Enjoying EarthSky? Subscribe.

130,202 subscribers and counting ...

Planetary Society to test its LightSail solar sail in May

Artist’s illustration of Planetary Society’s LightSail, set against the backdrop of the Milky Way.

Artist’s illustration of Planetary Society’s LightSail, set against the backdrop of the Milky Way.

Star travel is a cherished dream among space fans, but the question is … how to get there? Travel by light sails is perhaps the most romantic notion for star travel, relying on thin, lightweight reflective sails, powered by the sun or other stars. You start slow, but accelerate up to very fast speeds. Okay, maybe we’re not ready for star travel anytime soon, but maybe travel between planets in our own solar system? That may be closer to the goal of the Planetary Society, which announced this week (January 26, 2015) that the first of its LightSail spacecraft will embark on a May, 2015 test flight.

U.S. Nor’easter at night

View larger. | A combination of the day-night band and high resolution infrared imagery from the NASA-NOAA's Suomi NPP satellite showed the historic blizzard near peak intensity as it moves over the New York through Boston Metropolitan areas at 06:45Z (1:45 a.m. EST) on January 27, 2015. Credit: NOAA/NASA

This week’s snowstorm over the U.S. East Coast, at night. Image via NOAA/NASA

NASA and NOAA’s Suomi NPP and the GOES-East satellites captured this amazing nighttime view of this week’s snowstorm in the U.S. Northeast. The image shows this blizzard near peak intensity, moving over the New York and Boston metropolitan areas at 06:45 UTC (1:45 a.m. EST) on January 27.

Moon, star Aldebaran and Pleiades star cluster on January 28

2015-jan-28-aldebaran-pleiades-moon-night-sky-chart

Tonight – January 28, 2015 – as night begins, the waxing gibbous moon, star Aldebaran and Pleiades star cluster are found high in the sky. Aldebaran shines as the brightest star near the moon, though the moonlit glare might make it difficult to see the tiny, dipper-shaped Pleiades cluster tonight. If you can’t see them, break out the binoculars!

Astronomers discover oldest known Earth-sized planets yet

Kepler-444 hosts five Earth-sized planets in very compact orbits. The planets were detected from the dimming that occurs when they transit the disc of their parent star, as shown in this artist's conception. Image credit: Tiago Campante/Peter Devine

Kepler-444 hosts five Earth-sized planets in very compact orbits. The planets were detected from the dimming that occurs when they transit the disc of their parent star, as shown in this artist’s conception. Image credit: Tiago Campante/Peter Devine

Scientists have located an ancient solar system, dating back to the dawn of the galaxy, which appears to be a miniature version of the inner planets in our own solar system.

Stunning panorama from Opportunity rover on Mars marks 11th year

Image credit: NASA/JPL

Image credit: NASA/JPL

This is a section of a panorama from one of the highest elevations that NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity has reached in its 11 years on Mars includes the U.S. flag at the summit. See the whole image, and see it large! … inside.

Powerful Nor’easter pounds US Northeast

Blizzard poised to slam U.S. Northeast on Monday, January 26 via NOAA/NASA GOES

Blizzard poised to slam U.S. Northeast on Monday, January 26 via NOAA/NASA GOES

UPDATE JANUARY 27, 2015, 6 A.M. EST (1100 UTC): The storm expected to pound the U.S. Northeast has not affected New York City as much as expected, although NYC streets were virtually deserted as dawn broke on Tuesday, with drivers ordered to stay off the roads, subways shut down and bridges and tunnels closed. Meanwhile, farther north, Massachusetts was hit particularly hard by the storm, which left more than a foot of snow on parts of the state and is expected to leave one to two feet more before the storm is through. A hurricane-force wind warning continues near Boston, and the National Weather Service in Boston says this storm may be strong enough to alter the Massachusetts coastline permanently, with “one or more new inlets” possibly forming on barrier beaches, boosted by about three feet of storm surge and 20-foot waves.

Best images! Asteroid 2004 BL86, as it swept near Earth

We’re starting to receive images and video of asteroid 2004 BL86, which swept about 3 times the moon’s distance from Earth on Monday, January 26. Check back! We’ll post them as we see them … The video above is from the Osservatorio Astronomico Università di Siena, in Italy. It shows the asteroid moving in front of the stars.

Asteroid that flew past Earth on Monday has a moon!

Wow! Scientists working with NASA’s Deep Space Network antenna at Goldstone, California have released the first radar images of asteroid 2004 BL86, which flew closer to Earth on Monday than any asteroid this large will again until the year 2027. The radar images show that the asteroid has its own small moon!

Moon and Aldebaran, former pole star, on January 27

As always, the moon moves eastward through the constellations of the Zodiac. The green line depicts the ecliptic - the sun's annual path in front of the

As always, the moon moves eastward through the constellations of the Zodiac. The green line depicts the ecliptic – the sun’s annual path in front of the “fixed” backdrop stars.

Tonight’s waxing gibbous moon (January 27) is moving toward the star Aldebaran, brightest star in the constellation Taurus the Bull, and the moon will be even closer to this star tomorrow night (January 28). Did you know that Aldebaran is a former pole star? What’s more, at that time, Aldebaran had the company of a fellow bright pole star, Capella.

Big asteroid swept close on January 26

View larger. | The path of asteroid 2004 BL86 on January 26-27 carries it northward among the winter stars and makes it well positioned for viewing with a backyard telescope. Eastern Standard Time is shown, so be sure to make a time-zone correction for your location.  Translate to your time zone here.  Chart via skyandtelescope.com

The path of asteroid 2004 BL86 on January 26-27 carries it northward among the winter stars and makes it well positioned for viewing with a backyard telescope. Eastern Standard Time is shown, so be sure to make a time-zone correction for your location. Translate to your time zone here. Chart via skyandtelescope.com

An asteroid called 2004 BL86 by astronomers – twice as big as a cruise ship – swept safely past Earth today (January 26, 2015). It came closer of any known space rock this large will until asteroid 1999 AN10 flies past Earth in 2027. This was the closest this particular asteroid will come to Earth for at least the next 200 years. Closest approach came at 16:20 UTC, or 11:20 a.m. EST today, when the asteroid was approximately 745,000 miles (1.2 million kilometers) from Earth, or about three times the moon’s distance. If you plan to observe with a small telescope and/or strong binoculars, the night of January 26-27 is the best time! Plus some online observations of it are still to come. And professional astronomers will be watching in the days ahead. Even at its peak brightness, the asteroid will not be bright enough to view with the unaided eye. But you can watch with optical aid, or online. Follow the links inside for more.