Spaceship approaching dwarf planet Ceres

This video says about itself:

19 January 2015

NASA’s Dawn mission snapped imagery of Ceres at a distance of 238,000 miles (about the same distance between the Earth and the Moon) on Jan. 13th, 2015. The images show ‘hint of craters’ according to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

By Jacqueline Howard in the USA:

NASA Probe Gives Close-Up Look At Dwarf Planet Ceres, But What Are Those Weird White Spots?

Posted: 02/06/2015 5:53 pm EST Updated: 02/10/2015 8:59 am EST

What are those things?

Scientists have been puzzling over a set of weird white spots on Ceres ever since 2004, when the spots showed up in images captured by the Hubble Space Telescope, reported. Now NASA’s Dawn space probe, which is drawing ever closer to the dwarf planet, has obtained the best images yet of the spots–and still no one can explain them.

“We are at a phase in the mission where the curtain is slowly being pulled back on the nature of the [dwarf planet’s] surface,” Dr. Chris Russell, planetary scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles, and principal investigator for the $466-million mission, told NBC News. “But the surface is different from that of other planets, and at this stage the increasing resolution presents more mysteries rather than answers them.”

With a diameter of 590 miles (950 kilometers), Ceres is the largest object in the solar system’s main asteroid belt, located between Mars and Jupiter. Signs of water were detected on Ceres just last year, and some astronomers think the white spots may be ice at the bottoms of craters or subsurface ice that’s been pushed up from under the dwarf planet’s surface.

Scientists hope the Dawn mission will help us understand how Ceres and other large celestial objects formed.

Dawn is expected to arrive at Ceres on March 6, 2015.

Dawn on Ceres: Nasa probe to enter dwarf planet’s orbit. First-ever rendezvous with the largest object in the asteroid belt separating Mars from Jupiter will reveal what Ceres is made of: here.

Mysterious bright spot on dwarf planet Ceres is actually two bright spots: here.

Will four humans die on planet Mars?

This video says about itself:

9 February 2015

Meet the people who’ve volunteered to be on the first manned mission to Mars … and stay there.

Three volunteers are on the shortlist to be among four people on the Mars One programme, the first manned space flight to Mars – a one-way trip that’s effectively a suicide mission. A physics student in the UK, a young doctor from Mozambique and an Iraqi-American woman, all happy to sacrifice their futures for a place in history.

Why do they want to leave Earth, and who are they leaving behind? As the list of potential Mars explorers is whittled down further on 16 February, meet those competing to be the first to land on the Red Planet.

See also here.

MEET THE FINAL 100 PEOPLE COMPETING FOR A LIFE ON MARS Dutch nonprofit Mars One has narrowed the field to 100 applicants for a one-way trip to Mars. Ultimately, 24 will be chosen to train, and, organizers claim, four will go on the official mission. [WaPo]

An extremely high-altitude plume seen at Mars’ morning terminator: here.

Mysterious storms on planet Uranus

This video says about itself:

Extreme Storms Shake the Atmosphere of Uranus

15 November 2014

Storm on Uranus: Astronomers witnessed extreme stormy, huge and bright cloud systems on the planet Uranus. The storm permits the experts to view the hazy blue-green atmosphere of Uranus.

Uranus is an ice giant which is four times larger than the diameter of the Earth. The planet is located 19 times farther from the Sun as compared to the Earth.

From the BBC:

Strange mega storms sweep Uranus

Last year was the stormiest ever on Uranus but astronomers don’t quite know why

Usually there’s not much to see on Uranus, says astronomer Imke de Pater of the University of California, Berkeley. But last year was its stormiest on record.

Ever since its equinox in 2007, when the Sun shined directly on its equator, the seventh planet has been becoming more active. Last year it hit a new peak.

When analysing infrared images of Uranus, Prof de Pater’s team noticed eight large swirling storms in its northern hemisphere in August 2014. One of these storms was the brightest ever observed. It reflected 30% as much light as the rest of the planet, the team reports in the journal Icarus.

Nobody had expected it, says de Pater. It shows how little we understand even about planets inside our own Solar System.

The team analysed bright patches on images of Uranus. These spots of light represent clouds.

They deduced how thick the clouds were, and how high up in the atmosphere. From the altitude they could then infer what the clouds were made of.

The clouds they saw were extremely high up. As they rose ever higher, methane gas condensed into methane ice, causing the clouds to glow.

“The very bright one we saw high in the atmosphere must be methane ice,” says de Pater. “Another one observed by amateur astronomers could be hydrogen sulfide.”

Uranus takes 84 Earth years to travel around the Sun. For half this time one of its poles is in darkness. But during the 2007 equinox each pole was equally lit up, and astronomers expected that this change in illumination would cause a particularly stormy year.

While they did see some turbulent weather, it was nothing compared to the storms of 2014.

Mystery squalls

“We have no idea why this is happening right now,” says de Pater.

The storms might be driven by the changing seasons, but to find out we would need to see if they also occur over the southern hemisphere. That will take many more years. “I don’t think I will live enough to see the whole cycle of Uranus,” she adds.

While we frequently see images from Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, Uranus has only ever been fleetingly visited by one space craft, Voyager 2. But that was in 1986 and it only observed a “featureless haze” of dense clouds.

That’s why scientists rely on images taken at the ground-based Keck observatory in Hawaii. Increasingly, they also combine these with images taken by amateur astronomers, as their telescopes are powerful enough to see Uranus.

NASA Finds Mysterious Bright Spot on Dwarf Planet Ceres: What Is It? Here.

Five Earth-sized planets around the star Kepler-444 may reveal insight on the history of how solar systems develop: here.

Radio signals from outer space detected

This 19 January 2015 video is called Mysteries of Space: Epic ‘Cosmic Radio Burst’ Finally Seen In Real Time.

From National Geographic:

Astronomers Catch Mysterious Radio Blast From the Distant Universe

by Nadia Drake

Coming from far beyond the galaxy, an extremely energetic blast of radio waves has been snared by astronomers lying in wait. Lasting for just a few thousandths of a second, the burst is the first of an enigmatic class of objects to be observed in real-time, astronomers report today in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Called fast radio bursts, these extreme pulses of energy last for just a fraction of a second. They’ve confounded astronomers – who have no idea what they are – since West Virginia University’s Duncan Lorimer spotted the first burst in 2007. At the time, it appeared as though the beam of radio waves had traveled roughly 3 billion light-years before colliding with Earth. That’s a reasonably far distance, even by astronomical standards. But not everyone believed the team’s interpretation. Skeptics suggested the burst’s signal could be coming from Earth’s atmosphere, or from inside the galaxy, or even that it was an artifact of the telescope itself, located at the Parkes Observatory in Australia.

Indeed, for five years, that Parkes telescope was the sole spotter of fast radio bursts, and eventually observed another half-dozen or so.

That changed in November 2012, when the Arecibo Observatory spotted a fast radio burst. Like the Parkes signals, it looked as though it came from billions of light-years away. While the observation strongly suggested the bursts were not a telescope artifact, scientists still had yet to see one in real time: All of the observations so far had been pulled from data that were at least a few weeks old.

Then, on May 14, 2014, Swinburne University’s Emily Petroff spotted a fast radio burst in the act of blasting. She and her colleagues determined the signal came from as far as 5.5 billion light-years away and was mildly polarized, suggesting a magnetic field somewhere near its origin has aligned the waves in particular directions.

Petroff had designed a program specifically to spy on these bursts, and once the radio pulse had been detected, she rallied a legion of telescopes to stare at the thing. Tasked with peering deep into the cosmos, the group of 12 telescopes quickly returned data suggesting there was no easily identifiable astrophysical source. The lack of a discernible afterglow eliminated some of the more mundane possibilities, such as distant supernovas or long gamma-ray bursts.

So what are these fast radio bursts? The short answer is, scientists still don’t know. “There are more theories than there are bursts,” Lorimer said earlier this year. Some of those theories implicate rather exotic-sounding, very dense objects: Colliding black holes or neutron stars, evaporating primordial black holes, imploding neutron stars, or enormous flares erupting from magnetic neutron stars, called magnetars.

It’s a mystery that’s still waiting to be solved, but at least scientists now know their suspects live very, very far away and aren’t exceptionally secretive. Whatever the sources are, they regularly hurl beacons of radio light across a vast expanse of cosmic sea.

Waterbear discovery, new for the Netherlands

This video says about itself:

First Animal to Survive in Space

4 September 2012

Tardigrades or “Water Bears” are the only creatures that can survive the extreme conditions in the vacuum of outer space.

Translated from the Dutch marine biologists of Stichting ANEMOON:

New waterbear discovered on Dutch beaches

Sunday, January 18th, 2015

A researcher who is particularly interested in the smallest representatives of our wildlife has discovered a tardigrade species new for the Netherlands. It is the marine waterbear Batillipes phreaticus. This is the fourth tardigrade species that until now has been found on Dutch beaches. Tardigrades are only a fraction of a millimeter wide. It is remarkable that the species has already been found in many areas of the North Sea beach including the two western Wadden islands. Especially in the environment of these tiny creatures there is still a world to discover.

Planet earth and its wildlife

This video from the USA says about itself:

Habitat Earth Trailer | California Academy of Sciences

13 January 2015

Discover what it means to live in today’s connected world with Habitat Earth, a new planetarium show at the California Academy of Sciences. Narrated by Frances McDormand, Habitat Earth uses cutting-edge science visualization to take you on an immersive, non-stop journey through Earth’s intricate living systems.

Dive with sea otters, explore the life forms hidden within soil, and migrate through the oceans with whales—all from within the world’s largest all digital planetarium dome. Opens January 16, 2015. Get tickets

Doctor Who, British science fiction TV history

This video, inspired by the science fiction series Doctor Who, says about itself:

THE TIMELORDS / KLF – Doctorin’ The Tardis

1988 Music Video Featuring Ford Timelord (1968 Ford Galaxy) and “Daleks”.

By Bernadette Hyland in Britain:

Seeking out the socialist Who behind the Doctor

Thursday 15th January 2015

BERNADETTE HYLAND explores a new publication about the life of Malcolm Hulke, a TV, radio and film writer with a political conviction

FIVE Leaves press has published a study of the work of Malcolm Hulke, written by socialist historian Michael Herbert.

Hulke was a successful writer for radio, television and the cinema from the 1950s to the late 1970s. He wrote for Armchair Theatre, the Avengers and Doctor Who, for which he is best remembered.

He was also, for a time, a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain — though Herbert has yet to discover when, or for how long.

Doctor Who is the longest-running science fiction TV programme in the world. It was created in 1963 by the BBC’s head of drama Sydney Newman as a science fiction series that would teach children about history and science.

Herbert was eight years old when he watched the first episode, An Unearthly Child. Like many other children of that era, he became hooked on the programme’s mix of fantastic adventures and threatening monsters.

“It was like nothing else on TV at the time,” he explains, “It was very imaginative, often dramatic and, as someone who loved books by Jules Verne and H G Wells and was watching the space race on TV, it was the ideal programme for me.”

Herbert, who is a Trustee of the Working Class Movement Library, became interested in Hulke after he found a pamphlet written by him, called Here is Drama.

The pamphlet marked the 25th anniversary of the founding of the socialist Unity Theatre company, where Hulke was the production manager.

Hulke’s first serials for Doctor Who were The Faceless Ones, broadcast in 1967, and The War Games, broadcast in 1969.

He then contributed a further six serials between 1970 and 1974. This was a time when Jon Pertwee played the Doctor and the show, now in colour, reached new heights of popularity. It often had a subtle political dimension.

“This was period when race, the destruction of the environment, industrial militancy, the cold war and the liberation of women were hot political issues,” reflects Herbert.

“It’s not surprising that a writer such as Hulke, with a political background, incorporated these themes into his work through the medium of science fiction.”

Doctor Who’s chief script editor at the time, Terrance Dicks, said : “What we never did was commission a Doctor Who with a political message. But nonetheless, if you look at it there is a streak of anti-authoritarianism in all Mac’s work. He doesn’t trust the Establishment.”

Hulke himself said in a rare interview: “It’s a very political show. Remember what politics refers to. It refers to relationships between groups of people. It doesn’t necessarily mean left or right … so all Doctor Whos are political. Even though the other group of people are reptiles, they’re still a group of people.”

He died on July 6 1979, and Dicks recalled that, as a convinced atheist, he had left orders that there was to be no priest, no hymns or other ceremony at his funeral.

Consequently his friends sat by the coffin not knowing what to do. “Finally Eric Paice stood up, slapped the coffin and said: ‘Well cheerio, Mac’ and wandered out. We all followed him,” recollected Dicks.

Herbert situates Hulke’s writing within a classic era of Doctor Who and expresses the hope that fans of the revamped show broadcast since 2005 will be persuaded to look back to its 1970s incarnation.

“Clearly the pace of the show is much slower and the special effects were nothing like today, but many of the serials have strong and imaginative stories which stand the test of time” he says.

Pushed to name his favourite serial by Hulke, Herbert opts for The War Games: “The Doctor and his companions land in the midst of what they think is the first world war, but then discover that other wars from Earth’s history are taking place in near-by zones.

“It’s all been set up by an alien race who want to create an unbeatable army. Malcolm shows war as violent and pointless, controlled by leaders who couldn’t care less about the soldiers. It’s quite bleak and an overlooked classic.”

Herbert is keen to hear from anyone who knew Hulke and can be contacted by email at

He will teaching an 11-week evening class on Doctor Who, starting on Tuesday 14 April, at Aquinas College in Stockport. Further information about the course can be obtained by ringing the college on (0161) 419-9163 or emailing

Doctor Who and the Communist: Malcolm Hulke and his career in television costs £4 and can be ordered directly from Five Leaves.

Bernadette Hyland blogs at