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A week in space: Cassini dips down to Enceladus, a solar flare erupts, Discovery moves, and more

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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If I lived elsewhere in the multiverse, this is the news and cool space stuff I’d have been covering this week. Unfortunately, in this universe I didn’t have the time.

Unprocessed image of Enceladus was taken last weekend. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI

Last weekend, Cassini dipped down close to Enceladus to “taste” the jets that erupt from its surface. For some background on Enceladus, see my entry for the Wellcome Trust Science Writing Prize 2011. (For any budding science writers out there, the prize is running again this year – but it closes on Wednesday, so be quick!).

Some of the pictures Cassini took were released just one day after they reached Earth.

While we were all fawning over the new Cassini pictures, a huge solar flare was erupting from the surface of the sun. Luckily, it wasn’t directed at us.

Back on Earth, space shuttle Discovery left the Kennedy Space Center and made its way to the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. From APOD:

Discovery retires as NASA’s most traveled shuttle orbiter, covering more than 148 million miles in 39 missions that included the delivery of the Hubble Space Telescope to orbit. Operational from 1984 through 2011, Discovery spent a total of one year in space.

Want to know more about how a space shuttle travels around on Earth? Check out this video at NASA. And at Bad Astronomy, Phil Plait shared his mixed emotions about the shuttle.

Astronomy Picture of the Day “might need funding help” and is asking for advice on its forum.

Hubble turns twenty-two soon, and this gorgeous image was released for its anniversary. And here’s a different view of the same star forming region. Happy Birthday Hubble!

If you only ever watch one time lapse video of the northern lights, make it this one by Ole C Salomonsen. For more time lapse goodness have a look at Earth as seen from the International Space Station.

The Atlantic have an interview with Alberto Conti, Innovation Scientist for the James Webb Space Telescope and ex-Archive Scientist at the Space Telescope Science Institute, about how data changes the way astronomy is done.

If those Cassini images from the recent fly-by aren’t enough for you, check out this video by Sander van der Berg compiled using footage from NASA’s Cassini and Voyager missions. Even if you think you’ve already had your fill of beautiful space pictures for this week, still watch it. Trust me.

While we’re on the topic of out-of-this-world images, Matthew Francis has a thoughtful post that asks “Are Astronomical Images All Faked?” In keeping with Daily Mail tradition of posing questions-to-which-the-answer-is-no in headlines, he doesn’t think they are.

A new space company, backed by a host of important people has announced that it’s launching on Tuesday and will “create a new industry and a new definition of ‘natural resources’.” Sounds like asteroid mining, says Christopher Mims.

And last but by no means least, it looks like there isn’t any dark matter around the solar system. It’s a puzzling result that is not compatible with how we think about dark matter now, but not everyone is convinced by the conclusions of the paper yet. Stay tuned on that one.

That’s all I’ve got for this week. Is there anything you think I missed? Feel free to add it in the comments.

Kelly Oakes About the Author: Kelly Oakes has a master's in science communication and a physics degree, both from Imperial College London. Now she spends her days writing about science. Follow on Twitter @kahoakes.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. Happy Phil 2:27 am 04/22/2012

    Thanks for all the terrific links. The time lapse Northern Lights is the best I have seen so far. Great collection of recent activity in this time and space.

    Link to this

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