December 17th, 2014

Curiosity detects organic molecules in Martian atmosphere and soil

NASA’s Curiosity rover is still going strong on the red planet, observing the atmosphere and analysing soil samples for the sake of future missions. For instance, the agency has revealed that the rover has sniffed out sudden methane spikes in the atmosphere sometime in late 2013 and early 2014, coming from somewhere north of the rover’s location in the Gale crater. The rover’s Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) lab regularly analyses the air on the planet and has found methane levels to be typically lower than scientists expect. During these sudden spikes, however, these levels are ten times higher than usual.

NASA believes that methane during these events erupt from an underground source every now and then, which means some process or reaction might be going on underneath the Martian surface. On Earth, methane is largely produced by human activities, the trash we dump in landfills, as well as animal and human waste. While it’s possible that microbes that release methane waste are living on the planet, that doesn’t automatically mean there’s life on Mars, or even that it supported life long ago. “There are many possible sources, biological or non-biological,” says Curiosity science team member Sushil Atreya, “such as interaction of water and rock.”

Read more at Engadget.

December 12th, 2014

Geminid meteors Friday and Saturday nights!

Geminids in Star Walk 2 app

Geminids in Star Walk 2 app

Tonight and tomorrow night – Friday and Saturday, December 12 and 13 – are the peak nights of 2014’s Geminid meteor shower. How fortunate that the Geminids will peak over weekend this year, as the best viewing hours are typically in the wee hours after midnight. In the Northern Hemisphere, this meteor shower often rates as one of the best – if not the best – shower of the year on a dark, moonless night. You can often see up to 120 meteors per hour in a moonless sky. There’s a waning moon in the sky in 2014, and it will dampen the show some. But Geminid meteors are bright, and some will shine past the moon’s brightness.

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December 10th, 2014

Cassini’s view of Jupiter’s southern hemisphere



This Cassini image shows Jupiter from an unusual perspective. If you were to float just beneath the giant planet and look directly up, you would be greeted with this striking sight: red, bronze and white bands encircling a hazy south pole. The multicoloured concentric layers are broken in places by prominent weather systems such as Jupiter’s famous Great Red Spot, visible towards the upper left, chaotic patches of cloud and pale white dots. Many of these lighter patches contain lightning-filled thunderstorms.

Jupiter has very dramatic weather – the planet’s axis is not as tilted (towards or away from the Sun) as much as Earth’s so it does not have significant seasonal changes, but it does have a thick and tumultuous atmosphere filled with raging storms and chaotic cloud systems.

These clouds, formed from dense layers of ammonia crystals, are tugged, stretched and tangled together by Jupiter’s turbulence and strong winds, creating vortices and hurricane-like storms with wind speeds of up to 360 km per hour.

The Great Red Spot is actually an anticyclone that has been violently churning for hundreds of years. It was at one stage large enough to contain several Earth-sized planets but recent images from the Hubble Space Telescope show it to be shrinking. There are other similarly striking storms raging in both Jupiter’s cool upper atmosphere and hotter lower layers, including a Great Dark Spot and Oval BA, more affectionately nicknamed Red Spot Jr.

Jupiter’s south pole is at the very centre of this image, visible as a murky grey-toned circle. This patch is not as detailed as the rest of the planet because Cassini had to peer through a lot more atmospheric haze in the polar region, making it harder to see.

This polar map is composed of 18 colour images taken by the narrow-angle camera on NASA’s Cassini spacecraft during a flyby on 11–12 December 2000. This map is incredibly detailed; the smallest visible features in this image are about 120 km across. There is also an accompanying map of the planet’s north pole. In 2016, NASA’s Juno spacecraft will arrive at Jupiter and start to beam back images of the planet’s poles.

The Cassini–Huygens mission, launched in 1997 as a joint endeavour of ESA, NASA and Italy’s ASI space agency, flew past Venus, Earth and Jupiter en route to observe Saturn, its moons and rings. Observations with Cassini have given us an unprecedented understanding of the Saturnian system. ESA’s Juice mission aims to do the same for Jupiter. Planned for launch in 2022, the spacecraft will reach Jupiter in 2030 and begin observing the planet and three of its moons – Ganymede, Callisto and Europa. Previous flybys of these moons have raised the exciting prospect that some of them might harbour subsurface liquid oceans and conditions suitable to support some forms of life.

Juice was recently given the green light to continue to the next stage of development.

Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

December 8th, 2014

Thank you!

We couldn’t help posting this “Thank you” letter from (RED):

Today is World AIDS Day and we are in awe of Apps for (RED). It’s amazing and it’s all thanks to you and the App Store team.

You’ve turned iPhones and iPads into AIDS fighting devices and everyone at (RED) is so grateful to you and your teams for giving your talents, generosity, creativity and smarts to the fight against AIDS.


The impact you are having is real and it’s lasting. I wanted to share with you a story. Meet Connie – she’s HIV+ and lost all three of her children to HIV. Please take a minute to watch her story here. Her story shows that an AIDS FREE GENERATION isn’t just a dream. It can – and will be – a reality. Two years ago Connie gave birth to Lubona – who was born HIV free. Here’s a picture of Connie and Lubona together.
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December 8th, 2014

Stars and Dust Pillars in NGC 7822 from WISE



Hot, young stars and cosmic pillars of gas and dust seem to crowd into NGC 7822. At the edge of a giant molecular cloud toward the northern constellation Cepheus, this glowing star forming region lies about 3,000 light-years away. Within the nebula, bright edges and complex dust sculptures dominate this detailed skyscape taken ininfrared light by NASA’s Wide Field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) satellite. The atomic emission by the cluster’s gas is powered by energetic radiation from the hot stars, whose powerful winds and light also sculpt and erode the denser pillar shapes. Stars could still be forming inside the pillars by gravitational collapse, but as the pillars are eroded away, any forming stars will ultimately be cut off from their reservoir of star stuff. This field spans around 40 light-years at the estimated distance of NGC 7822.

Image Credit: WISEIRSANASAProcessing & Copyright Francesco Antonucci