November 3rd, 2011
04:01 PM ET

SDO shows us the Sun's spots

NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) is on a mission to study our sun and how its activity might affect Earth. We've heard about solar flares and the way solar activity can disrupt life on Earth, but have you ever just looked at a sunspot?

The sunspot visible in the upper left of the image above is called AR1339, and it's one of the largest sunspots recorded in years. So large, in fact, that it's visible through backyard solar telescopes. reports that the sunspot measures roughly 40,000 km wide and twice that length, noting that some of the sunspot's darker cores are wider than our planet.

If you don't have a telescope handy and still want to take a look at our stunning sun, check out SDO's website. It makes its data available to the public through a searchable database.

SDO also has a Twitter account and a mascot, @Camilla_SDO, who travels across the country, doing education and outreach.

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Filed under: In Space • Light up the screen
November 3rd, 2011
01:13 PM ET

Asteroid to pass closer to Earth than the moon

An aircraft carrier-sized asteroid, a little over four football fields in diameter, is heading toward Earth and it will pass closer to our planet than the moon.

NASA has classified the asteroid as a “potentially hazardous object” and it will pass to within .8 lunar distances on November 8.  It is the closest approach to Earth of an object this size in over 30 years.

What would happen if an asteroid this size crashed into Earth?

It would result in a 4,000 megaton blast, magnitude 7.0 earthquake and - if it falls into the ocean - could cause a 70-foot high tsunami within 60 miles of the crash site, according to an expert at Purdue University.

However, this space rock poses no threat of an Earth collision for at least the next 100 years, according to NASA’s Near Earth Object Program.

So what’s the big deal?

Encounters of objects this large this close to our planet won't happen again until the year 2028 when an asteroid will pass near Earth to within .6 lunar distances.

NASA plans to study the asteroid with the Goldstone radar antennas in California’s Mojave Desert. Goldstone antennas are very sensitive radio telescopes used to investigate quasars, radar mapping of planets and comets.

Scientists plan to reconstruct the shape of the asteroid with a resolution as fine as 13 feet (4 meters) using the antennas. Several days of high resolution operations are also scheduled at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico.

It will also provide a rare opportunity for amateur astronomers to directly observe an asteroid with optical telescopes.

The asteroid will approach Earth from a sunward direction and it will be a daylight object until the time of its closest approach on November 8.  The best time to see the asteroid will be after the hours of 4 pm EST (21:00 UTC).

Watch more on asteroid 2005 YU55 from CNN's Reynolds Wolf.

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Filed under: In Space
It's not 'Star Trek,' but NASA wants a 'tractor beam'
This image shows how a NASA robot might use "tractor beam" lasers to reel in particles for analysis.
November 3rd, 2011
11:45 AM ET

It's not 'Star Trek,' but NASA wants a 'tractor beam'

The Death Star in "Star Wars" reeled in space ships with "tractor beams." So did Captain Kirk's USS Enterprise on "Star Trek."

Now NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, aims to develop a real tractor beam, but on a much smaller scale.

Here's the concept: Unmanned space probes might use laser beam technology to catch tiny particles several meters away and pull them into the probe for analysis.


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Filed under: Hardware in Orbit • In Space • News
November 3rd, 2011
09:43 AM ET

Ancient White Dwarf Stars

"Pushing the limits of its powerful vision, NASA's Hubble Space Telescope uncovered the oldest burned-out stars in our Milky Way Galaxy in this image from 2002. These extremely old, dim "clockwork stars" provide a completely independent reading on the age of the universe without relying on measurements of the expansion of the universe.

The ancient white dwarf stars, as seen by Hubble, turn out to be 12 to 13 billion years old. Because earlier Hubble observations show that the first stars formed less than 1 billion years after the universe's birth in the big bang, finding the oldest stars puts astronomers well within arm's reach of calculating the absolute age of the universe.

Though previous Hubble research sets the age of the universe at 13 to 14 billion years based on the rate of expansion of space, the universe's birthday is such a fundamental and profound value that astronomers have long sought other age-dating techniques to cross-check their conclusions.

The new age-dating observations were done using Hubble to hunt for elusive ancient stars hidden inside a globular star cluster located 5,600 light-years away in the constellation Scorpius."

Source: NASA

Filed under: Light up the screen


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