Welcome! I’m very honored to host the 140th edition of Carnival of Space here on Lights in the Dark, especially considering that this week marks this site’s one-year anniversary! It’s really been a fascinating year for me. I’ve had a lot of fun finding and featuring images from the various missions exploring our solar system…from the adventures of the resilient Mars rovers to the MESSENGER spacecraft exploring mysterious Mercury…the stunning solar observations of SOHO and the high-res lunar landscapes revealed by JAXA’s KAGUYA probe…and, of course, the Cassini spacecraft with its endless array of breathtaking images from the Saturnian system. Not to mention the many other missions currently investigating everything from our own pale blue globe to the wonders of deepest space.
Regarding deepest space, Discovery News writer Ian O’Neill reports that scientists using NASA’s Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) have placed a “refined” estimate of the age of the universe at precisely 13.75 billion years old. This comes from data from the probe which is constantly scanning the background energy of space, called CMB (cosmic microwave background) radiation. It’s the leftover “echo” of the Big Bang, the oldest light, and by measuring it they can estimate not only how long ago it started but also what sorts of elements made up the newly-formed universe. (The new results aren’t without debate though…the universe knows better than to give out its age that easily.)
Another deep space mystery are black holes, and astrophysicist Bente Lilja Bye writes on PlanetBye about what happens when two of them decide to engage in a little dance. I’m not sure how they decide who gets to take the lead, but the result is the creation of billions of new stars and quite the view for the HST.
And for a closer look at the mechanics of black holes, check out spacewriter Carolyn Collins Petersen’s latest installment of The Astronomer’s Universe, where she spoke with astronomers at the meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Washington, DC.
Black holes aren’t the only bad drivers in the universe…sometimes even quasars collide, as described by Kimberly Arcand on ChandraBlog, Harvard’s news site for the Chandra X-ray Observatory satellite.
Maybe not billions of stars but definitely many thousands can be seen in NGC 3603, a large star-forming region in our own galaxy. Astronomer and author extraordinaire Phil Plait writes on BadAstronomy about the huge – make that ginormous – stars this region has spawned…one 116 times the mass of our Sun! Stars that big live fast and die young though, and when they go, they go big.
Our Sun is about to get another set of (electronic) eyes on it, and Nicole Gugliucci will be there when the Atlas V launches with NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory on board, ready to enter orbit and begin its work observing our home star. Read her enthusiastic post on NoisyAstronomer.com.
Monday’s launch of the STS-130 mission puts us one step closer to the end of the shuttle program with only 5 more launches scheduled…JPL’s Solar System Ambassador and digital artist Jim Plaxco discusses in-depth where NASA is headed and showcases a poignant piece from his portfolio of space art.
The STS-130 mission crew will be helping memorialize the canceled Constellation lunar program with a Flight Kit full of lapel pins and other mementos from various missions destined for the ISS…read more and see the full listing of artifacts in Robert Pearlman’s article on collectSPACE.
While other programs may have been mothballed by the newly-proposed NASA budget, the ISS will enjoy more funding, continuing scientific work for at least another decade. Universe Today senior editor Nancy Atkinson writes a glowing review about the biological studies being conducted aboard the ISS, and, on her new personal blog, describes the emotions of her first visit to Kennedy Space Center as a member of the press in anticipation of the shuttle launch. (Also be sure to check out her recap of the launch itself on her home page!)
Another thing the changes to the space program have done is open the door to the private sector for the development of space technology…Ken Murphy discusses the exciting potential for new business opportunities waiting just above our heads, and Next Big Future writer Brian Wang covers the advantages of a VASIMR plasma-based rocket that can double the carrying capacity of a chemical-based rocket for lunar missions and a self-replenishing plasma fusion engine that could power the future of deep space exploration.
While Ken and Brian look ahead, amateur astronomer Steve Tilford delves into the past with a 106-year old 16″ telescope at the Cincinnati Observatory Center. Read about his experience with the historic instrument on Steve’s Astro Corner.
Old or new, telescopes were designed to gather light from distant sources…but what exactly is light? In the first of a two-part series, “occasional volunteer explainer” Steve Nerlich shines a light on light in his latest podcast on Cheap Astronomy.
Now if light starts to mysteriously disappear in a region of space, it might be due to a Fermi bubble – the result of the expansion of an interstellar civilization that has significantly tapped into the resources of nearby stars. Paul Gilster discusses the concept of this in his article “Toward an Interstellar Archaeology” on Centauri Dreams.
Meanwhile, back in our own solar system, Adam Crowl anticipates the arrival of New Horizons at Pluto and the recent discovery of seasonal surface variations on the outpost ex-planet, and Ian Musgrave gives us a complete guide to observing Mars at opposition, as well as an extensive list of Mars-related links.
Speaking of Mars, the Opportunity rover has reached a rock feature called “Chocolate Hills”. Named after landforms on Bohol Island in the Philipines, the Chocolate Hills on Mars feature some interesting knobby texture…Stuart Atkinson shows us Opportunity’s findings in his post on The Road to Endeavour.
Will Earth become the future’s low-rent zone? On Habitation Intention, Aron Sora asks if he can apply urban sociology to the concept of human colonization in space.
Heading out to Jupiter’s moon Io, one of the moons first observed by Galileo, Jason Perry posts on The Gish Bar Times about successful computer modeling of large volcanic plumes from Pele, one of the unique moon’s biggest volcanoes.
And finally, last but not least, is Emily Lakdawalla’s article on The Planetary Society’s blog outlining – by way of John Spencer’s original post from February 2009 – plans for the Cassini spacecraft’s upcoming Solstice mission. Cassini has been green-lighted to continue its tour around Saturn for another seven years, taking it alongside the ringed planet as it passes into its winter season. I’m sure we’re all looking forward to seven more years of fantastic Cassini images! (I know I am!)
This wraps up this 140th edition of the Carnival of Space. It’s been an honor hosting it, my gratitude to Fraser Cain at Universe Today for the opportunity! Thanks for visiting Lights in the Dark, if you’re new here take a look around and, as always, keep looking up!
– J. Major