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Rare Chance to See the Planet Mercury on Friday Night

This weekend will be the best chance sky-watchers have all year to see the planet Mercury with the naked eye.

Cassini Photo: Stunning New Views of Saturn’s Hexagon Storm

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft snaps the highest-resolution images yet of Saturn’s mysterious “hexagon”—a six-sided jet stream circling the gas giant’s north pole.

One-Way Ticket to Mars Attracts Global Attention

There appears to be no shortage of wannabe planetary colonists willing to live—and possibly die on Mars. Mars One—a controversial project that aims to send humans on a one-way trip to the Red Planet by 2023—has garnered interest from 202,586 folks from more than 140 countries who sent in video applications. (Related: “Best Video Applications…

NASA Ponders Life-Seeking Mission to Europa Moon

With tantalizing hints of a global salty ocean lying beneath a layer of fractured ice, Jupiter‘s moon Europa has been catapulted to the top of the list of suitable homes for ETs in the solar system. Now NASA has begun mapping out what a future mission to this intriguing worldlet may look like. A new…

Voyager 1 Reaches Gateway to the Galaxy

  Despite traveling 36 years and 11 billion miles (18 billion kilometers) from home, the intrepid Voyager 1 spacecraft still has not left the solar neighborhood. But all indications are that it is now crossing a major threshold to the rest of the galaxy. (Related: “Voyager at the Edge: Cosmic Roadtrip Hits Milestone.” ) New…

December 16, 2012: Fending Off Polar Bears, Taking Photos in Underwater Caves, and More

This week on National Geographic Weekend, join host Boyd Matson as we fend off polar bear attacks in Canada, search for life inside of our solar system, unburden our souls with Mongolian shamans, climb Yosemite’s El Capitan for science, dive deep into underwater caves to take pictures, survive whiteout training for expeditions to the earth’s poles, introduce a child from a remote Cambodian village to the entire world, and give girls in Kenya an opportunity.

Ice, Ice Mercury

It’s rare that astronomers declare news with great certainty, so the announcement that water ice was confirmed in Mercury’s poles is an “exclamation point.” The amount of ice is also astounding—100 billion to a trillion metric tons, or something like layering Washington, D.C. with 2 to 2.5 miles of ice.

A Grand Tour of the Universe

Armchair astronomers take note: This space atlas is for you. Yes, that kind of atlas—a series of maps and charts that evokes the ability to navigate a place, usually by ship or some sort of vehicle. The maps are remarkably detailed—Mercury’s surface incorporates the latest data from the orbiting Messenger spacecraft and the crater names might surprise you (Mark Twain, Botticelli, Dali, Shakespeare). On Venus nearly every feature is named after goddesses or famous women.

Curiosity Landing on Mars Greeted with Whoops and Tears of Jubilation

Breaking Orbit guest blogger Marc Kaufman describes the joyful atmosphere, relief and pride inside the NASA Jet Propulsion Jet Laboratory a few hours ago, when scientists, engineers and technicians got confirmation from Mars that after years of hard work and a nail-biting descent their roving science laboratory Curiosity had been placed on the Red Planet apparently exactly as planned.

Mission to Mars: Why Curiosity’s Landing is a Moment to Savor

By dropping the one-ton rover Curiosity into a Martian crater (with a three-mile high mountain nearby!), and equipping it to search over two years for the building blocks of possible extraterrestrial life; humans are once again at a great moment of adventure and exploration to savor.

Pluto: a Dwarf Planet With Rings?

  NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is currently speeding through the outer solar system toward its July 2015 date with Pluto, when it will take a good close look at the dwarf planet’s mysterious surface, atmosphere, moons, and… rings? Less than three-quarters the size of our moon, Pluto nevertheless has no shortage of fascinating features. It…

A New Milestone for New Horizons

    Artist’s rendering of New Horizons. Southwest Research Institute (Dan Durda)/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (Ken Moscati)   Last Friday, December 2, 2011, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft became the closest spacecraft ever to Pluto, a record previously held by Voyager 1 which came within 983 million miles of Pluto on January 29, 1986. This…

In Space, There’s Water, Water Everywhere

Today on Earth, people across the globe will be reflecting on water for World Water Day. —NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Image by Reto Stöckli We are a water world—just about any gradeschooler can tell you that water covers roughly 70 percent of Earth’s surface. The trick is that just 2.5 percent of that water…

Along Came a Spider

As anyone who’s recently cleaned their attic can tell you, unexpectedly finding a large spider sitting in a dark, hidden part of your home can elicit excitement, consternation, and sometimes a family squabble. Apparently it’s no different if you are a planetary scientist, even when the home in question is the solar system and the…