Space

Auroras are the most visible manifestation of the sun's effect on Earth, but many aspects of these spectacular displays are still poorly understood.

One particular type of very high-latitude aurora is known as a theta aurora -- seen from above it looks like the Greek letter theta, an oval with a line crossing through the center -- which sometimes occurs closer to the poles than normal aurora. While the genesis of the auroral oval emissions is reasonably well understood, the origin of the theta aurora has been undetermined.


In 2009, researchers detected methane on Mars, suggesting the planet may be biologically or geologically active. 

Now NASA's Mars Curiosity rover has measured a tenfold spike in methane in the atmosphere around it and detected other organic molecules in a rock-powder sample collected by the robotic laboratory's drill. 

Researchers from Imperial College London and the University of Barcelona have used data from astronomical surveys to measure a standard distance that is central to our understanding of the expansion of the universe, a much more accurate method than calculations related to general relativity. 

The new study is the first to measure it using observed data. A standard ruler is an object which consistently has the same physical size so that a comparison of its actual size to its size in the sky will provide a measurement of its distance to earth.  Previously the size of this standard ruler has only been predicted from hypothetical models that rely on general relativity to explain gravity at large scales. 


Titan is Saturn's largest moon and the only planetary body outside Venus, Earth and Mars to have fields of wind-blown dunes on its surface.


Undiscovered Worlds and Pale Blue Dots

May 9th 2015 will see the inauguration of Cornell University's new Institute for Pale Blue DotsDetails here.

The first image of a "pale blue dot" was sent back by Voyager 1.  The "dot" is a single pixel.

"all of human history has happened on that tiny pixel, which is our only home"
Carl Sagan, speech at Cornell University, October 13th 1994
Why does the new space craft look like a capsule?  The simple fact is that between a capsule and a space plane like the shuttle, a capsule is the better vehicle for a direct return trip from interplanetary space to Earths surface. 
People my age, early-mid 30's, and younger look at a space capsule as being an artifact from a past era.  The 1960's and 1970's were the age of the capsule.  Then in the 1980's and 1990's we had the Space Shuttle Program in full swing.  The shuttle was so much more than a spacecraft.  As president Reagan put it the Shuttle was a symbol of our aspirations for freedom. 

In the below it can be said that he dedicated a Shuttle launch to people who 20 years latter would become the Taliban.