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December 2012



The Hubble Space Telescope captured a spectacular image of the bright star-forming ring that surrounds the heart of the barred spiral galaxy NGC 1097. In this image, the larger-scale structure of the galaxy is barely visible: its comparatively dim spiral arms, which surround its heart in a loose embrace, reach out beyond the edges of this frame.

The Hubble Space Telescope captured a spectacular image of the bright star-forming ring that surrounds the heart of the barred spiral galaxy NGC 1097. In this image, the larger-scale structure of the galaxy is barely visible: its comparatively dim spiral arms, which surround its heart in a loose embrace, reach out beyond the edges of this frame.

This image was taken on December 22, 2012 and received on Earth December 23, 2012. The camera was pointing toward Rhea at approximately 18,160 miles (29,226 kilometers) away, and the image was taken using the CL1 and IR1 filters. This image has not been validated or calibrated. A validated/calibrated image will be archived with the NASA Planetary Data System in 2013. Image Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute Full-Res: W00078554.jpg

In time for the 2012 winter solstice, a storm dropped snow over most of the Rocky Mountains in the United States. On December 20, the National Weather Service reported snow depths exceeding 100 centimeters (39 inches) in some places--the result of the recent snowfall plus accumulation from earlier storms.

This image of the United States of America at night is a composite assembled from data acquired by the Suomi NPP satellite in April and October 2012. The image was made possible by the new satellite's "day-night band" of the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS), which detects light in a range of wavelengths from green to near-infrared and uses filtering techniques to observe dim signals such as city lights, gas flares, auroras, wildfires, and reflected moonlight.

Omega Centauri (also known as NGC 5139) is the largest, brightest and most massive of our galaxy's retinue of 150 or so globular star clusters. Packing some 10 million stars into a region just 150 light-years across, Omega Centauri is easily visible to the unaided eye despite lying nearly 16,000 light-years away. Unlike other star clusters, whose members all have similar age and chemical makeup, Omega Centauri displays a wide range of age and chemistry, from the ancient (12 billion years) to the relatively recent. The presence of different stellar populations suggests that Omega Centauri is not, in fact, a globular cluster, but the remnant core of a dwarf galaxy torn to shreds by the Milky Way's gravity. The false-color ultraviolet composite from Swift UVOT's uvw1, uvm2 and uvw2 filters reveals a treasure trove of rare stars in various stages of demise. Credit: NASA/Swift/S. Holland (Goddard), M. Siegel and E. Fonseca (PSU)

"Due to an initially aggressive schedule that resulted from a delayed launch of the 2013 Revolutionary Aerospace Systems Concepts - Academic Linkage, or RASC-AL, Lunar Wheel Design Challenge, the new deadline to submit project plans has been extended to Sunday, Jan. 19, 2013, at midnight EST."

"Astronomers using Europe's Herschel Space Observatory are asking the public to help find holes in the dust clouds that are threaded through our galaxy. By looking at the images from Herschel, combined with those from NASA's Spitzer satellite, members of the public are invited to join the science effort by helping to distinguish between dense clumps of cold dust and holes in the dusty clouds that are threaded through our galaxy. Dust clouds don't come in simple shapes, and so the process of distinguishing between dark clouds and holes is incredibly difficult to do. Luckily, the ideal tool is at hand: the human eye. The problem proved more complex than the team had anticipated. "The problem is that clouds of interstellar dust don't come in handy easy-to-recognize shapes", Derek explained. "The images are too messy for computers to analyze, and there are too many for us to go through ourselves". This is where the Zooniverse comes in, with its community of citizen scientists poised ready to help out. The new images are part of the Milky Way Project, which launched 2 years ago and, through the efforts of over 40,000 volunteers, has already created astronomy's largest catalogue of star-forming bubbles, as well as a plethora of nearby star clusters, distant galaxies and more. The Milky Way Project volunteers are excellent at measuring and mapping our galaxy." More

The completed astronomical observatory at Ridge A. From left, the HEAT telescope, the yellow PLATO-R instrument module, with cameras and antennas on the rooftop, and solar panels to power the observatory in the summer. Not seen: The green PLATO-R engine module (above) provides power during winter. Photo Credit: Craig Kulesa

This image was taken on December 23, 2012 and received on Earth December 24, 2012. The camera was pointing toward Dione at approximately 153,903 miles (247,683 kilometers) away, and the image was taken using the IR4 and CL2 filters. This image has not been validated or calibrated. A validated/calibrated image will be archived with the NASA Planetary Data System in 2013. Image Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute Full-Res: N00199630.jpg

The Nile River Valley and Delta comprise less than 5 percent of Egypt's land area, but provide a home to roughly 97 percent of the country's population. Nothing makes the location of human population clearer than the lights illuminating the valley and delta at night.

"The FIRST Robotics Competition kickoff marks the beginning of the season for high school students from across the nation to design and build robots to compete in an annual tournament against a field of competitors. FIRST, or For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, is an international, mentor-based student program that builds science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, skills for high school students by combining the excitement of sports with the rigors of science and technology. Over 100 local students, teachers and volunteers are scheduled to attend Cleveland's kickoff at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 5, at the Cuyahoga Community College Unified Technologies Center, located at 2415 Woodland Ave, in. Cleveland. NASA, the largest sponsor of the FIRST Robotics Competition, will broadcast the kickoff nationwide on NASA Television from Southern New Hampshire University in Manchester." More

This image was taken on December 24, 2012 and received on Earth December 26, 2012. The camera was pointing toward Saturn at approximately 441,028 miles (709,766 kilometers) away, and the image was taken using the CB2 and CL2 filters. This image has not been validated or calibrated. A validated/calibrated image will be archived with the NASA Planetary Data System in 2013. Image Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute Full-Res: W00078573.jpg


On the 84th and 85th Martian days of the NASA Mars rover Curiosity's mission on Mars (Oct. 31 and Nov. 1, 2012), NASA's Curiosity rover used the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) to capture dozens of high-resolution images to be combined into self-portrait images of the rover.

On the 84th and 85th Martian days of the NASA Mars rover Curiosity's mission on Mars (Oct. 31 and Nov. 1, 2012), NASA's Curiosity rover used the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) to capture dozens of high-resolution images to be combined into self-portrait images of the rover.

The mosaic shows the rover at "Rocknest," the spot in Gale Crater where the mission's first scoop sampling took place. Four scoop scars can be seen in the regolith in front of the rover. A fifth scoop was collected later.

A nighttime view of the Dallas, Texas metropolitan area is featured in this image photographed by an Expedition 33 crew member on the International Space Station. Most metropolitan areas of the western United States are configured over large areas with a regular street grid pattern that is highly recognizable from space, particularly at night.


Aboard the orbiting International Space Station, Expedition 34 Commander Kevin Ford, Russian Flight Engineers Oleg Novitskiy, Evgeny Tarelkin and Roman Romanenko, NASA Flight Engineer Tom Marshburn and Canadian Space Agency Chris Hadfield celebrated Christmas on the orbital laboratory Dec. 25, 2012 through song and downlink messages of cheer for flight controllers on the ground.


Curiosity will spend the holidays at a location on Mars dubbed "Grandma's House."


NASA Television shares this inspiring production by Italian videomaker, Giacomo Sardelli, about the International Space Station, its inhabitants, and its role in space exploration. Sardelli writes of the video, "I'm not the first one to use NASA's pictures taken from the International Space Station to craft a Timelapse video. You can find many of them on the Internet, that's where my inspiration came from. What I wanted to do, though, was to look beyond the intrinsic beauty of those pictures, and use them to tell a story and share the messages sent by the astronauts who worked on the station in the last 11 years."


The Moon and Jupiter are converging for a heavenly sky show on Christmas 2012. Got a telescope? Something extra-special is happening on Jupiter that makes it an appealing target for backyard optics.

Shoulder Work At 'Copper Cliff' - sols 3159-3165, Dec. 12, 2012-Dec. 18, 2012: Opportunity is working at "Matijevic Hill" (named in honor of Jake Matijevic) at the inboard edge of "Cape York" on the rim of Endeavour Crater. There, the rover has been conducting in-situ (contact) science measurements at a location called "Copper Cliff."

A Digital Mapping System (DMS) mosaic of Arctic sea ice. The dark areas are leads, or open areas of water. Identifying leads is one of the necessary steps in preparing IceBridge's quick look sea ice thickness data product. Credit: NASA / DMS team

NASA scientists have announced that new observations of 2011 AG5 show that this asteroid, once thought to have a worrisome potential to threaten Earth, no longer poses a significant risk of impact.

"Science Bob and 30 other teachers launched 2,000 ping pong balls in zero gravity as part of Northrup Grumman Foundation's Weightless Flights of Discovery program. Also joining us was Kerry Sanders of the Today Show. Weightless flight is accomplished by flying in parabolas in reserved airspace aboard a modified 727 aircraft. Each weightless experience lasts about 30 seconds. Learn more about Science Bob at http://www.sciencebob.com"

"Science Bob and 30 other teachers launched 2,000 ping pong balls in zero gravity as part of Northrup Grumman Foundation's Weightless Flights of Discovery program. Also joining us was Kerry Sanders of the Today Show. Weightless flight is accomplished by flying in parabolas in reserved airspace aboard a modified 727 aircraft. Each weightless experience lasts about 30 seconds. Learn more about Science Bob at http://www.sciencebob.com"

A nighttime view of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia is featured in this image photographed by an Expedition 33 crew member on the International Space Station. The population of Riyadh, the capital city of Saudi Arabia, has risen dramatically in the last half century, from 150,000 in 1960 to an estimated 5.4 million in 2012.


NASA's Cassini spacecraft has delivered a glorious view of Saturn, taken while the spacecraft was in Saturn's shadow. The cameras were turned toward Saturn and the sun so that the planet and rings are backlit.

NASA's Cassini spacecraft has delivered a glorious view of Saturn, taken while the spacecraft was in Saturn's shadow. The cameras were turned toward Saturn and the sun so that the planet and rings are backlit. (The sun is behind the planet, which is shielding the cameras from direct sunlight.) In addition to the visual splendor, this special, very-high-phase viewing geometry lets scientists study ring and atmosphere phenomena not easily seen at a lower phase.

"The NASA Science Mission Directorate (SMD) is releasing this Undergraduate Student Instrument Project (USIP) Educational Flight Opportunity (EFO) to solicit U.S. university proposals to develop an Earth or space science payload that will fly on a NASA suborbital vehicle, such as a sounding rocket, balloon, aircraft, or commercial suborbital reusable launch vehicle. SMD designed USIP to promote interest and proficiency in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education and to develop careers in the STEM related fields through offering NASA's unique suborbital research platforms for student educational flight opportunities. This EFO is intended to provide multidiscipline undergraduate student teams an exciting hands-on project, while at the same time promoting the technical and project management skills necessary to train the country's future science and technology leaders." More

"One man's kitchen sink valve is another rocket man's missing component. A D.I.Y. spaceflight project can start with a good rummage at your local plumbing or hardware store. With everyday, off-the-shelf products, the guys behind Copenhagen Suborbitals found cheaper solutions to expensive, complex systems. "Instead of trying to invent our own valve for instance, why not buy one that's been produced maybe a million times," explained Kristian. He said they used a hair dryer in one of the first rocket tests in order to prevent one of the valves from freezing up. Copenhagen Suborbitals doesn't operate within limits but rather works around edges. Money and technology are hard to come by, sure, but limitations can often be a blessing in disguise. Instead of shelling out money they didn't have in order to rent an expensive centrifuge at a NASA research center, the Copenhagen guys went to their local amusement park, the legendary Tivoli Gardens, and turned up the levels on a mechanical ride in order to test a g-force threshold for the eventual launch of their spaceship." More at Popular Science

"The 2012 NASA OPTIMUS PRIME Spinoff Video Contest registration deadline has been extended until Jan. 10, 2013. Students who wish to participate in the contest must register by Jan. 10 and upload their video submissions by Jan. 31, 2013. The NASA OPTIMUS PRIME Spinoff Video Contest is held each year to show students that NASA technologies developed for applications in space can be modified for use in many products they use daily, improving the quality of their lives. The contest is based on Hasbro's popular TRANSFORMERS character OPTIMUS PRIME. Each video submission allows students the opportunity to describe their favorite story from the most current edition of NASA's annual Spinoff publication. This year's contest will feature stories from the 2011 edition of Spinoff." More

"Doubts still hang over the military utility of small satellites, holding back progress on low-cost, quick-reaction systems that could be launched at short notice to fill gaps in space coverage. To prove their viability, the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) has begun a program to demonstrate that small satellites produced and launched on demand can provide imagery on request directly to individual soldiers. Darpa's goal is to show that a constellation of 24 satellites, each weighing less than 100 lb., can be launched into low Earth orbit (LEO) at a fraction of the cost of acquiring additional unmanned aircraft to provide the same imagery. Raytheon has received the first contract under the Space Enabled Effects for Military Engagements (SeeMe) program. The $1.5 million contract is for the nine-month first phase to design a small imaging satellite. Darpa says other contracts will be awarded as well. Darpa's Airborne Launch Assist Space Access (Alasa) program is developing the booster to launch the SeeMe satellites quickly and affordably. Alasa is to be air-launched at short notice from a tactical fighter or business jet with minimal modification to the aircraft." More at Aviation Week

Today the U.S. Geological Survey announced that Landsat 5 will be decommissioned over the coming months, bringing to a close the longest-operating Earth observing satellite mission in history.

One of the Expedition 33 crew members aboard the International Space Station exposed this image of Saser Muztagh, in the Karakoram Range of the Kashmir region of India centered 34.9 degrees north latitude and 77.8 degrees east longitude. The view is in mid-afternoon light looking northeastward from a nadir point in north central Pakistan about 100 miles west of Lahore. ISS033-E-019708 (9 Nov. 2012) - high res (3.3 M) low res (170 K)

Three 300-pound main parachutes gently lower a mockup Orion capsule to the ground during a test at the U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona on Dec. 20. The test verified that the parachute design for the spacecraft - which will take humans farther than they've ever been before and return them to Earth at greater speeds than ever before - will work in the event of one of the capsule's two drogue parachutes malfunctions. Image Credit: NASA. Larger image


This graphic shows the path of Venus across the face of the sun on Dec. 21, 2012, as will be seen by NASA's Cassini spacecraft in the Saturn system. This will be the first time a spacecraft has tracked a transit of a planet in our solar system from beyond Earth orbit.

This graphic shows the path of Venus across the face of the sun on Dec. 21, 2012, as will be seen by NASA's Cassini spacecraft in the Saturn system. This will be the first time a spacecraft has tracked a transit of a planet in our solar system from beyond Earth orbit.


The first use the rover Curiosity's drill to obtain subsurface samples from inside a rock on Mars will be delayed until mid to late January to reduce risk to the rover during its first drilling operations.

An international team of astronomers has used HiCIAO (High Contrast Instrument for the Subaru Next Generation Optics) [Note 1] to observe a disk around the young star SAO 206462. They succeeded in capturing clear, detailed images of its disk, which they discovered has a spiral structure with two clearly discernable arms. On the basis of their observations and modeling according to spiral density wave theory, the team suspects that dynamic processes, possibly resulting from planets in the disk, may be responsible for its spiral shape. This research may provide the basis for another indirect method of detecting planets.


An international team of astronomers has used HiCIAO (High Contrast Instrument for the Subaru Next Generation Optics) [Note 1] to observe a disk around the young star SAO 206462.


The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) invites scientists, technologists, and other qualified and interested individuals at U.S. institutions and elsewhere to apply for membership on the Science Definition Team (SDT) for the 2020 Mars science rover mission (hereafter Mars-2020). Mars-2020 is a strategic mission sponsored by NASA's Planetary Science Division, through the Mars Exploration Program, all of which are part of the Science Mission Directorate (SMD).


At 7:12 a.m. ET this morning the Soyuz TMA-07M rocket with the Expedition 34 crew of Chris Hadfield (Canada), Tom Marshburn (USA) and Roman Romanenko (Russia) launched to the International Space Station on Expedition 34 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.


'Tis the season for holiday decorating and tree-trimming. Not to be left out, astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope have photographed a festive-looking nearby planetary nebula called NGC 5189. The intricate structure of this bright gaseous nebula resembles a glass-blown holiday ornament with a glowing ribbon entwined.

'Tis the season for holiday decorating and tree-trimming. Not to be left out, astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope have photographed a festive-looking nearby planetary nebula called NGC 5189. The intricate structure of this bright gaseous nebula resembles a glass-blown holiday ornament with a glowing ribbon entwined.


A new study published by University of Chicago researchers challenges the notion that the force of an exploding star forced the formation of the solar system.

A new study published by University of Chicago researchers challenges the notion that the force of an exploding star forced the formation of the solar system.

As an end of the year finale, the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO) and WIYN partners offer this new wide-field image of the Cygnus loop. Three degrees on a side, this image covers an area of the sky about 45 times that of the full Moon. But it does so without sacrificing high resolution. The image is over 600 million pixels in size, making it one of the largest astronomical images ever made.


A look back at the year that was at NASA in 2012. Highlights include the successful landing of the Mars Curiosity rover, the flight of the SpaceX Dragon to the International Space Station and much more.

Researchers at the University of Iowa and UCLA have measured space turbulence for the first time in a laboratory. The animation shows these bursts of turbulence, with the brighter colors (yellow, red) indicating increased turbulence. Credit: James Schoeder and Basic Plasma Science Facility, UCLA.

Imagine riding in an airplane as the plane is jolted back and forth by gusts of wind that you can't prove exist but are there nonetheless.


NASA has named the site where twin agency spacecraft impacted the moon Monday in honor of the late astronaut, Sally K. Ride, who was America's first woman in space and a member of the probes' mission team.


The following article is a free sample from the current issue of Space Quarterly Magazine. It is our hope that if you enjoy this article you will consider subscribing to the magazine.

Checking Out Rocks - sols 3152-3158, Dec. 5, 2012-Dec. 11, 2012: Opportunity is located at a place named "Matijevic Hill" (named in honor of Jake Matijevic) at the inboard edge of Cape York on the rim of Endeavour Crater.

This image shows the Po River, which flows over 650 km from west to east across northern Italy as the country's longest river. Agriculture is one of the main economic uses of the Po Basin because of the fertile soils, and this image clearly shows a landscape dominated by fields. Cereals, including rice, and a variety of vegetables are common products from this area.

"University of Colorado Boulder Assistant Professor Nikolaus Correll likes to think in multiples. If one robot can accomplish a singular task, think how much more could be accomplished if you had hundreds of them.Correll and his computer science research team, including research associate Dustin Reishus and professional research assistant Nick Farrow, have developed a basic robotic building block, which he hopes to reproduce in large quantities to develop increasingly complex systems. Recently the team created a swarm of 20 robots, each the size of a pingpong ball, which they call "droplets." When the droplets swarm together, Correll said, they form a "liquid that thinks." To accelerate the pace of innovation, he has created a lab where students can explore and develop new applications of robotics with basic, inexpensive tools." More (with video)


The lunar twins of NASA's Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission have each completed a rocket burn that has sealed their fate.

The lunar twins of NASA's Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission have each completed a rocket burn that has sealed their fate. The burns modified the orbit of the formation-flying spacecraft. Over the next three days, this new orbit will carry the twins lower and lower over the moon's surface. On Monday afternoon, Dec. 17, at about 2:28 p.m. PST (5:28 p.m. EST), their moon-skimming will conclude when a portion of the lunar surface - an unnamed mountain near the natural satellite's north pole - rises higher than their orbital altitude.

The spiral galaxy NGC 3627 is located about 30 million light years from Earth. This composite image includes X-ray data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory (blue), infrared data from the Spitzer Space Telescope (red), and optical data from the Hubble Space Telescope and the Very Large Telescope (yellow). The inset shows the central region, which contains a bright X-ray source that is likely powered by material falling onto a supermassive black hole.

Time lapse video taken from a room of the quiet building at Concordia DomeC, Antarctica

Satellite image showing the location of Lake Untersee and Lake Obersee

9 December 2012

Astrobiologist Dale Anderson and his team visited nearby Lake Obersee today. Lake Untersee is situated at an altitude of 560 meters and more than 100 meters in depth in many places. In contrast, Lake Obersee is located at a higher latitude of 756 meters and is smaller and shallower with a maximum depth of 55 meters.

China's Chang'e-2 spacecraft did a flyby of asteroid Toutatis yesterday. Higher resolution images will be released shortly. Image source: CNSA


China's Chang'e-2 spacecraft did a flyby of asteroid Toutatis yesterday. Higher resolution images will be released shortly. Image source: CNSA

Scientists working with NASA's 230-foot-wide (70-meter) Deep Space Network antenna at Goldstone, Calif., have generated a series of radar data images of a three-mile-long (4.8-kilometer) asteroid that made its closest approach to Earth on Dec. 12, 2012.

This is the first footage of one orbiting robotic spacecraft taken by another orbiting robotic spacecraft at Earth's moon. "Flow," one of two satellites making up NASA's Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission, captured this video of NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) as it flew by at a distance of about 12 miles (20 kilometers) on May 3, 2012. LRO is the single bright pixel that moves from top left to bottom right. The moon's south polar region is in the background, much of which is in darkness.This footage was taken by Flow's "MoonKam" camera. Image credit: NASA/MIT/JPL/Sally Ride Science

Stars are sometimes born in the midst of chaos. About 3 million years ago in the nearby galaxy M33, a large cloud of gas spawned dense internal knots which gravitationally collapsed to form stars. NGC 604 was so large, however, it could form enough stars to make a globular cluster.


The Mars rover Curiosity has been commanding headlines with its every move from its historic, breathtaking landing last August to its first major discovery of an ancient stream bed formed by fast flowing water. In recent week's rumors, speculation, and wild conspiracy theories about what Curiosity has found have demonstrated, if nothing else, just how much the public is interested in Mars.


The following article is a free sample from the current issue of Space Quarterly Magazine. It is our hope that if you enjoy this article you will consider subscribing to the magazine.


Using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers announced Dec. 12 they have seen further back in time than ever before and have uncovered a previously unseen population of seven primitive galaxies that formed more than 13 billion years ago, when the universe was less than 3 percent of its present age.

Using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers announced Dec. 12 they have seen further back in time than ever before and have uncovered a previously unseen population of seven primitive galaxies that formed more than 13 billion years ago, when the universe was less than 3 percent of its present age. The deepest images to date from Hubble yield the first statistically robust sample of galaxies that tells how abundant they were close to the era when galaxies first formed.


North Korea says it has succeeded in launching a long-range rocket and placing a satellite into orbit, provoking stern condemnations from governments across the globe.


Sequences of Goldstone delay-Doppler radar images of Toutatis from the 2012 observing campaign. In each image, range increases down and Doppler frequency increases toward the right, so rotation is counterclockwise.

Sequences of Goldstone delay-Doppler radar images of Toutatis from the 2012 observing campaign. In each image, range increases down and Doppler frequency increases toward the right, so rotation is counterclockwise.


Binaries can be very close, sometimes so close that they actually touch each other. Other pairs are extremely wide, with separations up to a light-year or so. Astronomers have known about such wide pairs for a long time, but how they form has been a mystery. The problem is that the typical cloud cores out of which stars are born are not large enough to form the widest binaries.

The widest binaries and triple systems have very elongated orbits, so the stars spend most of their time far apart. But once in every orbital revolution they are at their closest approach, as depicted in this artist's impression by Karen Teramura (UH Institute for Astronomy) with background photograph by Wei-Hao Wang.

"A new program is giving middle-school-aged youth the chance to take remote control of a large, research-grade radio telescope and expand their cosmic explorations beyond what the eye can see. The National Radio Astronomy Observatory's (NRAO) 20-meter-diameter telescope in Green Bank, West Virginia, is joining a global network of telescopes bringing the excitement of hands-on research to young people via 4-H, the nation's largest youth development organization. The program, funded by the National Science Foundation, will provide some 1,400 4-H youth with access to robotically-operated, research-grade telescopes. They will use the telescopes to survey galaxies, track asteroids, monitor variable stars, and learn first-hand how scientific research is done. The telescopes are part of a world-wide network called Skynet. In addition to the NRAO 20-meter radio telescope, the network also includes a 24-inch optical telescope at the University of North Carolina's Morehead Observatory; the 41-inch reflecting telescope at Yerkes Observatory in Williams Bay, Wisconsin; six telescopes in Chile; and six more under construction in Chile and Australia." More

NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Deputy Project Scientist Ashwin Vasavada provides an update on developments and status of the planetary exploration mission and Curiosity's travels. The rover is conducting a nearly two-year prime mission to investigate whether the Gale Crater region of Mars ever offered conditions favorable for microbial life.

NASA will launch a new rover to Mars in 2020. That plan was among the science news NASA made at the 2012 Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco.


The December 2012 edition of Space Quarterly Magazine is now available. Here are the table of contents for the U.S. and Canadian editions.

"Imagine landing on the moon or Mars, putting rocks through a 3-D printer and making something useful - like a needed wrench or replacement part. "It sounds like science fiction, but now it's really possible," says Amit Bandyopadhyay, professor in the School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering at Washington State University."

"The UK Space Agency will be running a Cubesat Community Workshop in January. Registration for the workshop is now open. This is a free event and is open to all, hosted by the Open University, Milton Keynes, on 22 January 2013. Please note that space is limited and places will be allocated on a first come, first serve basis. The event will be an opportunity for the UK Space Agency to provide the cubesat community with an update on its pilot cubesat mission UKube-1, due for launch in early 2013, and to discuss the overall philosophy and timing for the proposed UKube-2 programme. Attendees will have the opportunity to provide input on the future direction of a proposed rolling national programme of cubesat missions. Parallel breakout sessions will be held as detailed in the downloadable programme. These themes have been selected in response to the common issues raised by members of the community." More

Of Interest: The hollows of Mercury continue to fascinate. Although several mechanisms have been proposed to explain their formation, there is as yet no clear model for their origin. Hollows almost always occur within or surrounding impact features, but these interesting landforms continue to elude. Here, hollows occur on the smooth floor and terraced walls of an unnamed crater at mid-latitudes in Mercury's northern hemisphere.

This image from NASA's Cassini mission was taken on Nov. 27, 2012, with Cassini's narrow-angle camera. The camera was pointing toward Saturn from approximately 224,618 miles (361,488 kilometers) away. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

"Astronomers at the University of Utah and elsewhere are seeking volunteers to explore the galaxy next door, Andromeda. The newly launched Andromeda Project will use people power to examine thousands of Hubble Space Telescope images of the galaxy to identify star clusters that hold clues to the evolution of galaxies. "We want to get people excited about participating. We're hoping for thousands of volunteers," says Anil Seth, an organizer of the Andromeda Project and an assistant professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Utah. "I love looking through these amazing Hubble Space Telescope images of Andromeda, the closest big spiral galaxy to our Milky Way galaxy," he adds. "The Andromeda Project will give lots of people the opportunity to share in that amazement." "Star clusters are groups of hundreds to millions of stars that formed from gas at the same time so all the stars have the same age," Seth says. A goal of the Andromeda Project "is to study the history of the galaxy, and these clusters play an important role." More


This image from NASA's Cassini mission was taken on Nov. 27, 2012, with Cassini's narrow-angle camera.

Parts of Prokofiev crater (center) and Kandinsky crater (upper left side of Prokofiev) stay in darkness, making it possible for ice to persist on the surface. This time-lapsed animation represents nearly a full Mercury day. The illumination is derived from information provided by the Mercury Laser Altimeter.

This region of Mars has been long studied for its evidence of glacial-like flow features. The landscape is dominated by flat top mesas and flat valley floors. But a closer look shows evidence that soil material is flowing ever so gradually from the edges of the mesas out into the valleys.

This nighttime photograph, taken by one of the Expedition 33 crew members aboard the International Space Station, features city lights of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Nadir point on Earth is located at 26.0 degrees north latitude and 47.4 degrees east longitude. ISS033-E-020299 (13 Nov. 2012) - high res (1.5 M) low res (103 K)

This animation compares the magnetic fields on Earth and Mars. The Earth has a large-scale planetary magnetic field that can protect it from space weather and other hazards. Mars, on the other hand, only has small pockets of magnetic fields scattered around the planet.

Khrunichev has completed the fabrication and assembly of the flight version of the Multi-purpose Laboratory Module (MLM) or "Nauka" for the International Space Station. The MLM was shipped to the Energia Corporation on the 7 December where electrical checkouts of onboard systems will be performed.

"Melange" means a confusing mixture, and is used to describe rocks scraped off the top of a downward-moving tectonic plate in a subduction zone on Earth. On Mars it is probably mostly impact cratering that creates such chaotic mixture of rock types rather than plate tectonics. These warm, enhanced colors are due to minerals altered by water, whereas the blue and green colors are from unaltered minerals such as olivine and pyroxene. This image was acquired in Tyrrhena Terra, some of the most ancient highlands of Mars. Larger image

Filling tubes bowing in the wind as TIGER, Super-TIGER's predecessor, is prepared for launch in 2003. It takes two trucks of helium to fill a balloon, which will be roughly the size of a football stadium once it ascends to the stratosphere. W. ROBERT BINNS

Northern China is pictured is this week's image from the Envisat satellite. The North China Plain dominates the image, bordered on the north and west by mountains, with the Yellow Sea to the east.

In a preliminary analysis of images from NASA's Dawn mission, scientists have spotted intriguing gullies that sculpt the walls of geologically young craters on the giant asteroid Vesta. Led by Jennifer Scully, a Dawn team member at the University of California, Los Angeles, these scientists have found narrow channels of two types in images from Dawn's framing camera - some that look like straight chutes and others that carve more sinuous trails and end in lobe-shaped deposits. The mystery, however, is what is creating them?


These images from the NASA Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter show several impact scars on Mars made by pieces of the NASA Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft that the spacecraft shed just before entering the Martian atmosphere.

On August 29, 2012, the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on the Suomi NPP satellite captured this nighttime view of wildfires burning in Idaho and Montana.

Thanks to improved data analysis techniques and a new operating mode, the Gamma-ray Burst Monitor (GBM) aboard NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope is now 10 times better at catching the brief outbursts of high-energy light mysteriously produced above thunderstorms.

Scattered around the Milky Way are stars that resemble our own sun--but a new study is finding that any planets orbiting those stars may very well be hotter and more dynamic than Earth.


The high-resolution stereo camera on ESA's Mars Express imaged the Charitum Montes region of the Red Planet on 18 June, near to Gale crater and the Argyre basin featured in our October and November image releases.

The high-resolution stereo camera on ESA's Mars Express imaged the Charitum Montes region of the Red Planet on 18 June, near to Gale crater and the Argyre basin featured in our October and November image releases.


A spectacular new image of the star-forming Carina Nebula has been captured by the VLT Survey Telescope at ESO's Paranal Observatory and released on the occasion of the inauguration of the telescope in Naples today.

A spectacular new image of the star-forming Carina Nebula has been captured by the VLT Survey Telescope at ESO's Paranal Observatory and released on the occasion of the inauguration of the telescope in Naples today. This picture was taken with the help of Sebastian Pinera, President of Chile, during his visit to the observatory on 5 June 2012.

Bright pink nebulae almost completely encircle a spiral galaxy in this NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image of NGC 922. The ring structure and the galaxy's distorted spiral shape result from a smaller galaxy scoring a cosmic bullseye, hitting the centre of NGC 922 some 330 million years ago.

Astronomers were excited in December 2011, when Comet Lovejoy swept right through the sun's corona with its long tail streaming behind it. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) captured images of the comet, showing how its long tail was buffeted by systems around the sun, offering scientists a unique way of observing movement as if they'd orchestrated the experiment themselves. Since comet tails have ionized gases, they are also affected by the sun's magnetic field, and can act as tracers of the complex magnetic system higher up in the solar atmosphere.

Scientists unveiled today an unprecedented new look at our planet at night. A global composite image, constructed using cloud-free night images from a new NASA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) satellite, shows the glow of natural and human-built phenomena across the planet in greater detail than ever before.


Mysteries on opposite sides of Mars are drawing the Curiosity and Opportunity rover science teams closer together in a search for habitable environments that could have supported Martian life early in the planet's history.

Scientists unveiled today an unprecedented new look at our planet at night. A global composite image, constructed using cloud-free night images from a new NASA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) satellite, shows the glow of natural and human-built phenomena across the planet in greater detail than ever before.


A new galaxy class has been identified using observations from ESO's Very Large Telescope (VLT), the Gemini South telescope, and the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope (CFHT). Nicknamed "green bean galaxies" because of their unusual appearance, these galaxies glow in the intense light emitted from the surroundings of monster black holes and are amongst the rarest objects in the Universe.

Scientists have long suspected that a vast ocean of liquid water lies under the crusty exterior of Titan, Saturn's largest moon. New analysis suggests that the internally generated heat that keeps that ocean from freezing relies on the moon's interactions with Saturn and its other moons.


Astronomers have found the youngest still-forming solar system yet seen, an infant star surrounded by a swirling disk of dust and gas more than 450 light-years from Earth in the constellation Taurus.

Twin NASA probes orbiting the moon have generated the highest resolution gravity field map of any celestial body. The new map, created by the Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission, is allowing scientists to learn about the moon's internal structure and composition in unprecedented detail. Data from the two washing machine-sized spacecraft also will provide a better understanding of how Earth and other rocky planets in the solar system formed and evolved.

The latest work assignment for NASA's long-lived Mars rover Opportunity is a further examination of an area where the robot just completed a walkabout.

"If you are a geologist studying a site like this, one of the first things you do is walk the outcrop, and that's what we've done with Opportunity," said Steve Squyres, the mission's principal investigator at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.


Building on the success of Curiosity's Red Planet landing, NASA has announced plans for a robust multi-year Mars program, including a new robotic science rover set to launch in 2020. This announcement affirms the agency's commitment to a bold exploration program that meets our nation's scientific and human exploration objectives.


The objective of this image is to examine the exposure of thin layers along the walls of a few-kilometer-wide valley in Sinus Meridiani.

This still image of Super Typhoon Bopha was taken by Expedition 34 Commander Kevin Ford on Sunday, Dec. 2 from the International Space Station, as the storm bore down on the Philippines with winds of 135 miles per hour. Parts of the orbital outpost are seen in the picture -- the Permanent Multipurpose Module on the left, and Mini-Research Module 1 on the right. Image credit: NASA. Larger image.

The objective of this image is to examine the exposure of thin layers along the walls of a few-kilometer-wide valley in Sinus Meridiani.

These layers can then be compared to other observations of layers in the region, allowing scientists to map individual layers over much larger regions than covered by a single image. Understanding the regional extent of layers will aid in studies of the past environmental conditions on Mars that led to the formation of these layers.


By combining the observing powers of ESA's Herschel space observatory and the ground-based Keck telescopes, astronomers have characterized hundreds of previously unseen starburst galaxies, revealing extraordinary high star-formation rates across the history of the universe.

In a report released today, the Space Foundation made a number of recommendations for strengthening the focus, oversight and funding of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and strengthening the U.S. civil space program.

Six years of observations by ESA's Venus Express have shown large changes in the sulphur dioxide content of the planet's atmosphere, and one intriguing possible explanation is volcanic eruptions.


Six years of observations by ESA's Venus Express have shown large changes in the sulphur dioxide content of the planet's atmosphere, and one intriguing possible explanation is volcanic eruptions.


NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft has entered a new region at the far reaches of our solar system that scientists feel is the final area the spacecraft has to cross before reaching interstellar space.

Look for a new feature this week on SpaceRef called CuriousMars.

We love to tease.


NASA's Mars Curiosity rover has used its full array of instruments to analyze Martian soil for the first time, and found a complex chemistry within the Martian soil. Water and sulfur and chlorine-containing substances, among other ingredients, showed up in samples Curiosity's arm delivered to an analytical laboratory inside the rover.

This nighttime photograph, taken by one of the Expedition 33 crew members aboard the International Space Station, features city lights of Tokyo, on the north west side of Tokyo Bay. North is toward the lower right-hand corner of the image. Nadir point of the location on Earth was 33.9 degrees north latitude and 139.5 degrees east longitude. ISS033-E-021464 (14 Nov. 2012) - high res (2.0 M) low res (99 K)


A NASA's Mars Curiosity rover team member gives an update on developments and status of the planetary exploration mission. The Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft delivered Curiosity to its target area on Mars at 1:31:45 a.m. EDT on Aug. 6, which includes the 13.8 minutes needed for confirmation of the touchdown to be radioed to Earth at the speed of light.