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35-year-old Voyager 1 skirts solar system edge with an 8-track and 68K of memory


Voyager assembly in Hi-Bay I.

With an eight-track tape recorder and 100,000 times less memory than an iPod, Voyager 1 is celebrating its 35th birthday at the edge of the solar system. 

Traipsing through a giant, turbulent, plasma bubble near the fringes, the longest-running, most-distant spacecraft in NASA's history celebrates a launch anniversary on Wednesday. After more than three decades of trekking, the craft is currently flirting with the edge of our system, poised for a precedent-setting puncture to the other side.

Scientists say the milestone is near, but a timeframe for crossing over is unknown.

Expected to be the first manmade object to touch the space between stars, Voyager 1, at more than 11 billion miles from the sun, is already in uncharted celestial territory. Voyager 2, which celebrated its anniversary two weeks ago, is approximately 9 billion miles from the sun.


Kepler-47: Solar system found with 'Tatooine'-like twin suns

NASA/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle

Sharing the Light of Two Suns: This artist's concept illustrates Kepler-47, the first transiting circumbinary system -- multiple planets orbiting two suns – 4,900 light-years from Earth, in the constellation Cygnus. The system was detected by NASA's Kepler space telescope, which measures minisucule changes in the brightness of more than 150,000 stars to search for planets that pass in front of or 'transit' their host star.

NASA/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle

This diagram compares our own solar system to Kepler-47, a double-star system containing two planets, one orbiting in the so-called "habitable zone." This is the sweet spot in a planetary system where liquid water might exist on the surface of a planet.

NASA/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle

The two planets of Kepler-47, the first transiting circumbinary system -- a system with more than one planet orbiting a pair of stars. Kepler-47b, on the right, has three times the radius of earth and orbits the pair of stars in less than 50 days while Kepler-47c is thought to be a gaseous giant, slightly larger than Neptune with an orbital period of 303 days.

kepler 47

Screenshot via reports that for the first time astronomers have discovered two alien planets puttering around two stars, likening the twin-suns-solar-system-scenario to Luke Skywalker's home turf of Tatooine in Star Wars. Double nerd alert.

NASA made the announcement Tuesday of "Kepler-47" -- a circumbinary planetary system located 4,900 light-years from Earth in the constellation Cygnus. 

This discovery proves that more than one planet can form and persist in the stressful realm of a binary star and demonstrates the diversity of planetary systems in our galaxy. 

Astronomers detected two planets in the Kepler-47 system, a pair of orbiting stars that eclipse each other every 7.5 days from our vantage point on Earth. One star is similar to the sun in size, but only 84 percent as bright. The second star is diminutive, measuring only one-third the size of the sun and less than 1 percent as bright. 


Video: What it really looks like to land on Mars

This color full-resolution image showing the heat shield of NASA's Curiosity rover was obtained during descent to the surface of Mars


This color full-resolution image showing the heat shield of NASA's Curiosity rover was obtained during descent to the surface of Mars on Aug. 5 PDT (Aug. 6 EDT). The image was obtained by the Mars Descent Imager instrument known as MARDI and shows the 15-foot (4.5-meter) diameter heat shield when it was about 50 feet (16 meters) from the spacecraft.

KPCC reporters have been following NASA's most ambitious rover yet — Curiosity — as it gives us a new look at the Martian surface. Follow the series online.

Like a patchwork parachute, the descent images of NASA's Curiosity have been sewn into a story of what it feels like to smack the surface of a far away planet. The new HD video (below) shows the spacecraft's skydive onto the surface of Mars using full-resolution images of the rover's descent.

Notes YouTube user dlfitch:

As of August 20, all but a dozen 1600x1200 frames have been uploaded from the rover, and those missing were interpolated using thumbnail data.The result was applied a heavy noise reduction, color balance, and sharpening for best visibility. The video plays at 15fps, or 3x realtime. The heat shield impacts in the lower left frame at 0:21, and is shown enlarged at the end of the video.

On Wednesday it was also announced that Curiosity's landing site had been named for the late author Ray Bradbury on what would have been his 92nd birthday.

Bradbury Landing then bid goodbye to Curiosity as the rover passed the driving test, making its first movement and leaving its first wheel tracks on the Martian surface. The rover is now roughly 20 feet from where it landed 16 days ago, said NASA in a news release.

During a news conference today at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., the mission's lead rover driver, Matt Heverly, showed an animation derived from visualization software used for planning the first drive. "We have a fully functioning mobility system with lots of amazing exploration ahead," Heverly said.


(h/t io9 and metafilter


Space lasers are happening: Curiosity to fire at unsuspecting Martian rock

 first 360-degree panorama in color of the Gale Crater Mars


This is the first 360-degree panorama in color of the Gale Crater landing site taken by NASA's Curiosity rover. The panorama was made from thumbnail versions of images taken by the Mast Camera.

NASA takes the figurative phasers off stun as Curiosity, the world's coolest remote control vehicle, prepares to fire its space laser at an unsuspecting Martian rock next week.

Since landing in the Gale crater on the surface of Mars on Aug. 5, NASA's rover has been getting a full health checkup. Now, it's time for target practice.

Scientists said Friday they've selected a generic-looking rock about 10 feet away from the landing site to ready, aim, fire, and burn with a small hole.

Let's just hope the generic-looking rock they've selected isn't one of those generic-looking fakes with a hidden key inside that leads to some other part of Mars that's invisible or located in another dimension or something. 

The laser is one of ten tools Curiosity will be using to study the planet in search of signs that the environment was favorable for microbial life.


Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter will spy for you, HiRise camera taking requests

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter


This artist's animation of the NASA Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

Smile for the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter! HiRISE, a camera aboard the MRO orbiting spacecraft, is taking requests with an online wishlist of what earthlings want to see on Mars.

NASA's Curiosity is getting up close and personal with the surface of the red planet, but the eye in the sky that helped get it there could be looking beyond the Gale Crater, if you ask it nicely, and in the right way.

The HiWish program, which began in January 2010, announced "the people's camera" would be open to public suggestion, and started delivering images of civilian-selected locales within a few months.

"Explore Mars, one giant image at a time," is the HiRISE (High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment) motto, and project researchers continue to look to the home planet for input about where to point the camera.