Eclipse

Watch the 9 March total solar eclipse live

8 March 2016 Astronomy Now

If you left it too late to book your Indonesian flight to view the total solar eclipse on the morning of Wednesday, 9 March (UT), don’t despair — put away your passport, sit back and enjoy the spectacle online, courtesy of Exploratorium and NASA TV. For virtual eclipse viewers in the UK, the event starts at 1am GMT on 9 March.

News

Fate of NASA’s InSight Mars mission to be decided soon

8 March 2016 Stephen Clark

NASA is close to deciding whether to spend an extra $150 million to send the InSight lander to Mars in 2018 or cancel the mission after an instrument problem made the spacecraft miss a launch opportunity this year, with a verdict on the project’s future expected within weeks, officials said.

Eclipse

NASA science during the 9 March total solar eclipse

8 March 2016 Astronomy Now

As the Moon slowly covers the face of the Sun on the morning of 9 March, a team of NASA scientists in Indonesia will be anxiously awaiting the start of totality. They plan to take 59 exposures of the Sun in just over three minutes, capturing data on the corona — the innermost parts of the Sun’s volatile, superhot atmosphere.

News

Mercury’s mysterious surface darkness revealed

7 March 2016 Astronomy Now

Scientists have long been puzzled about what makes Mercury’s surface so dark. The innermost planet reflects much less sunlight than the Moon, a body on which surface darkness is controlled by the abundance of iron-rich minerals. These are known to be rare at Mercury’s surface, so what is the “darkening agent” there?

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Dying star offers glimpse of our Sun’s future

7 March 2016 Astronomy Now

This planetary nebula is known as Kohoutek 4-55 (or K 4-55). It is one of a series of planetary nebulae that were named after their discoverer, Czech astronomer Luboš Kohoutek. Such a nebula is formed from material in the outer layers of a red giant star that are expelled into interstellar space when the star is in the late stages of its life.

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Hubble dares to look into Pandora’s Box

7 March 2016 Astronomy Now

Peering deep into the early universe, this picturesque parallel field observation from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope reveals thousands of colourful galaxies swimming in the inky blackness of space in the constellation Sculptor. This spectacular skyscape was captured during the study of the giant galaxy cluster Abell 2744, otherwise known as Pandora’s Box.

News

Cosmochemists find evidence for rare element in early solar system

6 March 2016 Astronomy Now

University of Chicago scientists have discovered evidence in a meteorite that a rare element, curium, was present during the formation of the solar system. This finding ends a 35-year-old debate on the possible presence of curium in the early solar system, and plays a crucial role in reassessing models of stellar evolution and synthesis of elements in stars.

Observing

See March’s multiple moon shadows and Jupiter’s Great Red Spot

5 March 2016 Ade Ashford

If you haven’t done so already, now is the time to ensure that your telescope is clean and collimated (aligned) to deliver the sharpest images of planet Jupiter at its best. We tell you the optimal UK times to view the largest planet’s Great Red Spot and multiple shadow transits from its Galilean moons.

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Methane snow on Pluto’s peaks

5 March 2016 Astronomy Now

NASA’s New Horizons team has discovered a chain of exotic snowcapped mountains stretching across the dark expanse on Pluto informally named Cthulhu Regio. One of the dwarf planet’s most identifiable features, Cthulhu (pronounced kuh-THU-lu) is a bit larger than the state of Alaska and stretches nearly halfway around Pluto’s equator.

News

High-speed CHIMERA to scout for Kuiper Belt objects

4 March 2016 Astronomy Now

At the Palomar Observatory near San Diego, astronomers are busy tinkering with a high-tech instrument that could discover a variety of objects both far from Earth and closer to home. The Caltech HIgh-speed Multi-colour camERA (CHIMERA) system is looking for objects in the Kuiper Belt, the band of icy bodies beyond the orbit of Neptune that includes Pluto.