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NIGHT LAUNCH: Space shuttle Endeavour is on the launch pad at Kennedy Space Center, scheduled for liftoff on Friday, Nov. 14th, at 7:55 pm EST. Weather forecasters offer a 60% chance that the spectacular night launch will proceed as planned. After launch, Endeavour will rendezvous with the International Space Station (ISS); the shuttle's 32,000-lb load of cargo for the ISS includes a toilet, new sleeping quarters, a waste recycling system and other items needed to expand the station's crew from 3 to 6 in the spring of 2009. Stay tuned for updates and flybys.
AURORAS ON SATURN: In today's edition of Nature, a team of astronomers led by Tom Stallard of the University of Leicester, UK, announced the discovery of unique auroras on Saturn. They're shown here in an infrared photo taken by NASA's Cassini spacecraft:
On Earth, auroras light up a ring around the north pole called the "auroral oval." It's where our planet's converging magnetic field guides particles from space into the upper atmosphere. The oval is empty in the middle and relatively smooth.
Saturn's auroras form a different pattern. "It's not just a ring of auroras like those we've seen at Jupiter or Earth," says Stallard. Saturn's auroras span an enormous area, sometimes completely covering the north pole. "Our current [theories] predict that this inner region should be empty, so finding bright auroras there is a fantastic surprise."
Co-author Nick Achilleos of University College London says "Saturn's unique auroras are telling us there is something special about the planet's magnetosphere and the way it interacts with solar wind. Trying to explain it will no doubt lead us to physics which uniquely operates in the environment of Saturn." [more]
BASKETBALL PLAYER IN THE MOON: It's that time of year, basketball season, and if you don't believe it, just look at tonight's full Moon. Etched in moondust and hardened lava, there's a game in progress:
These images come from P. Edward Murray of Yardley, Pennsylvania: "Last May, I was looking at a National Geographic map of the Moon (left) when suddenly I saw the Basketball Player in the Moon," he says. "Later, I sketched him onto a photo of a full Moon (right) I took using a 4.25-inch Astroscan telescope. My discovery was published in the August 2008 edition of The Lunar Observer, a monthly publication of ALPO. The basketball player can be seen a few days before full Moon and after."
Only one question remains: Which basketball player is it?
LunaBron James, of course.
more images: from Doug Zubenel of De Soto, Kansas; from Becky Ramotowski of Tijeras, New Mexico;
2008 Taurid Fireball Gallery
[sky map] [2005 Taurids: on Earth, on the Moon]