July 13th, 2011
03:41 PM ET

Extreme science in the Arctic Circle

In March 2011, an elite group of scientists headed to one of the coldest places on Earth to carry out vital research on global warming. Joining them for part of the journey was a three-person team from CNN, led by special correspondent and environmentalist Philippe Cousteau. Cousteau documented their journey in his blog, below. Learn more about the journey here.

(CNN) - Catlin Ice Base: Mission critical

I woke up this morning to snow falling on my head caused by the accumulation of my breath freezing on the inside of the tent all night long. Wiping sleep from my eyes, I wrestled with my gear as I slipped out of my sleeping bag into the -35 degree centigrade air.

Getting up in the morning can be a struggle in the best of times but in these conditions it is downright brutal. Discussions during breakfast were full of good energy as we had a long day of science ahead of us. As I spend more time with the scientists I continue to be astounded at the sometimes fundamental nature of their work.

As one scientist explained, global climate models have always assumed that the Arctic does not transfer carbon through the sea ice but no one has ever tried to find out if that is true or not. The answer to this question could have huge consequences for our understanding of climate modeling. In 2011 we still know next to nothing about the most important ocean on the planet - a shocking and irresponsible oversight.

July 13th, 2011
11:00 AM ET

Glossary: supermassive black hole

The largest type of black hole in a galaxy, believed to exist at the center of most if not all galaxies, including the Milky Way.

Filed under: Glossary
It’s all relative: Happy New Year, Neptune
NASA's Hubble Space Telescope captured this image of Neptune in late June
July 13th, 2011
10:30 AM ET

It’s all relative: Happy New Year, Neptune

It seems a lot longer, but the planet Neptune was discovered one year ago today.

You may recall hearing about Neptune when you were a child, and you may even have read about it in books from the 19th century, but the fact is it's only been a year since German astronomer Johann Galle discovered the aquamarine orb out in the hinterland of the solar system.

A Neptunian year, that is.

Galle identified the planet in September 1846. Only now has Neptune returned to the same spot in its wide orbit, taking 164.8 Earth years to complete a single circuit around the sun.

"One of the things that make it unique is it was the first planet that was discovered through mathematics," said John French, a presenter at Michigan State University's Abrams Planetarium.

Astronomers in the 19th century noticed the planet Uranus seemed to be deviating from its predicted orbital path and figured the gravity of another, unseen, planet must be tugging on it. Mathematicians Urbain Le Verrier of France and John Couch Adams of England separately calculated where that other planet must be located. Galle peered into that part of the sky and found Neptune.

Similar study of Neptune's orbit led to the discovery of the mini-planet Pluto in 1930, French said.

NASA's Hubble Space Telescope  took some birthday pictures of Neptune. They show the planet's Earth-like tilt, which means it has four seasons too - except that on Neptune, each season lasts about 41 Earth years. It's summer in Neptune's southern hemisphere right now, but vacationing there could be a challenge.

Since the planet is composed of gaseous hydrogen and methane, "there's no ground to lay your blanket on and stretch out and bake in the sun," French quipped.

Neptune is 2.8 billion miles from the sun, 30 times as far as Earth, according to NASA.

You can see Neptune with binoculars or a small telescope in the constellation Aquarius, close to the boundary with Capricorn.

It has 13 moons, including Triton , which NASA's Voyager 2 spacecraft  discovered has geysers, French noted.

"So, future vacationers can go there and watch the geysers on Triton," he said.

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Filed under: In Space • News
July 13th, 2011
10:27 AM ET

The Shuttle Mission's Final Spacewalk

"Spacewalker Ron Garan rides on the International Space Station's robotic arm as he transfers a failed pump module to the cargo bay of space shuttle Atlantis. Garan and fellow Expedition 28 astronaut Mike Fossum wrapped up a six-hour, 31-minute spacewalk Tuesday afternoon, performing upgrades and maintenance on the orbiting outpost. It's the final scheduled spacewalk during a shuttle mission."

Source: NASA

Filed under: Light up the screen


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