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Here’s an interesting tidbit that came across my radar today: A very illusive and rare meteor shower may flare up tonight for the first time since 1930! On June 11th of that year, a small group of astronomers reported a short-lived meteor shower that was sought out in subsequent years, but never seen again. Now an astronomer named Peter Jenniskens with NASA and SETI has suggested that Earth is passing through the same comet trail it did back in 1930, and thus we could see this rare outburst, called the Gamma Delphinids, again- TONIGHT. Fortunately the moon will have set several hours before the expected peak between 2:30 and 4:30am CDT, leaving only the weather to stand in the way of getting to witness this rare event. I must point out, however, that scientists aren’t nearly as certain about this meteor shower as they are about the more reliable yearly showers such as the Leonids, Geminids, Perseids, etc… So if you’re a fan of meteor showers and have the will power to get up in the wee hours and sit outside to watch, tonight could reward your efforts with a show not seen in 83 years. (Via Universe Today and the American Meteor Society)

In other science news, more evidence of normal, habitable water on the ancient Mars surface was discovered recently. You’re probably thinking this discovery came from the Curiosity rover, but it actually came from Opportunity, one of the twin rovers that landed on Mars in 2004. Opportunity’s team sent her to investigate an interesting rock outcropping, and they found evidence of certain clay minerals that could only have formed in water that would be habitable to life as we know it. This discovery is right in line with Curiosity’s findings from February, and strongly supports the theory that Mars once had running water on the surface, and might have even supported microbial life! As Curiosity keeps trekking toward Mount Sharp, the rover will keep looking for these same minerals to help paint a clearer picture of Mars’ watery past. (Via New Scientist)

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Credit: NASA

Space Shuttle Discovery is ready for launch later today (4:50pm Eastern/3:50 Central) on its final trip to space. This mission has been delayed extensively- it was originally scheduled to launch in November of last year, but fuel leaks and then tiny cracks discovered on the external fuel tank caused major delays. The shuttle had to be returned to the massive vehicle assembly building (VAB) for repairs that took several months. But so far all is good for the launch today. The shuttle is carrying an additional storage module (essentially a storage closet in space) to the ISS, along with an external logistics platform and a humanoid robot called Robonaut 2. Robonaut 2, known as R2 (ha!) is basically an experiment to allow engineers to determine how the robot will work in space, and how to best control it from inside the ISS. The end goal is to have a humanoid robot that can venture outside the space station and assist spacewalking astronauts with repairs and upgrades. The robot will be controlled by an astronaut inside the space station via some sort of virtual reality-like interface.

As I said, this is the last flight of Discovery. The only confirmed remaining flight is that of Endeavour, scheduled for launch in April. This mission will carry a very important piece of scientific equipment called the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer to the ISS. The AMS will help physicists answer some of the most daunting questions in cosmology. An additional flight of Atlantis is likely, though not 100% confirmed. It would launch in June and be the absolute final flight of the Space Shuttle program.

I’m not going to attempt to rundown all the party possibilities for tonight in Nashville. Just head over to the Nashville Cream and check out their NYE flow chart. There’s really nothing better for determining your course of action for tonight. Whatever you do, be safe and if you plan on drinking, arrange for a DD or a cab or Zingo or SOMETHING.

Instead of creating or linking to any “best of” lists about 2010, I thought I’d round up a couple of articles about what to expect in the science world in 2011.

Discovery News: The Biggest, Boldest, and Baddest Space Missions of 2011

Live Science: The Top Science Breakthroughs That 2011 May Bring

That’s it. I’m out. See you in 2011.

Screenshot from NASA Tech virtual tour

So yesterday’s post was a bit of a downer… in some ways. Let me now point you in the direction of something totally awesome: a virtual tour of Space Shuttle Discovery on launch pad 39A. With the final liftoff of Discovery scheduled for tomorrow, I thought it perfect today to share this website I discovered via Universe Today. NASA’s Jim O’Connor runs the NASA Tech website and does 360 degree hi-resolution photographic virtual tours, and they’re nothing short of amazing. While virtual tours are nothing new, getting this kind of view (and from as many viewpoints) of a space shuttle is as close as most of us will ever get to actually seeing the full assembly up-close and in-person. It really helps you grasp how big the whole thing is… as much as one can without actually being there. Right now there are several different views of the space shuttle, all of which can be rotated a full 360 degrees. While the website itself is rather hideously designed, the awesome views offered by the virtual tours make up for it. I’d say my favorite is the one from under the orange external fuel tank.

In other news: GET OFF YOUR ASS AND VOTE TODAY!

 

Credit: Lynette Cook/NSF

 

Planet hunting is a delicate and tedious science. A very strong emphasis is placed on multiple teams of astronomers being able to replicate the results of the first team to announce any kind of discovery. If another team is unable to replicate the findings of the first, it casts a serious shadow of doubt on the validity of the initial findings. That’s exactly what is happening with the Gliese 581g exoplanet that was announced just last week. Sadly, a team that works directly with the HARPS detector on the 3.6m telescope at the La Silla Observatory in Chile has been unable to confirm the existence of Gliese 581f or g. They have access to more data than the team who initially announced the discovery, and they can’t find a clear enough signal in the background “noise” of the observations to confirm this planet. As more teams run computer models and look at observations from other telescopes with radial velocity planet-finding instruments, maybe we’ll get a clearer picture of whether these two planets actually exist. (Via Universe Today via Dynamics of Cats blog)

Don’t worry though, the Kepler mission will undoubtedly start popping out earth-twin discoveries in another year or so, mark my word.

Lot’s of quick-hitters today. I have too much crap to do at work and a bunch of preparation for SXSW. The main thing to note today is that I’ve finally joined the Twitter party. Follow me and I’ll follow you!

Strobist has a cool post about a fascinating mouse trap devised by PocketWizard inventor/engineer Jim Clark. It first captured images of the mouse in action, then captured the mouse’s descent into the humane trap devised by Mr. Clark. He then kept the mouse as a pet during the winter months, and freed it in the spring. Awww…

For some more “awwww-ness,” check out Oddee.com’s post about 10 amazing dogs.

Hipster Runoff tells you exactly what SXSW is gonna be like. SRSLY.

THE MCGANGBANG. Enough said.

Apparently a bat tried to hitch a ride on the Space Shuttle’s external fuel tank just before launch Sunday. It posed no threat since it was on the side opposite the shuttle. In case you live under a rock, Discovery did finally blast off Sunday night and is now on its way to the ISS to put the final major US component in place.

And finally…. LESBIAN VAMPIRE KILLERS!!!!

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