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Mars Rover Finds Mysterious Spheres, Confounds Scientists

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With all the press surrounding Curiosity, you may have forgotten that we already have a working rover on the surface of Mars. Even though its sister rover Spirit has long since been consigned to its Martian grave, Opportunity is still roving around the red planet and returning valuable science data. Apparently unphased by the new kid on the block, Opportunity has just sent back some headline grabbing data of its own with a picture of a never before seen formation on the surface of Mars.

At first glance the new image looks like a variation on the Martian “blueberries” that Opportunity has seen lots of since it first landed in 2004. When they were first discovered, the spherical objects led to a lot of speculation about being a sign of life, but upon further inspection the “blueberries” proved to just be deposits that are formed by mineral rich water filtering through rocks and leaving behind the iron rich spherules. The new objects found by Opportunity are, however, not rich in iron and seem to be far softer than the previously seen “blueberries”. Opportunity’s principle investigator Steve Squyres of Cornell University is pretty excited by the rover’s find at the Kirkwood outcrop of Endeavor Crater.

 This is one of the most extraordinary pictures from the whole mission. Kirkwood is chock full of a dense accumulation of these small spherical objects. Of course, we immediately thought of the blueberries, but this is something different. We never have seen such a dense accumulation of spherules in a rock outcrop on Mars.

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NASA’s Space Launch System: One Year Later

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One year ago today, hot on the heels of retiring the space shuttle program, NASA announced its next step in spaceflight that would supposedly take us beyond low earth orbit, the Space Launch System. While the public’s reaction to the announcement of the SLS has been tepid due to its uninspiring design and extremely un-ambitious timetable, that hasn’t stopped NASA from reminding us every few months that it still exists. In their latest effort to get us excited about a rocket that won’t be fully completed until 2032, they’ve released a new video showcasing everything they’ve accomplished in the year since the SLS was announced.

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Be The First To See Unreleased Pics Of Vesta While You Help NASA Map Its Surface

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Even though NASA’s Dawn spacecraft has already departed Vesta and is on its way to its next target, there is still a lot of science to be done with the pictures it took during its year-long survey of the asteroid. NASA is now seeking the help of citizen scientists to map the craters on Vesta’s surface in an effort to speed up the study. It’s called Asteroid Mappers, and not only does it sound like an old Atari game, but it’s your first chance to contribute to the Dawn mission.

Many online citizen science projects use older NASA data to explore and study, but what makes Asteroid Mappers so special is that it gives you the chance to go through fairly recent and unreleased pics of the Dawn mission. This means that you could conceivably be the first person outside of NASA to see some of these pictures if you choose to join in Dawn’s mission to explore the asteroid belt. According to Universe Today, the project’s purpose is to identify craters, boulders, and other features on the asteroid’s surface. By helping to map these new pics of Vesta you will be playing an active role in Dawn’s mission and helping the mission scientists better understand its surface features.

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Today Is The 50th Anniversary Of JFK’s Moon Speech

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Fifty years ago today, President John Fitzgerald Kennedy stood behind a podium at Rice University and dared us to put human footprints on the moon. The speech has become one of the most iconic moments of JFK’s presidency, a clarion call for us to dream big and pursue that goal because. Kennedy’s speech is famous for its call for us to go to the moon because it seemed like such a daunting goal. It was a challenge rooted in a belief that, for all our faults and failings, we as a species are capable of overcoming those and achieving great things.

It’s the sort of optimistic and daring challenge that seems all but impossible in today’s political landscape, a quagmire where each side is focused primarily on wounding the other, and where compromise is a dirty word. Wouldn’t it be nice if we found a way to set our differences aside, realize that we’re all one people, and instead strive for even greater accomplishments?

In the spirit of that hope, here is Kennedy’s speech, delivered five decades ago.

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An Astronaut Writes From The International Space Station After September 11, 2001

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The events of September 11, 2001 are still being felt, these 11 years later. Even for those of us who weren’t directly affected by the deaths of friends or families, there can be no question that the attacks shook our country in a way that hadn’t been felt since the Pearl Harbor attack that launched us into World War II. I remember that the sense of shock and fear that permeated the days after the attack was accompanied by a profound sense of community, a sense that we were all one people, in it together, that sadly faded quickly. But while we were all clinging to loved ones and strangers alike, there was one group of people who had an entirely unique viewpoint on the attacks and their aftermath: the astronauts and cosmonauts orbiting overhead in the International Space Station.

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Funny NASA Mission Posters

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I imagine being an astronaut is a high-stress occupation. Despite being quite literally a dream job for many at NASA, there’s no question that every launch requires a thousand things to go right, and anything that goes wrong can mean serious trouble. With that kind of pressure, you almost have to have a sense of humor to lighten the atmosphere now and then. Apparently, one way the NASA folks blow off some steam is by creating silly posters for the individual missions that reference everything from Star Trek to The Matrix to Harry Potter.