Science Seat: Living in space for 159 days
Cady Coleman poses with Robonaut 2, a humanoid robot, aboard in the International Space Station in 2011.
April 26th, 2013
05:36 PM ET

Science Seat: Living in space for 159 days

By Nana Karikari-apau, CNN

Editor's note: The Science Seat is a feature in which CNN Light Years sits down with movers and shakers from different areas of scientific exploration. This is the ninth installment.

NASA astronaut Catherine "Cady" Coleman has logged more than 4,330 hours in space aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia and the International Space Station.

Coleman was a flight engineer on a Russian Soyuz rocket that took her to the space station in December 2010, and came back to Earth in May 2011, having spent 159 days in space. CNN followed her on this journey - called Expedition 26/27 - to get ready for the expedition, and showed segments every month of what life was like for her and her family in the year before the launch.

This month, CNN Light Years caught up with Coleman to reflect on her spaceflight experiences. Here is an edited transcript.


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Science Seat: Another Earth called a certainty
An illustration shows a possible planet outside our solar system. The Milky Way is thought to have at least 100 billion planets.
March 22nd, 2013
02:03 PM ET

Science Seat: Another Earth called a certainty

By Nana Karikari-apau, CNN

Editor's note: The Science Seat is a feature in which CNN Light Years sits down with movers and shakers from different areas of scientific exploration. This is the seventh installment.

Sara Seager is a professor of physics and planetary science at MIT. She works on exoplanets, which orbit stars other than the sun.

Seager considers herself a pioneer and risk taker. She worked on exoplanets before it was considered cool, when people thought the field would go nowhere. Time magazine named Seager one of the 25 most influential in space in 2012, and she recently appeared in a CNN gallery of top women scientists.

MIT's Sara Seager studies exoplanets, which orbit stars other than the sun.

CNN Light Years recently chatted with Seager about her work. Here is an edited transcript:


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Filed under: In Space • Kepler • Science Seat • Voices
Science Seat: How to make a planet
An artist's conception of a disk of dust and gas surrounding a young star. Such disks are the birthplaces of planets.
March 8th, 2013
07:30 AM ET

Science Seat: How to make a planet

By Nana Karikari-apau, CNN

Editor's note: The Science Seat is a feature in which CNN Light Years sits down with movers and shakers from different areas of scientific exploration. This is the fifth installment.

Sarah Dodson-Robinson is an assistant professor in the astronomy department at the University of Texas at Austin. She is a member of the American Astronomical Society and recently won the organization's Annie Jump Cannon Award for her work exploring how planets form.

Dodson-Robinson says she enjoys discovering new things and coming up with new pieces of knowledge, no matter how small. She describes it as a “wonderful feeling.”

CNN Light Years recently chatted with Dodson-Robinson about her research. Here is an edited transcript:


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The Science Seat: Sun will fry Earth - 'Sorry!'
Astronomer Jason Kalirai says he finds it rewarding to spark young people's interest in science.
February 8th, 2013
07:00 AM ET

The Science Seat: Sun will fry Earth - 'Sorry!'

By Nana Karikari-apau, CNN

Editor's note: The Science Seat is a feature in which CNN Light Years sits down with movers and shakers from many different areas of scientific exploration. This is the first installment.

Jason Kalirai is the deputy project scientist for the James Webb Space Telescope, which will be NASA's next big mission in astrophysics. He works at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore.

Last month, Kalirai, 34, won the American Astronomical Society's Newton Lacy Pierce Prize for his achievements in observational astronomy. CNN Light Years recently spoke with him about his work. Below is an edited transcript.


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Post-holiday space news roundup
Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded a tune in space.
January 3rd, 2013
10:58 AM ET

Post-holiday space news roundup

We've been catching up on space news after the holidays. Here's a roundup of some of the best stories.

Sun explodes two massive solar flares to welcome 2013

It turns out the Earth and Sun have something in common: They both celebrate New Year’s Eve with fireworks.

Our closest star welcomed the new year with remarkable fireworks during a four-hour flare eruption. A video from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory displayed "a bright plume of super-magnetic plasma that exploded from the sun’s surface on New Year’s Eve," reported.

The observatory is designed to monitor and record solar flares and other activities that involve the sun and the weather. The sun has an 11-year weather cycle, and astronomers expect the sun’s activity to reach its highest peak in 2013.

Mars rover Curiosity spends holidays at 'Grandma’s House'

NASA's Curiosity rover, with its mast-mounted cameras and laser, spent the holiday season studying Martian terrain at "Grandma's House," a nickname given to a region inside Yellowknife Bay, which is a half-meter-deep basin at the Gale Crater landing site.

Scientists explored the new area of the Red Planet containing terrain that was not revealed in previous observations on Mars. In order to get a clearer image of the bay's interior, NASA researchers used the rover to record a 360-degree panoramic view, reports

Curiosity is focused on choosing a suitable rock it can drill to produce a powdery rock sample, which can be gathered for a drilling test in early 2013.

Astronaut records 1st original song on space station

Canadian veteran astronaut Chris Hadfield, aboard the International Space Station, recorded his first original holiday music a couple of days before Christmas.

The 53-year-old avid guitar player performed Christmas carols with some of his crewmates, including NASA astronaut Tom Marshburn and Russian cosmonaut Roman Romanenko while living in orbit. Hadfield, the first Canadian to do a space walk, posted the new song titled "Jewel in the Night" online, marking a milestone in space.

Hadfield is a flight engineer on the Expedition 34 crew and will command the in-orbit laboratory on Expedition 35 in early 2013, which will make him the first Canadian space station commander.

NASA unveils eBooks on Hubble, James Webb Space Telescopes

NASA released two new eBooks on the Hubble Space Telescope and the James Webb Space Telescope during the holidays to help readers explore images and learn more about the science and technology used in developing the two space observatories.

The eBooks contain a compilation of discoveries by the two telescopes.

The Webb Space Telescope is three times larger than Hubble and can detect new stars and galaxies in infrared wavelengths in distant space.

The Hubble Space Telescope will be replaced by the Webb Space Telescope. It has provided scientists with high quality detailed images since 1990.

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Space news roundup
Cassini has spotted a river system on Saturn's moon Titan.
December 21st, 2012
02:47 PM ET

Space news roundup

We've had some compelling space stories in the past two weeks. Read on for some of the best:

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope provides first census of galaxies

Astronomers, looking deep into the universe through the lens of NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, saw millions of years further back in time than previously observed.

The Hubble’s wide-field camera 3, used to observe the universe in near-infrared light, revealed images of seven primitive galaxies that are thought to have been formed 13 billion years ago. Scientists believe the Big Bang created our universe about 13.7 billion years ago, so this discovery puts the galaxies relatively close to the birth of the universe.

These results come from a survey of an highly studied patch of sky called the Ultra Deep Field (UDF). One of the goals of a 2012 campaign called UDF12 is "to determine how rapidly the number of galaxies increases over time in the early universe. This measure is the key evidence for how quickly galaxies build up their constituent stars," according to NASA.

NASA's Cassini mission reveals a Nile-like river on Saturn's moon

A NASA Cassini space mission orbiting Saturn has unveiled high-quality images of a river valley on Titan, the largest of Saturn’s 62 moons. The river, similar to Earth’s Nile River, flows from its “head waters” at Titan’s North Polar region into Kraken Mare, believed to the moon's largest sea.

The entire length along the river valley looked dark in Cassini’s newest high-resolution images, an observation that led scientists to conclude the Titan River is filled with liquid and has a smooth surface.

Titan’s river valley, with hydrocarbons such as ethane and methane, stretches at least 200 miles (400 kilometers) while the Nile River is about 4,100 miles (6,700 kilometers).

Read more about Cassini.

Some star clusters are aging gracefully

Astronomers, studying thousands of  stars throughout our Milky Way galaxy, found some giant star clusters that are more than 10.5 billion years old but appeared to look younger than other stars formed around the same time. Scientists say the rate of aging for each cluster differs.

The team of astronomers examined 21 global clusters - a group of stars pulled together by gravity. The study focused on blue stragglers - large and luminous stars that are still alive although they are known to burn out rapidly as they grow old.

The blue stragglers that settled at the center of the cluster because of the heavy weight appeared old while the stars that have spread throughout the cluster looked young, leaving the rest of the rest of the stars in the middle.

Scientists concluded the blue stragglers managed to stay young by consuming all the matter from its surrounding stars.

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Space news: In case you missed it
This composite image of the United States at night was made possible with the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite.
December 14th, 2012
05:56 PM ET

Space news: In case you missed it

Here's what's been going on in the world of space news recently:

NASA announces multiyear Mars program

The Curiosity rover has been busily driving, scooping and analyzing material on the Red Planet, but there is lots more to be done on Mars. NASA has made plans for a new multiyear Mars exploration program, including the development of a new robotic science rover set to launch in 2020.

The development and design of the next rover will be based on the same architecture as Curiosity, keeping costs down while delivering it to Mars in a way that has already been shown to work.

NASA says the new mission is a significant step to ensure the United States maintains leadership in Red Planet exploration. The United States is determined to send Astronauts back to space sometime in the 2030s.

Including this one, there are seven NASA missions either under way or being planned to study Mars.

Scientists find Green Bean galaxies in space

Observations from the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope detected an unusual bright green galaxy that displays the largest and brightest glowing regions ever seen in the universe.

“They are so huge and bright that they can be observed in great detail, despite their large distances,” according to a statement from the European Southern Observatory.

Researchers found 16 more galaxies with similar properties and gave the group of galaxies a new name based on their unusual appearance.

“This new class of galaxies has been nicknamed Green Bean galaxies because of their color and because they are superficially similar to, but larger than, green pea galaxies,” the statement added.

A new look at our planet at night

A NASA and NOAA satellite called Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership has revealed high-resolution images of our planet at night. Data from the new images shows light from natural and man-made objects on the globe in unprecedented detail. That's thanks to a sensor called the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite, or VIIRS.

“Satellites in the U.S defense Meteorological Satellite program have been making observations with low-light sensors for 40 years, but the VIIRS day-night band can detect and resolve Earth’s night lights,” a NASA statement explained.

NOAA Weather Service’s forecast office in California uses VIIRS day-night band to improve monitoring and forecasting of dense fog and low clouds at high air traffic coastal airports such as San Francisco airport.

More cool images from VIIRS

CNN's Elizabeth Landau contributed to this report

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Recent news in space science
The red areas are shadowed parts of Mercury's polar region, as indicated by MESSENGER data.
December 9th, 2012
08:14 PM ET

Recent news in space science


NASA's MESSENGER spacecraft has found new evidence of water ice near Mercury's shadowed polar craters, a finding that scientists say supports the hypothesis that the planet contains lots of water and frozen materials.

Even though Mercury is the closest planet to the sun, it has pockets near its poles that are never touched by sunlight and could be cold enough for ice to remain unmelted, NASA explained.

"For more than 20 years, the jury has been deliberating whether the planet closest to the sun hosts abundant water ice in its permanently shadowed polar regions," said Sean Solomon, principal investigator for the project, in a press release last week.  "MESSENGER now has supplied a unanimous affirmative verdict."

NASA's MESSENGER spacecraft - short for MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging - has been observing Mercury since it was launched in March 2011, and the images it has captured so far confirm the water ice hypothesis.

"The new observations from MESSENGER support the idea that ice is the major constituent of Mercury's north polar deposits," NASA said. The spacecraft measured neutrons and excess hydrogen from Mercury's north pole region.

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Space news: Black hole snacks and Mars colonies
This is an artist's concept of NASA's NuSTAR spacecraft, which can study radiation from snacking black holes.
November 27th, 2012
02:56 PM ET

Space news: Black hole snacks and Mars colonies

Massive black hole gets a snack

A new NASA spacecraft captured an image of a giant black hole in the center of the Milky Way galaxy having a snack. And by "snack," we mean matter that happened to fall close enough to it to be sucked in by the black hole's tremendous gravitational pull.

"NuSTAR picked up X-rays emitted by matter being heated up to about 100 million degrees Celsius," said NASA in a statement. This high-energy radiation is what NuSTAR, an orbiting observatory, picked up.

“We got lucky and captured an outburst from the black hole during our first observing campaign,” Fiona Harrison, the mission's principal investigator at the California Institute of Technology, said in a NASA statement.

This observation is important because scientists want to know why the black hole in the center of the Milky Way is relatively quiet; we don't know that it eats a whole lot. Other black holes eat up a lot more matter. It's possible that our black hole is eating primarily asteroids, and small space rocks, but more research is needed to make firm conclusions.

SpaceX billionaire Elon Musk plans to colonize Mars

Elon Musk, founder and CEO of private space flight company SpaceX, wants to set up a Mars colony, Scientific American reports.

Musk’s vision is to take thousands of people on a trip to Mars, aboard a reusable rocket powered by liquid oxygen and methane. This would be an opportunity for people to build transparent domes so that Earth crops could grow on the Red Planet. The colonists would bring equipment to produce fertilizer, methane and oxygen while in space.

At a ticket price of $500,000, the Mars Settlement Program would consist of up to 80,000 people starting with a group of 10 people or less per trip to explore the Red Planet.

Musk hopes to transport more people and less equipment in the future if the Mars Colony is successful.

A year long space station mission is set for 2015

NASA and Roscosmos have appointed veteran astronaut Scott Kelly and veteran cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko to undertake a year-long mission aboard the international space station in 2015. This marks the longest stay in space ever for an American, CNN reports.

“The one-year increment will expand the bounds of how we live and work in space,” William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for Human Exploration and Operations said in a statement.

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