Category Archives: News
Ever since the discovery of Pluto by Clyde Tombaugh in 1930 our Solar System was known to have nine planets orbiting the Sun. “My Very Eager Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas” was a popular mnemonic in my elementary school days to help remember the order of major planets from Mercury outward. But in 2006, a controversial decision by the International Astronomical Union—spurred in part by Caltech astronomer Mike Brown—changed the specifications on what officially classifies a planet in the Solar System, thereby stripping Pluto of its 76-year-old designation. The reclassification, done by an in-person vote at a meeting in Prague (at which only about 400 of over 9,000 IAU members were in attendance) has been a topic of debate—often fierce—in the astronomical community ever since, and now some scientists are demanding to have it redefined again.
When someone mentions NASA you may first think about the Apollo Moon missions, space shuttles, rovers on Mars, and breathtaking pictures of the planets and distant stars and galaxies. And while NASA was and is very much responsible for all of these things, some of the most important achievements of NASA aren’t what’s accomplished out in space but how its technological advancements are used right here on Earth. Because of NASA’s needs in space, advancements were also made possible in aeronautics, defense, medicine, law enforcement, sports, transportation, safety, industrial, retail, and even some of the technology used in your home.
NASA doesn’t keep these innovations a secret, either. Its Spinoff publication lists, each year since 1976, the improvements made in various fields by NASA itself as well as companies across the country that have taken advantage of its publicly-available technology.
Part of NASA’s mission, written into the Agency’s foundational legislation, is a requirement to “provide for the widest practicable and appropriate dissemination” of the fruits of its scientific and technological discoveries. Spinoff 2017 shows that this spirit is alive and well at NASA, and we hope that you enjoy reading about the many ways space exploration yields practical benefits for all of us on Earth.
— Stephen Jurczyk, Associate Administrator, NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate
Download the 2017 issue of NASA Spinoff here to learn how NASA is launching innovations and improving lives across the U.S. and the world.
Sad news today: Eugene A. Cernan, former NASA astronaut and one of the twelve people who walked on the Moon during the Apollo program, died today at the age of 82.
“It is with very deep sadness that we share the loss of our beloved husband and father,” Cernan’s family said in a news release from NASA. “Our family is heartbroken, of course, and we truly appreciate everyone’s thoughts and prayers. Gene, as he was known by so many, was a loving husband, father, grandfather, brother and friend.”
This is an article, now updated, that I originally posted in 2009 during my first year of blogging. Since then more research has been done on the famous 1908 Tunguska Event and we even had a remarkably similar type of thing occur in February 2013 over the Chelyabinsk area, not too far from Tunguska, but even today, the 108th anniversary of the event, scientists aren’t in agreement over what it was that violently exploded over the boggy forests of Siberia—asteroid or comet.
Long the subject of debate, with various theories ranging from meteorite impact to a comet to a flying saucer’s sudden engine meltdown, there’s actually strong evidence that the 1908 “Tunguska Event” was likely caused by the explosion of a comet in the upper atmosphere.
This idea has been suggested before, and is supported by Cornell University engineering professor Michael Kelly’s study of – strangely enough – the space shuttle’s exhaust plumes and their effect on high-atmosphere cloud formation.
To those not familiar with the Tunguska Event, something exploded or impacted in the remote area of Russia on June 30, 1908, flattening the forest in an 830-square-mile area, but leaving no visible crater or other obvious sign of what caused the event. Nearby residents reported the sound of a massive explosion, but that’s about it. Whatever it was, the devastation it caused was extensive and undeniable.
A planet-killing astronomer is now attempting to introduce a new world into the Solar System.
Self-professed “Pluto killer” Mike Brown — the Caltech professor and astronomer whose discovery of Eris in 2005 prompted the reclassification of what constitutes a full-fledged planet, thus knocking Pluto from the list a year later — is now offering up evidence for the existence of a “real” ninth planet, far beyond the orbit of Pluto and possibly even traveling farther than the Kuiper Belt extends. This “Planet Nine,” say Brown and co-researcher Konstantin Batygin — also of Caltech — could be nearly the mass of Neptune, although it has not been directly observed by any Solar System surveys performed to date.
(And for those long-time Planet X fans who will assuredly cry “told you so,” this hypothesis is based on actual observations and not just wishful thinking or sci-fi dreams. There’s a difference.)
Why does Russia seem to get so many bright meteors? Well, at 6.6 million square miles it’s by far the largest country in the world plus, with dashboard-mounted cameras being so commonplace (partly to help combat insurance fraud) mathematically it just makes sense that Russians would end up seeing more meteors, and then be able to share the experience!
This is exactly what happened early this morning, April 19 (local time), when a bright fireball flashed in the skies over Murmansk in the Kola Peninsula, located in northwest Russia near the border of Finland. Luckily not nearly as large or powerful as the Chelyabinsk meteor event from February 2013, no sound or air blast from this fireball has been reported, and details on the object aren’t yet known (could be a meteor, could be space debris). The video above, captured in part by Alexandr Nesterov from a dashcam, shows the object lighting up the early morning sky. Check it out, and follow me on Twitter for more details as they are released. Heads up!