Dwarf Planet of the Day: We #Flyby Pluto and Learn Lots About the Edge of Our Solar System

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It took nine years and 3 billion miles, but at 7:49 a.m. EST the New Horizons spacecraft passed what was once the furthest planet in our solar system.

Traveling at a speed of 30,800 miles per hour, New Horizons zoomed by Pluto a scant 7,800 miles away. This is the closest we have ever got to Pluto and it will send back some of the best images of the maligned dwarf planet we have ever seen. Maybe this will convince those scientists to let it back into the club and give us the nine planets that we deserve.

But we've learned a lot so far. For instance, now we know how big the dang thing is.

This morning, NASA announced that Pluto is 2,370km (about 1,473 miles) in diameter, give or take 20m. That makes it ever so slightly bigger than Eris, a much darker and denser object that lives farther out in the Kuiper Belt. (Eris measures 2,336km in diameter.) Measurements of Pluto's size before today were estimates at best, their accuracy skewed by the dwarf planet's hazy atmosphere.

We've also learned that Pluto has a pretty big ice cap, filled with lots of nitrogen and frozen methane. (I could've told you the place was cold nine years ago.)

Since this mission happened billions of miles away and it takes four hours for the radio waves New Horizon sends us to be uploaded, we shouldn't expect to see any pictures filled with happy, waving aliens until tonight.

Also, by the way, the download speed on that information is 1 Kb/s. Dialup hell.

Here's a video explaining the delicacy and scale of this Pluto flyby:

As we got closer to the dwarf planet, however, all anyone could see was the image of Mickey Mouse's dog, carefully hidden within the terrain.

Timelapse of the Day: 6 Months in Space in 6 Minutes

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If you have dreams of someday traveling into space, this video might make you drool with anticipation.

European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst put together this amazing timelapse using 12,500 images taken during his six-month Blue Dot mission aboard the International Space Station.

During his time up there, he had a number of major accomplishments. According to the ESA, these included "installing ESA's furnace that can suspend and cool molten metal in mid-air, a spacewalk to maintain and improve the Space Station, and the docking of Europe's last Automated Transfer Vehicle – the largest spacecraft to supply the research centre."

Gerst would often set up cameras to take photos while he conducted his work, and you can check out his full feed of images on his Flickr page.

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Parody of the Day: NASA is ‘All About That Space’

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To raise excitement about the Orion launch, the Pathways Interns of NASA's Johnson Space Center put together this music video set to Meghan Trainor's "All About That Base."

Because that's what you do when you have time to kill while waiting for a spacecraft to travel to deep space and back.

Last week, NASA successfully sent the unmanned Orion 15 times as far as the International Space Station. The historic moment is being dubbed "Day One of the Mars era," with hopes to eventually land humans on Mars by 2030.

Space News of the Day: NASA Launches Orion to Kick Off ‘Day One of the Mars Era’

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NASA successfully launched its unmanned Orion spacecraft on Friday, the first step in a new era of deep space exploration which could one day lead to humans on Mars.

This 4.5-hour long test marks the furthest a ship built for humans has gone since the Apollo 17 mission in 1972 - 15 times as far as the International Space Station into deep space.

It will make two orbits around the earth before soaring back down to Earth to test its heat shields and parachutes.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden Jr. has dubbed this "Day One of the Mars era," which will be followed by an attempt to capture an asteroid in the 2020s, and the ultimate goal of eventually reaching Mars in the 2030s.

Where this little guy will be waiting for us…

Science of the Day: First 3D Printed Object in Space

3D printer,science,space
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We aren't quite at Star Trek replicator levels of awesomeness yet, but we're getting there.

This week astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS) printed the first 3D object in space.

A private company called Made In Space designed and built the printer for NASA through their Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program.

The printed piece is actually a part for the printer itself - a faceplate for the extruder.

So what is the significance of all this?

"This 'First Print' serves to demonstrate the potential of the technology to produce replacement parts on demand if a critical component fails in space," said Jason Dunn, Chief Technical Officer for Made In Space.

And maybe to make a fork and knife to eat all that meat the British keep sending up there.

Apology of the Day: Rosetta Scientist Sorry for 'Sexist' Shirt

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We can land a spacecraft on a comet, but a man's shirt has become the big news story here on Earth.

Physicist Matt Taylor was criticized this week for wearing a shirt with semi-naked women and guns on it during a livestreamed post-landing interview about the Rosetta Mission, deemed sexist and innaporpriate by many people, particularly women in science. And critics on Twitter voiced their complaints with #ShirtStorm and #ShirtGate.

But in a Google Hangout Friday with updates on the mission, a teary-eyed Taylor in a very neutral blue hoodie, apologized for the shirt.

"I made a big mistake, and I offended many people," he said. "And I'm very sorry about this."

Meanwhile on said comet, the Philae lander sent back its first image from the comet Thursday, and it has begun drilling in order to reposition itself into the sunlight. But this maneuver could also make Philae do a cartwheel and possibly put an abrupt end to the mission.

Tweet of the Day: Rosetta’s Space Probe Successfully Lands on Comet

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History was made Wednesday when the European Space Agency successfully landed a spacecraft on a comet for the first time ever.

"We are the first to do this - and that [achievement] will stay forever." said Jean Jacques Dordain, Director General of ESA.

The comet, 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, orbits, the sun every 6.45 years. It is 2.1 miles wide by 2.4 miles long.

Rosetta first launched in 2004 to research the comet, and it didn't arrived at its destination until this past August. On Wednesday morning, Philae first separated from the probe to attempt a landing.

Researchers are hoping to learn more about the origins of the solar system and whether or not comets could have brought water and life to Earth. Watch an ESA animated explanation of Rosetta's journey to the comet and it's surface mission below.

The comet has also been emitting a strange "song" into space, which has surprised scientists.
"The scientists think it must be produced in some way by the activity of the comet, as it releases neutral particles into space where they become electrically charged due to a process called ionisation. But the precise physical mechanism behind the oscillations remains a mystery."
But it's obviously aliens trying to communicate with us, right? Hopefully the message isn't "Warning: Do not land on this comet."

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