Space

Scientists using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope have produced new maps of Jupiter -- the first in a series of annual portraits of the solar system's outer planets.

Collecting these yearly images -- essentially the planetary version of annual school picture days for children -- will help current and future scientists see how these giant worlds change over time. The observations are designed to capture a broad range of features, including winds, clouds, storms and atmospheric chemistry.

Already, the Jupiter images have revealed a rare wave just north of the planet's equator and a unique filamentary feature in the core of the Great Red Spot not seen previously.


Much like the flapping of a windsock displays the quick changes in wind's speed and direction, called turbulence, comet tails can be used as probes of the solar wind - the constant flowing stream of material that leaves the sun in all directions.

According to new studies of a comet tail observed by NASA's Solar and Terrestrial Relations Observatory, or STEREO, the vacuum of interplanetary space is filled with turbulence and swirling vortices similar to gusts of wind on Earth. Such turbulence can help explain two of the wind's most curious features: its variable nature and unexpectedly high temperatures.


If there were humans on the Moon - would we see the settlement lights from the Earth? For instance during a thin crescent Moon - could we see the lights of civilization in the parts of the Moon in darkness? 

It's a fun question to answer I think, so let's give it a go.

We can work it out backwards from the brightness of the full Moon.

Looking out on the lunar surface from inside a Moon city, frame from the 1965 Russian film Luna

(You can get this article as a kindle ebook)

Astronomers have long turned their telescopes, be they on satellites in space or observatories on Earth, to the wide swaths of interstellar medium to get a look at the formation and birth of stars. However, the images produced over the last 50 years look more like weather maps showing storm systems instead of glittering bursts of light that the untrained observer might expect of a "star map."

Until now.

Led by University of Florida astronomer Peter Barnes and Erik Muller at the National Astronomy Observatory of Japan, a team of international researchers has just released the most comprehensive images anyone has ever seen of the Milky Way's cold interstellar gas clouds where new stars and solar systems are being born.


We have heard the Mars exploration mantra for more than a decade: follow the water. In a new paper published October 9, 2015, in the journal Science, the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) team presents recent results of its quest to not just follow the water but to understand where it came from, and how long it lasted on the surface of Mars so long ago.


During the morning of last Monday (28th September) in Europe and Africa, or the evening of the 27th in the Americas, we were treated to the spectacle of a total eclipse of the Moon, a so-called ‘supermoon’ because the Moon appeared a little larger than usual near its perigee, the point closest to Earth in its elliptical orbit.  With the help of the British magazine Astronomy Now, helpful because along the with Daily Mail it was one of the few sources that gave the event timings in British time correctly, I set out to photograph it.

Now we know, it's the second of those "Three mysteries" which they solved - by detection of water in the RSLs.  However, they didn't directly detect flowing water. Instead, they found hydrated salts. So let's look at this a bit more closely - why are they so confident this is evidence for flowing water? And what next - is there any way to follow it up, and what about the other mysteries?

NASA has announced that there is flowing liquid water on Mars.  Where there is water there is life.  That is an old adage among astrobiologist.  We “follow the water”.  Water had lead us to be hopeful that on icy bodies such as the icy moons of Jupiter, Saturn, and maybe even the (dwarf) planet Pluto there is life under the ice.

Jim Green, director of planetary science at NASA Headquarters,  Michael Meyer, lead scientist for the Mars Exploration Program at NASA Headquarters, Lujendra Ojha of the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, Mary Beth Wilhelm of NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California and the Georgia Institute of Technology, and  Alfred McEwen, principal investigator for the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) at the University of Arizona, promised a major announcement on Mars research today, and they delivered.

The Indian ISRO space agency was going to announce the result of their first year of observations in Mars orbit - the Indian Times said - on Thursday.  But it didn't happen - seems it has been delayed! I look forward to hearing what they found - but seems that we have to wait some more.

We can't really make any deduction about what they will say, as their research is embargoed until then - they can't say anything about it. But we should hear whether or not they have detected methane from orbit so far.