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the sun and the moon and the pan-starrs

Comet Pan-STARRS Crescent Moon

Stargazers gearing up for this weekend’s close encounter with the comet Pan-STARRS may be able to get an even better view than they expected. A German travel company is taking 88 people to watch the comet from a plane, flying 36,000 feet above the Earth. Bonn-based Eclipse Travel has teamed up with Air Berlin to organize a Boeing 737-700 flight for its first-ever comet observation trip. The one-time flight will follow a zigzag flight plan to give everyone on board the best possible view. For anyone not wanting to share a window there’s an option to reserve two adjoining seats, or even an entire row. While sky watchers on the ground might have to endure a view through clouds and smog, the atmosphere at 8.6 miles up in the air is thinner and more transparent for a clearer perspective, says Eclipse’s website. NASA scientists predict Pan-STARRS’s dazzling tail of gas and dust could rival the stars of the Big Dipper in brightness as it passes 100 million miles from Earth. However, NASA scientists say the show could also be a bust if the comet crumbles under the heat and gravitational pull of the Sun. Already visible in the Southern Hemisphere, Pan-STARRS is the first of two comets to be visible to the naked eye this year. Tickets for the two-hour comet observation flight range from $470-$663 through the Eclipse website, though anyone short on funds might want to hold off until November. That’s when Comet ISON is expected to pass by Earth. Scientists are already predicting it will be one of the brightest comets ever seen and might even out-shine the moon.


no, i’m the biggest star

I’m not one to post about the goings on in outer space – at least until Virgin Galactic launches, that is – but this story in yesterday’s Guardian has my head spinning.  165,000 light years away in the Tarantula nebula, astronomers have discovered the imaginatively named R136a1 – the largest star ever found.  To put it into perspective, it’s 265 times larger than our sun.  If Earth was subjected to its gravitational pull our years would last a whopping three weeks.  It would also “bathe the Earth with incredibly intense ultraviolet radiation, rendering life on our planet impossible,” according to Raphael Hirschi, a researcher at Keele University in the UK.

To really understand how insignificant we are in the grand scheme of things, check out these comparison graphics pulled from the paper.


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