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EarthSky // Page 2

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.

Bizarre-looking fossil has finally been identified

This is a reconstruction of the Burgess Shale animal Hallucigenia sparsa. Image credit: Elyssa Rider

This is a reconstruction of the Burgess Shale animal Hallucigenia sparsa. Image credit: Elyssa Rider

This strange fossil – a worm-like creature with legs, spikes and a head that’s difficult to distinguish from its tail – has been linked with a group of modern velvet worms.

Curiosity rover is having wheel problems

View larger. | Curiosity rover's left front wheel at Sol 713 - that is, 713 Martian days since the rover touched down on Mars in 2012.

Curiosity rover’s left front wheel at sol 713 – that is, 713 Martian days since the rover touched down on Mars in 2012.

Emily Lakdawala at the Planetary Society posted an in-depth report today (August 19, 2014) about the ongoing wheel problems of NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover, which has been exploring the surface of the Red Planet since its dramatic touchdown just two years ago this month. Lakdawala writes of:

… punctures, fissures, and ghastly tears. The holes in Curiosity’s wheels have become a major concern to the mission, affecting every day of mission operations and the choice of path to Mount Sharp. Yet mission managers say that, so far, the condition of the wheels has no effect on the rover’s ability to traverse Martian terrain.

Strange case of M82 X-1: A rare midsize black hole

Astronomers have used archival data from from an X-ray satellite to identify what they now believe is an unusual midsize black hole. We know of stellar black holes formed by dying stars; they are relatively small, measuring up to around 25 times the mass of our sun. And we know of supermassive black holes – now thought to reside in the cores of most galaxies – containing hundreds of thousands to billions of times the mass of the sun. But the black hole called M82 X-1 – the brightest X-ray source in the galaxy Messier 82, or M82, located 12 million light-years away – is thought to be around 400 times the sun’s mass. And that characteristic makes it very rare.

Intense rainbow over Northern Ireland

Glenn Miles Photography kindly contributed this beautiful photo.  See more photos by Glenn Miles

Glenn Miles Photography kindly contributed this beautiful photo. See more photos by Glenn Miles

See Venus, Jupiter and Beehive star cluster before dawn

Photo and labels by Daniel Fisher (@cosmos4u on Twitter).

Oliver Schneider captured this image of the planets Venus and Jupiter, and the Beehive star cluster on Monday morning, August 18, 2014. Europa is a moon of Jupiter’s.

Venus and Jupiter shine quite close together on the sky’s dome before sunrise, having showcased the closest planet-planet conjunction of the year on August 18. Jupiter, the fainter of these two bright beauties, is your ticket to locating the Beehive star cluster, also known as the Praesepe or Messier 44.

In a clear, dark sky, the Beehive cluster is visible as a faint smudge of light to the unaided eye. But this wondrous star cluster bursts into a sparkling array of stars through ordinary binoculars. Because Jupiter and the Beehive still sit somewhat close to the glare of dawn right now, it may be hard to spot the Beehive tomorrow, on August 20.

The risk of an exploding glacier is heating up in Iceland

The first fissure that opened on Fimmvörðuháls, as seen from Austurgígar in 2010. Image credit: David Karnå/Wikimedia Commons

The first fissure that opened on Fimmvörðuháls, as seen from Austurgígar in 2010. Image credit: David Karnå/Wikimedia Commons

Will lava soon hit glacier ice, unleashing an explosion that would spew ash and steam high in the atmosphere? The Icelandic Meteorology Office (IMO) is monitoring Bárðarbunga, a volcano more than 2,000 meters in elevation, located beneath Vatnajökull, the country’s largest glacier. Since midnight on the morning of August 18, the IMO has detected about 950 eart­hqua­kes at Bárðarbunga. Aviation alert code has been raised to orange.

2014 Gulf of Mexico dead zone has grown to 5,052 square miles

Size of the 2014 dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico. Image via LUMCON and Louisiana State University.

Size of the 2014 dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico. Image via LUMCON and Louisiana State University.

Scientists head out to the Gulf of Mexico every summer to measure the size of the dead zone—an area with oxygen levels that are too low to support most marine life.

Video: Our Curiosity

Celebration of the Curiosity Mars Rover, a fully equipped analytical laboratory rolling around on the surface of another planet, narrated by Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Felicia Day.

The Trifid Nebula, or M20

Constellation Sagittarius by Lewistown StormWatcher.

Constellation Sagittarius by Lewistown StormWatcher. This constellation can be found in the south on northern summer evenings. The Trifid (M20) and Lagoon (M8) nebulas can be found in this direction.

The Trifid Nebula (Messier 20) is one of the many binocular treasures in the summer Milky Way. Its name means divided into three lobes, although you’ll likely need a telescope to see why. On a dark, moonless night, you can star-hop upward from the spout of the Teapot in Sagittarius to another famous nebula, the Lagoon, also known as Messier 8. In the same binocular field, look for the smaller and fainter Trifid Nebula as a fuzzy patch above the Lagoon. Follow the links inside to learn more.