Category Archives: Astronomy

Earth-like exoplanets all around us

Earth-sized exoplanets in the habitable zones of their stars may not only be common but relatively close by: Earth-like Planets Are Right Next Door – Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics 

Cambridge, MA – Using publicly available data from NASA’s Kepler space telescope, astronomers at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) have found that six percent of red dwarf stars have habitable, Earth-sized planets. Since red dwarfs are the most common stars in our galaxy, the closest Earth-like planet could be just 13 light-years away.

“We thought we would have to search vast distances to find an Earth-like planet. Now we realize another Earth is probably in our own backyard, waiting to be spotted,” said Harvard astronomer and lead author Courtney Dressing (CfA).


This artist’s conception shows a hypothetical habitable planet with two moons orbiting a red dwarf star. Astronomers have found that 6 percent of all red dwarf stars have an Earth-sized planet in the habitable zone, which is warm enough for liquid water on the planet’s surface. Since red dwarf stars are so common, then statistically the closest Earth-like planet should be only 13 light-years away.
Credit: David A. Aguilar (CfA)

Video: Comet ISON imaged by Deep Impact probe

This video looks like something from a 1950’s sci-fi TV show but is actually made from images of the Comet ISON from the Deep Impact probe: NASA’s Deep Impact Spacecraft Eyes Comet ISON – NASA .

This series of images of comet C/2012 S1 (ISON) was taken by the Medium-Resolution Imager of NASA’s Deep Impact spacecraft over a 36-hour period on Jan. 17 and 18, 2013. At the time, the spacecraft was 493 million miles (793 million kilometers) from the comet.

Citizen science – recent activity at four projects

I often talk here about the proliferation of citizen science projects. I thought I would scan the blogs of four space related projects at Zooniverse and see what their blogs are talking about these days.

* Planet Hunters –  In this project, participants scan data from the Kepler  space observatory to look for a drop in the brightness of a star when a planet orbits in front of it as seen from our point of view.

What factors impact transit shape – Planet Hunters blog – This post discusses an effort to make simulated transits look more like the real ones.

2012_Transit_of_Venus_from_SFTransit of Venus – Image credit Wikipedia

* Galaxy Zoo – With millions of galaxies to classify, this project takes advantage of the human powers of pattern recognition and lets participants decide into which category a galaxy should go according to its shape and features.

Spiral Galaxies and the Future of Citizen Science: a Live Chat – Galaxy Zoo blog – An online chat show brings “Some of the Galaxy Zoo Science Team” together to “talk about a recent paper on measuring spiral arm features via a computer algorithm, including how it compares to human classifications and what this means for the future of volunteer-driven citizen science.” The “also introduce — and have a bit of fun with — the jargon gong.”

* Moon Zoo – With the thousands of images from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera, participants classify the myriad types of lunar surface features.

Flying over Taurus-Littrow – Moon Zoo blog – This post points to dramatically lit images of the Taurus-Littrow site where Apollo 17 landed.



* Planet Four – In this project, participants help “find and mark ‘fans’ and ‘blotches’ on the Martian surface. Scientists believe that these features indicate wind direction and speed. By tracking ‘fans’ and ‘blotches’ over the course of several Martian years to see how they form, evolve, disappear and reform, we can help planetary scientists better understand Mars’ climate.”

to the North! – Planet Four Blog –  The project currently only has image data for the Martian southern hemisphere but they will eventually get northern imagery. A JPL video discusses the features in the north that the project wants to investigate

Kepler planet hunter back in action

The Kepler orbital observatory is back to planet hunting after taking ten days off to give one of its reaction wheels, which had been showing signs of abnormal friction, some days off  (see earlier post here) : Kepler resumes data collection after safe mode – Spaceflight Now

Managers put Kepler into safe mode Jan. 17 when reaction wheel no. 4, one of the spacecraft’s three remaining reaction wheels, showed rising friction. The reaction wheels were spun down and the observatory switched to chemical rocket thrusters to control its attitude for a 10-day “wheel rest” period.

The wheel rest period was designed to allow the wheel bearings to cool and lubricant to redistribute inside the wheel housings, hopefully resolving the friction issue.


Engineers will review the performance of wheel no. 4 over the next month to evaluate the effectiveness of the wheel rest scheme, NASA said in an update. More wheel rest periods may be needed in the future if the procedure proves effective, according to Sobeck.