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If you can't wrap your head around every aspect of Einstein's Theory of Relativity, that's understandable. Neither can I. But when it comes to massive objects warping the fabric of space — one of its more dramatic predictions — the Hubble Space Telescope help us make sense of this bizarre phenomenon.
We rarely use our sense of smell in astronomy except for the occasional run-in with a skunk during late night sky sweeping. We can't smell the irony-dusty air on Mars, the pungent ammonia clouds that swaddle Jupiter or the reeking sulfur plumes of Io's many active volcanoes. Our noses are helpless.
DULUTH — Planets, planets everywhere, and here and there an Earth. Astronomers announced the discovery this week of a new, temperate Earth-sized planet only 11 light-years away orbiting the star Ross 128 in the constellation Virgo. After Proxima b, the planet circling Proxima Centauri in the Alpha Centauri triple star system, it's the closest, potentially life-friendly planet found.
DULUTH — Earth is just so ... limited. With so many other places to visit in the solar system, why restrict yourself to one planet? You've probably used Google Maps at one time or another to get directions to a restaurant or dog groomer. Now, Google offers the same tool for getting around the solar system. With it, you can zoom into and explore three additional planets, two dwarf planets, 10 moons and a favorite hangout in the International Space Station.
DULUTH — The Hubble Space Telescope is always up to something. Now, a German-led group of astronomers have observed a one-of-a-kind object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Scratch that. Two-of-one-kind: a pair of asteroids orbiting each other that show comet-like features including a bright coma and a long tail. It's the first known binary asteroid also classified as a main-belt comet. The team's research was published in the journal Nature recently.
DULUTH — You'd think by now we'd know exactly how long a day is on Saturn, but Cassini's still working on it.
Ever wonder what's on the opposite side of the planet from where you live? China maybe? Nothing could be further from the truth. You wouldn't hit China, instead, you'd be splashing about in the Indian Ocean off the west coast of Australia. Places on the globe that are diametrically opposite one another are called "antipodes." If you draw a straight line from your town directly through the center of the Earth, it will emerge at its antipode.
There's so much out there about the Aug. 21 total solar eclipse, it's like swimming through mud trying to find simple, essential information. But let's give it a try. Lots of us want to know how much of the sun will be covered from wherever we might happen to be that day. Except for the narrow path of totality, the eclipse will be partial for the entire North American continent.
DULUTH — Astronauts conducted an emergency spacewalk earlier this week to replace a failed computer that controlled the solar power system, radiators and other crucial equipment on the International Space Station (ISS). They had been using a backup, so everything's thumps up now. I've read it's hard work working in repairs outside the station, but the views are second to none.
Mars would be much more clement if it still possessed a beefy atmosphere. Thanks to new measurements from NASA's MAVEN spacecraft, we now have a definitive answer on why Mars evolved from relatively warm and benign place to today's frigid desert where nighttime temperatures routinely plunge to 100 degrees below zero. Blame it on the sun!