Beautiful!

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Here is a panorama of the Milky Way created by a Central Michigan University professor.

Credit: Alex Mellinger 2009

Read more about it here

See the full image and learn about the process its creation here:

Alien Bacteria?

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A variety of news sources have picked up a story about an Indian Space Research Organization balloon which collected three new species of bacteria in the upper atmosphere.

A research team from ISRO conducted an earlier study which reported the discovery of life in the upper atmosphere but the scientific community expressed doubts . Oddly for a discovery like this, I haven’t seen mention of it in the science news sources I frequent, but perhaps it is still early. It will be interesting to see the reaction, if any.

Quotes and the naming of one of the new species after astronomer Fred Hoyle hint that one motivation of the mission may have been to study panspermia, the theory that life on Earth came from space. I am not a particular advocate of that theory, but the discovery of bacteria which are resistant to UV is exciting. Even if the bacteria are shown to have terrestrial origin, their existence is evidence once more of the versatility of life, which is promising in the search for extraterrestrial life.

What do you think? Would the existence of UV resistant bacteria bolster claims that life might be present elsewhere, perhaps even in this solar system?

Here is the actual press release from the ISRO.

CNN’s take

The Hindu ‘s take

The Times of India‘s take

The Hindustan Times‘ take

A Mass for Galileo

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Catholic News Service reports that this Sunday a Mass marking Galileo’s birthday was celebrated at the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels and Martyrs, presided over by Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi. If I can find a translated copy of the homily online, I’ll link to it.

This year was selected as the International Year of Astronomy because it is the 400th anniversary of the use of a telescope by Galileo. I will be checking throughout this week to see what other celebrations throughout the world commemorated his 445th birthday.

Galileo’s birthday was overshadowed by the 200th birthday of another famous scientist, Charles Darwin whose birthday was February 12. As an astronomy student, I am a bit miffed that Galileo’s birthday has been somewhat forgotten in light of this other day, but I suppose that it’s the result of people liking round numbers. My own university, MSU was involved with celebrations of Darwin’s birthday by joining in an international birthday wish on Youtube. You might notice a Catholic connection in this video as well; it includes Father George Coyne of the Vatican Observatory.

Interestingly, the basilica has functioned as a bit of an observatory itself. It is one of several large churches to have meridian lines which track the movement of the sun throughout the year. The image above of the line at St.Mary of the Angels and Martyrs shows how such a line works (image credit: wikibob). As solar noon (which need not be at 12:00 PM) approaches, the image of the sun approaches the line. Because the sun reaches different heights in the sky at different times of the year, the sun will cross a different portion of the line at different times of the year. In this way, the line functions as a sort of calender, or in this case, a means of testing the accuracy of the calender. Placement of pinholes at locations in the church also allowed the observation of specific stars for the purpose of recording stellar transits. What an appropriate location for a Mass celebrated in memory of Galileo.

Keep your eyes open for more IYA news as I finally get back to blogging.

Image Credit:Wikipedia

Learn more about events at NASA

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Do you dream of going to the Moon?

Perhaps you are one of those who prefer to have their feet on the (Earth’s) ground?

The industrious folks with the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) have a plan that sure to please both parties. You can have your NAME sent to the Moon (or to orbit around the Moon. The names will be written on a microchip placed on the spacecraft. Not a bad method for getting over a million people to the Moon, eh? You’ve only got until July 25th , so check it out today.

LRO is the first of the missions whose goal is to return to the Moon and go to Mars. It is, as one can tell from the webpage, based at Goddard Space Flight Center. However, the pages associated with the mission can tell you far more than I can about the mission, so visit, explore, and learn. That’s why the pages are there afterall.

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Now perhaps the Moon is just a bit ambitious for you. Maybe you just wish you could be at Goddard Space Flight Center and hear from the people involved in LRO, GLAST (Gamma-ray Large Area Space Telescope), the upcoming Hubble service mission, or any of the other countless projects going on there.

Well, itunes has come to the rescue.

GSFC has started a video cast which will be available (free of course) on itunes. Check out the Goddard Shorts page and subscribe today.

Phoenix Lands on Mars

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The Phoenix Mars Lander made it and is now taking pictures.

Check out the latest updates at the University of Arizona page for the mission.

I occasionally insist that space telescopes like the Terrestrial Planet Finder (which would have searched for terrestrial planets around other stars and used spectroscopy to search for chemical signs of life) have too much importance to be put at risk by an obsession to explore Mars and the Moon. However, it is pretty cool that we have probes exploring other planets and learning about them and I’m wrong to cast them aside. Exploration and discovery go together, and it is more of a risk to discard one for the sake of the other than to share resources between the two.

Another exciting fact about this project is that it is lead by a public university, the University of Arizona.