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The Countdown, Episode 8 – Hurricane Syzygy, Ancient Starlight, Vesta Mystery, Superluminous Supernovae, “Hawaiian” Soil on Mars

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Story 5

Hurricane Sandy hit New York City and surrounding areas hard this week, flooding streets and damaging homes. The full moon played a role in the severity of the flooding, due to a phenomena called syzygy.

Astronomy links full moon to Hurricane Sandy high tide

Story 4

Astronomers have detected ancient starlight from some of the first stars in the universe. They couldn’t see the light directly, however, instead relying on gamma rays from enormous black holes called blazars.

Light From Universe’s First Stars Seen

NASA’S Fermi Measures Cosmic ‘Fog’ Produced by Ancient Starlight

Story 3

The giant asteroid Vesta isn’t aging like other asteroids, retaining its youthful appearance. Several theories for Vesta’s fresh look appear in this week’s issue of the journal Nature (Scientific American is part of Nature Publishing Group.)

The Eternal Youth of Asteroid Vesta

Story 2

Scientists have discovered two superluminous supernovae from the early universe. They are the most distant supernovae ever detected and may be all that remains of two massive stars.

Oldest, Farthest Star Explosions Discovered in Distant Universe

Story 1

The Mars Curiosity Rover examined soil taken from the surface of Mars and found it similar in makeup and structure to soil from the Hawaiian Islands. Since this episode of The Countdown was filmed, Curiosity has also sampled the Martian atmosphere for the carbon-based molecule methane, which, on Earth, is produced primarily by living organisms.

NASA Rover’s First Soil Studies Help Fingerprint Martian Minerals

Curiosity Rover Finds No Methane on Mars–Yet



About the Author: Eric is multimedia journalist and producer who specializes in science and natural history. His work has appeared on the websites of Scientific American, Nature, Nature Medicine, Popular Science, Slate and The New York Times among many others. He is a former video producer & editor for Scientific American. Follow on Twitter @EricROlson.

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

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  1. 1. jtdwyer 8:52 am 11/5/2012

    re. Story 2, the term “superluminous” does not mean ‘really bright’ (like supernovae) – it means faster than the speed of light. Please see

    re. Story 4, the NASA cosmic ‘fog’ link video is really cool and interesting on many levels – thanks!

    Link to this

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