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August 2014 guide to the five visible planets

Skywatcher, by Predrag Agatonovic.

Skywatcher, by Predrag Agatonovic.

Moon near Saturn and Mars in early August. Closest supermoon of 2014 on August 10. Jupiter and Venus have closest conjunction of any two planets in 2014 before dawn on August 18. All in all … August 2014 is a wonderful month for skywatching!

Giant asteroids battered early Earth, says research

An artistic conception of the early Earth, showing a surface pummeled by large impacts. Image credit: Credit: Simone Marchi/SwRI.

An artistic conception of the early Earth, showing a surface pummeled by large impacts. Image credit: Credit: Simone Marchi/SwRI.

More than 4 billion years ago, giant asteroid impacts melted, mixed and buried the surface of Earth

Find M4, a globular cluster by the Scorpion’s heart

Messier 4 or M4 from European Southern Observatory.

Messier 4 or M4 from European Southern Observatory.

At nightfall, look in your southern sky for the bright ruddy star that is called the Scorpion’s Heart – Antares, the brightest star in the constellation Scorpius. Antares is always up on summer evenings. It’s a bright red star known for twinkling rapidly. If you have binoculars, sweep for an object near Antares on the sky’s dome. This object is called M4, and it’s a globular star cluster located just one degree to the west of Antares.

More heat waves and cold snaps ahead

Image credit: ronnie44052

Image credit: ronnie44052

Climate extremes are here to stay, say researchers.

Deep-sea octopus guards her eggs for nearly 4.5 years

The video above, from Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) in California, tells the story of the creature scientists have dubbed “Octomom,” a deep-sea octopus observed to guard her eggs for nearly 4.5 eggs. It’s the longest egg-brooding period of any known animal.

Spacecraft surfs in and out of Venus atmosphere

Visualisation of Venus Express during the aerobraking maneuver, which lasted from which lasted from June 18 to July 11.   During this time, the spacecraft was orbiting above Venus' thick atmosphere at an altitude of around 130 km (about 80 miles).

Artist’s concept of Venus Express during the recent daring aerobraking maneuver. Image via ESA.

The European Space Agency’s Venus Express spacecraft has now been boosted back into a higher orbit following a month of maneuvers that let the craft venture so near Venus that it was aerobraking, or slowing down due to drag from the planet’s thick atmosphere. The maneuver was tried after eight years of orbiting Venus, with the craft’s propellant running low.

Orion the Hunter: Ghost of the summer dawn

In late July and early August, watch for the three medium-bright

In late July and early August, watch for the three medium-bright “Belt” stars of Orion the Hunter to ascend over your eastern horizon shortly before dawn.

Orion the Hunter appears each Northern Hemisphere winter as a mighty constellation arcing across the south during the evening hours. But, before dawn in late July and early August, you can spot Orion in the east. Thus Orion has been called “the ghost of the shimmering summer dawn.” The Hunter rises on his side, with his three Belt stars – Mintaka, Alnitak and Alnilam – pointing straight up.

Perseid meteors versus the supermoon

Which is brighter – Perseid fireballs or a supermoon? You’ll find out this August as the year’s biggest, brightest full moon arrives at the peak of the Perseid meteor shower.

Wildly misaligned planet-forming disks in binary star system HK Tau

Here is the double star system HK Tau, as seen in both optical and infrared.  Astronomers have discovered that the star-forming disks of this double star are oriented oddly with respect to each other.  Image via B. Saxton (NRAO/AUI/NSF); K. Stapelfeldt et al. (NASA/ESA Hubble)

Here is the double star system HK Tau, as seen in both optical and infrared. The star-forming disks of this double star system are oriented oddly with respect to mutual orbit of the two stars. Image via B. Saxton (NRAO/AUI/NSF); K. Stapelfeldt et al. (NASA/ESA Hubble)

Astronomers have contemplated planets forming in single flat disks, as in our own solar system, for decades. Misaligned planet disks in a binary star system? Weird! But now they’ve found the best example so far, in the course of conducting a survey of binary stars with the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile.

Scientists discover vast methane plumes escaping from Arctic seafloor

Mega methane event.  Image via University of Stockholm via Daily Kos.

Mega methane plume event on the Laptev Sea slope of the Arctic Ocean, at a depth of about 62 meters. Image via Daily Kos via University of Stockholm.

An international team of scientists aboard the icebreaker Oden – currently north of eastern Siberia, in the Arctic Ocean – is working primarily to measure methane emissions from the Arctic seafloor. On July 22, 2014, only a week into their voyage, the team reported “elevated methane levels, about 10 times higher than background seawater.”