science. space

How is it that Pluto’s smog looks prettier than our own?

On both planets, smog is caused by a photochemical reaction. Sunlight acts on the chemicals in the atmosphere and creates by-products which we find in smog.

On Earth, the sunlight reacts with nitrogen oxide and creates aldehydes, while on Pluto, sunlight reacts with methane to create acetylene and ethylene. These form hydrocarbon groups and scatter blue light, which is why we see a blue haze!

Image credit: @colchrishadfield (Tumblr)


NASA has selected a science mission that will measure emissions from the interstellar medium, which is the cosmic material found between stars. This data will help scientists determine the life cycle of interstellar gas in our Milky Way galaxy, witness the formation and destruction of star-forming clouds, and understand the dynamics and gas flow in the vicinity of the center of our galaxy.

The Galactic/Extragalactic ULDB Spectroscopic Terahertz Observatory (GUSTO) mission, led by principal investigator of the University of Arizona, Christopher Walker, will fly an ultralong-duration balloon (ULDB) carrying a telescope with carbon, oxygen and nitrogen emission line detectors. This unique combination of data will provide the spectral and spatial resolution information needed for Walker and his team to untangle the complexities of the interstellar medium, and map out large sections of the plane of our Milky Way galaxy and the nearby galaxy known as the Large Magellanic Cloud.

“GUSTO will provide the first complete study of all phases of the stellar life cycle, from the formation of molecular clouds, through star birth and evolution, to the formation of gas clouds and the re-initiation of the cycle,” said Paul Hertz, astrophysics division director in the Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “NASA has a great history of launching observatories in the Astrophysics Explorers Program with new and unique observational capabilities. GUSTO continues that tradition.”

The mission is targeted for launch in 2021 from McMurdo, Antarctica, and is expected to stay in the air between 100 to 170 days, depending on weather conditions. It will cost approximately $40 million, including the balloon launch funding and the cost of post-launch operations and data analysis.

The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, is providing the mission operations, and the balloon platform where the instruments are mounted, known as the gondola. The University of Arizona in Tucson will provide the GUSTO telescope and instrument, which will incorporate detector technologies from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Arizona State University in Tempe, and SRON Netherlands Institute for Space Research.

NASA’s Astrophysics Explorers Program requested proposals for mission of opportunity investigations in September 2014. A panel of NASA and other scientists and engineers reviewed two mission of opportunity concept studies selected from the eight proposals submitted at that time, and NASA has determined that GUSTO has the best potential for excellent science return with a feasible development plan.


A full moon, lunar eclipse and comet may all be visible on Friday

  • A full moon, lunar eclipse and a comet may all be visible to much of the world Friday night if the skies are clear.
  • Early in the night, the snow moon will pass into the Earth’s penumbra, shading part of it.
  • A few hours later, the bright green comet 45P will shoot past the Earth.
  • Though penumbral eclipses are typically not as noticeable as total lunar eclipses, the moon is expected to pass so deeply into the Earth’s shadow that it will appear far darker than usual.
  • The green comet, which visits our neck of the solar system every five years, will whiz within 7.7 million miles of Earth at a speedy clip of about 14.2 miles per second.
  • Most of the world — except for Australia, New Zealand, parts of East Asia and Hawaii — will be able to see the eclipse. Read more (2/9/17 3:30 PM)

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Try this the next time you go stargazing:

“As you lie on your back, it is natural to assume that you are looking up at the stars, but “up” is just a cultural construct. Neither Earth nor the Milky Way have an up or a down. Indeed, when you stand on Earth’s surface, you are not standing up; rather, you are sticking out into space.

So, as you lie on your back, instead of thinking of yourself as looking up, picture it so that you are on the underside of Earth looking down into the blackness of the night sky. It may take a while, but eventually you will experience all the stars as way down there below you; and you will be surprised that you are not falling down there to join them.

You don’t fall because Earth’s gravitational pull holds you. It is not your weight, but the Earth’s hold that suspends you above the stars. If Earth’s gravitational embrace were to suddenly vanish, you would descend into the dark chasm of stars below.

As you lie there feeling yourself hovering within this gravitational bond while peering down at the billions of stars drifting in the infinite chasm of space, you will have entered an experience of the universe that is not just human and not just biological.

You will have entered a relationship from a galactic perspective, becoming for a moment a part of the Milky Way Galaxy experiencing what it is like to be the Milky Way Galaxy.”

- Excerpt from Developing Ecological Consciousness: The End of Separation by Christopher Uhl

Photography credit: Starl0ck


Observations using ESO’s Very Large Telescope have revealed stars forming within powerful outflows of material blasted out from supermassive black holes at the cores of galaxies. These are the first confirmed observations of stars forming in this kind of extreme environment. The discovery has many consequences for understanding galaxy properties and evolution. The results are published in the journal Nature.

A UK-led group of European astronomers used the MUSE instruments on the Very Large Telescope VLT, at ESO’s Paranal Observatory in Chile to study an ongoing collision between two galaxies, known collectively as IRAS F23128-5919 , that lie around 600 million light-years from Earth. The group observed the colossal winds of material – or outflows – that originate near the supermassive black hole at the heart of the pair’s southern galaxy, and have found the first clear evidence that stars are being born within them [1].

Such galactic outflows are driven by the huge energy output from the active and turbulent centres of galaxies. Supermassive black holes  lurk in the cores of most galaxies, and when they gobble up matter they also heat the surrounding gas and expel it from the host galaxy in powerful, dense winds [2].

“Astronomers have thought for a while that conditions within these outflows could be right for star formation, but no one has seen it actually happening as it’s a very difficult observation,” comments team leader Roberto Maiolino from the University of Cambridge. “Our results are exciting because they show unambiguously that stars are being created inside these outflows.”

The group set out to study stars in the outflow directly, as well as the gas that surrounds them. By using two of the world-leading VLT spectroscopic  instruments, MUSE and X-shooter, they could carry out a very detailed study of the properties of the emitted light to determine its source.

Radiation from young stars is known to cause nearby gas clouds to glow in a particular way. The extreme sensitivity of X-shooter allowed the team to rule out other possible causes of this illumination, including gas shocks or the active nucleus of the galaxy.

The group then made an unmistakable direct detection of an infant stellar population in the outflow [3]. These stars are thought to be less than a few tens of millions of years old, and preliminary analysis suggests that they are hotter and brighter than stars formed in less extreme environments such as the galactic disc.

As further evidence, the astronomers also determined the motion and velocity of these stars. The light from most of the region’s stars indicates that they are travelling at very large velocities away from the galaxy centre – as would make sense for objects caught in a stream of fast-moving material.

Co-author Helen Russell (Institute of Astronomy, Cambridge, UK) expands: “The stars that form in the wind close to the galaxy centre might slow down and even start heading back inwards, but the stars that form further out in the flow experience less deceleration and can even fly off out of the galaxy altogether.”

The discovery provides new and exciting information that could better our understanding of some astrophysics, including how certain galaxies obtain their shapes [4]; how intergalactic space becomes enriched with heavy elements [5]; and even from where unexplained cosmic infrared background  radiation may arise [6].

Maiolino is excited for the future: “If star formation is really occurring in most galactic outflows, as some theories predict, then this would provide a completely new scenario for our understanding of galaxy evolution.”


[1] Stars are forming in the outflows at a very rapid rate; the astronomers say that stars totaling around 30 times the mass of the Sun are being created every year. This accounts for over a quarter of the total star formation in the entire merging galaxy system.

[2] The expulsion of gas through galactic outflows leads to a gas-poor environment within the galaxy, which could be why some galaxies cease forming new stars as they age. Although these outflows are most likely to be driven by massive central black holes, it is also possible that the winds are powered by supernovae in a starburst nucleus undergoing vigorous star formation.

[3] This was achieved through the detection of signatures characteristic of young stellar populations and with a velocity pattern consistent with that expected from stars formed at high velocity in the outflow.

[4] Spiral galaxies  have an obvious disc structure, with a distended bulge  of stars in the centre and surrounded by a diffuse cloud of stars called a halo . Elliptical galaxies are composed mostly of these spheroidal components. Outflow stars that are ejected from the main disc could give rise to these galactic features.

[5] How the space between galaxies – the intergalactic medium  – becomes enriched with heavy elements is still an open issue, but outflow stars could provide an answer. If they are jettisoned out of the galaxy and then explode as supernovae, the heavy elements they contain could be released into this medium.

[6] Cosmic-infrared background radiation, similar to the more famous cosmic microwave background, is a faint glow in the infrared part of the spectrum that appears to come from all directions in space. Its origin in the near-infrared bands, however, has never been satisfactorily ascertained. A population of outflow stars shot out into intergalactic space may contribute to this light.

IMAGE….  Artist’s impression of a galaxy forming stars within powerful outflows of material blasted out from supermassive black holes at its core. Results from ESO’s Very Large Telescope are the first confirmed observations of stars forming in this kind of extreme environment. The discovery has many consequences for understanding galaxy properties and evolution.Credit:ESO/M. Kornmesser


Massive, bright green meteor fireball lights up Midwestern sky

  • A bright green fireball was spotted in the sky early Monday morning at approximately 1:30 a.m. Central time.
  • The American Meteor Society received over 200 reports of the meteor from viewers, primarily concentrated in the Midwestern states of Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan.
  • The sightings, as reported on AMS’s website, spanned as far east as upstate New York and as far south as Kentucky. Read more

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Dark Spot and Jovian ‘Galaxy’ - This enhanced-color image of a mysterious dark spot on Jupiter seems to reveal a Jovian “galaxy” of swirling storms. Juno acquired this JunoCam image on Feb. 2, 2017, at an altitude of 9,000 miles (14,500 kilometers) above the giant planet’s cloud tops. This publicly selected target was simply titled “Dark Spot.” In ground-based images it was difficult to tell that it is a dark storm. Citizen scientist Roman Tkachenko enhanced the color to bring out the rich detail in the storm and surrounding clouds. Just south of the dark storm is a bright, oval-shaped storm with high, bright, white clouds, reminiscent of a swirling galaxy. As a final touch, he rotated the image 90 degrees, turning the picture into a work of art.

Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Roman Tkachenko

Yes, sure its fun to see a lady spin around like that, but I had one of my friends ask me - “Where do you even use this mate?”

Here’s one application that I know very well off.

Spin Stabilization

If you have ever seen a rocket launch, you might know that sometimes the rockets are given a spin while launching. This is known as spin stabilization.

Basically, the rotational inertia of the rotating body will stabilize the rocket against any disturbances and help maintain its intended heading.

The same principle is used in rifling of firearms as well. **

YoYo DeSpin

Okay, now there is the question how to “De-spin” the rocket:

Well, you do what the lady does: stretch out your arms and you will slow down !

The rocket has weights connected to a cable that stretch out and almost immediately the rocket slows down. This maneuver is known as the YoYo DeSpin. ( Damn good name ! )

All thanks to the conservation of angular momentum !

Have a good one !

* Another method to stabilization : 3-axis stabilization

** Bullets spin stabilization - post

** Source rocket launch video