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A thrilling epoch in the exploration of our solar system came to a close today, as NASA's Cassini spacecraft made a fateful plunge into the atmosphere of Saturn, ending its 13-year tour of the ringed planet. "This is the final chapter of an amazing mission, but it’s also a new beginning,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Cassini’s discovery of ocean worlds at Titan and Enceladus changed everything, shaking our views to the core about surprising places to search for potential life beyond Earth." Telemetry received during the plunge indicates that, as expected, Cassini entered Saturn's atmosphere with its thrusters firing to maintain stability, as it sent back a unique final set of science observations. Loss of contact with the Cassini spacecraft occurred at 4:55 a.m. PDT (7:55 a.m. EDT), with the signal received by NASA's Deep Space Network antenna complex in Can...

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PASADENA, Calif. — NASA scientists just received their last message from the Cassini spacecraft, which plunged into Saturn early Friday morning. Those final bits of data signal the end of one of the most successful planetary science missions in history. “The signal from the spacecraft is gone and within the next 45 seconds so will be the spacecraft,” program manager Earl Maize reported from mission control at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, just after 4:55 a.m. local time. “This has been an incredible mission, an incredible spacecraft, and you're all an incredible team.” One of the last pieces of data captured by Cassini was an infrared image of the place into which it took its final plunge. The image, taken 15 hours before the spacecraft's demise, reveals a spot on Saturn's dark side just north of the planet's equator where the spacecraft disintegrated shortly after losing contact with Earth. Cassini was the first probe to orbit Saturn. Bui...

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by Guy Pirro   For the average observer, the Solar Eclipse on Monday, August 21, 2017, will last about 2 minutes and 40 seconds of totality. The National Solar Observatory (NSO), in a unique experiment, plans to create 90 minutes of continuous totality using a chain of 68 telescopes strategically placed across the country. The Citizen CATE (Continental America Telescopic Eclipse) Experiment aims to capture images of the inner solar corona using a network of telescopes operated by volunteer citizen scientists, high school groups, and universities.CATE is a joint project involving volunteers from more than 20 high schools, 20 universities, informal education groups, and astronomy clubs across the country, as well as 5 national science research labs and 5 corporate sponsors. The goal of CATE is to produce a scientifically unique data set -- A series of high resolution, rapid cadence white light images of the inner corona for 90 straight minutes.For this experiment, scientists, stud...

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On Aug. 21, 2017, America will fall under the path of a total solar eclipse.   The so-called Great American Total Solar Eclipse will darken skies all the way from Oregon to South Carolina, along a stretch of land about 70 miles (113 kilometers) wide. People who descend upon this "path of totality" for the big event are in for an unforgettable experience.  Here is Space.com's complete guide to the 2017 total solar eclipse. It includes information about where and when to see it, how long it lasts, what you can expect to see, and how to plan ahead to ensure you get the most out of this incredible experience. Update for Aug. 16: Today we learn the mechanics behind a total solar eclipse, and how YOU can make a solar eclipse megamovie on Aug. 21. Check back this afternoon for even more Great American Solar Eclipse Coverage!  | Interactive Solar Eclipse Maps | Weather and Traffic Guide |&nb...

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FOR ABOUT THREE minutes on August 21, if you're lucky, you can watch the moon cross in front of the sun and block out its light in a total solar eclipse. Afterward, you can expect your Instagram feed to fill with pictures of the big event. If you want to get in on the action, make sure you get a good picture. Sure, you could grab a DSLR with a fancy lens to get a crisp shot. But if a smartphone’s all you have, don't panic. It suffers some limitations, but with the right gear you can still get some great photos. “Smartphones are really cool because they’re simple,” says Dr. Sten Odenwald, an astronomer and Director of Citizen Science for the Heliophysics Education Consortium at the NASA Goddard Spaceflight Center. “But trying to use them for astronomical photography is a very difficult thing to do. They’re not designed for that.” The resolution of your phone camera will limit how much of the eclipse you can see, so the end result mig...

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The asteroid 2012 TC4, which is thought to be between 33 feet and 100 feet (10 to 30 meters) wide, will give Earth a close shave on Oct. 12, potentially coming as close to our planet as 4,200 miles (6,800 kilometers), NASA officials said. There's no danger of an impact by the space rock on this pass. But astronomers will be following the flyby closely, as a way of testing the international asteroid detection and tracking network. [In Images: Potentially Dangerous Asteroids Near Earth] This animation depicts the Earth flyby of asteroid 2012 TC4 on Oct. 12, 2017. While scientists cannot yet predict exactly how close the space rock will approach, they are sure it won’t get closer than 4,200 miles (6,800 kilometers) from Earth's surface. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech "This is a team effort that involves more than a dozen observatories, universities and labs across the globe so we can collectively learn the strengths and limitations of our near-Earth object observation...

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We’re made of star stuff, as Carl Sagan famously put it in his TV series Cosmos. All of the elements that joined together to form our planet and everything on it were set in motion within the hearts of ancient stars. But not only are we star stuff, it appears that we’re actually made of alien star stuff. Astrophysicists who were analyzing galaxy formation recently looked at how intergalactic gas and dust is transported over time and across great distances. They found that up to half of the matter in our Milky Way galaxy likely comes from other galaxies far, far away. “Given how much of the matter out of which we formed may have come from other galaxies, we could consider ourselves space travelers or extragalactic immigrants,” Daniel Anglés-Alcázar, an astrophysics postdoctoral fellow from Northwestern University who led the study, said in a statement. “It is likely that much of the Milky Way’s matter wa...

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The Sky This Week for July 21 to 30

Thursday, July 27th 2017 12:28 PM

Friday, July 21 Evenings this week are a great time to explore the constellation Sagittarius the Archer. This star group lies due south and at peak altitude shortly after 11 p.m. local daylight time, well after the last vestiges of twilight have faded away. The brightest stars within the constellation form the shape of a teapot — a distinctive asterism once you’ve found it. The central regions of the Milky Way pass through Sagittarius, so it’s always worth exploring this area through binoculars or a telescope. The Moon reaches perigee, the closest point in its orbit around Earth, at 1:12 p.m. EDT. It then lies 224,462 miles (361,236 kilometers) from Earth’s center. Saturday, July 22 Spectacular Saturn lies due south and at its peak altitude as the last vestiges of twilight fade away. It shines at magnitude 0.2 against the backdrop of southern Ophiuchus, a constellation whose brightest star glows six times fainter than the ringed planet. When viewed throu...

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For decades, while astronomers have detected black holes equal in mass either to a few suns or millions of suns, the missing-link black holes in between have eluded discovery. Now, a new study suggests such intermediate-mass black holes may not exist in the modern-day universe because of the rate at which black holes grow. Scientists think stellar-mass black holes — up to a few times the sun's mass — form when giant stars die and collapse in on themselves. Over the years, astronomers have detected a number of stellar-mass black holes in the nearby universe, and in 2010, researchers detected the first such black hole outside the local cluster of nearby galaxies known as the Local Group. As big as stellar-mass black holes might seem, they are tiny in comparison to the so-called supermassive black holes that are millions to billions of times the sun's mass, which form the hearts of most, if not all, large galaxies. The oldest supermassive black holes found to...

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A new telescope in La Palma, in Spain's Canary Islands, coordinates with gravitational-wave detectors to track down optical signals of the colossal collisions that cause them. The Gravitational-wave Optical Transient Observer (GOTO), built as an international collaboration led by the U.K.'s University of Warwick and Australia's Monash University, was officially inaugurated July 3. The ripples in space-time called gravitational waves can be detected on Earth when they're created by extremely large-scale events in the universe — like when two ultradense neutron stars or black holes orbit each other and merge. (Massive stellar explosions called supernovas can also cause detectable gravitational waves.) The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) first detected distortion caused by those waves in 2016. ['We Don't Planet' Episode 8: Gravitational Waves] GOTO will be able to respond to alerts from LIGO and other gravitational-wave detectors, an...

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