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NASA’s Dawn spacecraft has returned the sharpest images ever seen of the dwarf planet Ceres. The images were taken 147,000 miles (237,000 kilometers) from Ceres on Jan. 25, and represent a new milestone for a spacecraft that soon will become the first human-made probe to visit a dwarf planet.

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The interaction of solar winds and Earth’s atmosphere produces northern lights, or auroras, that dance across the night sky and mesmerize the casual observer. However, to scientists this interaction is more than a light display. It produces many questions about the role it plays in Earth’s meteorological processes and the impact on the planet’s atmosphere.

To help answer some of these questions, NASA suborbital sounding rockets carrying university-developed experiments — the Mesosphere-Lower Thermosphere Turbulence Experiment (M-TeX) and Mesospheric Inversion-layer Stratified Turbulence (MIST) — were launched into auroras from the Poker Flat Research Range in Alaska. The experiments explore the Earth’s atmosphere’s response to auroral, radiation belt and solar energetic particles and associated effects on nitric oxide and ozone.

This composite shot of all four sounding rockets for the M-TeX and MIST experiments is made up of 30 second exposures. The rocket salvo began at 4:13 a.m. EST, Jan. 26, 2015. A fifth rocket carrying the Auroral Spatial Structures Probe remains ready on the launch pad. The launch window for this experiment runs through Jan. 27.

Image Credit: NASA/Jamie Adkins

> More: M-TeX and MIST Experiments Launched from Alaska

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Lightning illuminates the area it strikes on Earth but the flash can be seen from space, too. This image was taken from 400 km above Earth in 2012 by an astronaut on the International Space Station travelling at 28 800 km/h. At these distances a camera flash is pointless to take night-time images of Earth, but our planet moves by so quickly images can end up being blurred.

ESA’s Nightpod camera aid compensates for the motion of the Station, allowing for crystal-clear night images such as these. The target stays firmly centred in the frame, so the final image is in focus. Astronauts can set up the device to take ultra-sharp images automatically using off-the-shelf cameras.

A short video timelapse of this sequence can be found here showing the thunderstorm passing underneath the International Space Station.

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Educators brought the science of HS3 to students in workshops during the all three years of the mission.

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Soon, IXV – Europe’s Intermediate Experimental Vehicle – will be launched into space on a Vega launcher from Europe’s spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. A short but crucial mission to advance Europe’s ambition to return autonomously from space.

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Two examples of dust grains collected by Rosetta’s COmetary Secondary Ion Mass Analyser (COSIMA) instrument in the period 25–31 October 2014. Both grains were collected at a distance of 10–20 km from the comet nucleus. Image (a) shows a dust particle (named by the COSIMA team as Eloi) that crumbled into a rubble pile when collected; (b) shows a dust particle that shattered (named Arvid).

For both grains, the image is shown twice under two different grazing illumination conditions: the top image is illuminated from the right, the bottom image from the left. The brightness is adjusted to emphasise the shadows, in order to determine the height of the dust grain. Eloi therefore reaches about 0.1 mm above the target plate; Arvid about 0.06 mm. The two small grains at the far right of image (b) are not part of the shattered cluster.

The fact that the grains broke apart so easily means their individual parts are not well glued together. If they contained ice they would not shatter; instead, the icy component would evaporate off the grain shortly after touching the collecting plate, leaving voids in what remained. By comparison, if a pure water-ice grain had struck the detector, then only a dark patch would have been seen.

These ‘fluffy’ grains are thought to originate from the dusty layer built up on the comet’s surface since its last close approach to the Sun, and will soon be lost into the coma.

Full story: Rosetta watches comet shed its dusty coat

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NASA will pay will tribute to the crews of Apollo 1 and space shuttles Challenger and Columbia, as well as other NASA colleagues, during the agency’s annual Day of Remembrance Wednesday, Jan. 28.

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Marking the 100th anniversary of the Rocky Mountain National Park on Jan. 26, 2015, Expedition 42 Flight Engineer Terry Virts posted this photograph, taken from the International Space Station, to Twitter. Virts wrote, “Majestic peaks and trails! Happy 100th anniversary @RockyNPS So much beauty to behold in our @NatlParkService.”

Image Credit: NASA/Terry Virts

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Asteroid 2004 BL86 will come close enough to the planet to be visible through binoculars but poses no danger, NASA says

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This four-image mosaic comprises Rosetta navigation camera images taken from a distance of 28.4 km from the centre of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on 18 January. The image resolution is 2.4 m/pixel and the individual 1024 x 1024 frames measure about 2.5 km across. The mosaic measures 3.7 x 4 km.
More information and the four individual images making up the mosaic are available via the blog: Hello Hatmehit – CometWatch 18 January
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