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Lead Articles

2015, Year of the Dwarf Planets

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Many spacecraft are active in the Solar system at present, some in orbit around their targets, some driving around on its surface, some still on their way. Two robots in particular which are still speeding towards their targets, are going to make the biggest headlines this year. This will give us close up views and many details of two Solar system objects that we know almost nothing about, apart from a few vague images. These are two Dwarf Planets that are representative and therefore crucial to our understanding of the make-up of the Solar system, and especially of its formation history. We cannot wait...

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Ceres, the nearest Dwarf Planet

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hs 2005 27 d smThis spherical asteroid, with a diameter less than the direct distance between Auckland and Dunedin, is going to be big news this year. NASA’s spacecraft Dawn will arrive at Ceres in early March 2015. Ceres is the largest member of the Main Asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. It may be the nearest dwarf planet to us, but it took Dawn some seven years to get there. To be fair we must note that Dawn has spend more than a year at the third largest object in the Asteroid Belt, Vesta.

We will hear a lot about Ceres come March 2015, and without doubt a lot of major new discoveries will be made during this historic encounter, but let us first review what we presently know about this “not-so-distant” member of our Solar system.

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An out of this world opportunity for New Zealand educators

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This weekend I have been driving up and back to Rotorua to scout the location of the upcoming Spaceward Bound expedition. The expedition will take place from 16-21 January 2015.

New Zealand teachers and students will join a NASA Astrobiologists and New Zealand scientists in the North Island to explore extreme environments and conduct scientific experiments that might one day provide insight for the search of life on other planets.  The expedition is part of NASA’s Spaceward Bound programme, uniting teachers and research scientists in field activities and, ultimately, bringing the excitement of space exploration to New Zealand students. Read more here.

Pluto the Dwarf Planet

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When the International Astronomical Union (IAU) decided in 2006  on a modified definition of the concept “Planet” and consequently Pluto was demoted to the class of “Dwarf Planet”, there was big international outcry by many who seemed to take this kind of personal. However this icy body itself, in its elliptical and tilted orbit mostly beyond planet Neptune, remained exactly the same as it has always been during the last 4.5 billion years.

We will hear a lot more about Pluto in the near future when the New Horizons spacecraft will finally reach this Solar system body in July 2015.

But what do we presently know about Pluto and its companions?

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Latest News

As real as it gets - Flying above Mars

mars flyover JF

Finnish filmmaker Jan Fröjdman transformes imagery from HiRISE, a camera aboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, into a dynamic overhead view of the Red Planet.

Watch it here.


Great Overview New Horizons mission

alan stern copyMeet Dr. Alan Stern, the Principle Investigator and learn about NASA’s historic mission to Pluto and beyond. Live stream on 13 February 2017 (can be watched again) here.

Introduction to Astronomy restarts

IntroAstro copy

Highly recommended Ronen Plesser’s free course Introduction to Astronomy will now be offered at Duke University on their new platform Duke Extend. The new session of Introduction to Astronomy starts November 28, and you can learn more and register here.

This ten week course progresses outward from our own Earth into Solar system, Galaxy and Deep Space, to cover essentially everything in the Universe. Watch Ronen's introduction on YouTube here.

Visit Rosetta’s comet in amazing 3D.

Rosetta 3D copy

Rosetta spacecraft has impacted on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, ending its very successful mission. You can view the comet in this amazing interactive 3D visualisation here.
Find a description of the tool here.

Are we heading for a new Maunder Minimum?

2016 09 01 1472723838 9260456 Solar Cycle Prediction

Original image here.

We are coming out of the current sunspot cycle 24 which will end around 2019. The maximum of this cycle has yet again been well below that of the previous two cycles.

“Some studies show that sunspot magnetic field strengths […] are already close to the minimum needed to sustain sunspots on the solar surface”.

Read Dr. Sten Odenwald’s Blog here.

ESO Astronomy Camp

ann16031aStudents aged between 16 and 18 years old, can apply for participation in the 4th ESO Astronomy Camp. The camp will take place from 26 December 2016 to 1 January 2017 in Italy and it is organised by ESO and its Science Outreach Network, together with the science education event organiser Sterrenlab and OAVdA.

Click the link 4th ESO Astronomy for detailed information.

Teachers invited to join the STEAM Team

STEAMThe Planetary Society is developing a youth education program with the goal to help teachers educate and engage students around the world in Science, Technology, Engineering, Math, and the Arts.

The STEAM Team is an advisory network of educators from around the world who will help to create the most effective education program possible. We want to bring your educational expertise to bear on a widespread program to enhance STEAM education around the world.

By joining this team, you will become part of a global advisory council of educators. We will reach out to you for feedback on the educational resources we develop, and on the direction of our youth education program as a whole. We’ll send you surveys, questions, and opportunities to share your ideas.

Read more here

What happens at the edge of the Universe?

EdgeoftheUniversePBSWhat is at the edge of the Universe and what happens if we are trying to get there.
In this episode in the Space Time series by PBS Matt tries to answer this question in a scientific way.
Watch it here.

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