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When I was a kid we had Star Trek reruns showing twice a day. These were, without a doubt, the most important hours of my day. One thing that came from watching the Enterprise zoom around the galaxy so much was the recognition that there were a whole lot of "class M planets" out there. Back in the day it was never clear (to me) exactly what a class M planet was, but in general, it seemed to be a place you could beam down to and not explode, be crushed or breathe poisoned air.

Is physics in crisis? An article in the May issue of Scientific American by physicists Joseph Lykken, from Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, and Maria Spiropulu, from the California Institute of Technology, lay bare an issue that is keeping a growing number of physicists up at night.

NASA

Waterbury native Rick Mastracchio completed a short spacewalk to replace a failed computer outside of the International Space Station on Wednesday. The airlock was re-pressurized starting at 11:32 am ET, signifying the excursion's end time.

NASA

Astronaut Rick Mastracchio is scheduled to make his ninth spacewalk. The Waterbury native will repair a failed computer outside the International Space Station. 

There were "whistles, cheers and howls" early Tuesday on the grounds of the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles as the moon turned red during a total lunar eclipse.

It's looking like clouds will obscure Monday night's lunar eclipse for nearly all of the U.S. East Coast, but much of the West and Midwest should be able to see it.

Chion Wolf / WNPR

Our SuperGuest on today's Scramble is Jen Doll, who has three topics that she wants to discuss:

The first is the return of "Mad Men," a show in its final season and perhaps more than any other TV show, a driver of the phenomenon that utilizes the talents of many, many cultural commentators to analyze and debate the underlying themes in each episode. If you visited a site like Slate or Salon on certain Monday mornings, you might make the mistake of thinking this was a publication mainly, or entirely about, "Mad Men."

"You could say that most people would rather lose a leg than live the rest of their life on a cold, hostile planet, having said goodbye to friends and family forever, the best possible video call suffering from a seven minute delay—one way."

STILLFX/iStock / Thinkstock

Recent observations of so-called "gravitational waves" are providing astronomers with the strongest confirmation yet of cosmic inflation, a theory that says the universe rapidly expanded following the Big Bang.

Why, exactly, did the universe balloon by 100 trillion trillion times, in less than the blink of an eye, 13.8 billion years ago?

This post was update at 4:00 p.m. ET.

Researchers say they've discovered that gravitational waves rippled through the fabric of space-time in the first sliver of a second after the Big Bang — the first direct evidence for a mysterious, ultrarapid expansion at the dawn of the universe. If confirmed, it would represent one of the most profound insights in decades to emerge from the field of cosmology.

Don't say you weren't warned.

But also don't worry, the experts say.

As we wrote last month when an asteroid measuring about 900 feet long passed near enough to Earth to generate headlines about a "close encounter," more rocks are always headed our way.

The skies above the U.K. went crazy last night. Streaks of green and yellow layered themselves over the horizon, while swatches of red shimmered overhead. The intense aurora borealis was powered by the remnants of a strong solar flare that occurred earlier this week.

An asteroid that's about the size of three football fields flew past Earth on Monday, coming within 2.1 million miles. That was near enough to generate headlines such as this, from Reuters: "Earth marks close encounter with enormous asteroid."

Take a close look at the stunning image above showing a newly formed impact crater on Mars: The blue streaks of material, known as ejecta, radiate 9 miles from the 100-foot crater, according to NASA.

The picture was taken from orbit by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter on Nov. 19. The same area was imaged by the MRO's Context Camera in July 2010 and again in May 2012 — with no crater in the first and a telltale surface scar in the second.

The asteroid belt, a ring of rubble between Mars and Jupiter, has sometimes been written off as discarded leftovers from the solar system's start. But new research published in the journal Nature shows that the belt actually formed during an unruly later era, when planets themselves were on the move.

The Astronomical Event of the Century

Jan 24, 2014
Photograph by Fred Turner, 1925 / The Connecticut Historical Society, X.2000.7.52

Snow covered the ground and the temperature hovered at zero degrees on the morning of January 24, 1925. Businesses were closed—or planned to open late—as crowds gathered on hilltops and rooftops throughout Connecticut. Special trains brought visitors from Boston and elsewhere in Massachusetts and scientists from around the country joined colleagues at Yale, Wesleyan, and Trinity. The sun had come up as normal, but about 8:30 am it began to grow dark again, as the moon passed between the earth and the sun.

Hubble Space Telescope / Creative Commons

Scientists say that the asteroid that exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia this past February was a rare event, unlikely to happen more than every 100 -200 years. But a recent paper in the scientific journal Nature said the earth should expect and plan to get hit by Chelyabinsk-sized asteroids more often-- maybe every decade or two.

This news sparked a flurry of talk about what that means for us on earth. How vulnerable are we and are we doing enough to detect and deflect asteroids?

"I don't know why you're on Mars, but whatever the reason for going to Mars is, I'm glad you're there and I wish I was with you."

That was a part of astrophysicist Carl Sagan's message, recorded a few months before he died in 1996, to the future human inhabitants of Mars.

Some of the earliest science fiction imagined voyages to the Red Planet. We now have the space-faring technology, and getting humans to Mars actually seems within reach. It would certainly involve massive resources and a lot of danger, but some believe the rewards would be massive.

Rick Mastracchio / Twitter

NASA astronaut and Waterbury native Rick Mastracchio has been tweeting some brilliant photos of his home planet while aboard the International Space Station. Today, he tweeted this photo of the Elm City.

We've been following the coronal mass ejection that headed toward Earth after an intense solar flare was emitted from the sun earlier this week. And now NASA tells us that such events can be heard, in a sense, by tuning in to CRaTER Radio, a "sonification" project that uses data from NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter to generate musical sounds and stream them on the Internet.

Update at 3:05 p.m. ET:

NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center now reports:

"The coronal mass ejection (CME), originally expected to arrive around 0800 UTC (3:00 a.m. EST) today, January 9, was observed at the ACE spacecraft just upstream of Earth at 1932 UTC (2:32 p.m. EST)."

The SWPC goes on to say that "the original forecast continues to be for G3 (Strong) Geomagnetic Storm activity on January 9 and 10."

"Aurora watchers may be in luck for tonight."

For the scientists who have emotionally traveled with NASA's Voyager mission for decades, 2013 will be remembered as the year they knew Voyager 1 had finally become the first explorer from Earth to enter the mysterious realm of interstellar space.

Voyager 1 and its twin, Voyager 2, both blasted off in 1977, more than 35 years ago. Voyager 1 flew by Jupiter, then Saturn — and then on toward the unknown region that lies between stars.

Just before Christmas, NASA released a photo of Saturn that we can't resist posting.

Here's how the space agency describes the image:

"The globe of Saturn, seen here in natural color, is reminiscent of a holiday ornament in this wide-angle view from NASA's Cassini spacecraft. The characteristic hexagonal shape of Saturn's northern jet stream, somewhat yellow here, is visible. At the pole lies a Saturnian version of a high-speed hurricane, eye and all. ...

NASA TV

Rick Mastracchio will continue repairs to a damaged cooling system on the International Space Station on Tuesday morning.

The Waterbury native was originally scheduled to conduct his second space walk Monday, but the mission was pushed back following a minor issue with the astronaut's space suit.

(NASA/Bill Ingalls)

Waterbury native Rick Mastracchio is scheduled to make the first of three space walks on Saturday. He'll replace a pump module on the International Space Station, which broke last week forcing the shutdown of several science experiments and other non-critical systems. 

This will be Mastracchio's seventh EVA. NASA officials say they anticipate the first space walk, on Saturday, will last about six-and-a-half hours. The broken pump he will repair is linked to one of the station's two external cooling loops, which circulate ammonia outside of the space station to regulate equipment temperatures.

A Chinese spacecraft made a soft landing on the surface of the moon on Saturday, China's state television is reporting.

Televised images showed the control room at the Aerospace Control Center in Beijing erupted into applause at about 8:10 a.m. ET. Almost immediately, the lander started to deploy its solar panels and began running a systems check.

Heritage Auctions

Bridgeport's Discovery Museum and Planetarium is set to launch a nanosatellite after selling a massive four-ton bronze statue. A previous sale price of $325,000 failed to attract a buyer, but last-minute negotiations on Friday afternoon changed all that.

The Connecticut Historical Society, Thomas Robbins collection, 14 / Connecticut Historical Society

In December 1882, a German scientific commission sent a team of astronomers to Hartford, Connecticut to observe a rare astronomical event. The transit of Venus (when the planet passes between the earth and the sun) occurs in eight-year pairs, and those pairs occur every 121½ or 105½ years. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the transit was an important opportunity for scientists to calculate the distance between the earth and the sun—the basis for the astronomical unit.

NASA Goddard Center on Flickr Creative Commons

Neil Armstrong was the first man to walk on the moon, but the first man to urinate there was Buzz Aldrin, just a little ahead of Neil. The two astronauts relieved themselves into bags within their suits, then removed those bags and left them on the lunar surface. When you gotta go, you gotta go. It was time to go. 

Why We (Should) All Love The Stars

Nov 21, 2013

Millions of people read their horoscopes every day. They hope to find some kind of answer in those lines, as if the cosmos and its alignments had something to say directly to each one of us. Wouldn't it be wonderful if, indeed, the cosmos spoke to us this way?

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