Where does Earth’s atmosphere end and space begin? This and other questions soon will be answered by NASA’s Ionospheric Connection Explorer, or ICON, satellite. Get ready to watch as the Pegasus countdown reaches T-Zero launching in early October from its carrier aircraft flying near the Kennedy Space Center.
** Guy Bluford Reflects on the 35th Anniversary of His First Space Flight
This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of one of mankind’s boldest adventures, the first manned flight to another world. To mark the occasion, an audio version of the first book about the mission of Apollo 8 has been released, narrated by Grover Gardner, a legend in the ears of fans of audiobooks all over the planet.
Says Valerie Anders, wife of Apollo 8 crew member Bill Anders, “When I first read this excellent account, published before the end of the space shuttle era, I was delighted.”
Now, with the advent of high quality audio books and online merchants like iTunes and Audible, and the resonant and expressive voice of narrator Grover Garner, everyone can enjoy this recording of this pivotal moment in space history.
While more recent books have been published on the mission of Apollo 8 (most of which rely heavily on Zimmerman’s work), none has captured the impact the Apollo program had on the families of the astronauts nearly so well as “Genesis – the story of Apollo 8.” The new forward to “Genesis,” by Valerie Anders, contains a moving tribute to those pilots who never returned from their missions – not as faraway as the moon, but just as dangerous and far more frequent.
Well, it’s official: The future is here. It’s in the form of the LightSail 2 launch, and who’s got a front row seat? You. You’ve also got an A-list guest by your side in the form of Bill Nye. You’ll head to Cape Canaveral to see LightSail 2—a small CubeSat created and crowdfunded by the global community of The Planetary Society supporters—launch into space, deploy shiny solar sails and soar into space on beams of pure energy (aka, the light from the sun). And to get up there, it’ll hitch a ride on the world’s most powerful rocket, the SpaceX Falcon Heavy. Pretty cool. Watch this monumental launch with Bill, then grab a bite with him to geek out over the overwhelming awesomeness of it all. After that, you’ll attend an exclusive VIP dinner for The Planetary Society, an incredible organization that introduces people to the wonders of the cosmos and empowers us all to advance space science and exploration. Flights and hotel included.
Astronomers using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space telescope have taken a series of spectacular images featuring the fluttering auroras at the north pole of Saturn. The observations were taken in ultraviolet light and the resulting images provide astronomers with the most comprehensive picture so far of Saturn’s northern aurora.
On Earth, auroras are mainly created by particles originally emitted by the Sun in the form of solar wind. When this stream of electrically charged particles gets close to our planet, it interacts with the magnetic field, which acts as a gigantic shield. While it protects Earth’s environment from solar wind particles, it can also trap a small fraction of them. Particles trapped within the magnetosphere — the region of space surrounding Earth in which charged particles are affected by its magnetic field — can be energised and then follow the magnetic field lines down to the magnetic poles. There, they interact with oxygen and nitrogen atoms in the upper layers of the atmosphere, creating the flickering, colourful lights visible in the polar regions here on Earth .
However, these auroras are not unique to Earth. Other planets in our Solar System have been found to have similar auroras. Among them are the four gas giants Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. Because the atmosphere of each of the four outer planets in the Solar System is — unlike the Earth — dominated by hydrogen, Saturn’s auroras can only be seen in ultraviolet wavelengths; a part of the electromagnetic spectrum which can only be studied from space.
Hubble allowed researchers to monitor the behaviour of the auroras at Saturn’s north pole over an extended period of time. The Hubble observations were coordinated with the “Grand Finale” of the Cassini spacecraft, when the spacecraft simultaneously probed the auroral regions of Saturn . The Hubble data allowed astronomers to learn more about Saturn’s magnetosphere, which is the largest of any planet in the Solar System other than Jupiter.
The images show a rich variety of emissions with highly variable localised features. The variability of the auroras is influenced by both the solar wind and the rapid rotation of Saturn, which lasts only about 11 hours. On top of this, the northern aurora displays two distinct peaks in brightness — at dawn and just before midnight. The latter peak, unreported before, seems specific to the interaction of the solar wind with the magnetosphere at Saturn’s solstice.
The main image presented here is a composite of observations made of Saturn in early 2018 in the optical and of the auroras on Saturn’s north pole region, made in 2017, demonstrating the size of the auroras along with the beautiful colours of Saturn.
Hubble has studied Saturn’s auroras in the past. In 2004, it studied the southern auroras shortly after the southern solstice (heic0504) and in 2009 it took advantage of a rare opportunity to record Saturn when its rings were edge-on (heic1003). This allowed Hubble to observe both poles and their auroras simultaneously.
 The auroras here on Earth have different names depending on which pole they occur at. Aurora Borealis, or the northern lights, is the name given to auroras around the north pole and Aurora Australis, or the southern lights, is the name given for auroras around the south pole.
 Cassini was a collaboration between NASA, ESA and the Italian Space Agency. It spent 13 years orbiting Saturn, gathering information and giving astronomers a great insight into the inner workings of Saturn. Cassini took more risks at the end of its mission, travelling through the gap between Saturn and its rings. No spacecraft had previously done this, and Cassini gathered spectacular images of Saturn as well as new data for scientists to work with. On 15 September 2017 Cassini was sent on a controlled crash into Saturn.