Tag Archives: US & World

Aghast Over Beijing’s Pollution? Look at Pittsburgh 60 Years Ago

China-pollution

The photographs and measurements coming out of Beijing these days are horrifying. You can see the brown clouds from space, and Chinese media have even been talking up the problem.

I’ve heard from some Americans saying, “Why don’t they do something about this? How can they live like this?” Etcetera. To an early 21st century American, particularly one living in northern California or a relatively pollution-free Washington, DC, it seems crazy to live with such bad air.

But it was not always so.

As America became an industrial power during the 19th century, Pittsburgh emerged as the seat of metalworking, iron and then steel. This was a city powered by coal. Soot and smoke covered the city. There was no blue sky. Travelers from around the world visited Pittsburgh to see the wonder of American capitalism. The stories they tell are like — exactly, like — the ones you hear today about China. (This is a story that I covered in some detail in my book.)

A wry southerner observed, “If a sheet of white paper lie upon your desk for half an hour you may write on it with your finger’s end through the thin stratum of coal dust that has settled upon it during that interval.”

Another traveler recounted, “Every body who has heard of Pittsburgh knows that it is the city of perpetual smoke, and looks as if it were built above the descent to ‘the bottomless pit,'” that is to say, hell. And yet, this dirty power also happened to make a lot of people a lot of money. It was said, “He whose hands are the most sooty handles the most money, and it is reasonable to infer is the richer man.”

Everyone knew that the smoke covering their homes and clothes and trees was bad. But it made a certain group of people a lot of money. And so they fought pollution controls. And those people had friends.

So, while the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (granted, a less august institution back then) declared the health hazards of smoke and wondered aloud whether corporations should be allowed to produce what it called such “evil,” a Pittsburgh doctor maintained that soot and smoke “only go throat-deep” and said that fire and smoke “correct atmospheric impurities.”

The politics of how this works are pretty simple. The smoke and the soot are something we recognize now as an externality. A cost of doing business that the business doesn’t have to pay because they can dump it on society. Chinese citizens and activists and assorted air-breathers will have to get the polluting companies to internalize these costs. The polluting companies don’t want to internalize that cost. Here’s Chicago’s smoke inspector (yes htere was such a title and in this case, he was named F.U. Adams) in 1896 laying out the rhetorical positions of the two camps:

Viewed from the standpoint of the Smoke Inspector, the 1,600,000 people of Chicago are divided into two classes—First, those who create a smoke nuisance; Second, those who are compelled to tolerate a smoke nuisance. One class has radical champions who maintain that smoke is an irrepressible necessity; a concomitant of the commercial and manufacturing supremacy of Chicago; that smoke not only is not unhealthy, but that it is an actual disinfectant, and that the low death rate of the city can be largely attributed to the prevalence of smoke; that the smoke ordinance and its enforcement are aimed at the interests of the Illinois coal operators; that the advocates of smoke abatement are visionary sentimentalists, and in a general way they are emphatically opposed to any agitation on the subject.

The other side has partisans no less radical, and equally emphatic in voicing the story of their wrongs. They declare that the enforcement of the smoke ordinance is a farce; they demand that soft coal be excluded from the city; they insist that its consumption entails an annual damage greater than the difference in cost between soft and hard coal; they declare that the smoke nuisance is a positive menace to the health of citizens, that it has resulted in an alarming increase in throat, lung and eye diseases; they point to ruined carpets, paintings, fabrics, the soot-besmeared facades of buildings and to a smoke-beclouded sky, and demand that the Smoke Inspector do his plain duty under the law.

It is impossible to reconcile the radical partisans of these two classes. It is fortunate that not many of our citizens are so radical on either side of this most important question. There exists a growing contingent, around which is crystallizing a sentiment that it is practical and possible to abate the smoke nuisance without endangering the stupendous interests involved. The most intelligent and active members of this contingent are drawn from the ranks of those formerly largely responsible for the smoke nuisance. They now oppose smoke for the same reason that they once defended it.

They have made the discovery that it is cheaper to abate a smoke nuisance than to maintain one. And by reason of this discovery the smoke nuisance in Chicago will be a relic of the past before the close of the present century.

Ah, you beautiful visionary sentimentalists! My asthma thanks you. But man, F.U. Adams was optimistic. Change takes a long time. Pittsburgh, for its part, did not enact smoke controls until 1946! Yes, 1946! And they didn’t really get a handle on the smoke problem until well into the 1950s. That’s, oh, 120 years after all those travelers decried the place as hell with the lid off. I mean, this is what Pittsburgh looked like at noon, the lights all on because so little sunlight could penetrate the pollution:

This is what passed for fresh air.

Until finally, one day, after a century of agitation, activists got smoke control measures passed. The sky started to clear.

The fundamental struggle of any kind of pollution control is trying to get the polluters to internalize the costs of their pollution. Because if they don’t, the rest of us have to pay more. We — i.e. all of society — subsidize their businesses through increased health care costs, declining values of certain kinds of housing, toxic land or water or air. And the only reason they get away with it is that tracing the line of causality back to them — even when the air looks as disgusting as it does in these photographs — is just that difficult. They hide their roles in the complexity of the system.

So, next time you see one of the photos of Beijing’s pollution and say, “Geez! The Chinese should do something about this!” Just know that it took American activists over a century to win the precise same battle, and that they’re losing a similar one over climate change right this minute.

Image courtesy of NASA

This article originally published at The Atlantic
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2013/01/16/beijing-pollution-pittsburgh/

Space Shuttle Enterprise Damaged by Superstorm Sandy

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Superstorm Sandy, the storm that continues to wreck havoc across the American northeast on Tuesday, caused intense flooding and wind damage across the tri-state area, leaving several people dead. Among its apparent victims: The Space Shuttle Enterprise.

The Enterprise has been housed under a protective structure at New York’s Intrepid Air, Sea and Space Museum since July. That structure appears to have gone completely missing in the storm’s aftermath, leaving the Enterprise exposed to the elements.

Image Credit: John de Guzman

Image Credit: Denise Chow

Oddly, the Intrepid Museum’s own “live webcam” shows the structure still intact. Most likely, the camera stopped updating as the storm was rolling in.

Despite the loss of the protective structure, the Enterprise looks to be mostly fine, save some possible damage to the vertical stabilizer. Mashable has several messages out to the museum about the status of the Enterprise, and we’ll update this post with any response.

For reference, here’s what the Enterprise looked like under the protective shell:

Hubble Spies Huge Explosion on Faraway Star

T-pyxidis-sept-2011

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has given astronomers a rare look at an enormous stellar eruption, allowing them to map out the aftermath of such blasts in unprecedented detail.

Hubble photographed an April 2011 explosion in the double-star system T Pyxidis (T Pyx for short), which goes off every 12 to 50 years. The new images reveal that material ejected by previous T Pyx outbursts did not escape into space, instead sticking around to form a debris disk about 1 light-year wide around the system.

This information came as a surprise to the research team.

“We fully expected this to be a spherical shell,” study co-author Arlin Crotts of Columbia University said in a statement. “This observation shows it is a disk, and it is populated with fast-moving ejecta from previous outbursts.”

The erupting T Pyx star is a white dwarf, the burned-out core of a star much like our own sun. White dwarfs are small but incredibly dense, often packing the mass of the sun into a volume the size of Earth.

T Pyx’s white dwarf has a companion star, from which it siphons off hydrogen fuel. When enough of this hydrogen builds up on the white dwarf’s surface, it detonates like a gigantic hydrogen bomb, increasing the white dwarf’s brightness by a factor of 10,000 over a single day or so.

This happens again and again. T Pyx is known to have erupted in 1890, 1902, 1920, 1944, and 1966, in addition to the 2011 event.

Such recurrent outbursts are known as nova explosions. (Nova is Latin for “new,” referring to how suddenly novas appear in the sky.) Novas are distinct from supernovas, even more dramatic blasts that involve the destruction of an entire star.

The new study clarifies just what happens to the material ejected by such outbursts.

“We’ve all seen how light from fireworks shells during the grand finale will light up the smoke and soot from shells earlier in the show,” co-author Stephen Lawrence of Hofstra University said in a statement. “In an analogous way, we’re using light from T Pyx’s latest outburst and its propagation at the speed of light to dissect its fireworks displays from decades past.”

The study represents the first time the area around an erupting star has been mapped in three dimensions, researchers said.

The new Hubble Space Telescope observations also help refine the distance to T Pyx, pegging it at 15,600 light-years from Earth. (Past estimates have ranged between 6,500 and 16,000 light-years.)

The team presented its results on June 4 at the 222nd meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Indianapolis. The study will also be published in the June 20 issue of the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Image courtesy of NASA, ESA, A. Crotts, J. Sokoloski, and H. Uthas (Columbia University) and S. Lawrence (Hofstra University)

This article originally published at Space.com
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2013/06/05/hubble-star-explosion/

Radiation Exposure Won’t Stop a Manned Mission to Mars

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The risk of radiation exposure is not a show-stopper for a long-term manned mission to Mars, new results from NASA’s Curiosity rover suggest.

A mission consisting of a 180-day cruise to Mars, a 500-day stay on the Red Planet and a 180-day return flight to Earth would expose astronauts to a cumulative radiation dose of about 1.01 sieverts, measurements by Curiosity’s Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD) instrument indicate.

To put that in perspective: The European Space Agency generally limits its astronauts to a total career radiation dose of 1 sievert, which is associated with a 5% increase in lifetime fatal cancer risk.

“It’s certainly a manageable number,” said RAD principal investigator Don Hassler of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo., lead author of a study that reports the results Monday in the journal Science.

A 1-sievert dose from radiation on Mars would violate NASA’s current standards, which cap astronauts’ excess-cancer risk at 3 percent. But those guidelines were drawn up with missions to low-Earth orbit in mind, and adjustments to accommodate trips farther afield may be in the offing, Hassler said.

“NASA is working with the National Academies’ Institute of Medicine to evaluate what appropriate limits would be for a deep-space mission, such as a mission to Mars,” Hassler told SPACE.com. “So that’s an exciting activity.”

The new results represent the most complete picture yet of the radiation environment en route to Mars and on the Red Planet’s surface. They incorporate data that RAD gathered during Curiosity’s eight-month cruise through space and the rover’s first 300 days on Mars, where it touched down in August 2012.

The RAD measurements cover two different types of energetic-particle radiation — galactic cosmic rays (GCRs), which are accelerated to incredible speeds by far-off supernova explosions, and solar energetic particles (SEPs), which are blasted into space by storms on our own sun.

RAD’s data show that astronauts exploring the Martian surface would accumulate about 0.64 millisieverts of radiation per day. The dose rate is nearly three times greater during the journey to Mars, at 1.84 millisieverts per day.

But Mars’ radiation environment is dynamic, so Curiosity’s measurements thus far should not be viewed as the final word, Hassler stressed. For example, RAD’s data have been gathered near the peak of the sun’s 11-year activity cycle, a time when the GCR flux is relatively low (because solar plasma tends to scatter galactic cosmic rays).

Curiosity’s radiation measurements should help NASA plan out a manned mission to Mars, which the space agency hopes to pull off by the mid-2030s, Hassler said. And they should also inform the search for signs of past or present life on the Red Planet — another top NASA priority.

For example, the new RAD results suggest that microbial life is unlikely to exist right at the Martian surface, Hassler said. But future missions may not have to drill too deeply underground to find pockets of Mars life, if it ever existed.

“These measurements do tell us that we think it could be viable to find signs of possible extant or past life as shallow as 1 meter deep,” Hassler said.

The new study is one of six papers published in Science Monday that report new results from Curiosity. Most of the other studies present evidence that the rover has found an ancient freshwater lake that could have supported microbial life for tens of thousands, and perhaps millions, of years.

Image: Euclid vanderkroew

This article originally published at Space.com
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2013/12/09/radiation-mars-curiosity-rover/

Rebooted NASA Spacecraft Begins a New Mission 36 Years After Launch

Isee-3-moon

Artist’s concept image of ISEE-3 (ICE) spacecraft.
Image: NASA

A 36-year-old NASA spacecraft began a new interplanetary science mission on Sunday when it made a close pass by the moon.

The privately controlled International Sun-Earth Explorer 3 spacecraft, also called ISEE-3, flew by the moon at approximately 2:16 p.m. EDT.

The ISEE-3 spacecraft is under the control of the ISEE-3 Reboot Project, a private team of engineers who took control of the probe earlier this year under an agreement with NASA. The team initially hoped to move the NASA probe into a stable orbit near the Earth. But attempts failed when the team discovered that the spacecraft, which NASA launched in 1978, was out of the nitrogen pressurant needed to get the job done.

Now, ISEE-3 Reboot Project engineers are focusing their efforts on an interplanetary science mission, since at least some of the probe’s 13 instruments are still working. By using a network of individual radio dishes across the world, the team will listen to the ISEE-3 spacecraft for most of its orbit around the sun.

Officials announced this week that they would collaborate with Google to offer live spacecraft data at the site SpacecraftForAll.com. Financial terms were not disclosed. Chris Lintott, of the BBC’s “The Sky at Night,” moderated a Google Hangout on ISEE-3.

“The main feature of this is a new website developed by Google Creative Lab in collaboration with the ISEE-3 Reboot Project team that features a history of the ISEE-3 mission as well as a presentation of data currently being received from ISEE-3,” co-founder Keith Cowing said in a statement.

The spacecraft was originally launched in 1978 to study the sun, and was retasked for other science missions such as looking at comets. NASA put ISEE-3 into hibernation in 1998, where it remained until the private group reactivated it this year under a Space Act Agreement.

Members raised about $160,000 through crowdfunding, most of which is gone due to the need to rent dish time at NASA’s Deep Space Network to listen in, and to fly team members to the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico for communications.

To learn more about the ISEE-3 Reboot Project, visit: http://spacecollege.org/.

This article originally published at Space.com
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2014/08/11/isee-3-buzzes-moon/

Ann Coulter Calls Obama a ‘Retard’ on Twitter

Ann-coulter-calls-obama-a-retard-on-twitter-5e5db1171a

Ann Coulter, conservative political commentator and author who’s known for making incendiary remarks, called Barack Obama a “retard” on Twitter after Monday night’s presidential debate.

Coulter was trying to comment on the overall civil behavior of the two candidates during Monday’s debate when compared with the interruptions and arguing of the second debate. However, the term is widely considered offensive and derogatory. There’s even a movement, R-Word, asking people to pledge not to use the word.

Coulter’s tweet immediately sparked a harsh reaction from many Twitter users that continues Tuesday morning:

Michelle Malkin, another outspoken conservative political commentator, dismissed Coulter’s remarks as “stupid” and “shallow.”

Coulter’s next and only tweet since the offensive message was a promotion for her book tour, inviting further criticism:

This is not the first time a poorly phrased tweet set off controversy on Twitter. Should Coulter have been more careful about her choice of words? Share your thoughts in the comments.


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Mashable explores the trends changing politics in 2012 and beyond in Politics Transformed: The High Tech Battle for Your Vote, an in-depth look at how digital media is reshaping democracy.

Read a few of the top posts from the series:

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Images courtesy of Flickr, Gage Skidmore

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Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/10/23/ann-coulter-obama-retard-twitter/

See Venus and Saturn Shine Together Early Tuesday

See-venus-and-saturn-shine-together-early-tuesday-a2f7f352cc

Early Tuesday morning (Nov. 27), you’ll be able to watch two planets that will pass each other in the dawn.

The planets in question are Venus and Saturn. One planet will be slowly descending into eventual obscurity, while the other will become increasingly prominent in the days and weeks to come.

Look for Venus and Saturn shortly after 4:30 a.m. local time. The planets will appear very low above the east-southeast horizon, weather permitting. Brilliant Venus, shining with a steady silvery-white glow, will be passing about 0.6 degrees below and to the right of the much dimmer and yellower Saturn. (Your closed fist held at arm’s length covers 10 degrees of the night sky.)

About an hour later, at 5:30 a.m. local time, Saturn will high enough for good views through a telescope of its breathtakingly beautiful rings. The tilt of the rings continues to slowly increase and is now almost 18 degrees from edgewise. As for Venus, it displays a rather small gibbous shaped disk, 87% illuminated by the sun. Venus is about 70% brighter than Saturn’s larger, but duller, disk and rings.

After Tuesday morning’s rendezvous, which is known as a conjunction, the two planets will slowly go their separate ways.

Venus, which was so prominent during the summertime, is now rising later and appearing lower to the horizon in the dawn twilight. It has about another two months to go before it ultimately drops down into the bright morning twilight and disappears from our view, eventually transitioning into the evening sky by early next spring.

Saturn, on the other hand, will climb progressively higher and rise earlier, eventually becoming a prominent and well-placed evening object by the middle of spring.

If you look at both Venus and Saturn through a telescope, Venus is unquestionably the brighter of the two objects. But you might wonder how this is possible. After all, both planets are perpetually covered with clouds and their respective albedos — the proportion of the incident sunlight reflected by those clouds — are exactly the same at 76%.

Why then does Saturn appear so much duller than Venus if both are reflecting the same proportion of sunlight back toward the Earth?

The key is their distances from the sun. Compared to Venus, Saturn is 13.59 times farther away from the sun. And if we use the inverse square law — which states that the intensity of reflected sunlight is inversely proportional to the square of the distance from the sun — then 13.59 multiplied by 13.59 shows that sunlight striking Saturn’s cloud tops, is 184.69 times weaker compared to sunlight striking the cloud tops of Venus.

In any case, arise early on Tuesday and take a peek as the Venus, the Goddess of Beauty, snuggles up to Saturn, the God of Time.

Homepage image via iStockphoto, fpm.

This article originally published at Space.com
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/11/26/watch-venus-saturn/

NASA to Launch Planet-Hunting Probe in 2017

Kepler-100-billion-alien-planets

NASA has picked two new low-cost missions for launch in 2017: a planet-hunting satellite and an International Space Station experiment designed to probe the nature of exotic, super-dense neutron stars.

The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) and Neutron Star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) are the latest missions chosen under NASA’s Astrophysics Explorer Program, which caps costs at $200 million for satellites and $55 million for space station experiments, officials announced Friday (April 5).

The TESS spacecraft will use an array of wide-field cameras to scan nearby stars for exoplanets, with a focus on Earth-size worlds in their stars’ habitable zones — that just-right range of distances where liquid water could exist.

“TESS will carry out the first space-borne all-sky transit survey, covering 400 times as much sky as any previous mission,” principal investigator George Ricker of MIT said in a statement. “It will identify thousands of new planets in the solar neighborhood, with a special focus on planets comparable in size to the Earth.”

As its full name suggests, TESS will detect alien planets by noting when they transit, or cross of the face of, their host stars from the instrument’s perspective. NASA’s Kepler spacecraft has used this strategy with great success, flagging more than 2,700 potential exoplanets since its March 2009 launch.

Unlike the free-flying TESS, NICER will be mounted to the space station. From this perch, it will measure the variability of cosmic X-ray sources, potentially allowing scientists to better understand neutron stars, which are the ultradense collapsed remnants of exploded stars.

NICER’s principal investigator is Keith Gendreau of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

Both missions should advance scientists’ understanding of the universe, NASA officials said.

“With these missions we will learn about the most extreme states of matter by studying neutron stars, and we will identify many nearby star systems with rocky planets in the habitable zone for further study by telescopes such as the James Webb Space Telescope,” John Grunsfeld, NASA’s associate administrator for science in Washington, said in a statement.

NASA’s Explorer program aims to provide frequent, low-cost access to space for investigations relevant to the agency’s astrophysics and heliophysics programs. More than 90 missions have launched under the Explorer program since the first one, Explorer 1, blasted off in 1958 and discovered Earth’s radiation belts.

Image courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech

This article originally published at Space.com
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2013/04/08/nasa-to-launch-planet-hunting-probe-neutron-star-experiment-in-2017/

Giant Black Hole to Eat Space Cloud in 2013

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The colossal black hole at the center of our Milky Way galaxy will soon to get a big, tasty meal, astronomers say.

A humongous gas cloud is on a collision course for the Milky Way’s core — the home of Sagittarius A* (pronounced “Sagittarius A-star”), which scientists suspect is a supermassive black hole with the mass of 4 million suns.

When the huge gas cloud arrives in the vicinity, which it will appear to us to do in mid-2013, scientists say it will surely be swallowed up by the hungry black hole.

Astrophysicist Stefan Gillessen of the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Munich, Germany, has been observing the Milky Way’s center for about 20 years. So far, he’s seen only two stars come as close to Sagittarius A* as the cloud will.

“They passed unharmed, but this time will be different: The gas cloud will be completely ripped apart by the tidal forces of the black hole,” Gillessen said in a statement.

The cloud is due to pass within about 36 light-hours (about 25 billion miles) of the black hole. Its speed, which is now more than 5 million mph has nearly doubled in the last seven years as it approaches its doom. It has already started to shred, and is likely to break up completely before it hits the black hole.

While black holes themselves are impossible to see — they are objects whose gravitational pull is so strong, even light cannot escape — astronomers can watch what happens when matter falls into one. The areas around some active supermassive black holes are so bright, in fact, that they are visible across the universe.

Scientists are looking forward to the rare chance to see something fall into our own galaxy’s black hole. As it falls nearer and nearer, the cloud is expected to heat up and release bright X-ray radiation that should be visible from Earth.

The collision-bound cloud was discovered by a team of astronomers led by Reinhard Genzel at the European Southern Observatory.

Image simulation of a giant space cloud falling into Sagittarius A* courtesy of European Research Media Center

This article originally published at Space.com
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/07/02/milky-way-black-hole-space-cloud/

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/