Breathtaking blossoms nearly the size of our solar systemare strewn across the universe - hundreds of thousands of them. Quasars are, at the same time, among the most fiery monsters.
Astronomer Maarten Schmidt was the first to discover one and revealed it to the world 50 years ago Saturday in an article in the journal Nature.
His discovery was a sensation in the 1960s and made its way into pop culture. It was the age of the first manned space flights.FULL STORY
The voice of NASA's chief has boldly gone where no voice has gone before - to another planet and back.
Words uttered by Charles Bolden, the administrator of NASA, were radioed to the Curiosity Rover on the surface of Mars, which in turn sent them back to NASA's Deep Space Network on Earth, NASA said in a statement Monday.
The successful transmission means Bolden's space-faring comments are the first instance of a recorded human voice traveling from Earth to another planet and back again, according to NASA.
In the recording, Bolden congratulated NASA employees and other agencies involved in the Curiosity mission, noting that "landing a rover on Mars is not easy."
"Others have tried," he said. "Only America has succeeded."
The announcement by NASA of the voice transmission, the latest in a series of advances by Curiosity since it landed on Mars earlier this month, comes just days after the death of Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon.FULL STORY
Early data shows the Mars rover Curiosity landed with amazing accuracy this week, coming down about 1.5 miles from its target after a 350-million-mile journey, NASA scientists said Friday, perhaps giving planners more confidence about landing spacecraft in tight spaces in the future.
The $2.6 billion rover is on a two-year mission to determine whether Mars ever had an environment capable of supporting life. It landed Monday and will spend the next four days installing operational software that will give it full movement and analytic capabilities, scientists said at a news conference at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
Curiosity missed its target entry point into Mars' atmosphere by about only one mile, and most everything in its complicated descent and landing operations - a spectacle popularly known as the "seven minutes of terror" - happened on time, including the deployment of the largest-ever supersonic parachute and the heat shield separation.
"From all the data we've received so far, we flew this right down the middle, and it's incredible to work on a plan for (years) and then have things happen ... according to plan," said Steve Sell, who was involved in the powered descent phase.FULL STORY
The race to the presidency now turns toward the general election in November. Watch CNN.com Live for all the latest news and views from the campaign trail.
Today's programming highlights...
12:00 pm ET - Mars rover post-landing briefing - The Curiosity rover successfully landed on Mars this morning, and NASA and JPL officials are celebrating. Two briefings on the landing and mission will take place today - the first at noon ET, with the second at 7:00 pm ET.
An asteroid about the size of a school bus will pass close to Earth today, but it poses no danger to the planet, NASA astronomers say.
The huge rock, called Asteroid 2012 BX34, will close to within about 36,750 miles of Earth, or about .17 times the distance between the Earth and the moon, according to a Twitter post from Asteroid Watch, which is operated by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Near Earth Object Office.
"It wouldn't get through our atmosphere intact even if it dared to try," an Asteroid Watch tweet says of the 37-foot diameter rock.
The asteroid makes its closest approach about 10:25 a.m. ET, according to NASA.
Check out NASA's orbit diagram of the asteroid and info on when it will again pass close to Earth.
Material from a Sunday solar eruption hit the Earth on Tuesday, helping to create the planet's strongest solar radiation storm in more than eight years, NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center said.
The eruption also has caused a minor geomagnetic storm, expected to continue at least through Tuesday. Together, the storms could affect GPS systems, other satellite systems and radio communications near the poles, the SWPC and NASA said.
The storms prompted some airlines to divert planes from routes near the north pole, where radio communications may be affected and passengers at high altitudes may be at "a higher than normal radiation risk," the SWPC said.FULL STORY
A Russian probe that was supposed to reach one of Mars' moons but failed to escape Earth orbit is expected to fall to Earth between Saturday and Monday, Russia's space agency said.
It's too early to say where pieces of the unmanned Phobos-Grunt probe could fall. But on Sunday afternoon - the middle of the re-entry window - the nearly 15-ton probe is projected to be over the Indian Ocean, hundreds of miles southwest of Indonesia, the Roscosmos space agency said Wednesday.
Twenty to 30 fragments, weighing a total of up to 440 pounds, could survive the heat of re-entry, Roscosmos said, according to the state-run Ria Novosti news agency.
The craft is carrying 7.5 tons of toxic fuel. That fuel is expected to burn up on re-entry, Ria Novosti reported, citing Roscosmos.
The 2012 presidential election may be 11 months away but, as this past weekend revealed, anything can happen. CNN.com Live is your home for all the latest news from the campaign trail.
Today's programming highlights...
11:00 am ET - Kepler mission briefing - NASA officials will brief reporters on the latest from the Kepler mission, including a confirmed planetary discovery.
It's an artistic technique that allows you to fast-forward through time and it's absolutely fascinating to watch. We're talking about time-lapse photography. This simple art of taking images every second over an extended period of time and then replaying the images in normal speed creates a feeling of moving through time. Today's Gotta Watch features some of our favorite time-lapse videos, inspired by a video we posted Tuesday that shows an incredible view of the Northern Lights in Denmark. In case you missed it, the video is at the end of this post.
Around the earth in 1 minute - Take a trip around planet Earth thanks to time-lapse video of 600 stitched-together photos from NASA's astronaut photo database. It's certainly a view that puts maps to shame.
NASA delayed its Friday launch of a moon research mission because of weather issues and will retry on Saturday.
The mission, called GRAIL, will study how the moon was formed. It will explore "the structure of the lunar interior, from crust to core... to advance understanding of the thermal evolution of the moon," NASA said.
The mission will provide new information about how the moon formed and will allow students to take their own pictures of its surface, panelists announced at a news conference at NASA headquarters in Washington on Thursday.
The two spacecraft will be launched in the same housing, which will separate. They will enter synchronized orbits in January, principal investigator Maria Zuber said. The slow trip saves energy. Once in orbit, their speeds will increase when they pass over formations on the moon's surface, allowing scientists to measure those formations based on the distance between the two spacecraft.
The project aims to study how the moon formed, its interior composition and why the side seen from Earth looks so different from the "far side," which isn't as dark because of lava flows, Zuber said.
"Clearly we don't understand what is happening inside the moon," she said.
The Mission Juno satellite launched into clear blue skies Friday, beginning a five-year journey to the largest planet in our solar system - Jupiter.
NASA launched the $1.1 billion satellite from Cape Canaveral, Florida at 12:25 p.m., after almost a decade of building and testing the spacecraft.
A minute technical issue and a boat inside the launch safety zone delayed lift off through several holding periods. The satellite was originally scheduled to launch at 11:34 a.m.
Mission Juno will offer an unprecedented look beneath the clouds of Jupiter and offer insight into how the solar system was formed, NASA said.
Three things you need to know today.
Jupiter mission: NASA plans to launch its Mission Juno satellite on Friday to begin a five-year, 400-million-mile journey to Jupiter that the space agency hopes will help reveal how our solar system was formed.
Liftoff is scheduled for 11:34 a.m. ET.
Mission Juno will offer unprecedented insight into the formation of our solar system by investigating what lies underneath Jupiter's atmosphere, astronomers said at Kennedy Space Center. Jupiter is known for its violent storms and gaseous atmosphere.
Three things you need to know today.
Next Mars mission: Where on Mars will we go next year?
NASA and the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum on Friday will announce the destination for the latest Mars rover, scheduled to land on the Red Planet in August 2012.
The newest rover, called the The Mars Science Laboratory, or Curiosity, is scheduled for liftoff from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida in November.
Curiosity, two times as long and five times as heavy as previous Mars rovers, will look for conditions that could sustain microscopic life and any evidence of past life on Mars.
NASA's two previous Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, began their planned three-month missions on Mars in 2004. Spirit stopped communicating with Earth in 2010, but Opportunity is still at work, just last week logging its 20th mile on the Martian surface.
Watch Friday's event live and engage in a live chat at http://www.ustream.tv/nasajpl beginning at 10 a.m. ET.
Missing Pacific boaters: The U.S. Coast Guard is sending one of its ships to Fanano atoll in the South Pacific after a small boat matching the description of a skiff reported missing with 15 people was spotted on the uninhabited atoll aboard 600 miles southeast of Guam.
The crew of a vessel leaving Ruo Island, the intended destination of the missing skiff, reported seeing an overturned boat on the beach of the Fanano atoll, the Coast Guard said in a statement. Several people were also on shore, it said.
A long-range Navy search plane flew over the area after the Coast Guard received the report.
"Once on scene, the aircraft reported back that a damaged vessel was overturned on the beach and several crude shelters had been erected on the beach," the statement said.
Korea talks: South Korea's chief envoy to six-party talks on ending North Korea's nuclear program is to meet with a senior North Korean diplomat on the sidelines of the ASEAN regional forum, South Korean officials say.
Wi Sung-lac, the chief negotiator for the South, has proposed holding talks with Ri Yong-ho, who is widely expected to succeed Kim Kye-gwan as the North's top envoy to the multilateral talks, South Korea's Yonhap news agency reports.
The agenda of their discussion has not been disclosed.
This is North Korea's first response to South Korea's proposal to hold nuclear talks since the beginning of this year, a South Korean foreign ministry official who did not want to be identified due to sensitivity of the matter told CNN.
North Korea pulled out of the six-party talks on nuclear disarmament in 2008.
It seems a lot longer, but the planet Neptune was discovered one year ago today.
You may recall hearing about Neptune when you were a child, and you may even have read about it in books from the 19th century, but the fact is it's only been a year since German astronomer Johann Galle discovered the aquamarine orb out in the hinterland of the solar system.
A Neptunian year, that is.
Galle identified the planet in September 1846. Only now has Neptune returned to the same spot in its wide orbit, taking 164.8 Earth years to complete a single circuit around the sun.
Today's launch of Atlantis will be the last time a space shuttle lifts off from the Kennedy Space Center. For more than 30 years, the orbiters have pushed the bounds of science and carried hundreds of people and tons of large cargo into orbit. As the final mission begins, CNN looks back at moments that have defined this one-of-a-kind program. You also can take a look at part one of the shuttle's most memorable moments.
For more than 30 years, America's space shuttles have rocketed into orbit. Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour blasted off 134 times from the Kennedy Space Center. They were mankind's first reusable space launch vehicles, and the first to glide back to Earth on wings. As the space shuttle program ends with the final flight of Atlantis, CNN looks back at key moments that have defined this pioneering space program.
Sky gazers in much of the world will see a spectacular lunar eclipse Wednesday night. But if you're in North America, Greenland or Siberia, you'll have to view it virtually.
Lunar eclipses occur two to four times a year, when the sun, Earth and moon align. This one is special because the period of totality - when the moon is completely covered by Earth's shadow - will last for one hour, 40 minutes, considerably longer than usual, said David Dundee, astronomy program director at the Tellus Science Museum in Cartersville, Georgia.
"All lunar eclipses are cool, but in a total lunar eclipse, the moon turns a kind of a red color," he said. The middle of Earth's shadow isn't black, it's red, Dundee explained, because the light waves from the sun that are on the red end of the spectrum bend around the planet at just the right angle to bathe the moon in red light.
Beginning at 17:24 UTC (2:24 p.m. ET), the moon will appear to dim slightly as it moves into Earth's penumbral shadow, then turn shades of orange and red as the planet's full (or umbral) shadow overtakes it. NASA explains it all in an animated diagram. Distortion from Earth's atmosphere may make the edges of the moon look fuzzy, Dundee noted.
From a mountaintop in northern Chile, the largest visible-light telescope in the world has captured stunning images of the cosmos in never-before-seen detail.
The Paranal Observatory released initial images Wednesday from the powerful VLT Survey Telescope.
The images constitute a celestial breakthrough for the 15-nation European Southern Observatory, which runs the Paranal Observatory and has worked with astronomers to build telescopes that survey the sky in large segments.
“The VST project has overcome many difficulties but it is now repaying, with its excellent image quality, the expectations of the astronomical community and the efforts of the many people at INAF (Italian National Institute for Astrophysics) involved in its construction," Tommaso Maccacaro, head of the INAF, said in an ESO press release. "I am very pleased to see the VST in operation,” he said.
The VST image of the star-forming cluster Messier 17, so awesome it has at least three other descriptive names – Omega Nebula, Swan Nebula and Horseshoe Nebula – shows swaddling bands of light in astonishing clarity.
The ESO images are the fruits of the new VLT Survey Telescope and the "monster camera," OmegaCAM, which produces 268-megapixel images.
The new telescope sits among four other high-powered instruments on the summit of Cerro Paranal in Chile's Atacama Desert, an optimum location far enough from city lights to view celestial wonders.
Also released by the ESO was an image of the stellar cluster Omega Centauri, showing about 300,000 stars, according to the release.
The VST will make three public surveys over the next five years, the release said.
NASA to Mars rover: Phone home or else.
The space agency said it will reach out to contact the Mars rover Spirit a final time Wednesday after a series of unanswered attempts.
NASA speculates that an extreme Martian winter may have frozen the rover’s communication apparatus or weakened its energy level, hindering its ability to communicate.
In a press release Tuesday, NASA said, in essence, what we have here is a failure to communicate.
"We no longer believe there is a realistic probability of hearing from Spirit," Dave Lavery, NASA’s program executive for solar system exploration, said in the release.
Created for a three-month mission, Spirit landed on Mars in January 2004 and exceeded its intended life span by several years, giving scientists an in-depth look at the surface conditions of the red planet.
But there have been obstacles – namely massive dust storms, paralyzing sandboxes and plain ol' feisty weather that has challenged the rover's functionality.
Over most of the past seven years though, despite various violent conditions, Spirit has always managed to re-establish connection.
Not this time.
The last transmission received by the rover was March 22, 2010, NASA said.
The rover program will now focus its energies on Spirit’s twin rover, Opportunity, which landed 21 days after Spirit. Also, NASA is prepping the November launch of Curiosity, a bigger, more-tricked out rover (six 20-inch wheels?) slated to arrive on Mars in mid-2012.
As for Spirit, NASA said any communication from the rover will basically be relegated to voice mail.
“The Deep Space Network may occasionally listen for any faint signals when the schedule permits," Lavery is quoted in the release.
As if you needed another reason to get up before sunrise, four bright planets will cluster in the predawn sky Wednesday morning so close together they'll probably fit behind your outstretched hand (from where you stand, of course).
Throughout May, the planets Mercury, Venus, Mars and Jupiter will rearrange themselves on a daily basis to form different shapes in the eastern sky. The show ends with a grand finale on May 30, when a crescent moon joins the four planets.
The best view will be about a half hour before sunrise on Wednesday, when Venus and Jupiter will be so bright "you might think you've witnessed a double supernova beaming through the morning twilight," scientist Tony Curtis said on NASA's Science News site.
The whole patch will be less than 10 degrees wide. Venus and Jupiter will be only a half degree apart, Curtis said.
"Keep an eye on Venus in particular. As the sun rises and the sky fills with morning blue, the Goddess of Love does not fade away. You can actually see Venus in broad daylight if you know where to look," he said.
Venus, the brighter of the two, will be to the right of Jupiter, the editors of StarDate magazine said last week. Mercury will be visible to the lower right of Venus, about the same distance from Venus to Jupiter. It won't be as bright but its proximity to Venus will help you find it. To the lower left of Jupiter, you'll find Mars, which may be too low and faint to see without the aid of binoculars.
Mercury, Venus and Jupiter will form a bright celestial triangle in May almost equilateral in appearance. On May 20, a new triangle will appear with Mars, Venus and Mercury forming the vertices.