This Week’s Sky: September 25th-October 2nd

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Sunday, September 25th: Venus will rise low in the west-southwest horizon about a half-hour after sunset. The Andromeda galaxy can be spotted using the constellation Cassiopeia as a reference, using the lower right vertex of the constellation’s W-shaped formation as an arrow pointing towards the galaxy.  The Moon is 28% …

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The Last Year of Cassini

After over 12 years studying Saturn, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft begins its intrepid finale: a yearlong two-part mission. Before we reach the end of Cassini’s voyage in September 2017, the spacecraft is scheduled to complete two missions: The F-ring orbits and the Grand Finale. The F Ring Orbits  Cassini will venture …

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Mission Update: A Successful First Juno Flyby

Juno captures a glimpse of Jupiter's North Pole. 
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS

On August 27th, NASA’s Juno spacecraft made its closest scheduled approach to Jupiter during the first of 36 flybys.  Traveling at 130,000 mph (208,000 kilometers per hour), the spacecraft collected data from an altitude of 2,600 miles (4,200 kilometers) above the planet’s cloudy surface. During the flyby, all of Juno’s …

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This Week’s Sky: August 28th- September 3rd

Sunday, August 28th: Cassiopeia rises high in the northeast sky, while Ursa Major (the Big Dipper) declines in the northwest. Both these shifts signal the transition from summer to autumn skies.  Since Cassiopeia and Ursa Major lie on opposite sides of the North Celestial Pole, there movements center around Polaris-the …

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The Closest Possible Exoplanet to Earth Unveiled

Image credit: European Southern Observatory/M. Kornmesser

Today, the scientific journal Nature released what could amount as the most important astronomical discovery of the century.  Scientists confirm an Earth-like planet orbits the closest star to our Sun. Dreams of Earth 2.0 Our closest existing exoplanet, Proxima Centauri b, orbits the star Proxima Centauri, a faint red dwarf …

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This Week’s Sky: August 22nd-27th

Monday, August 22nd:  Jupiter and Venus continue their close dance in the sky. After sunset they rise 6˚ apart due west.  Venus is the the right of Jupiter.  We can’t forget about Mercury, positioned 4˚ to Jupiter’s lower left.  The Moon is 83% visible as a waning gibbous, with moonrise …

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Oxygen May Not Always Lead to Life

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The search for alien worlds has expanded into its own branch of astronomical research.  The prospect of finding “Earth Proxima” or Earth 2.0 not only excites the imagination, but also represents a tangible possibility in what could be the near future.  According the NASA’s Exoplanet Archive, as of August 18th, …

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Inside Our Solar System: Planet Mercury

Planet Mercury. Image credit and copyright: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

Surface:  The first planet from the Sun, Mercury’s small size (4,879 kilometers in diameter- the smallest planet in the Solar System) deceptively hides its extreme nature.  Surface temperatures can reach a scorching 800 degrees Fahrenheit (430 degrees Celsius) during the day, only to drop 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit to a nighttime …

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This Week’s Sky: August 14th-20th

The 2010 Perseids over the European Southern Observatory's (ESO) Very Large Telescope (VLT)

Sunday, August 14th  Jupiter shines at a magnitude -1.7 within the western portion of the Virgo constellation a half hour after sunset.   Since it is low in the sky- around 10 degrees high- the planet’s detail is limited when seen through a telescope.  During the predawn hours, M31, the Andromeda …

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