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As Comet Siding Spring approaches Mars, NASA gets ready

An illustration of the inner part of the orbit of comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring.  On October 19, 2014, the comet will have a close pass of the planet Mars.  Its nucleus will miss Mars by about 82,000 miles (132,000 kilometers). The comet's trail of dust particles shed by the nucleus might be wide enough to reach Mars or might also miss it.   Image via NASA/JPL.

An illustration of the inner part of the orbit of comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring. Image via NASA/JPL.

One of the most anticipated astronomical events of 2014 is the close passage of Comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring to the planet Mars on October 19, 2014. The comet’s tiny nucleus, or core, will miss Mars by about 82,000 miles (132,000 kilometers). As comets travel through space, though, they leave behind a trail of dust particles, and this trail of debris might be wide enough to reach Mars and encounter its thin atmosphere … or might miss it, too. Follow the links inside to learn more.

Lifeform of the week: Hairy pink squat lobster

Hairy squat lobster, Philippines, via Unterwasserwelten on Facebook.

Hairy pink squat lobster, Philippines, via Unterwasserwelten on Facebook.

It’s always a good hair day for a hairy pink squat lobster (Lauriea siagiani). These little guys live on sponges in the western Indo-Pacific.

Did all dinosaurs have feathers?

Artist's illustration of the feathered dinosaur Kulindadromeus zabaikalicus based on fossils discovered in Siberia. Image credit: Andrey Atuchin

Artist’s illustration of the feathered dinosaur Kulindadromeus zabaikalicus based on fossils discovered in Siberia. Image credit: Andrey Atuchin

The first ever example of a plant-eating dinosaur with feathers and scales has been discovered in Russia. Previously only flesh-eating dinosaurs were known to have had feathers so this new find indicates that all dinosaurs could have been feathered.

Webcam catches baby sea turtles hatching and heading toward sea

Using infrared lighting, a live-streaming, high-definition turtle webcam – positioned on a beach in the Florida Keys – recorded the hatch and march to the sea of about 100 baby loggerhead sea turtles on Friday night, July 25, 2014.

Iron from Sahara dust helps fertilize Atlantic Ocean

A dust plume from the Sahara desert. Image Credit: NASA.

A dust plume from the Sahara desert. Image Credit: NASA.

Scientists have found that 71% to 87% of the iron in seawater from the North Atlantic may have originated from dust in the Sahara desert.

Pluto-bound New Horizons update

Pluto and Charon as captured by the New Horizons' spacecraft LORRI camera on July 21, 2014.

The two tiny dots at the center of this image are Pluto and Charon as captured by the New Horizons spacecraft LORRI camera on July 21, 2014.

Pluto and Charon seen dead center in this one-quarter-resolution frame from New Horizons’ LORRI (LOng Range Reconnaissance Imager) Camera. Charon is at the four o’clock position with respect to Pluto. Pluto and Charon were 426.51 million kilometers / 264.86 million miles away at the time from New Horizons and appeared in front of the stars in southern Ophiuchus. The spacecraft is out of hibernation temporarily now, and will remain so through August.

Nominal Delta Aquarid peak on July 29 before dawn

The Great Square of Pegasus can point you to the constellation Aquarius and the Delta Aquarid meteor shower peak.

The Great Square of Pegasus can point you to the constellation Aquarius and the Delta Aquarid meteor shower peak.

The Delta Aquarid meteor shower – a long, rambling shower that’ll stretch out for weeks beyond the peak – does have a nominal peak and that is predicted for the hours before dawn on Tuesday, July 29, 2014. The most favorable viewing window begins about 1 a.m. (2 a.m. Daylight Saving Time) no matter where you are on Earth … through the onset of morning dawn. Although this shower is visible from both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, it tends to favor the more southerly latitudes. North of the equator, it’s better seen in the tropical and subtropical regions rather than farther north. This shower will combine with the more-famous Perseid meteor shower, now rising to its peak. Now is the time to watch meteors.

Perseid meteor shower kicks off! Fireballs detected this weekend

NASA cameras in New Mexico caught this Perseid fireball on July 27, 2014

NASA cameras in New Mexico caught this Perseid fireball on July 27, 2014.

NASA cameras detected some Perseid fireballs, or very bright meteors, this weekend. This favorite among meteor showers is just getting started, with Earth now entering the stream of debris left behind by Comet Swift-Tuttle. The shower typically builds gradually to a peak (this year on the mornings of August 11, 12 and 13), and NASA detected at least five Perseid fireballs over the weekend. Learn when to watch … inside.

Second mysterious crater reported from Yamal

Helicopters found the first crater.  Reindeer herders report a second.  Photo of first crater via Siberian Times.

Helicopters found the first crater. Reindeer herders now report a second. Photo of first crater via Siberian Times.

The Moscow Times reported this week that reindeer herders in far northern Russia have found a second mysterious giant hole. According to these unconfirmed reports, the second hole is about 30 kilometers (20 miles) away from a first large and mysterious hole in the Russian permafrost, which made a big splash in social media after the Siberian Times reported it in mid-July 2014.

Orion returns

Here is a sight many skywatchers wait for, patiently, each summertime. It’s the constellation Orion the Hunter, rising out of the dawn. Matthew Chin in Hong Kong caught this photo of the constellations Orion, Auriga and Taurus yesterday (July 26, 2014). Watch for Orion before dawn, and give yourself a seasonal marker you’ll come to love as much as autumn leaves … or the first flowers of spring.