on the hill on the far right. Have you found the comet yet? If so, good for you (it was the green spot on the left), but really the harder thing to find is Small Cloud of Magellan.

Beautiful island universe Messier 94 lies a mere 15 million light-years distant in the northern constellation of the hunting dogs, Canes Venatici. A popular target for earth-based astronomers, the face-on spiral galaxy is about 30,000 light-years across, with spiral arms sweeping through the outskirts of its broad disk. But this Hubble Space Telescope field of view spans about 7,000 light-years or so across M94’s central region. The sharp close-up examines the galaxy’s compact, bright nucleus and prominent inner dust lanes, surrounded by a remarkable bluish ring of young, massive stars. The massive stars in the ring are all likely less than 10 million years old, indicating the galaxy experienced a well-defined era of rapid star formation. As a result, while the small, bright nucleus is typical of the Seyfert class of active galaxies, M94 is also known as a starburst galaxy. Because M94 is relatively nearby, astronomers can explore in detail reasons for the galaxy’s burst of star formation.

Object Names: Southern Cross

Image Type: Astronomical

Credit: ESA, NASA, HST

Time And Space