Sunday, February 26, 2012

Planets Align: Venus, Jupiter, Mercury, Mars & Moon To Appear Sunday

Note to the blue watchers: Put on your coats. What you’re about to read might make you feel an unmanageable urge to dash outside.

solar system

The brightest planets in the solar system are lining up in the evening sky, and you can see the formation—some of it at least—tonight.

The planets Venus and Jupiter dominate the western evening sky at sunset on Sunday, with the crescent moon hovering nearby. The planet Mercury joins the cosmic trio briefly just after sunset before slipping below the horizon, according to Tariq Malik of

The planet Mars is also making its own appearance in the evening sky, but rises in the east a few hours after sunset in its own solo celestial show.

The sky maps of Jupiter, Venus and the moon here show how the bright objects, as well as Mars later, will appear in the night sky.

"This is a great weekend to watch the sun go down. Venus, Jupiter and the slender crescent moon are lining up in the western sky, forming a bright triangle in the evening twilight," astronomer Tony Phillips of the skywatching website wrote in an alert. "These three objects are so bright, they shine through thin clouds and even city lights." [Skywatcher Photos: Jupiter, Venus & the Moon]

The Moon, Venus and Jupiter are the brightest objects in the night sky; together they can shine through urban lights, fog, and even some clouds.

After hopping from Venus to Jupiter in late February, the Moon exits stage left, but the show is far from over.

In March, Venus and Jupiter continue their relentless convergence until, on March 12 and 13, the duo lie only three degrees apart—a spectacular double beacon in the sunset sky (sky map).

There’s something mesmerizing about stars and planets bunched together in this way—and, no, you’re not imagining things when it happens to you. The phenomenon is based on the anatomy of the human eye.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Recent geological activity on the Moon and Mars

Marsquakes on the red planet and crustal make bigger on the Moon show that planet Earth is not the only geographically dynamic body in our local Solar System neighbourhood.

New images from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) suggest that the Moon’s crust was being stretched as recently as 50 million years ago. Tiny valleys many times longer than they are wide were formed as the crust pulled apart, dropping down between two bounding fault lines. Known by geologists as graben, these features have been identified in a number of locations across the Moon, but the finding contradicts the signs of global contraction identified by LRO in 2010. By examining scarps – lobe-shaped cliffs – planetary scientists then estimated that the Moon had shrunk by about 100 metres since it formed over 4.5 billion years ago (read our story The Moon is shrinking, here).

“We think the Moon is in a general state of global contraction because of cooling of a still hot interior,” says Thomas Watters of the Center for Earth and Planetary Studies at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington. “The graben tell us forces acting to shrink the Moon were overcome in places by forces acting to pull it apart. This means the contractional forces shrinking the Moon cannot be large, or the small graben might never form.”

Monday, February 06, 2012

China releases new moon images

china Moon
China says a full map of the moon captured by the orbiter Chang'e-2 is the highest-resolution image of the entirety of the moon's surface published to date.

The full coverage moon map was compiled from images taken by a stereo camera on the orbiter from heights of 60 miles and 9 miles over the lunar surface between October 2010 and May 2011, Liu Dongkui, deputy chief commander of China's lunar probe project, said.

The resolution in the images can show features as small as 23 feet across, China's state-run news agency Xinhua reported Monday.

Traces of previous U.S. Apollo missions were visible in the images, Yan Jun, chief application scientist for China's lunar exploration project, said.

China is set to launch the Chang'e-3 in 2013, the first Chinese spacecraft intended to land on the surface of an extraterrestrial body, officials said.