For at least a year now, NASA has been waiting with bated breath for Voyager 1 to pass through the boundary of our solar system and become our first emissary to the stars. It’s been cruising the edge for some time, but when it finally leaves forever, it won’t be a satisfyingly clear punch-through — so it’s hard to say exactly when this will happen. Or happened. Now the spacecraft is in another strange new zone, where the influx of cosmic particles has been ramping up by the week.
Observatories the world over will be watching on Tuesday as Venus crosses the face of the sun for the last time in any of our lifetimes. It will be a banner day for astronomers, providing ample opportunities for measuring Venus' characteristics, and for determining some rules that will help in the hunt for exoplanets. But it's also just an amazing thing to behold, and you can watch it, too — as long as you follow some safety precautions.
As Earth humans begin to seriously consider sending missions to icy worlds like Europa and Enceladus, one of the necessary concerns has to be protection of the environment where such a mission would land. It would be a shame to arrive on a fascinating alien world only to immediately seed it with Earth microbes, carelessly infecting the local ecosystem, ruining the unique scientific opportunity and possibly incurring the wrath of the local alien ruler.
Rising energy prices usually spark some creative ideas for alternatives, but a new one from a futurist named George Dvorsky is pretty far-fetched: He envisions destroying Mercury and scavenging its rocky remains. The debris could be used to build an array of solar power collectors, a Dyson swarm, around the sun.
Aside from ancient Mars, the moons of Saturn might be one of the best places to look for life outside this planet. The methane lakes of Titan are promising places, but so are the spewing plumes of ice on Enceladus — and the latter would be an easy one to check, as it turns out.
Look toward the west tonight and you’ll see Jupiter and Venus together, lining up with the crescent moon in a rare and beautiful conjunction. Venus is so bright you can see it during the day today, a few degrees above the sun, just like Abraham Lincoln famously did during his second inauguration. Cloudy skies? No problem — check here for a live feed of this event.
NASA’s Messenger spacecraft entered orbit around Mercury one year ago this week, and the spacecraft has been hard at work. It has captured nearly 100,000 images, mapped Mercury’s gravity field, and taken sensitive altimetry measurements that are shedding light on the planet’s surface features like never before.
A small Earth-orbiting probe has sampled the interstellar wind for the first time, detecting four types of atoms that originated in distant stars and traveled across the universe. The new measurements from the Interstellar Boundary Explorer give astronomers a glimpse of the cosmos outside our sun’s sphere of influence, and provide some clues about how and where our solar system formed.
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.