Curiosity Selfie

Last month I attended the public lecture series at NASA’s JPL in Pasadena.  They had a fun presentation about the current progress of the Curiosity Rover on Mars.    

Curiosity has fulfilled the goal of establishing that ancient Mars could have held life.  She keeps on rolling, drilling, and sending pictures daily.  I’m amazed at the collaboration that takes place to create and support this kind of device and mission.  Here’s a link to watch the filmed presentation:

Going to be outside this Labor Day weekend? Look for this summer constellation…

High above our heads in the summer evenings is the constellation Cygnus – the Swan.  It’s a memorable landmark of the summer sky.  It’s brightest stars form what look like a cross, so it is also known as the Northern Cross.

Though you can’t see them all with the naked eye, there’s some pretty amazing objects found in the sky space of this constellation.  The stars that make up Cygnus include supergiants and binary stars (two stars that orbit around each other.) There are remnants of a supernova explosion and some mysteriously possible black holes or quark stars.  Cygnus also has around 100 stars that have known planets orbiting them, including the first earth-like planet to be found in a star’s habitable zone.

So take a look upward tonight – look for the cross topped with one of the brightest stars in the evening sky (Deneb, a white supergiant!)  See Cygnus flying down the Milky Way.

The constellation Cygnus as it can be seen by the naked eye.  Credit:

The constellation Cygnus as it can be seen by the naked eye. Credit:

25 years ago we met this beauty…

On August 25, 1989, Voyager 2 passed by Neptune, giving us the first pictures of this beauty, up close and personal.  Before then, all we had were pictures of a dot in the sky.  In fact, before the 1800s, Neptune was thought to be another star.  It was an exciting time of unexpected discoveries about the outer planets.  We learned that Neptune had active storms (including the Great Dark Spot) and that its cold moon Triton had active geysers.  Here is a picture of scientists at JPL looking at the new pictures coming in.

Voyager sends pictures of Neptune, August 1989, Credit:

Voyager sends pictures of Neptune, August 1989, Credit:

See here for memories from that day:

Yesterday, (on the 25th anniversary of the Neptune flyby) the New Horizons spacecraft passed Neptune again, on its way to explore Pluto and the Kuiper Belt.  Like the Voyager missions, New Horizons will keep pushing our knowledge of the farther edges of our solar system.


Terrific Titan! And a flyby

In honor of this week’s Cassini Titan flyby (learn more about Cassini at, here are some cool facts about Titan, the largest moon orbiting Saturn.  Don’t forget to answer the poll question at the bottom!

  • Titan is the only moon in our solar system with an atmosphere, which is 370 miles high
  • Light from the Sun is so dim, daylight on the surface of Titan looks like deep twilight on Earth
  • Titan is a lot like the Earth because it has an atmosphere, seasons, tectonic processes, and rich organic materials (it’s like an ancient Earth but colder!)
Titan in front of Saturn, Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI

Titan in front of Saturn, Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI

  • The temperature of Titan is so cold, the water there is frozen, and the methane flows in liquid rivers and lakes
  • One of Titan’s lakes is similar to the size of Lake Superior
  • Titan appears to have an ocean of liquid water and ammonia under its surface
  • Scientists are hypothesizing that Titan’s source of methane is coming from cryovolcanos (that spew slush!)
  • Scientists guess that methane raindrops on Titan could grow twice as large as Earth rain drops, and fall at snowflake speeds
  • Titan’s ice mountains are named after mountains in J.R.R. Tolkein’s Middle Earth, the tallest known mountain being named after Mt. Doom
  • Cassini carried the Hyugen’s probe, which landed on Titan on Jan. 14 2005, making it our first landing in the outer solar system
Flyby August 2014, Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI

Flyby August 2014, Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI


Jupiter and Venus Dancing

Did you know that Jupiter and Venus are dating?  Well, they are dancing at least.  This month the two planets, which happen to be the brightest in our sky, are performing a lovely tango for us.  They are appearing very close together in the sky, something scientists call conjunction.  If you have to get up for work before sunrise (or even if you don’t!) look to the east to see the pretty sight.

Credit: Laurent Laveder, TWAN

Credit: Sky and Telescope