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  Exciting-- Well anyway some space newsFeb 18, 2011 3:50 AM PST | url
Added 2 new A* pages:I'm a little behind on my recent NASA news, so let's catch up!
A little less than a year ago, I wrote about NASA's "Stardust" intercometary probe (okay so one of those words I just made up), and about NASA having hit the comet Tempel 1 with a "Deep Impact" device intended to knock some stuff off it for study. That was in 2005; just a few days ago, Stardust caught up with Tempel to check on the results of the Deep Impact...impact, and while it's kind of neat that two different craft have been able to catch up to it, and get some before and after readings, the media returned by Stardust of Tempel so far is a little...dull. So I'm just gonna link to it quickly: before and after images of the nearly invisible Deep Impact crater, before and after photos showing some erosion on the comet's surface, and the sounds of comet dust hitting Stardust. Eh! Still, I suppose they'll glean some useful info on how comets wear down or something, and it's impressive that Stardust was able to swoop by two comets in its lifetime, having gathered dust from the comet Wild 2 in 2005.
Oh, one sort of interesting thing about the photos Stardust sent back was that while NASA was expecting the photos to come in chronological order, showing a dramatic approach to the comet, for some reason they came in reverse order! Last I'd read, NASA still didn't have any idea how that had happened. But nobody was killed that we know of, so yay for rocket science!
Slightly more impressive are recent photos from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, an Earth-orbiting satellite designed to study energy coming to Earth from the Sun. The SDO has only been up there for a year, and I already linked to some cool video it took of the Sun, but it scored a bit of a coup four days ago when it caught footage of the largest solar flare seen in four years; this "X2"-class flare (solar flares are measured on a scale going A, B, C, M, and X, each successive stage being an order of magnitude higher than the previous one, and in each stage, they're given a numeric value, so "X2" means it was twice as powerful as a baseline X flare, 20 times as powerful as an M flare, etc) was of the type powerful enough to cause radio blackouts and radiation storms here on Earth, but as it turns out, apparently all we got was maybe some enhanced auroral activity earlier today. Which is probably for the best.
Well anyway I can at least show this still image from the SDO of the flare, which was so powerful that it overloaded the satellite's sensor, and the poor thing could only render it as pure white:
image by NASA (source)
Sooo yeah that was a lot of slightly underwhelming news. Hm there was also some composite view of a distant nebula that they were excited about just the other day, which was pretty but also so boring I lost the URL. Still, NASA's at least got a lot of space stuff on the boil lately.

EDIT: Oh! I forgot that they do have a huge animated GIF of the solar flare (5.5 MB download), which is actually a much better view than the embedded video. Is this the comeback of animated GIFs, in large part the medium that inspired A* in the first place??? :o Anyway it's kind of neat, you can actually see the flaming tongue of the flare coming toward us; given that the Sun is nearly 1.4 million kilometers (865,000 miles) in diameter, and the tongue of flame seems to be large enough to go halfway across it--at least!--then if the perspective isn't fooling me...gosh that was a big lick of flame it shot in our direction!
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