Could You Go Surfing On The Sun?

If you had the right protective clothing, could you go surfing on a solar flare?
On April 17, 2016, an active region on the sun’s right side released a mid-level solar flare, which can be seen in this image as a bright point of light. Credits: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/SDO/Genna Duberstein

On April 17, 2016, an active region on the sun’s right side released a mid-level solar flare, which can be seen in this image as a bright point of light. Credits: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/SDO/Genna Duberstein

Well, we’re going to have to assume that our protective clothing is magical, because as far as I know, when you’re dealing with something hot enough to vaporize iron, I don’t think the type of protection you’re hoping for exists. But we can certainly ignore the melting factor ...

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Are There Rules For How To Avoid Contaminating Other Planets? (Or Our Own?)

Is there an internationally-agreed protocol to avoid compromising the detection of life beyond Earth with living matter of earthly origin, and for quarantining any organisms crossing that boundary either way? If there isn’t such a protocol, should there be one?
The fascinating surface of Jupiter’s icy moon Europa looms large in this newly-reprocessed color view, made from images taken by NASA’s Galileo spacecraft in the late 1990s. This is the color view of Europa from Galileo that shows the largest portion of the moon’s surface at the highest resolution. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute

The fascinating surface of Jupiter’s icy moon Europa looms large in this newly-reprocessed color view, made from images taken by NASA’s Galileo spacecraft in the late 1990s. This is the color view of Europa from Galileo that shows the largest portion of the moon’s surface at the highest resolution. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute

There certainly is a protocol to avoid contaminating other worlds which might host life, and it is broadly described by the phrase “planetary protection”. Planetary protection boils down to not sending any spacecraft to places which might host life without pushing the spacecraft through...

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When Will The Milky Way Collide With Andromeda?

When will the Milky Way collide with another galaxy?
This is one of series of photo illustrations showing the predicted merger between our Milky Way galaxy and the neighboring Andromeda galaxy, as it will unfold over the next several billion years. The sequence is inspired by dynamical computer modeling of the inevitable future collision between the two galaxies. After its first close pass, Andromeda is tidally stretched out. The Milky Way, too, becomes warped. Science Illustration Credit: NASA, ESA, Z. Levay and R. van der Marel (STScI), T. Hallas, and A. Mellinger

This is one of series of photo illustrations showing the predicted merger between our Milky Way galaxy and the neighboring Andromeda galaxy, as it will unfold over the next several billion years. The sequence is inspired by dynamical computer modeling of the inevitable future collision between the two galaxies. After its first close pass, Andromeda is tidally stretched out. The Milky Way, too, becomes warped. Science Illustration Credit: NASA, ESA, Z. Levay and R. van der Marel (STScI), T. Hallas, and A. Mellinger

The Milky Way, our home galaxy, is gravitationally bound to the Andromeda galaxy. Andromeda is a significantly larger galaxy than our own, sitting at about twice the number of stars that our Milky Way has...

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Why Does The Earth Pull On One Side Of The Moon More? Is The Moon Lopsided?

Why does the Earth pull on one side of the Moon more than the other side? Is it because the mass of the Moon is not even, and one side has more mass than the other?
This image shows the variations in the lunar gravity field as measured by NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) during the primary mapping mission from March to May 2012. Very precise microwave measurements between two spacecraft, named Ebb and Flow, were used to map gravity with high precision and high spatial resolution. The field shown resolves blocks on the surface of about 12 miles (20 kilometers) and measurements are three to five orders of magnitude improved over previous data. Red corresponds to mass excesses and blue corresponds to mass deficiencies. The map shows more small-scale detail on the far side of the moon compared to the nearside because the far side has many more small craters. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MIT/GSFC

This image shows the variations in the lunar gravity field as measured by NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) during the primary mapping mission from March to May 2012. Very precise microwave measurements between two spacecraft, named Ebb and Flow, were used to map gravity with high precision and high spatial resolution. The field shown resolves blocks on the surface of about 12 miles (20 kilometers) and measurements are three to five orders of magnitude improved over previous data. Red corresponds to mass excesses and blue corresponds to mass deficiencies. The map shows more small-scale detail on the far side of the moon compared to the nearside because the far side has many more small craters. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MIT/GSFC

The Moon is pretty round; it’s set up much like the Earth – with a core of iron, surrounded by a mantle of other rocks, and topped off with a crust between 21 and 27 miles thick, at the surface. As far as we can tell, each of those components is....

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Are There Sungrazing Asteroids?

Have there ever been any sungrazer meteorites found? I recently found a piece of a meteorite with a fusion crust. From the curvature of the crust it appears to have been around 3 feet in diameter. The interior is composed of extremely hard non magnetic material that seems to have been melted by extreme heat. Possible?
ESA and NASA’s Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, or SOHO, saw a bright comet plunge toward the sun on Aug. 3-4, 2016, at nearly 1.3 million miles per hour. Comets are chunks of ice and dust that orbit the sun, usually on highly elliptical orbits that carry them far beyond the orbit of Pluto at their farthest points. This comet, first spotted by SOHO on Aug. 1, is part of the Kreutz family of comets, a group of comets with related orbits that broke off of a huge comet several centuries ago. This comet didn’t fall into the sun, but rather whipped around it – or at least, it would have if it had survived its journey. Like most sungrazing comets, this comet was torn apart and vaporized by the intense forces near the sun. The disk of the sun is represented by the white circle in this image. Caption By Sarah Frazier, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. Image credit: ESA/NASA/SOHO/Joy Ng

ESA and NASA’s Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, or SOHO, saw a bright comet plunge toward the sun on Aug. 3-4, 2016, at nearly 1.3 million miles per hour. Comets are chunks of ice and dust that orbit the sun, usually on highly elliptical orbits that carry them far beyond the orbit of Pluto at their farthest points. This comet, first spotted by SOHO on Aug. 1, is part of the Kreutz family of comets, a group of comets with related orbits that broke off of a huge comet several centuries ago. This comet didn’t fall into the sun, but rather whipped around it – or at least, it would have if it had survived its journey. Like most sungrazing comets, this comet was torn apart and vaporized by the intense forces near the sun. The disk of the sun is represented by the white circle in this image. Caption By Sarah Frazier, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. Image credit: ESA/NASA/SOHO/Joy Ng

“Sungrazer” is a title usually given to comets which come extraordinarily close to our Sun in the course of their long, looping orbits around the solar system. The standard line drawn to consider something a sungrazer is it passing closer than about 850,000 miles...

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