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Wow! Spectacular landscape of star formation

View larger. | Image credit: ESO

View larger. | Image credit: ESO

To get the full awesome effect, view the image larger

The ESO release this image today (August 20) of two dramatic star formation regions in the southern Milky Way. The first is of these, on the left, is dominated by the star cluster NGC 3603, located 20,000 light-years away, in the Carina–Sagittarius spiral arm of the Milky Way galaxy. The second object, on the right, is a collection of glowing gas clouds known as NGC 3576 that lies only about half as far from Earth.

Last night’s aurora from space and Earth

“Unbelievable,” said astronaut Reid Wiseman on Twitter last night, after viewing this aurora from space. Photo via @astro_reid, aboard ISS

One of the first auroras of the 2014 autumn season appeared last night at northerly latitudes. Astronaut Reid Wiseman caught it from space. Photographer Göran Strand caught it from Sweden.

Unusual precipitation patterns in the U.S.

Portland, ME on Aug. 13, 2014, via Kevin Burns

Portland, Maine on August 13, 2014 via Kevin Burns

Depending on where you live, you could call 2014 the year of the drought, or the year of the deluge. In early August 2014, we have seen several significant rainfall events occur across the United States. During the week of August 10, for example, a slow moving area of low pressure across the Great Lakes and New England produced widespread showers and storms. Yesterday (August 19), parts of Phoenix (yes, the desert) recorded over four inches of rain in a short time period, thanks to an upper level low pushing into the western United States. Are extreme rainfall events related to climate change, and/or has urban sprawl contributed to flash flooding events due to more concrete and poor sewer systems? The answers to both questions are probably yes. Follow the links inside to learn more.

Double moon on August 27?

This image is circulating on Facebook, with the claim that Mars will appear as big and bright as a full moon on August 27, 2013.  It's a hoax.  Don't believe it.  Mars never appears as large as a full moon in Earth's sky.

This image sometimes circulates on Facebook, with the claim that Mars will appear as big and bright as a full moon on August 27, 2014. It’s a hoax. Don’t believe it. Mars never appears as large as a full moon in Earth’s sky.

I thought we were going to make it through August 2014 without the double moon on August 27 hoax being revived. I was wrong. Google searches have made this post the most popular on our site for two days running. Yes … it’s happening again. An email must be circulating – somewhere, social media must be buzzing – with the suggestion that – on August 27, 2014 – Mars will appear as large as a full moon in Earth’s sky.

Can it possibly be true? No. It can’t.

Use Great Square of Pegasus to locate the Andromeda galaxy

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The Andromeda galaxy – also known as M31 – is faint but can be seen by the unaided eye or binoculars in a very dark sky. The galaxy is a huge island of stars in space, thought to look similar to our own Milky Way galaxy. Tonight’s sky chart shows you how to star-hop to this galaxy from the Great Square of Pegasus.

Lifeform of the week: Brain mushroom

Image Credit: Lebrac

Image Credit: Lebrac

The brain mushroom is that rare species with the distinction of being both edible and poisonous.

Bizarre-looking fossil has finally been identified

This is a reconstruction of the Burgess Shale animal Hallucigenia sparsa. Image credit: Elyssa Rider

This is a reconstruction of the Burgess Shale animal Hallucigenia sparsa. Image credit: Elyssa Rider

This strange fossil – a worm-like creature with legs, spikes and a head that’s difficult to distinguish from its tail – has been linked with a group of modern velvet worms.

Curiosity rover is having wheel problems

View larger. | Curiosity rover's left front wheel at Sol 713 - that is, 713 Martian days since the rover touched down on Mars in 2012.

Curiosity rover’s left front wheel at sol 713 – that is, 713 Martian days since the rover touched down on Mars in 2012.

Emily Lakdawala at the Planetary Society posted an in-depth report today (August 19, 2014) about the ongoing wheel problems of NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover, which has been exploring the surface of the Red Planet since its dramatic touchdown just two years ago this month. Lakdawala writes of:

… punctures, fissures, and ghastly tears. The holes in Curiosity’s wheels have become a major concern to the mission, affecting every day of mission operations and the choice of path to Mount Sharp. Yet mission managers say that, so far, the condition of the wheels has no effect on the rover’s ability to traverse Martian terrain.

Strange case of M82 X-1: A rare midsize black hole

Astronomers have used archival data from from an X-ray satellite to identify what they now believe is an unusual midsize black hole. We know of stellar black holes formed by dying stars; they are relatively small, measuring up to around 25 times the mass of our sun. And we know of supermassive black holes – now thought to reside in the cores of most galaxies – containing hundreds of thousands to billions of times the mass of the sun. But the black hole called M82 X-1 – the brightest X-ray source in the galaxy Messier 82, or M82, located 12 million light-years away – is thought to be around 400 times the sun’s mass. And that characteristic makes it very rare.

Intense rainbow over Northern Ireland

Glenn Miles Photography kindly contributed this beautiful photo.  See more photos by Glenn Miles

Glenn Miles Photography kindly contributed this beautiful photo. See more photos by Glenn Miles