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Researchers find life beneath half a mile of Antarctic ice

In a finding that could have implications in the search for life beyond Earth, researchers from an expedition called WISSARD confirmed this week that the waters and sediments of a lake that lies 800 meters (2,600 feet) beneath the surface of the West Antarctic ice sheet support “viable microbial ecosystems.”

Zombie ant fungus kills its hosts on the doorstep of their nest

“What the zombie fungi essentially do is create a sniper’s alley through which their future hosts must pass,” David Hughes says. Photo credit: David Hughes/Penn State

After killing its host, the zombie ant fungus grows from the cadaver and produces spores, which rain down on the forest floor to infect new hosts. it’s not a pretty picture.

What is the blue hour?

Blue hour by Marianna Bucina Roca in Gloucester, Massachusetts.

Blue hour by Marianna Bucina Roca in Gloucester, Massachusetts.

When you see a strong blue tone to photographs, it could be that the photographer has taken advantage of the blue hour. That’s a time of day when the sun has just set or is about to rise, when the sky overhead takes on a deep blue color, and when the landscape is suffused with bluish light. The blue hour is a good time to take photos of the moon, because then the moon’s glare isn’t so bright in contrast to the sky. It’s also a good time to take landscape photos, as the photos in this post show.

Waning moon above two brightest planets at dawn August 22


Get up an hour or more before sunrise on August 22 to see the wonderful celestial attraction in the eastern sky. Look for the three brightest heavenly bodies of nighttime – the moon, Venus and Jupiter – to beautify the morning dawn. Look first for the slender waning crescent moon, and then seek Jupiter and Venus closer to the horizon.

Wow! Spectacular landscape of star formation

View larger. | Image credit: ESO

View larger. | Image credit: ESO

To get the full awesome effect, view the image larger

The ESO release this image today (August 20) of two dramatic star formation regions in the southern Milky Way. The first is of these, on the left, is dominated by the star cluster NGC 3603, located 20,000 light-years away, in the Carina–Sagittarius spiral arm of the Milky Way galaxy. The second object, on the right, is a collection of glowing gas clouds known as NGC 3576 that lies only about half as far from Earth.

August 19 aurora from space and Earth

“Unbelievable,” said astronaut Reid Wiseman on Twitter last night, after viewing this aurora from space. Photo via @astro_reid, aboard ISS

One of the first auroras of the 2014 autumn season appeared last night at northerly latitudes. Astronaut Reid Wiseman caught it from space. Photographer Göran Strand caught it from Sweden.

Unusual precipitation patterns in the U.S.

Portland, ME on Aug. 13, 2014, via Kevin Burns

Portland, Maine on August 13, 2014 via Kevin Burns

Depending on where you live, you could call 2014 the year of the drought, or the year of the deluge. In early August 2014, we have seen several significant rainfall events occur across the United States. During the week of August 10, for example, a slow moving area of low pressure across the Great Lakes and New England produced widespread showers and storms. Yesterday (August 19), parts of Phoenix (yes, the desert) recorded over four inches of rain in a short time period, thanks to an upper level low pushing into the western United States. Are extreme rainfall events related to climate change, and/or has urban sprawl contributed to flash flooding events due to more concrete and poor sewer systems? The answers to both questions are probably yes. Follow the links inside to learn more.

Double moon on August 27?

This image is circulating on Facebook, with the claim that Mars will appear as big and bright as a full moon on August 27, 2013.  It's a hoax.  Don't believe it.  Mars never appears as large as a full moon in Earth's sky.

This image sometimes circulates on Facebook, with the claim that Mars will appear as big and bright as a full moon on August 27, 2014. It’s a hoax. Don’t believe it. Mars never appears as large as a full moon in Earth’s sky.

I thought we were going to make it through August 2014 without the double moon on August 27 hoax being revived. I was wrong. Google searches have made this post the most popular on our site for two days running. Yes … it’s happening again. An email must be circulating – somewhere, social media must be buzzing – with the suggestion that – on August 27, 2014 – Mars will appear as large as a full moon in Earth’s sky.

Can it possibly be true? No. It can’t.

Use Great Square of Pegasus to locate the Andromeda galaxy


The Andromeda galaxy – also known as M31 – is faint but can be seen by the unaided eye or binoculars in a very dark sky. The galaxy is a huge island of stars in space, thought to look similar to our own Milky Way galaxy. Tonight’s sky chart shows you how to star-hop to this galaxy from the Great Square of Pegasus.

Lifeform of the week: Brain mushroom

Image Credit: Lebrac

Image Credit: Lebrac

The brain mushroom is that rare species with the distinction of being both edible and poisonous.