If you looked at the "Black Marble" images of Earth at night released by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration this week, you may have noticed bright areas in the largely uninhabited western part of Australia.

What's the story?

The Gamma-ray Burst Monitor (GBM) on NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope is now 10 times better at catching the brief outbursts of high-energy light, known as  terrestrial gamma-ray flashes (TGFs),mysteriously produced above thunderstorms.

Terrestrial gamma-ray flashes last only a few thousandths of a second but their gamma rays rank among the highest-energy light that naturally occurs on Earth. The enhanced GBM discovery rate helped scientists show most TGFs also generate a strong burst of radio waves, a finding that will change how scientists study this poorly understood phenomenon.

How do you test the effects of weightlessness in space without risking lives and a lot of money?

Use a bed. People in bed with their heads 6° below the horizontal for long periods causes their bodies to react in similar ways to being weightless and so bedrest studies are being used to answer questions on how our bodies adapt to living in space and and even how our bodies adapt to growing old. Like Tang and pens that write upside down, findings from bedrest studies may apply directly to people on Earth.

Move over Flight of the Bumblebee. Hello Flight of the Butter Tubs.

That’s what you could call the daring 12,000 mile journey that Australian pilot Jeremy Rowsell is planning for early next year, when he will fly a single engine plane from Sydney to London on fuel that’s neither gasoline, kerosene nor any other traditional aircraft propellant.

Oh, it must be aviation biofuel? Or perhaps it’s some of that discarded cooking oil that has given lift to a few recent aerial stunts?


In January, 2005, ESA’s Huygens probe bounced, slid and wobbled its way to rest for 10 seconds after touching down on Saturn’s moon, Titan. As you can imagine, that tells scientists quite a bit about the nature of that moon’s surface.

They reconstructed the chain of events by analyzing data from a variety of instruments that were active during the impact, in particular changes in the acceleration experienced by the probe. The instrument data were compared with results from computer simulations and a drop test using a model of Huygens designed to replicate the landing and the analysis revealed that, on first contact with Titan’s surface, Huygens dug a hole 12 cm deep before bouncing out onto a flat surface.
Early in the morning of September 12th the Dark Energy Camera (DECam), the most powerful sky survey instrument yet built, mounted on the Victor Blanco Telescope at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile recorded its first images of a southern sky spangled with galaxies.

I've been feeling a bit inspired about our prospects in space, lately.  Foremost (of course) by the incredible competence displayed by the makers of the Curiosity probe that landed on Mars, last week, and the JPL controllers and the citizenry that backed such a wonderful venture.  

The landing of a cute robot on Mars really resonated with American popular culture this past weekend; and so the first few images Curiosity snapped have caught fire as well, including a blotch that was no longer there in later pictures.

Curiosity landed at 10:32 p.m. Aug. 5 PDT near the foot of a mountain three miles tall inside Gale Crater, which is 96 miles in diameter. Curiosity is the largest mission ever sent to another planet. Its 9 month, 350 million mile journey ended with 'seven minutes of terror' and no one knew precisely where it would end up or when it would get down to business.

200 milliseconds after the HazCam shutter opened it caught a hazy shimmer in the distance.
Pyros small tactical munition completed a successful warhead and guidance system test, according to Raytheon.

There are three choices for guiding the weapon to the target: GPS coordinates, inertial navigation or laser designation.   There are also three options for engaging the target: height-of-burst, point-of-impact or fuze-delay detonation. The end-to-end test validated the weapon's guidance modes (semi-active laser and global positioning system), its height-of-burst sensor, electronic safe and arm device, and multi-effects warhead.
Curiosity, the Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft, remains in good health and is just one day and 12 hours from touchdown on Mars. All systems are go and it is doing so well the planned Trajectory Correction Maneuver 5 (TCM-5) and its update to parameters for the autonomous entry, descent and landing will not be necessary.  If it ain't broke, don't fix it, as they say.

As of noon yesterday the Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft was about 470,000 miles from Mars, a little less than twice the distance from Earth to the moon. It is traveling at about 8,000 mph and will gradually increase in speed to about 13,200 mph by the time it reaches the top of the Martian atmosphere.