A team of astronomers has discovered the first example of black holes in a globular cluster in our own galaxy. For the last 40 years it was widely thought that black holes would not likely be found in globular clusters. The reasoning behind this is that Black holes in a globular cluster may facilitate a way for them to get close enough to one another to merge into bigger black holes that may produce the ‘ripples in spacetime’ astronomers call gravitational waves.

Tom Maccarone says, “Trying to detect gravitational waves is one of the biggest problems in physics right now, because it would be the strongest test of whether Einstein’s theory of relativity is correct.” The stars can collide with one another in that environment. Maccarone goes on to explain, “The old theory believed that the interaction of stars was thought to kick out any black holes that formed. They would interact with each other and slingshot black holes out of the cluster until they were all gone.”

Maccarone made the first discovery of a black hole in a globular cluster in the neighboring NGC4472 galaxy 6 years ago. Instead of finding it through typically radio waves he found it by seeing them in X-ray emission from the gas falling into the black hole and heating up a couple million degrees (no big deal).  Now his team has found 2 more examples this year in our very own galaxy and from radio emissions coming out of the globular cluster.

If you want to keep research like this going then take action today!

Imagine what could be done with a penny.

“NASA’s annual budget is half a penny on your tax dollar. For twice that—a penny on a dollar—we can transform the country.” - Neil deGrasse Tyson

We here at Penny4NASA just launched our redesigned website, and our new video, Imagine, is front and center. Please help us get the word out about NASA’s budget constraints by supporting our upcoming (with your help) Thunderclap campaign.

We’re calling on the Obama administration and the US Congress to increase NASA’s funding from its current level of 0.48% to at least 1% of the US annual budget. NASA contributes massive amounts of technological, economical and inspirational capitol to our nation, and we want to their budget to reflect their importance to our society!

Watch our newest video, Imagine:

Make sure your elected officials are aware of NASA’s importance to our society:

Happy birthday, Dr. Tyson! Neil deGrasse Tyson was born on October 5th, 1958 in Manhattan, New York. He credits the Hayden Planetarium, where he is now the director, with initially sparking his interest in astronomy and physics as a child. Today, as one of the most publicly recognized astrophysicists in the country, Tyson is a vocal supporter of increased NASA funding, and his speeches to Congress about the NASA budget helped to inspire the Penny4NASA campaign.

In light of the government shutdown, Tyson’s profound words regarding our nation’s priorities are more important than ever. The intense emotion behind his argument resonates ever more powerfully, and now is the time to make your voice heard. Now, during a time of uncertainty for our nation’s future, is when Congress must listen. Now, when 97% of NASA employees are furloughed, is when Congress must understand the immense importance of science to our country’s economy. Now is the time to take action.

Hear Dr. Tyson in the first and second installments of “We Stopped Dreaming”:

As members of the human race, we call this chunk of rotating rock, fire, and ice home, and we should realize how amazing Earth is everyday, not just April 22nd. 

With that said, Earth Day has been celebrated worldwide since 1970, and has contributed greatly towards the spread of environmental awareness we see today. However, such a renowned appreciation of Earth – as it truly is, not as a map – didn’t take place until astronauts were able to gaze upon our planet during the early days of space exploration.

On this day, we leave you with a great quote from Neil deGrasse Tyson regarding the historical context of this annual event. These stirring words were featured in We Stopped Dreaming (Episode 2) - A New Perspective, a video created by our very own Evan Schurr.

We Stopped Dreaming (Episode 2) - A New Perspective

Watch the video. Write Congress. Spread the word.

No matter how you SLICE it, this NASA experiment is definitely reaching for the stars. On April 21, after being delayed from its original December 2012 launch date, the Sub-orbital Local Interstellar Cloud Experiment (SLICE) was successfully launched from the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.

 SLICE will use an 8-inch diameter telescope and spectrograph, covering the far-ultraviolet wavelength range, to study the interstellar medium. Scientists will use data from SLICE to learn more about the different phases of the interstellar medium as well as its composition, temperature, and ionization state.

So, why do scientists care about the interstellar medium? It turns out that the immediate interstellar environment determines the structure of the heliosphere, and the structure of the heliosphere determines the way that the planets of a star system interact with stellar winds. This all has a profound effect on a planet’s atmospheric conditions, which is important in determining the potential habitability of exoplanets. In short, studying the interstellar medium with SLICE could aid in the search for extraterrestrial life and give us a better understanding of star systems.


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First World Problems: The Smallest Planet In The Solar System Is Shrinking

According to new research based on data from NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft, Mercury, the smallest planet in the Solar System, is shrinking and wrinkling as it ages.

While the behavior of Earth’s outermost shell can best be explained through plate tectonics and the shifting of our lithosphere, Mercury has but one solid shell for a crust. As the planet’s molten core has cooled since its formation billions of years ago, the planet itself has contracted causing Mercury’s rocky exterior to crack and shift to accommodate the smaller size, much like the wrinkles that form on the skin of an apple skin as it dries out and shrinks.

“We see the landscape literally crumpling up,” said William McKinnon, a professor in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis. “Massive slabs of rock are sliding over one another.”

As for the change in size, the study found in the journal Nature Geoscience notes that Mercury has seemingly contracted in radius in some locations as far as 7 kilometers, making the modern-day radial measurement of the planet 2,440 kilometers.

Celebrate MESSENGER’s 10th anniversary and these recent findings by writing to Congress to let them know you support doubling funding for NASA:

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On Sunday, September 29th, just days before the government shutdown would begin, Orbital Sciences’ Cygnus commercial spacecraft successfully linked up with the International Space Station, delivering over 1,300 pounds of gear and equipment to the crew aboard. Now several weeks later, Cygnus’ successful demonstration mission has come to a close as the spacecraft was released Tuesday morning by Canadarm2 and burned up in the Earth’s atmosphere Wednesday afternoon after reentry.

In a statement made by NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, the Cygnus demonstration mission was described as an “overwhelming success.” As he continued, “We are delighted to now have two American companies able to resupply the station. U.S. innovation and inspiration have once again shown their great strength in the design and operation of a new generation of vehicles to carry cargo to our laboratory in space. Orbital’s success today is helping make NASA’s future exploration to farther destinations possible.”

Orbital Sciences’ first official commercial resupply is scheduled to launch in December of this year from Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

With the government shutdown now over, write to Congress to let them know you support doubling funding for NASA:

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“Some dreams are just too big to stay on the planet.”

That is the tagline of David Ruck’s documentary, I Want To Be An Astronaut – which after premiering on the ISS in March, will be screening across the country this summer. As described on the film’s official website (, the message centers around the dreams of a young boy with aspirations of becoming an astronaut.

Blair Mason has wanted to be an astronaut since he was three years old. Now, at 17, that dream has become a vision for “moving humanity beyond Earth.”  But what does it take to be an astronaut?  And, more importantly, what are we doing now as a nation to keep the dreams of young people like Blair within the realm of possibility?
“I Want To Be An Astronaut” examines the current state of America’s space program: where we’ve been, where we are, and where we might be headed. The film is a powerful and emotional ride that explores the human side of space exploration, and the realities that need to be in place so that our nation has a program for the “Blair’s” of the world to aspire to.

Debuting in 2014, this film is coming out at a time where the United States has to rely upon foreign governments to send Americans into space. We at Penny4NASA are hopeful that Blair Mason’s story will inspire the public – and Congress in particular – to reconsider NASA’s budget. 

NASA’s endeavors are worthy of a penny. Take action:

The JPL Open House – a popular annual event showcasing technological innovations in the space industry – has been (unfortunately) cancelled this year due to budget constraints. The event scheduled for June 8-9 draws crowds of nearly 30,000 guests per year and has been a source of inspiration for younger people considering a career in the field of planetary science.

“When it comes down to the fact they’ve lost something like 5 percent of their budget in the last few months of the year, they’re gonna have to make these really difficult choices. No one wants to cut education and outreach at NASA, but when it [comes down] with the choice between cutting a mission or delaying a mission or cutting outreach activities, it’s gonna be probably outreach activities that are gonna go.” – Casey Drier, Advocacy and Outreach Specialist for The Planetary Society

Drier added, “It’s one of the most productive, effective and inspiring things JPL does for the community.”

Representative Adam Schiff expressed disappointment that the event was cancelled. In a statement on Thursday, Schiff said the cancellation of the open house was the result of “extremely poor fiscal policy – sequestration” and that it served to undermine an important aspect of NASA – educating the public and increasing scientific literacy.
In the absence of avoiding sequestration completely, Schiff added, “we should do everything possible to save efforts that are incredibly successful in inspiring a new generation of American scientists and pioneers, like NASA’s outreach and education programs.”

By cutting the JPL Open House, NASA saves roughly $400,000, which includes security, portable toilets, presentations and other items brought to the La Cañada Flintridge campus. All NASA centers are currently reviewing public outreach efforts to deal with the budget pressures of sequestration. If a more stable federal budget materializes, JPL may still bring back the open house, potentially as early as this fall.

We at Penny4NASA strongly urge you all to contact your elected officials to voice your concerns over these cuts.

One last thought from Mr. Casey Drier: “How many first-time visitors to the open house this year would have had their lives changed? How many future scientists or supporters of space exploration will never exist? What would those scientists have discovered in the future?”

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“The goal of UrtheCast is to bring together geo-tagged educational, environmental, geographical, and social components in a real-time environment. You’ll be able to track forest fires, icebergs, animal migration, and oil spills in the ocean. These things will all tie in to social movements like Earth Day, the struggle for freedom in various parts of the World, and to the beauty of landscapes, culture, history, politics and music.” 

“People want to see what Earth looks like from space.” - UrtheCast chief executive, Scott Larson.

On December 27th, 2013, Oleg Kotov and Sergey Ryazansky performed a spacewalk (EVA-37) in which two HD cameras were installed on the International Space Station. It was soon determined after the installation that there was an issue with the data path connecting the two cameras. After weeks of planning between NASA, Roscosmos (the Russian Federal Space Agency), and UrtheCast, a reinstall date for January 27th was chosen. 

Kotov and Ryazansky, veterans of a combined nine spacewalks in total, were able to reinstall these two cameras during EVA-37a. However, it was determined that the medium resolution camera did report telemetry and tracking issues, but nothing serious enough to delay UrtheCast from streaming footage of Earth later this year.

An in-depth synopsis of EVA-37a can be viewed here, courtesy of our friends over at Spaceflight101:

UrtheCast (pronounced Earth Cast), a Vancouver-based company, has built two large cameras with the intention of streaming live video of Earth to us in HD. According to their website, “Everyone from web surfers and smartphone users, to media representatives and agriculturists, will be able to use the UrtheCast platform to see world events unfold in near real-time. App developers will have access to open source Earth video data, while educators will be able to harness rich video for their lesson plans. What’s more, environmental monitoring services and humanitarian relief organizations will have access to dynamic imagery as an additional tool in their relief efforts.”

Frequently Asked Questions regarding UrtheCast, especially those relating to privacy, can be viewed here:

Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, is one of the most Earth-like worlds in the solar system; it has a dynamic surface, an atmosphere, and is bigger than the planet Mercury. Titan’s thick atmosphere makes obtaining direct observations of its surface features difficult, but thanks to NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, scientists have been able to create the first global topographic map of Titan.  Cassini used a radar imager to peer through the haze and gather crucial data about Titan’s topography. Since Cassini doesn’t exclusively orbit Titan, though, it could only gather data for parts of Titan’s surface. Scientists used a mathematical process called splining, essentially using curved surfaces to join the voids between existing data grids, to calculate the rest of the map. This map is already providing a whole new view of one of the most intriguing worlds in the solar system, and it could aid in the search for life on Titan in the future. Read more and see the map here: Tell Congress that you support doubling funding for NASA:

Dark matter and dark energy make up about 95% of the known universe, so developing a better understanding of this “dark universe” is obviously a top priority for astronomers and physicists. NASA scientists have teamed up with the European Space Agency (ESA) to create plans for Euclid, a mission that will “study the geometry of the dark universe”. NASA joined the mission as a partner back in January. NASA’s work with Euclid will be centered at JPL in Pasadena, California.

Euclid is set to launch in 2020. Over the course of six years, it will observe upwards of two billion galaxies with unprecedented detail. Scientists will use multiple techniques to analyze the large-scale structure of galaxies, the nature of dark matter, and the nature of dark energy. Some of the techniques include weak gravitational lensing (to study dark matter) and galaxy clustering, also called baryon acoustic oscillations (to study dark energy). Euclid will use a 1.2-meter diameter telescope and two instruments to study the two billion galaxies’ shape, brightness, distribution, and behavior in relation to dark matter and dark energy.

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Want more awesome missions like Euclid to explore the universe? Tell Congress that you support doubling funding for NASA! 

By using data provided by NASA Polarimetric (NPOL) radar, scientists in the northeast United States will be able to study the migratory habitats and resting zones of the Prothonotary Warbler, a variation of songbird currently heading to Central America for the winter.

Barry Truitt, a Chief Conservation Specialist in Virginia, stated the following, “This is one of the most powerful and sophisticated research radars in the world. This partnership with NASA is an exciting opportunity to use a precipitation tool in a novel way to benefit conservation.”

NPOL radar will be used to track where these songbirds are, how expansive their flock is, and will provide approximations as to not only where they are headed, but a detailed ETA as to when these birds will arrive at their winter havens.

“Using this radar, we’ll be able to identify the stopover hotspots that are most important for migrating bird species, many of which are declining in numbers,” Truitt said. This is going to allow us to prioritize The Nature Conservancy’s protection of land and best adapt our management practices to ensure the birds have the habitat and resources they need when they rest here.”

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