Space

As 2009 closes, we can look at the state of sci-fi gaming.  You might wonder why a science site cares, and the answer is that science fiction is one of the best gateways to science careers.  For one generation of astronomers, pretty much, either you'd watched Star [Trek/Wars] or you got to peek through a telescope at the real thing.  Or both.
            Darkness. It has often been portrayed to us as a symbol of fear, evil or just plain emptiness. But surprisingly, darkness is also essential, especially when our universe is concerned. Everything that we can see – including ourselves – is part of “normal” matter. But there is also a dark side, composed of two things: dark matter and dark energy. Simply put, dark matter has influenced the history of the universe, and dark energy may decide the future of it.
Aside from Earth, Saturn's largest moon Titan looks to be the only place in the solar system with copious quantities of liquid (largely, liquid methane and ethane) sitting on its surface. But that's not the only similarity our home and Titan share. A team of planetary astronomers recently announced that the two share yet another feature, which is inextricably linked with that surface liquid: common fog.

The team discussed their findings in a recent paper published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters as well as in a presentation at the American Geophysical Union's 2009 Fall Meeting in San Francisco.
I'm forwarding on this call to action!  Over at Universe Today, editor Nancy Atkison announces:
Calling all podcasters! The award-winning 365 Days of Astronomy Podcast is proud to announce the project will continue for another 365 days, and is now accepting sign-ups for participants for 2010
If you pod on astronomy, sign up!  If you're an astronomer (amateur or pro) and you don't podcast-- sign up.  Learn.  Deliver.
New images from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory show that the symmetry of supernova remnants, or lack thereof, reveal how the original stars exploded. Astronomers say the discovery is important because it will help them better classify supernovas that exploded hundreds or thousands of years ago. The discovery is reported in a new Astrophysical Journal Letters study.

Astronomers sort supernovas into several categories, or "types", based on properties observed days after the explosion and which reflect very different physical mechanisms that cause stars to explode.  But, since observed remnants of supernovas are leftover from explosions that
occurred long ago, other methods are needed to accurately classify the original supernovas.

This image of a tiny patch of sky reveals the oldest galaxies ever seen. Their light has traveled 13 billion years to the Hubble Space Telescope, stretched along the way from ultraviolet to near-infrared by the expanding universe. After this long wait, astronomers wasted no time, publishing 12 papers on the data in 3 months.  The beautiful color images were just released yesterday:


An image straight out of a CGI powered sci-fi movie lit up the skies over Norway earlier today at 8:45 a.m. local time. The phenomenon appeared as a spinning spiral of white light, entered around a bright star-like object. A bright blue tail streamed from the center of the object down towards earth.

The phenomenon was visible for over two minutes, could be seen for hundreds of miles, and was witnessed by thousands of individuals. It has been dubbed “Star-Gate,” and theories of its origin range from a misfired Russian missile, a meteor fireball, northern lights, a black hole, and alien activity. The only thing that everyone agrees upon, including scientists and the military, is as of now its appearance is a mystery - and is like nothing ever seen before.

The Big Dipper has a secret, invisible to the unaided eye, according to a new paper published in The Astrophysical Journal, which says that one of the stars that makes the bend in the ladle's handle, Alcor, has a smaller red dwarf companion.

Newly discovered Alcor B orbits its larger sibling and was caught in the act with an innovative technique called "common parallactic motion" by members of Project 1640, an international collaborative team that includes astrophysicists at the American Museum of Natural History, the University of Cambridge's Institute of Astronomy, the California Institute of Technology, and
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Virgin Galactic officially debuts SpaceShipTwo, named the VSS Enterprise, fast on the heels of their earlier ready for liftoff announcement in Wired.  From the Wired article, they noted
A new study appearing tomorrow in Earth and Planetary Science Letters rules out the possibility that the methane on Mars was delivered by meteorites, boosting the theory that life exists on the red planet.

Researchers had thought that meteorites might be responsible for Martian methane levels because when the rocks enter the planet's atmosphere they are subjected to intense heat, causing a chemical reaction that releases methane and other gases into the atmosphere.

However, the new study, by researchers from Imperial College London, shows that the volumes of methane that could be released by the meteorites entering Mars's atmosphere are too low to maintain the current atmospheric levels of methane. Previous studies have also ruled