Just why do we have a space station, anyway? That's a question of relevance, because it turns out we might not have one after 2015. The International Space Science Station (ISS) is a football-field sized structure able to support six people 220 miles above us. It is a symbol of international cooperation, a marvel of technology, a new site for tourism and, to some, a project to be terminated in 2015.

What we've gotten from it? Some intangibles, some useful stuff.

  • advancing our space capability

  • increasing our limits on how long people can live in orbit

  • keeping nuclear scientists from going rogue after the breakup of the Soviet Union

  • research that benefits Earth

An article in this week's edition of Nature adds to the mysteries surrounding 'dark matter'. Should we abandon this enigmatic concept of invisible matter that exerts gravitational attraction but is otherwise undetectable? Could it be that we simply do not understand the long-range behavior of gravity?

Galaxy NGC 4414
Is 'dark energy', the mysterious unidentified thing that would be a nice explanation for a lot of universal questions, physics or religion?  Maybe baryon oscillations can tell us.  

Baryon oscillations began when pressure waves travelled through the early universe.   An ambitious attempt to trace the history of the universe, called the Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey (BOSS),  has seen first light.  BOSS, a part of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey III (SDSS-III), took its first astronomical data on the night of September 14th.
There's drama in two galaxies in the Virgo Cluster, NGC 4522 and NGC 4402.    An extremely hot X-ray emitting gas known as the intra-cluster medium lurks between galaxies within clusters and, as galaxies move through this intra-cluster medium, strong winds rip through galaxies distorting their shape and even halting star formation - a process known as "ram pressure stripping".

Result: Peculiar looking galaxies.

Ram pressure is the drag force that results when something moves through a fluid — much like the wind you feel in your face when bicycling, even on a still day — and occurs in this context as galaxies orbiting about the centre of the cluster move through the intra-cluster medium, which then sweeps out gas from within the galaxies.
Here's an experiment.  Prepare for 3 days of hiking.  Pack light-- sleeping bag, tarp, knife, matches.  Bring protein bars and rice for food.  And then pick up 3 gallons (11 liters) of water and start walking.  What's the heaviest part of your gear?  Of course it's the water.

If we're going to get anywhere in this solar system, we need to go where there is water.  Everything else can be dehydrated, miniaturized, made more portable.  You can even make oxygen from water, just by adding some electricity (such as from solar power).  But water-- which also makes up most of our body-- is the one item we so desperately need, but can't mimic.
Take a decently sized housecat. Let's say a cat that is well-fed and weights 7.5 kilograms. We can all comprehend such a mass. It's not too small, neither too big. A cat is something we can pick up and lift in earth's gravitational field.

A cascade of powers of six-and-a-half billion
New research says that sunspots provide an incomplete measure of changes in the sun's impact on Earth over the course of the 11-year solar cycle - good news for global warming proponents concerned that lower temperatures (and higher ones) may correspond to solar activity.

The study led by scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and the University of Michigan found that Earth was bombarded last year with high levels of solar energy at a time when the sun was in an unusually quiet phase and sunspots had virtually disappeared.
I'm torn.  There's two ways I would make a new smash video game, "Astronomy Hero".

In the first, you are doing night observing runs, trying to accumulate enough light from each target while evading clouds.  Different targets appear at different times of night, and you have to balance whether to finish a given target (accumulate enough photons) or switch to something that just appeared in hopes that you can do better there.  Targets of different brightness or dimness require different 'stare' times that you're focusing on them, so you're constantly trying to maximize total on-target time while making sure the more valuable targets get done.
Stéphane Guisard, world-renowned astrophotographer and ESO engineer, has created a  340-million-pixel, 34 by 20-degree wide image from Paranal, the site of the Very Large Telescope, as it looks through an amateur telescope.

Guisard is head of the optical engineering team at Paranal.

To create this true-color mosaic of the Galactic Centre region, Guisard assembled about 1200 individual images, totalling more than 200 hours of exposure time, collected over 29 nights, during Guisard's free time, while working during the day at Paranal. 
In a little more than two weeks, NASA will have an expensive hunk of metal slam into the Moon... the resulting plume will be closely observed in hopes to learn more about the possibility of the existence of water ice (read more and learn about how you can participate). As the LCROSS vessel makes it way toward its impact site, NASA needs assistance with tracking due to its steep orbit; they only have brief and infrequent time frames to monitor the trajectory using their Deep Space Network of radio antennas.