Space

New evidence uncovered by a team from Imperial College London and the University College London (UCL) suggests that during the Hesperian Epoch, approximately 3 billion years ago, Mars sustained lakes of melted ice, each around 20 km wide, along parts of its equator. The discovery challenges scientists' previous understanding of Mars during the Hesperian Epoch, a period which was previously thought to be too cold and arid to sustain water on the planet's surface. The findings appear in the journal Geology.
 
In the age of the Hubble Space Telescope, and ever larger earthbound scopes being build, many people are of the impression that one needs costly equipment to enjoy the night skies.

Nothing is further from the truth. Reality, however, is that occasions at which one can observe the stars and planets are sparse due to urban light pollution. Tommaso has blogged about this issue before (see: The Continuing Search For A Dark Site).
Next week is the winter 215th AAS meeting, this time in D.C..  I'll be there presenting there Thursday on Project Calliope, the ScientificBlogging music satellite I'm building in my basement for a 2010/2011 launch, and tweeting about the meeting in general.

To usher in the new year, I'll close with 2 haikus from Cosmic Haiku:
Microwave Background
Photons remember a time
When they were hotter


Astrophysicist
Is what I’m told is my Job
Title. Whatever.

Happy New Year!

Alex, the Daytime Astronomer
The Spectral and Photometric Imaging Receiver, or SPIRE instrument, riding aboard Herschel Space Observatory, launched in May by the European Space Agency, has provided one of the most detailed views yet of space up to 12 billion years back in time.

The December images have revealed thousands of newly discovered galaxies in their early stages of formation, said CU-Boulder Associate Professor Jason Glenn, a co-investigator on the project. The new images are being analyzed as part of the Herschel Multi-tiered Extragalactic Survey, or HerMES, which involves more than 100 astronomers from six countries.
To wrap up the year, I'm listing my 4 worst columns.  Or, at least, the four columns that got outstandingly terrible readership.  I searched for a pattern or justification for why people stayed away in droves, but darned if I can spot one.  If you've got any ideas on why some columns sink while others swim, feel free to speak up.
Here's a pleasant Christmas thought-- why are rocket launches like holidays-- infrequent, big productions that tend to always be the same?  A New York Times op-ed, Faster, NASA, Faster, puts forth an idea that, really, resurfaces at least once every few years.  It's a good idea.  It says, hey, let's do more launches with higher risk.
Stars in globular clusters tend to be 12-13 billion years old but a small fraction appear to be significantly younger than the average population.   Left behind by the stars that followed the normal path of stellar evolution and became red giants, those younger ones have been dubbed blue stragglers.

Oddly, blue stragglers appear to regress from 'old age' back to a hotter and brighter 'youth', gaining a new lease on life in the process - a cosmic facelift.
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.