Artist interpretation of Kepler 47c. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle

It’s been a while since we had any juicy exoplanet news. That changed yesterday as a new breakthrough was announced in exoplanet science. For the first time astronomers have confirmed multiple planets orbiting a binary star. The star is about 5,000 light years away and what really makes this discovery interesting is that one of the two planets orbits in the habitable zone, where liquid water could exist on its surface. The catch is- the planet is a gas giant, similar to Jupiter and Saturn, but more the size of Uranus. However, planets like that almost always have many moons, some of which could have an atmosphere and even support life, just like the Forest Moon of Endor, home of the Ewoks in Star Wars. Pretty exciting stuff! Read more about it at NewScientist.

In other news, if you’re anywhere in the southeast and looking for some nerdy fun this Labor Day, look no further than Rocket Fest at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, AL. This event just popped onto my radar today via Bad Astronomy, and low & behold Dr. Plait himself will be one of the guest speakers! It should be no secret that I’m a big fan of him and and his blog. This is a fundraiser open to anyone, any age, and the proceeds go to the scholarship fund for Space Camp, and the U.S. Space & Rocket Center Foundation. Honestly what excites me the most about it (besides seeing Phil Plait speak) is the fact that you can get a signed print of that AWESOME poster for a mere $20 donation. I’m not sure yet if I’ll be there, but I had to mention it because it’s all sorts of awesome!

Thundersnow is possibly the coolest-sounding meteorological term I can think of. It happens very rarely, but when it does it’s awesome. Convection strong enough to cause lighting during a snowstorm is simply amazing, as are most things that rare. Through a ridiculous stroke of luck, scientists in Huntsville, AL got a rare opportunity to study this bizarre phenomenon in-depth. As you may know, Huntsville is home to NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. There are meteorologists and other scientists there with a barrage of better-than-average instruments that monitored the inner-workings of the snowstorm that hit the area Jan. 9th. They got the most thorough data ever recorded for thundersnow, and observed one bolt of lightning that traveled a whopping 50 miles horizontally before hitting the ground. The fact that such a rare and interesting phenomenon happened right on top of a facility so well-equipped to study it is quite remarkable, and those scientists were very excited to be able to study the thundersnow in such great detail. I look forward to seeing what is learned from this experience. (Via Discovery News)

NASA has been presented with yet another viable commercial option for replacing the Space Shuttle’s role of ferrying astronauts to and from the space station, as well as carrying cargo. A U.S. company called Alliant Techsystems teamed up with Europe’s Astrium to draft the proposal for a new rocket called Liberty. This new rocket would combine research of the now-dead Constellation program with the proven components of the European Space Agency’s Ariane 5 launch system. Since this collaborative effort combines mostly well-proven technology, it would be both cheap and relatively quick to build, shortening the problematic gap between the last Space Shuttle flight and the first availability of commercial access to space. If it truly will shorten said gap, I’m all for it. I hope it’s really as good as it sounds, but things like this always run into unforseen problems/delays. Right now, SpaceX still has the edge simply because it’s already had 2 very successful tests of its launch system, the Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule. But Liberty could give SpaceX a run for their money. Check out the promo video below. (Via Universe Today)