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Michael Eades mentioned this yesterday, but I didn’t get a chance to check it out fully until today. The makers of Google Chrome are doing some very cool experiments with their browser, pushing the limits of what’s possible. This scalable, true-to-scale visualization of our home galaxy, centered on our own Sun, is simply phenomenal. It’s one of the coolest things I’ve seen on the internet in quite some time. Bravo, Chrome-people. Bravo. Do yourself a favor and check it out now.

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Click to enlarge. Trust me- you want to do this!

Before the newsy stuff I had to give you that eye-gasm of a photo of our nearest star a.k.a. the Sun, blowing off millions of tons of hot gas into space a couple weeks ago. This image combines two spectrums of light that we can’t see with our eyes, both of which are in the ultraviolet range and show the magnetic activity better. Both were taken with NASA’s Solar Dynamic Observatory (SDO). We should be glad this enormous eruption wasn’t aimed directly at Earth, else we could have had serious satellite and power disruptions.

Now for the headlines:

  • The teams of physicists at the Large Hadron Collider have officially published their findings on the Higgs boson in a legit, peer-reviewed journal- Physics Letters B. This is the same journal in which Peter Higgs first published his revolutionary paper that began the hunt for the boson to begin with. Once a discovery passes this level of scrutiny, it’s DONE. That means we did it! Scientists have been a little hesitant to actually call this discovered particle the Higgs boson, however, since all the properties and attributes of the particle are yet to be nailed down. Over the next few years we’ll start to get a better picture of just what this particle looks and feels like, so to speak, and I’m sure there will be many more questions raised than answered. (Via NewScientist)
  • Star Trek is starting to look a bit more like reality than science fiction thanks to new research being done into anitmatter and fusion propulsion. That’s right- antimatter, as in the stuff they used to run the Enterprise‘s Warp Drive. NASA teamed up with consulting firm the Tauri Group for a presentation that included a prediction that human technology will have advanced to the point that antimatter and fusion propulsion will be possible for spaceships by around 2060. The technology will not, however be capable of faster-than-light travel. According to the 2010 report the presentation was based upon, it would take about 4 months to get a ship to Jupiter with this technology. That’s significantly faster than current technology, but still a very VERY far cry from Warp speed. (Via Space.com)

On March 7 at just after midnight UTC, the Sun released a massive solar flare and coronal mass ejection towards earth. The CME hit us a few hours ago and from what I can tell the aurorae are ongoing from it. You can keep up with the progress at Spaceweather.com. I’m sure there will be some awesome photos from it in the coming days. This one was powerful enough to disrupt satellite communications, but nothing major has happened so far, that I know of. The main reason for this post, though, was to share this space porn HD video of the actual flare. Just wait till they show the zoomed-in shot. It’s breathtakingly beautiful. Oh, and be sure you set it to full HD!

Credit: NASA

As I’ve mentioned before, our Sun is steadily heading toward the peak of its next 11-year sunspot cycle. The peak is expected in 2013. That means we can expect a steady increase in aurorae as well, because sunspots lead to solar flares and coronal mass ejections (CMEs) and when those happen to be aimed at earth, we get dazzling displays near the north and south poles. Sometimes those displays can even be seen as far south as Tennessee. Over the weekend there was a massive solar flare and CME, one that released the same amount of energy as millions of nuclear bombs, and it headed straight for earth. The blast of particles reached earth last night/this morning and created an astonishing auroral display, which was captured by many photographers at various locations. Here are a few blog posts and other links I’ve come across today showing some of those photos as well as explaining the physics of what actually causes the upper atmosphere to glow when bombarded by these particles.

Spectacular Aurorae Erupt Over Norway (Discovery News) Absolutely breathtaking photos by Bjørn Jørgensen.

Huge Solar Flare Seen By Solar Dynamics Observatory (Space.com)

The Sun Aims a Storm Right at Earth! (Bad Astronomy) Good explanation of the science behind the aurorae.

Can Solar Flares Hurt Astronauts? (Universe Today) Good explanation of why the flare/CME poses little risk to astronauts onboard the ISS.

Credit: NASA

The Kepler team at NASA announced yet another exciting discovery yesterday: the first confirmed earth-size alien planets, Kepler 20f and 20e. The mission has found other exoplanets that pretty close to earth-size, but these two are by far the closest yet. What really befuddled me about this announcement was that that in addition to those two smaller, rocky worlds, there are three bigger gas-giant or super-earths in this system as well. No only that, but all five of these exoplanets’ orbits would fit inside our own Mercury’s orbit around our sun! That’s a lot of planets crammed into a tiny area! Of course that also means that these planets are scorching hot- far too hot to be habitable. But, it’s very reassuring to confirm that Kepler can positively identify alien planets that are earth-size and even tad bit smaller (Kepler 20e is about 87% the size of earth). As usual, Dr. Phil Plait at Bad Astronomy has a very good explanation of the whole thing. And I’ll also point you toward this article on space.com about the likelihood of us finding a true earth-twin within the coming year.

And now I will simply tell you to go take a look at this amazing set of volcano photographs and have a a few eyegasms. You’re welcome.

Should’ve gotten to posting this earlier today but I was waaay too busy.

Very exciting news in the science world today- NASA’s Kepler mission has been very busy lately, finding exoplanets left and right. Problem is, those observations have to be followed-up and duplicated by other telescopes, usually ground-based. Thus, it takes a while to fully confirm the existence of an exoplanet discovered by Kepler. Finally though, they’ve found one that is close to earth’s size, and orbits a star similar to our sun within its habitable zone. It’s not quite the “holy grail” of planet hunting because the planet is 2.4 times the size of earth, but it’s getting us ever-closer to the discovery of a true earth-twin. This is awesome. It’s only a matter of time…

Credit: NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech

For more, check out this article on Space.com, or this article on Discovery News.

 

Credit: Fred Espenak/NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

You must’ve heard about this by now, but I’ll mention it to make sure you know: there’s a full lunar eclipse happening tonight, and it just so happens that it’s also the winter solstice, a.k.a. the shortest day/longest night of the year. Just a coincidence, but a relatively rare one. Lunar eclipses aren’t super-rare- we get one about once every 2-3 years, but they can be pretty spectacular if the earth’s atmospheric conditions cast an eerie orange-red hue on the moon. There’s no way to know if that will happen for sure, but from my experience it happens more often than not. Unfortunately there’s a very good chance it will cloudy and/or raining tonight in middle TN, but if you’re elsewhere, good luck! It starts at about 1:30am EST, that’s 12:30am central, 11:30pm mountain, and 10:30pm pacific. For more details and a good rundown of what to expect, visit Bad Astronomy, and for a good explanation of the red/orange hue, visit this NASA article.

And I can’t help but post this comic from xkcd: I agree 100%

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