Screenshots from Universe Sandbox, currently a part of the Humble Weekly Bundle until July 24, pay what you want for it (available as a direct  download or Steam key, for Windows only).  With this simulator you can see the solar system in 3D from multiple point of views, see each planet with its moons, change the mass of any element, add an element (a planet, a moon, an asteroid), observe a collision, create your own system and more.  More than 70 simulations are included, like a 3d map of the constellations and the passage of Voyager II near neptune in 1989.  

You can see videos on youtube, like this one, and there is a demo available.  

There are two great mysteries that overshadow all other mysteries in science. One is the origin of the universe. That’s my day job. However, there is also the other great mystery of inner space. And that is what sits on your shoulders, which believe it or not, is the most complex object in the known universe. But the brain only uses 20 watts of power. It would require a nuclear power plant to energise a computer the size of a city block to mimic your brain, and your brain does it with just 20 watts. So if someone calls you a dim bulb, that’s a compliment.
Each living creature must be looked at as a microcosm - a little universe, formed of a host of self-propagating organisms, inconceivably minute and as numerous as the stars in heaven.
Charles Darwin (via whats-out-there)


Each year, the U.K.’s Royal Observatory Greenwich celebrates stargazing with the Astronomy Photographer of the Year contest, a photo competition that showcases the very best of artful night sky observations.


via ScienceAlert

Messier 6 - Butterfly Cluster in Scorpius

Our first open cluster in the Messier Catalogue, M6 displays a loose collection of  bright stars. Open clusters are relatively young objects in the night sky. Their stars originated from the same molecular cloud, and while varying in size and colour, they share the same chemical composition. M6 is visibly blue, due to the large population of bright B type stars. It was discovered in 1654 by Giovanni Battista Hodierna or possibly early by Ptolemy in the 1st century AD. It was recorded by Charles Messier in 1764.

Top: Wide-Field - Anthony Urbano

Bottom:Close-Up - Ole Nielsen


Van Cleef & Arpels turns its gaze to the heavens and gives pride of place to a captivating chapter in its watchmaking history: Poetic Astronomy™. In keeping with one of the Maison’s cherished sources of inspiration, planets and constellations appear in enchanting guise to evoke voyages and dreams.

This new Poetic Complication timepiece provides a miniature representation of the movement of six planets around the sun and their position at any given time : Earth and Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn – all visible from Earth with the naked eye.

The Maison has applied its jewelry-making expertise to depicting the planets with a selection of hard stones: turquoise for the Earth, serpentine for Mercury, chloromelanite for Venus, red jasper for Mars, blue agate for Jupiter and sugilite for Saturn.

Planets are set in motion thanks to a self-winding mechanical movement of great complexity: equipped with an exclusive module developed in partnership with the MaisonChristiaan van der Klaauw, it contains 396 separate parts.

The movement of each planet is true to its genuine length of orbit: it will take Saturn over 29 years to make a complete circuit of the dial, while Jupiter will take almost 12 years, Mars 687 days, Earth 365 days, Venus 224 days and Mercury 88 days.

…for science.


Cosmic rethink? bring it on!

Messier 5 - Globular Cluster in Serpens

Discovered by Gottfried Kirch in 1702 and later cataloged by Charles Messier in 1764, M5 is one of the largest globular clusters known. It is so large that given the right conditions, it can be seen as a faint star with the unaided eye. M5 is also one of the oldest globular clusters and contains more than 100,000 stars. It is also known for several variable stars and even a dwarf nova!

Top: Wide-Field - NASA

Bottom: Close-Up - ESA/NASA/Hubble


Titan’s Atmosphere

Titan is the largest moon of Saturn. It is the only natural satellite known to have a dense atmosphere, and the only object other than Earth for which clear evidence of stable bodies of surface liquid has been found

Titan is primarily composed of water ice and rocky material. Much as with Venus prior to the Space Age, the dense, opaque atmosphere prevented understanding of Titan’s surface until new information accumulated with the arrival of the Cassini–Huygens mission in 2004, including the discovery of liquid hydrocarbon lakes in Titan’s polar regions.

The atmosphere is largely nitrogen; minor components lead to the formation of methane and ethane clouds and nitrogen-rich organic smog. Titan’s lower gravity means that its atmosphere is far more extended than Earth’s and about 1.19 times as massive. It supports opaque haze layers that block most visible light from the Sun and other sources and renders Titan’s surface features obscure. Atmospheric methane creates a greenhouse effect on Titan’s surface, without which Titan would be far colder. Conversely, haze in Titan’s atmosphere contributes to an anti-greenhouse effect by reflecting sunlight back into space, cancelling a portion of the greenhouse effect warming and making its surface significantly colder than its upper atmosphere.

Titan’s clouds, probably composed of methane, ethane or other simple organics, are scattered and variable, punctuating the overall haze.The findings of the Huygens probe indicate that Titan’s atmosphere periodically rains liquid methane and other organic compounds onto its surface. Clouds typically cover 1% of Titan’s disk, though outburst events have been observed in which the cloud cover rapidly expands to as much as 8%. One hypothesis asserts that the southern clouds are formed when heightened levels of sunlight during the southern summer generate uplift in the atmosphere, resulting in convection. This explanation is complicated by the fact that cloud formation has been observed not only after the southern summer solstice but also during mid-spring.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute


Larry Lemke of NASA Ames presentation about the possibility of using a SpaceX Dragon for a Mars soft landing and sample return mission


Although unnoticeable to those who pay attention to “the news"….we’re living in a pretty spectacular era of human history.

Seth Shostak - Senior Astronomer at SETI (Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence) - posed a submission that we, the human race, will detect an extraterrestrial civilization amidst the cosmos within the next 24 years. He’s so confident of this, he’s bet everyone (all 7+ billion of us) a cup of coffee on it.

It’s very easy to make fun of this, just like it also would have been funny to make fun of Magellan before he sailed around the world," Seth Shostak, a senior astronomer with SETI, told Congress. "We looked in particular directions at a few thousand star systems—the fact we haven’t found anything means nothing. This is like asking Christopher Columbus two weeks out of Cadiz if he’d found any new continents yet. We have to look at a few million star systems to have a reasonable chance." [Motherboard]

The reality is, we’re on an unprecedented exponential growth curve fueled by Moore’s Law, whereby advancements across multiple fields of science and technology are yielding new and transformative achievements, propelling us into a future of faster data processing at the helm of many disruptive technologies. A universal Rosetta Stone may not be attainable regarding our ability to generally decode transmissions from everywhere (and in any form) amid the past/present universe, but we certainly do have the tools for deciphering messages as we have from our ancestors’ hieroglyphics and artifacts.

With this in mind, read the referenced Motherboard article, and be sure to browse NASA’s newly published ebook by Douglas A. Vokoch, Archaeology, Anthropology, and Interstellar Communications.

The question I continue to submit when this topic is brought up, however: if we detect it, what will we do, and will we care?

We no longer live in a world where today’s news is tomorrow’s headline. News now is relative to weather…always fluctuating…when the storm is over, we go back outside. If it’s bitterly cold, we complain until it warms up. When we’re warm, the complaints pour in that it’s too hot. And similarly, when “breaking news” becomes breaking news, it ends up at the bottom of our news feeds and online dashboard threads.

Our society is plagued with alarmist tendencies. As X Prize Co-Founder Peter Diamandis reminds us, “the news media preferentially feeds us negative stories because that’s what our minds pay attention to. And there’s a good reason for that. Every second of every day, our senses bring in way too much data that we can possibly process in our brains. And because nothing is more important to us than survival, the first stop for all that data is an ancient sliver of the temporal lobe called the amygdala….our early warning detector, our danger detector. So given a dozen news stories, we will preferentially look at the negative news." This has more to do with how little attention we pay to how fast the technologically driven world is moving and how tremendous of a time we’re living, but it’s a worthy comparison to how we process that information to our advantage as a species which belongs to the cosmos…and to with whom we share this cosmic neighborhood.

So again, I wonder: what will humanity’s response be to the detection of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe?

Messier 4 - Globular Cluster in Scorpius

M4 is yet another globular cluster, located just west of the star Anatares. Catalouged by Charles Messier in 1764, M4 is an easy target for any telescope. As such, it was the first globular cluster in which individual stars were resolved. The stars of globular clusters are some of the oldest in the galaxy, and especially for M4 as some of the white dwarfs are about 13 billion years old - nearly the age of the universe itself!

Top: Wide-Field - Rainer Sparenberg

Bottom: Close-Up - NASA/Hubble



CYGNUS: Swan of the Night Sky

Dominating the summer sky, Cygnus is one of the largest constellations and one of the most recognisable. Comprised of about nine stars, the pattern of Cygnus follows as a swan in flight. Go outside a few hours after dark and look towards the east. You should be able to make out a cross lying on its side. You’ve done the hard work already! The horizontal bar of the cross represents the body of the swan and the vertical arms of the cross represent its wings. The bright star Deneb is the swan’s tail and Alberio is its head. If it’s really dark, you might even notice a faint band of light stretching across the sky – it’s our galaxy the Milky Way!  The Swan flies along the Milky Way!

Now the cross itself is quite an easy pattern to see and is what we astronomers call the “asterism” known as “The Northern Cross”. Simply, an asterism is a pattern in the night sky which is easy to see. A constellation on the other hand is one of the 88 official patterns selected by the International Astronomical Union (IAU). And for modern astronomical purposes, a constellation also includes the area around the constellation, as marked in the chart. For example, although Tau Cygni is not a part of the swan itself, it is still considered a part of the constellation. And while The Northern Cross exists as part of the swan, it excludes the wing tips and is therefore an asterism. In addition, the Northern Cross was an important symbol to early Christians because during particular months it appears upright in the sky, hence the cross. And now it might be surprising, but the most famous of these asterisms is actually the Big Dipper, which makes up the tail and back of Ursa Major, the Big Bear! There are plenty of easily-found asterisms in the night sky – try to track them down!

Cygnus has some truly remarkable stars. The bright star Deneb, which again is the tail of the swan, is also a part of a massive asterism called “The Summer Triangle” which comprises three bright stars: Deneb, Vega, and Altair. Each of these stars belongs to their own constellation. Vega is part of Lyra the Harp (or Lyre) and Altair is part of Aquila the Eagle. The somewhat dim star Alberio makes up the head of the Swan, and is actually two stars! It’s what astronomers call a “binary system”, meaning that there are two stars orbiting each other. If our own solar system was one of these binary systems, we would see not one sun, but two suns in our daytime sky! Now these two stars, unimaginatively named Alberio A and Alberio B, are strikingly different in appearance. While one star is bright gold, its smaller companion shines with a sapphire blue hue. It’s my all-time favourite! I like to say that these two stars are the jewelled eyes of the swan. One for the bucket list!

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Science, like art, is not a copy of nature but a re-creation of her.
Jacob Bronowski
(via tuggywuggy)