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October 29, 2009

A Smattering of Cool News from Space

Yesterday was big in the world of space sciences. Three stories particularly caught my eye.

More Great Images from the LRO

A few months back I wrote about the images the LRO (Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter) took of the Apollo landers. Now they have done one better. When I show students the Moon through a telescope, they often ask if they will be able to see the flag on the moon.  Well, now we can!  To be able to see the flag on the moon is just incredible.  If you don't zoom in quite as much, you can see the where the regolith was disturbed as astronauts walked around. These images are about twice the resolution as the previous ones, and the improvement is spectacular.
Image Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

New Object Smashes Distance Record
Gamma ray bursts are the biggest explosions in the universe. Astronomers using radio telescopes at the Very Large Array (VLA)*, detected this new object which represents the death of one of the first generations of stars ever to form. At a distance of roughly 13 billion lightyears, this gamma ray burst occured just 680 million years after the big bang. Dale Frail from the National Radio Astronomy Observatory said, "This explosion provides an unprecedented look at an era when the universe was very young and also was undergoing drastic changes. The primal cosmic darkness was being pierced by the light of the first stars and the first galaxies were beginning to form. The star that exploded in this event was a member of one of these earliest generations of stars."
For more information, check out NARO.

Ares Launch Begins a New Age of Space Flight
Watching the test of NASA's new launch veicle, the Ares I-X, was spectacular. The excitement in that control room was so high, as they found a gap in the storms that were rolling over Kennedy Space Center. Test flight director Ed Mango said to his team just after the flight ended, "The only thing we were waiting for was weather, and that means all of you did fricking fantastic!" This is a great start to NASA's new manned spaceflight program. You can watch the launch on the NASA Site or on YouTube.

Special thanks to Universe Today for their coverage

*Yes, astronomers are very creative with telescope names.