Solar System: 5 Things To Know This Week

Our solar system is huge, so let us break it down for you. Here are 5 things you should know this week: 

1. From Pluto, with Love

Last Valentine’s Day, no one had even seen Pluto’s most famous feature, the heart-shaped Sputnik Planum. These days, the New Horizons spacecraft is sending more and more pictures back to Earth from its Pluto flyby last July. We received new ones almost on a weekly basis. For the latest love from the outer solar system, go HERE.

2. Saturn’s Rings: More (and Less) than Meets the Eye

The Cassini spacecraft is executing a series of maneuvers to raise its orbit above the plane of Saturn’s famous rings. This will offer some breathtaking views that you won’t want to miss. Meanwhile, Cassini scientists are learning surprising things, such as the fact that the most opaque sections of the rings are not necessarily the thickest.

3. Stay on Target

The Juno spacecraft recently completed a course correction maneuver to fine-tune its approach to Jupiter. After years of flight and millions of miles crossed, arrival time is now set to the minute: July 4th at 11:18 p.m. EST. See why we’re going to jupiter HERE.

4. The Many Lives of “Planet X”

The announcement of a potential new planet beyond Neptune creates an opportunity to look back at the ongoing search for new worlds in the unmapped reaches of our own solar system. Review what we’ve found so far, and what else might be out there HERE.

5. Answering the Call of Europa

There are a few places more intriguing that Jupiter’s icy moon, Europa, home to an underground ocean with all the ingredients necessary for potential life. We’re undertaking a new mission to investigate, and the project’s top manager and scientist will be giving a live lecture to detail their plans. Join Barry Goldstein and Bob Pappalardo on Feb. 11 at 10 p.m. EST for a live lecture series on Ustream.

Want to learn more? Read our full list of the 10 things to know this week HERE.

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7 Sports Astronauts Love Without Gravity (Including Football)

Astronauts onboard the International Space Station spend most of their time doing science, exercising and maintaining the station. But they still have time to shoot hoops and toss around a football.

From chess to soccer, there’s a zero-gravity spin to everything.

1. Baseball

Baseball: America’s favorite pastime. JAXA astronaut, Satoshi Furukawa shows us how microgravity makes it possible to be a one-man team. It would be a lot harder to hit home runs if the players could jump that high to catch the ball.

2. Chess

Yes, it’s a sport, and one time NASA astronaut Greg Chamitoff (right) played Earth on a Velcro chess board. An elementary school chess team would pick moves that everyone could vote for online. The winning move would be Earth’s play, and then Chamitoff would respond. About every two days, a move would be made. But who won the historic Earth vs. Space match? Earth! Chamitoff resigned after Earth turned its pawn into a queen, but it was game well played.

3. Soccer

NASA astronaut Steve Swanson put a new spin on soccer by juggling the ball upside down. However, he might not have considered himself upside down. On the space station, up and down are relative.

4. Gymnastics

NASA astronauts usually sign off their videos with a zero-gravity somersault (either forwards or backwards). But astronauts are also proficient in handstands, flips and twists. The predecessor to the International Space Station, the Skylab, had the best space for the moves. The current space station is a bit tight in comparison.

5. Basketball

Objects that aren’t heavy don’t move very well on the space station. They kind of just float. It’s like Earth, but exaggerated. For example, on Earth a beach ball wouldn’t go as far as a basketball. The same is true in space, which is why playing with a basketball in space is more fun than playing with a beach ball.

6. Golf

People talk about hitting golf balls off skyscrapers, but what about off the International Space Station? While golf isn’t a normal occurrence on the station, it’s been there. One golf company even sent an experiment to the station to find out how to make better golf clubs.

7. Football

Zero gravity doesn’t make everything easier. Astronauts need to relearn how to throw things because their brains need to relearn how to interpret sensory information. A bowling ball on the space station no longer feels as heavy as a bowling ball on Earth. When astronauts first throw things on the space station, everything keeps going too high. That would put a wrench in your spiral for a couple of months. But once you adjust, the perfect spiral will just keep spiraling!

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NASA Astronomt Picture of the Day 2016 February 8 

Light Pillars over Alaska 

What’s happening behind those houses? Pictured here are not auroras but nearby light pillars, a nearby phenomenon that can appear as a distant one. In most places on Earth, a lucky viewer can see a Sun-pillar, a column of light appearing to extend up from the Sun caused by flat fluttering ice-crystals reflecting sunlight from the upper atmosphere. Usually these ice crystals evaporate before reaching the ground. During freezing temperatures, however, flat fluttering ice crystals may form near the ground in a form of light snow, sometimes known as a crystal fog. These ice crystals may then reflect ground lights in columns not unlike a Sun-pillar. The featured image was taken in Fort Wainwright near Fairbanks in central Alaska.