NASA flyby gives closer look at Pluto’s mysterious ‘heart’

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When NASA shared this image of Pluto with its Instagram followers Tuesday, scientists called it a love letter.
When NASA shared this image of Pluto with its Instagram followers Tuesday, scientists called it a love letter.
Photo: NASA/APL/SwRI

We downgraded its status, but Pluto still showed us its heart.

A spartan but warm-toned orb with a prominent heart-shaped terrain came into clear view Tuesday morning after NASA’s New Horizons snapped a picture some 476,000 miles from its surface after nearly a decade of travel.

Pluto was still considered a planet when New Horizon’s took off in 2006 for the end of our solar system. Since then, astronomers changed its status to a dwarf planet, but that did not diminish the excitement scientists and fans of star-gazing as the probe approached Pluto and its moons.

Hubble finds football-shaped moons in the end zone of our solar system

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An artist's rendering shows the wobbble and oblong shape of Pluto's moon, Nix.
An artist's rendering shows the wobbble and oblong shape of Pluto's moon, Nix.
Illustration: NASA

Just because Pluto lost its planetary status doesn’t mean it’s any less interesting to astronomers.

NASA on Wednesday reported two football-shaped moons that wobble so unpredictably that the sun could rise in a different direction every day from either of the moons.

The Hubble Telescope recorded the oddball orbits of the oblong moons Nix and Hydra, which wobble because they are embedded in a constantly shifting gravitational field created by dwarf planet Pluto and its largest moon, Charon. Pluto and Charon share a common center of gravity.

Screaming ‘fire!’ in a crowded Russian space capsule is useless

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ESA astronaut Andreas Mogensen, left, and Russian cosmonaut Sergei Volkov work through artificial fire aboard a Soyuz simulator.
ESA astronaut Andreas Mogensen, left, and Russian cosmonaut Sergei Volkov work through artificial fire aboard a Soyuz simulator.

A first-class flight in a Soyuz space capsule is rocky, reliable and rather snug. An astronaut sits in a semi-fetal position, works the controls with a stick and feels a pretty heavy G load, especially on reentry.

So imagine if a fire breaks out on the Soyuz spacecraft. There’s no extinguisher, no exit and no help to call.

ESA astronaut Andreas Mogensen narrated a video showing he and Russian cosmonaut Sergei Volkov going through a simulated fire on a capsule to train for an upcoming flight to the International Space Station.

This toilet demo shows how astronauts boldly go in space

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Astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti took time out from her work aboard the International Space Station to explain how astronauts go to the bathroom in zero gravity. Photo: ESA/YouTube
Astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti took time out from her work aboard the International Space Station to explain how astronauts go to the bathroom in zero gravity. Photo: ESA/YouTube

We have a reinvigorated interest in the mysteries of space. Astronaut Scott Kelly is just beginning a record-breaking stint in zero gravity, a space probe is about to fly by Pluto and manned missions to an asteroid and Mars are in the pipeline.

There is also the ongoing science on how to go to the bathroom in space, where things tend to float.

Astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti explained that mystery over the weekend, when she took time from her work on the International Space Station to give a video tour of the bathroom (see below) and delicately describe going Numbers 1 and 2 in zero gravity.

Apollo mission patches put stars in the eyes of a family

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The Apollo 11 mission patch. Photo: NASA/Neil F. Smith/YouTube
The Apollo 11 mission patch. Photo: NASA/Neil F. Smith/YouTube

I had the kind of dad who brought his work home with him. That was exciting since he was in the business of putting men on the moon.

Each time there was a scheduled launch, my two brothers and I could always expect our dad to come home with mission patches. Robert Pierini was an engineer in the late 1960s and early ’70s with an electronics company in Milwaukee that developed the guidance system for the Apollo mission.

So when filmmaker Neil F. Smith recently posted a video to YouTube, bringing animated life to each mission emblem, I immediately felt the same rush I had as a kid when I held a patch in my hand.

NASA’s new Mars mission technology looks like a flying saucer

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NASA is testing a saucer-like space craft that could bring heavy payloads to Mars. Photo illustration: NASA/JPL-Caltech
NASA is testing a saucer-like spacecraft that could bring heavy payloads to Mars. Photo illustration: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Flying saucers from Mars is the stuff of science fiction. But a flying saucer from Earth is part of the mission to get astronauts to the Martian surface.

NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory completed a successful spin test of a saucer-shaped experimental craft in front of a live web audience Tuesday. The saucer will next lift off by balloon from Hawaii, where from 120,000 feet it will be dropped to test a new kind of parachute and an inflatable Kevlar ring to add drag for a slower descent.

Help NASA solve space’s mysteries with this asteroid app

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The Big Dipper rises behind the Catalina Sky Survey  telescope. Photo: Catalina Sky Survey/University of Arizona
The Big Dipper rises behind the Catalina Sky Survey telescope. Photo: Catalina Sky Survey/University of Arizona

There are millions of asteroids in the Solar System and relatively few astronomers to track them. They’d hate to miss that one dangerous rogue headed on a collision course with Earth.

So NASA has made it easier for the amateur stargazer to record and compare their discoveries and put extra eyes on the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

NASA and Planetary Resources Inc. have developed a computer program that is based on an algorithm that analyzes images for potential asteroids. The new asteroid hunting application, available for free download here, was announced Sunday by NASA at the South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas.

NASA salutes Nimoy for taking us boldly where no one had gone before

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Astronaut Terry Virts tweeted from the International Space Station this special salute to the late Leonard Nimoy. Photo: Terry Virts/Twitter
Astronaut Terry Virts tweeted from the International Space Station this special salute to the late Leonard Nimoy. Photo: Terry Virts/Twitter

Leonard Nimoy’s portrayal of unflappable calm and logic during dangerous space travels on TV and in movies inspired those whose stage is actual space.

NASA is mourning the loss of Nimoy as if Mr. Spock was one of their own. Since news of Nimoy’s passing Friday, astronauts have tweeted, uploaded a YouTube video tribute and issued statements, thanking the iconic Star Trek actor for the courage to “boldly go” into professions involving space exploration.

One of the more touching tributes came from astronaut Terry Virts, who tweeted a photo of his hand in Spock’s iconic “Live Long and Prosper” gesture at a window in the International Space Station looking over Earth.

Space-walking astronaut safe after water found in helmet

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Astronaut Terry Virts as he works on a robotic arm outside the International Space Station Wednesday. Photo: NASA
Astronaut Terry Virts as he works on a robotic arm outside the International Space Station Wednesday. Photo: NASA

Wardrobe malfunctions can happen with every style of clothing. It’s just a little terrifying when it happens to an astronaut on a spacewalk.

NASA astronaut Terry Virts reported a floating blob of water inside his helmet Wednesday after completing a six-and-a-half-hour spacewalk to perform cable and lube work outside the International Space Station.

Apollo program inspired Jony Ive to make a ‘spacesuit’

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What would a Jony Ive spacesuit look like? Photo: Sotheby's
What would a Jony Ive spacesuit look like? Photo: Sotheby's

When you’ve designed some of the most successful consumer electronics in modern history, where else can you look but up?

One of the many interesting tidbits in The New Yorker’s 17,000-word profile of Jony Ive surrounds his fascination with the Apollo space program and, yes, designing spacesuits. It doesn’t sound like the spacesuit itself was what inspired Apple’s top designer as much as the process that went into it.

Ive mentions he’s been watching the old Discovery channel series Moon Machine about the challenges facing the Apollo program. NASA designers had no idea what goals they even needed to meet for the suit, but built up to the final design with invention after invention until they got it right.

An anecdote from The New Yorker’s time in Ive’s hallowed design studio (emphasis added):