Astronomers have discovered another black hole with a mass over fifteen times that of the Sun, one of only three such objects found so far. The newly announced black hole lies in a spiral galaxy called NGC 300, six million light-years from Earth.

"This is the most distant stellar-mass black hole ever weighed, and it's the first one we've seen outside our own galactic neighborhood, the Local Group," says Paul Crowther, Professor of Astrophysics at the University of Sheffield and lead author of the paper appearing in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
Take 2 minutes with Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield and you too will know how to pee in space.  And the origins of shooting stars.   He starts with "when you go to the bathroom on Earth, you are relying on gravity, pretty heavily... imagine if you were halfway done and someone shut off the gravity, it would be a mess..." and it just gets better from there.  You'll never look at the sky the same way again.
Scientific Clogging

A recent story about NASA's water recycling system is clogging Google search results.  Apparently, excess calcium in astro-urine is clogging the International Space Station's recycling system.

Engineers trouble-shooting a problem with the station's $250 million water recycling system, which processes urine into clean water for drinking, believe the cause is a high concentration of calcium in the astronauts' urine, which clogs the system.
"We've learned a lot more about urine than we ever needed or wanted to know -- some of us anyway," said station flight director David Korth.
A doctor's office in nearby Virginia, just one state down from me, got clobbered by a 'mango-sized' meteorite this week.  Where others see disaster, I see envy. My envy.  My favorite writeup is from The Register, because they have wit and write everything like a TV soap:

Nobody was hurt in the meteor strike, and the pieces of interplanetary debris were subsequently identified as being extraterrestrial by a geologist, fortuitously married to the doctors' receptionist.
Dr Linda Welzenbach of the Smithsonian - evidently a woman with an encyclopaedic knowledge of asteroid strikes in America - immediately
An international team of astronomers has viewed two distinct "tails" found on a long tail of gas that is believed to be forming stars where few stars have been formed before. The new observation was made by the Chandra X-ray Observatory and is detailed in a paper published this month in the Astrophysical Journal.

This gas tail was originally spotted by astronomers three years ago using a multitude of telescopes, including NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and the Southern Astrophysical Research telescope, a Chilean-based observatory in which MSU is one of the partners. The new observations show a second tail, and a fellow galaxy, ESO 137-002, that also has a tail of hot X-ray-emitting gas.
In a recently released report the National Research Council lays out several options NASA could pursue in order  to detect more near-Earth objects (NEOs) – asteroids and comets that could pose a hazard if they cross Earth's orbit. While impacts by large NEOs are rare, a single impact could inflict extreme damage, raising the classic problem of how to confront a possibility that is both very rare and very important.

Far more likely are those impacts that cause only moderate damage and few fatalities. Conducting surveys for NEOs and detailed studies of ways to mitigate collisions is best viewed as a form of insurance, the report says. How much to spend on these insurance premiums is a decision that must be made by the nation's policymakers.
I enjoyed presenting on Project Calliope two weeks ago, at the 215th AAS meeting.  I have a partial podcast of my talk in preparation, but in the meantime, here are the visual slides from my presentation (and also up as a PDF at  The most important theme I covered was the shift from a tech mindset (build a crack engineering team) to a social mindset (gather a circle of interested people able to talk this up).   Though the value of the talk was in the dialog, not the slides, this does provide a useful basic primer on the how and why of launching a personal picosatellite.

Project Calliope
Science&Social Media

Wednesday 6 January 2010

There have been only two standing ovations at the AAS in his memory, said Society president John Huchra, and the other heralded a presenter who later won the Nobel Prize.

That’s how astronaut John Grunsfeld’s invited talk ended Wednesday morning.  Grunsfeld flew on the recent Atlantis mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope, whose newest photos have renewed for many the awe Hubble images inspire.  Despite significant obstacles, including stuck parts and having to loosen several dozen tiny screws while wearing spacesuit gloves, the mission was a smashing success, a fact the astronaut knew full well:  “I’m pleased that I’m still able to show my face to the AAS,” he said after Huchra presented him.
University of Iowa (UI) astronomers have made the first clear, rainbow-like, radio telescope images of a distant stellar coronal loop, at the eclipsing, non-nova binary star Algol, found in the constellation Perseus.
The European Southern Observatory (ESO) has just released a new image of NGC 6334, an emission nebula discovered by astronomer John Herschel in 1837 and dubbed the Cat's Paw Nebula. 

This new portrait of the Cat's Paw Nebula was created from images taken with the Wide Field Imager (WFI) instrument at the 2.2-metre MPG/ESO telescope at the La Silla Observatory in Chile, combining images taken through blue, green and red filters, as well as a special filter designed to let through the light of glowing hydrogen.