A weekly discussion of what's new and interesting in astronomy with astronomer Derrick PittsMore from Skytalk »

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Make Way for Niku

This week: Scientists have discovered another solar system member. Niku, a chunk of ice 124 miles in diameter, has been discovered out beyond Neptune. Its size doesn't make it very interesting, nor does its composition, but its orbit does make it interesting. It orbits 110 degrees from the rest of the solar system's orbital plane and [...]

Man on Mars by 2024?

SpaceX is planning an unmanned mission to Mars in 2018. NASA will partner with SpaceX providing 'in-kind' support so that they can learn from SpaceX's trials. SpaceX's ultimate goal is to send a crew to Mars in 2024; a decade ahead of NASA's schedule. Plus, late summer observing – planets aplenty!

Hoping for Pouring Perseids

The Perseid Meteor Shower peaks this week, although a waxing moon presents a challenge for late night observing. Mercury, Venus, Jupiter, Saturn, Mars are all above the horizon, but Mercury and Venus will be a terrific challenge to observe. Speaking of viewing planets, a new system 1,100 light years away might be an intriguing one [...]

A Better Way to Build a Black Hole

A new possibility has arisen for giant black hole formation: Massive gas clouds in a galaxy may be able to collapse directly into a black hole without stopping to become a star first. Galaxy CR7 shows evidence that this process could be the mechanism for young galaxies in the early universe to create supermassive black [...]

False Positive

This month marks the 40th anniversary of the landing of the Viking spacecraft on Mars back in 1976. There were two landers about the size of golf carts that took the first clear images of the Martian surface. They analyzed rocks and tried to determine if there were any active microbes in the Martian soil. [...]

Sunrise(s) Sunset(s)

Sentient creatures on planets orbiting two stars enjoy a different perspective of the heavens above. Now astronomers have sighted a three-sun system! This week marks the 47th anniversary of mankind setting foot on extraterrestrial soil. Image: ESO/L. Calçada/M. Kornmesser

The moon points the way

The Moon slides past Mars and Saturn this week – Mars on Wednesday and Saturn on Friday . . . If you can see the moon you can find the planets below. Night skies at the Franklin Institute Observatory this week, Derrick will shed some light on the vast array of moons found in our [...]

Enjoy July 4th Double-Header

The fourth of July offers out-of-doors celebrants an opportunity to enjoy fireworks at nightfall, and then nature's pyrotechnics until dawn; In addition to all the summer constellations, Jupiter can be sighted just above the moon on Friday; see how the moon passes by Saturday same time. – Juno spacecraft performs 35 minutes of Jupiter Orbital [...]

Let there be light (gathering) in the darkest parts of Chile

Thanks to dark, dark skies; Northern Chile currently houses 50% of the world's light gathering capacity, soon to be 70% – thanks to accessible mountain sites, clear, stable and extremely dry air that offers 300-330 useable nights per year. As part of the Astronomy in Chile Education Ambassadors Program, Derrick Pitts visited two public observatories, [...]

Tis the season

Enjoy the final few minutes of Spring, Summer solstice begins in ... just a few minutes! Also full moon today.

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