Tag Archives: US & World

Comet, Earth and Mercury Seen Together in Rare Video

A new video from a NASA spacecraft studying the sun has captured an unexpected sight: a wandering comet posing with the planets Earth and Mercury.

The cosmic view comes from one of NASA’s twin Stereo spacecraft that constantly watch the sun for signs of solar flares and other space weather events. It shows Mercury and Earth as they appeared with the Comet Pan-STARRS, a comet that is currently visible from the Northern Hemisphere during evening twilight.

The probe captured the video of Comet Pan-STARRS, Earth and Mercury together while observing the sun from March 9 to March 12.

According to a NASA description, the video “shows the comet and its fluttering tail as it moves through space.” The Earth appears as a bright stationary object on the right side of the video, while Mercury is visible as a moving light on the left side.

The sun is actually out of the frame in the Stereo-B spacecraft’s video, but its solar wind is visible as a stream of material, NASA officials explained. Meanwhile, the view of Comet Pan-STARRS from space is giving scientists a wealth of data to review, they added.

“Comet scientists say the tail looks quite complex and it will take computer models to help understand exactly what’s happening in STEREO’s observations,” agency officials said in a video description. “The comet should remain visible to the naked eye through the end of March.”

Comet Pan-STARRS is currently visible to stargazers in the Northern Hemisphere just after sunset. To see the comet, look low on the western horizon just after the sun has gone down. Comet Pan-STARRS can appear as a bright head with a wispy trail, weather permitting, though some stargazers have said the bright evening twilight can make spotting it tricky.

The Comet Pan-STARRS was discovered in June 2011 by astronomers using the Panoramic Survey Telescope & Rapid Response System (Pan-STARRS) in Hawaii. The comet’s official name is C/2011 L4 (PANSTARRS).

Scientists estimate that Comet Pan-STARRS takes more than 100 million years to orbit the sun once. The comet crossed into the Northern Hemisphere evening sky last week after months of being visible to observers in the Southern Hemisphere.

NASA’s twin Stereo A and B spacecraft (the name is short for Solar TErrestrial RElations Observatory) observe the sun in tandem to provide unparalleled views of how material from solar eruptions makes its way to Earth. The spacecraft launched in 2006 and are part of a fleet of sun-watching spacecraft that monitor solar storms.

Comet Pan-STARRS is one of several comets gracing the night sky in 2013. Pan-STARRS was joined by the Comet Lemmon earlier this year when both were visible together in the Southern Hemisphere sky. Later this year, the sungrazing Comet ISON could put on a potentially dazzling display when it makes its closest approach to the sun in late November.

Homepage image courtesy of Astronomy Education Services/Gingin Observatory

This article originally published at Space.com
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2013/03/15/comet-earth-mercury-video/

Amazing Photo Shows Saturn Dwarfing Tiny Moon

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A jaw-dropping picture of the planet Saturn was recently released by NASA’s Cassini probe orbiting the ringed giant.

The black-and-white photo shows the gas giant tilted, with its iconic rings draping striking shadows against the planet’s atmosphere.

A faint dot in the top middle of the image, which you might be forgiven for thinking was a speck on your monitor, is actually Saturn’s moon Mimas. The moon, at 246 miles (396 kilometers) across, is dwarfed by its much larger parent. When seen up close, Mimas is dominated by a giant crater on one side that gives it a strong resemblance to the Death Star in the “Star Wars” films.

The darker dapples along Saturn‘s face are violent storms that rage in the planet’s hydrogen and helium atmosphere, researchers said.

Cassini’s view of Saturn looks up at the unilluminated side of its rings from an angle of about 18 degrees below the ring plane. The north side of the planet itself is up and rotated 27 degrees to the left.

Cassini launched in 1997 along with the Huygens lander. Cassini arrived at Saturn in 2004 and dropped Huygens onto the surface of Saturn’s huge moon Titan in January 2005. The Cassini-Huygens mission is a joint project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency.

Just last month, Cassini celebrated the 15th anniversary of its launch, and it has logged more than 3.8 billion miles (6.1 billion km) during its time in space. The probe has taken more than 300,000 images of the Saturnian system, which includes the ringed planet and its more than 60 known moons.

This article originally published at Space.com
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/11/07/saturn-tiny-moon-photo/

Napolitano: Congress ‘Got Stuck’ on Cybersecurity

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United States Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano took a jab at Congress for failing to act on cybersecurity during a panel on the subject Monday at the 2012 Social Good Summit.

Congress has so far failed to pass cybersecurity legislation this year. Both chambers have their own versions of cyber bills, but they have yet to pass in the opposite chamber due to a partisan divide on the appropriate role of the government in cybersecurity.

“This has been a very interesting and troubling discussion in Congress,” she said. “It gets to the question which is ‘how does the government, which has overall security responsibly, interact with the private sector when an attack on private sector could have multiple rippling effects throughout the country?’ When you get into this debate, it’s a Washington, D.C. thing about government regulating the private sector.”

A bill supported by many Senate Democrats first called for government-set cybersecurity standards for private businesses deemed crucial to national security, such as power grids. Republicans balked at the idea, deeming it excessive government regulation of private business. The Senate bill was later rewritten to offer a compromise between the two camps, but that version also stalled.

Meanwhile, House Republicans passed their own cybersecurity bill, designed to encourage information-sharing between private businesses, under a veto threat from the White House. That bill hasn’t been passed by the Senate.

Napolitano’s position in this debate is somewhere in the middle: She doesn’t see absolute government regulation as the right answer for cybersecurity, but rather wants to build a cooperative cybersecurity relationship between businesses and the government with some government oversight of crucial industries.

“I think regulation in the traditional sense isn’t the right relationship,” she said. “It has to be one of mutually beneficial partnership and responsibility… if you’re doing the balance statement for a private company, security for others isn’t something you can reflect on your own balance sheet, but it is a responsibility. That’s what government has: responsibility is shared equally.”

She added that Barack Obama is weighing an executive order on cybersecurity — a possible move that privacy experts are watching closely, but a step Napolitano supports.

“Congress wasn’t able to act this year, it got stuck in the regulatory versus non-regulatory dichotomy,” said Napolitano. “The president is considering moving forward with an executive order that would help with this.”

When asked if private businesses would need to experience a cataclysmic cyberattack in order for them and politicians to make progress on cybersecurity, Napolitano said that it would spur progress, but added that’s not her preferable path.

“It’s only going to take one takedown for need for that partnership to become apparent,” she said. “An example from the non-cyber world: the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is within the Department of Homeland Security. It became clear after Katrina and the response, or or lack thereof, that it was broken. What’s happened is that we’ve used that crisis to fix FEMA. FEMA is now very agile, astute and target-oriented. That crisis crystallized action.”

“I hope there’s an alternative,” she added. “The problem with [cybersecurity] is that if you have a crisis, first of all it could be multiple crises happening simultaneously, second is that it could have damaging rippling effects that puts life and limb at risk, third is that we don’t have all the protocols in place to deal with a truly massive problem.”

About Ericsson

Read more of Mashable’s coverage of the 2012 Social Good Summit:

Day One:

Day Two:

Day Three:

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/09/24/napolitano-cybersecurity/

You Should Follow Iran’s New President on Twitter

Hassan-rowhani

Iran’s new president is quite the tweeter.

On Monday morning alone, Iranian President-elect Hassan Rouhani tweeted around 50 times, most of which were in English. The tweeting blitz coincided with a press conference, where he said he will work to end the sanctions that have devastated the Iranian economy by attempting to negotiate with the U.S. and its allies. He is expected to take office in early August.

The Western-educated cleric is clearly attempting to get the attention of the outside world and bolster hope for a resolution on the country’s nuclear program. If Rouhani comes off as more moderate and sensible, U.S. and European officials might be willing to engage with the new leader.

Already, U.S. officials are publicly saying they are hopeful for the new elections, as White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough said on Sunday the election is a “great opportunity.” Elected as a moderate voice, his overwhelming election was based on reform and change, away from hardliners who he said brought on the crippling sanctions.

But skeptics say this is a previously used strategy on the part of the Iranians: attempt new negotiations, most likely with Europe, while simultaneously expanding its nuclear program. Rouhani even described this strategy in 2004, while also touting Iran’s attempts at splitting Europe and the U.S. on nuclear negotiations. You might already see hints of that strategy in his Twitter feed:

Here are more of his tweets:

Image via ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images

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This article originally published at National Journal
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2013/06/17/iran-president-twitter/

Mark Your Calendar for Spring Meteor Showers and Eclipses

Lunar-eclipse

As the Moon passed almost directly through the center of Earth’s shadow on July 16th, sky gazers in the Pacific hemisphere were graced by a lingering lunar eclipse.

From eclipses and planets to meteor showers galore, the northern spring season of 2014 will bring a number of eye-catching celestial sights for stargazers on Earth.

Weather permitting, some of the best spring night sky events could be readily visible without the aid of binoculars or a telescope, even from brightly-lit cities. But you’ll need to know when and where to look to make the most of the season.

I’ve always felt that many astronomers started their careers as perceptive children who responded to the thrill of witnessing a noteworthy astronomical event. So whether you want to impress a youngster, or you’re simply hoping to witness a head-turning astronomical event for yourself, it always helps to be ready in advance by marking your calendar and highlighting a number of these special dates:

April 14 and 15: Mars’ closest approach in 2014 and a total eclipse of the moon

During the overnight hours of April 14 and 15, it will be a night for viewing first Mars and later the full moon.

First, Mars will come to within 57.4 million miles of our planet, making its closest approach to us since Jan. 3, 2008. All through the night, Mars will resemble a dazzling star shining with a steady fiery-colored tint making it a formidable sight; its brightness will match Sirius, the brightest of all the stars.

As a bonus, later that very same night (actually during the early hours of April 15) North America will have a ringside seat to see a total lunar eclipse when the Full Moon becomes transformed into a mottled reddish ball for 78 minutes as it becomes completely immersed in the shadow of the Earth.

This total lunar eclipse will be the first one widely visible from North America in nearly 3.5 years. The Americas will have the best view of this eclipse, although over the Canadian Maritimes, moonset will intervene near the end of totality. Of special interest is the fact that the moon will appear quite near to the bright star Spica, in the constellation Virgo, during the eclipse. They actually will be in conjunction a couple of hours prior to the onset of totality, but they’re still relatively near to each other when the eclipse gets underway.

April 22: The Lyrid meteor shower

Rather favorable circumstances are expected for this year’s Lyrid meteor shower, predicted to be at maximum this morning. The radiant, located near the brilliant bluish-white star Vega, rises in the northeast about the time evening twilight ends, and viewing will improve until light from the last-quarter moon begins to interfere just after 2 a.m. your local time.

Under the best conditions, 10 to 15 members of this shower can be seen in an hour by a single observer. The Lyrids remain about a quarter of their peak number for about two days. These bright meteors are associated with Thatcher’s Comet of 1861.

April 28 and 29: A Ring Eclipse that nobody will see?

It is quite possible that only penguins will witness the annular solar eclipse, also known as a “ring of fire” solar eclipse. That’s because it will occur within the uninhabited region of Wilkes Land in Antarctica.

Those living in southernmost parts of Indonesia as well as Australia (where it will be autumn) will at least get a view of a partial eclipse of the sun. Because the axis of the moon’s antumbral shadow misses the Earth and only its edge grazes Antarctica, it makes an accurate prediction of the duration of annularity all but impossible.

May 6: The Eta Aquarid meteor shower

The annual Eta Aquarid meteor shower — “shooting stars” spawned by the famed Halley’s Comet — is scheduled to reach maximum early this morning. It’s usually the year’s richest meteor display for Southern Hemisphere observers, but north of the equator the Eta Aquarid shower is one of the more difficult annual displays to observe.

From mid-northern latitudes, the radiant (from where the meteors appear to emanate) rises about 1:30 a.m. local daylight time, scarcely two hours before morning twilight begins to interfere. At peak activity, about a dozen shower members can be seen per hour by a single observer with good sky conditions from latitude 26 degrees North, but practically zero north of latitude 40 degrees. The shower remains active at roughly one-half peak strength for a couple of days before and after the maximum. Conditions this year are excellent; the moon is absent from the predawn sky for more than a week around maximum.

May 10: Saturn at opposition

The ringed planet Saturn reaches opposition; it rises in the east-southeast at dusk, is due south in the middle of the night and sets in the west-southwest at dawn. Once it gains enough altitude, it appears similarly as bright as the zero-magnitude stars Arcturus and Vega.

Saturn’s famous rings appear much more impressive than in recent years, since they are now tipped by 21.5 degrees from edge on.

May 24: Possible outburst of bright meteors

Perhaps the most dramatic sky event in 2014 could come at the start of the Memorial Day weekend. In the predawn hours of Saturday, May 24, our planet is expected to sweep through a great number of dusty trails left behind in space by the small comet P/209 LINEAR.

This unusual cosmic interaction might possibly result in an amazing, albeit brief display of meteors — popularly known as “shooting stars” — perhaps numbering in the many dozens . . . or even hundreds per hour. Nobody knows exactly how many meteors will be seen, but several meteor scientists believe that because the particles will be unusually large, the meteors will be outstandingly bright.

May 25: Mercury attains its greatest elongation

The planet Mercury will reach its greatest elongation, or greatest angular distance, east of the sun on this night. This is Mercury’s best evening apparition of the year; it sets about 100 minutes after sunset. An hour after sunset, look low above the west-northwest horizon; the speedy planet should be easily visible as a yellowish “star.”

Mercury will appear somewhat brighter up to two weeks before this date, and noticeably dimmer for about a week afterwards.

This article originally published at Space.com
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2014/04/01/spring-stargazing-guide/

Curiosity Rover’s Next Mars Adventure: Mount Sharp

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NASA’s Curiosity rover is about to enter a new phase of her life on Mars. After spending six months parked in the same area, the rover will soon embark on the 5-mile journey to Mount Sharp.

Since landing on the Red Planet in August, Curiosity has explored a “candy store” of terrain and even confirmed Mars was once suitable for life. So, why leave an area that has proven so rich in resources? Because Curiosity’s biggest discovery may still be waiting.

While NASA scientists admit there’s an urge to “keep driving,” there’s a bigger element of exploration at hand. For humans, Mount Sharp is a defining Martian landmark. Rising 3.4 miles above the floor of the Gale Crater, it’s taller than any mountain in the 48 contiguous states of the United States. However, more than that, Mount Sharp contains the answer key to the planet’s puzzling history. It is the mission’s main science destination.

“It’s like looking at the layers of the Grand Canyon. [It preserved] the record of how things were in past and how they have changed,” Joy Crisp, deputy project scientist for Curiosity, told Mashable on Wednesday.

Although NASA scientists have their sights set on Mount Sharp, they won’t hesitate to stop along the way. In fact, Curiosity will take the trip at such a slow pace that scientists can’t even estimate when she will reach the base of Mount Sharp.

“We don’t know when we’ll get to Mount Sharp,” said Mars Science Laboratory Project Manager Jim Erickson. “This truly is a mission of exploration, so just because our end goal is Mount Sharp doesn’t mean we’re not going to investigate interesting features along the way.”

As of this week, Curiosity’s route to Mount Sharp is still unknown, but it will likely fall within the area outlined in red.

Scientists will use an orbiting satellite to determine the most diverse route for Curiosity. However, there are two main points of interest along the way (pictured below).

“Shaler might be a river deposit. Point Lake might be volcanic or sedimentary,” Crisp said. “A closer look at them could give us better understanding of how the rocks we sampled with the drill fit into the history of how the environment changed.”


Scientists are particularly interested in Point Lake, located in the upper half of this image. A closer inspection may yield information about whether it is a volcanic or sedimentary deposit.

Curiosity has already completed her main science goals of scooping soil for analyzation and drilling into a rock. We can expect to see similar types of experiments along the way to Mount Sharp, provided the terrain proves promising enough for the effort.

The rover has a laser and telescope instrument in her head, called ChemCam. ChemCam, a feature Curiosity has already used more than 40,000 times, uses its laser to zap rocks from a distance of about 7 meters. The telescope then analyzes the “excited” gas or plasma that is produced.

Mount Sharp will be a drill-and-discovery mission for Curiosity, and ChemCam will prove important because it will allow scientists to analyze targets otherwise out of reach. However, we will have to wait until Curiosity completes her trek to the mountain’s base to get any idea of the samples she’ll be taking.

“Drill targets are selected as the rover comes across them, so there are no specific locations in mind right now for Mount Sharp,” NASA Social Media Manager Veronica McGregor told Mashable via email. “But they definitely plan to drill.”

Images courtesy of NASA

Read more: http://mashable.com/2013/06/06/nasa-curiosity-mount-sharp/

Obama Web Ads Target Romney on RNC Turf

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President Barack Obama’s campaign is taking aim at Mitt Romney on Republican National Convention turf. Today, visitors to the Tampa Bay Times website will see a large expandable ad mocking Romney as a fat cat who outsources jobs away from the U.S. and avoids taxes by hiding his money in offshore accounts.

“Click to see Mitt Romney’s qualifications,” states the ad, which when expanded, mimics a desk cluttered with reminder notes. One suggests that Romney has a meeting with the Koch Brothers, and he should “Book trip to Caymans” to “visit money.”

The Koch Brothers are wealthy industrialists who have been vilified by the left in part for their behind-the-scenes support of groups backing conservatives and Republicans including Romney.

The ads, which appear to be delivered outside of Florida and possibly nationwide, were paid for by the Obama Victory Fund, a joint fundraising committee with the Democratic National Committee.

The ad buy is reminiscent of many the Obama camp ran during the early GOP presidential primary races when splashy Obama ads ran on news sites in states including Iowa and New Hampshire, and could be seen by people across the country rather than just in those particular states.

The message has been reiterated in television spots from the Obama camp and outside groups seen often in key swing states such as here in Florida. While the Obama camp seeks to strengthen support among important voter groups like veterans, young people and LGBT rights supporters, it is also hammering away at Romney’s reputation in the hopes of convincing people that he is disconnected from the middle class.

The TampaBay.com ad links to a page on the official Obama site with video of an ad featuring Bill Clinton’s endorsement of Obama.

Meanwhile, Romney is also running ads on the Tampa site. They’re clearly aimed at his supporters convening here for the RNC. The display ads appear along the bottom of most pages of TampaBay.com and tout, “America’s Comeback Team.” Some encourage supporters to “Get your official gear today,” while some show the #GOP2012 hashtag.

This article originally published at ClickZ
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/08/28/obama-rnc-ads-tampa/

SpaceX’s Record-Setting Grasshopper Flight Caught on Drone Camera

Private spaceflight company SpaceX has been testing its Grasshopper rocket over the past few months, but it set a record last week with its latest launch in which it flew 2,440.94 feet in the air — the vehicle’s highest leap yet.

Using a single camera hexacopter drone, SpaceX was able to get closer than ever to record the video above, which the company released Monday. As the rocket climbed gracefully into the air, the drone camera — which you can see in the right-hand corner of the frame — adjusted to capture the seemingly slow launch. Grasshopper soared in an almost-perfect straight line — quite different from its August launch, when it leapt sideways.

The 10-story-high Grasshopper is one of SpaceX’s most outside-the-box experiments. Most rockets burn up when reentering Earth’s atmosphere, but Grasshopper is a reusable Vertical Takeoff Vertical Landing (VTVL) vehicle built to withstand these harsh conditions and return to the planet’s surface intact.

Grasshopper holds the first-stage tank of the Falcon 9 rocket, which boosts SpaceX’s unmanned Dragon capsule to the International Space Station.

SpaceX Releases Inspiring Video of Dragon’s Historic Journey Through Space

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SpaceX made history in May when its Dragon capsule became the first privately-built spacecraft to dock at the International Space Station. Now, the company has released a YouTube video that follows its historic journey through space, from liftoff to its return drop in the Pacific Ocean.

The video begins with footage from SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket launch on May 22 that carried the Dragon spacecraft into orbit from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. It also features footage of it orbiting the Earth, U.S. astronaut Don Pettit opening Dragon’s hatch and SpaceX’s reaction to the successful mission.


Not only was the Dragon the first privately developed vehicle in history to ever successfully attach to the International Space Station, only four governments — the United States, Russia, Japan and the European Space Agency — had previously achieved this feat.

SpaceX — which has a $1.6 billion contract to fly 12 supply missions — is gearing up for more launches in the near future. The first contracted cargo flight is scheduled for September.

What do you think of the video? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

Image courtesy of SpaceX

BONUS: SpaceX and NASA’s Historic Dragon Capsule ISS Docking in Pictures

U.S. Must Release Legal Justification for Drone Strikes, Court Rules

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A MQ-9 Reaper drone, armed with GBU-12 Paveway II laser guided munitions and AGM-114 Hellfire missiles, piloted by Col. Lex Turner during a combat mission over southern Afghanistan.
Image: AP Photo/Lt. Col. Leslie Pratt, US Air Force/Associated Press

In an unprecedented decision, a federal appeals court ordered the U.S. government to release a memo detailing the legal justification behind the killing of American citizens by drone strikes overseas.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Monday that the government can’t claim the memo needs to be secret anymore, because various U.S. officials have repeatedly acknowledged the so-called targeted drone strikes program in general and the killings of three American citizens in Yemen in 2011 in particular. This is an addition to a U.S. Department of Justice White Paper, leaked by NBC News and confirmed by DOJ, which explained the legal rationale behind drone strikes.

“Whatever protection the legal analysis might once have had has been lost by virtue of public statements of public officials at the highest levels and official disclosure of the DOJ White Paper,” wrote Judge Jon O. Newman in a decision (embedded below), that was made unanimously by a three judge panel in Manhattan.

Monday’s decision overturns a January 2013 lower court ruling that allowed the Department of Justice to keep secret a memorandum that provided the legal justification for the drone strikes that killed three United States citizens in Yemen: Anwar al-Awlaki, a cleric who allegedly had become a prominent Al-Qaeda spokesperson, his 16-year-old son Abdulrahman, and Samir Khan.

At the time, U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon ruled in favor of secrecy despite the fact that she found herself in a “paradoxical situation” of letting the government claim it was legal to kill Americans outside of declared war zones, while also claiming it can’t reveal the legal reasoning behind that decision.

“The Alice-in-Wonderland nature of this pronouncement is not lost on me,” she wrote.

The lawsuit in Monday’s decision was filed by The New York Times, which has filed a Freedom of Information Act request to see the legal memo, with the support of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

It’s unclear whether the DOJ will now appeal the decision, and, for now, there’s no timetable for the release of the documents.

Both the Times and the ACLU, however, celebrated the ruling.

“This is a resounding rejection of the government’s effort to use secrecy and selective disclosure to manipulate public opinion about the targeted killing program,” ACLU Deputy Legal Director Jameel Jaffer said in an emailed statement. “The public has a right to know why the administration believes it can carry out targeted killings of American citizens who are located far away from any conventional battlefield.”

“The court reaffirmed a bedrock principle of democracy: The people do not have to accept blindly the government’s assurances that it is operating within the bounds of the law; they get to see for themselves the legal justification that the government is working from,” David McCraw, the Times‘ lawyer, said in a statement.

Here’s the full ruling from the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Federal Court Decision Ordering U.S. Government to Disclose Drone Killinds Memo

Read more: http://mashable.com/2014/04/21/federal-court-drone-strikes-ruling/