Can you drop a probe on a comet? A new iPhone game from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory puts you in control of the Rosetta spacecraft as it prepares to intercept Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Download it now.
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BIG NEW SUNSPOT: A large sunspot group is rotating into view over the sun's northeastern limb. The emergence of this apparently significant active region could herald an increase in solar activity. Solar flare alerts: text, phone.
"SUPER MOON" TONIGHT: Tonight's full Moon is a perigee moon, as much as 14% bigger and 30% brighter than other full moons of 2012. This is a harmless but beautiful astronomical phenomenon. Enjoy the moonlight! [full story] [May 5th moonshots: #1, #2, #3, #4]
METEORS FROM HALLEY'S COMET: The eta Aquarid meteor shower is peaking today as Earth passes through a stream of debris from Halley's Comet. Unfortunately, bright moonlight is washing out all of the faint meteors, but some eta Aquarids are piercing the glare. Last night, NASA's network of all-sky fireball cameras recorded eight fireballs, including this one exploding over New Mexico:
The shower could continue for another 12 to 24 hours. For last-chance sightings, watch the sky just before sunrise on Sunday, May 6th. Because the shower's radiant is located below the celestial equator, southern-hemisphere observers are favored, but northerners might see a few fireballs, too.
Got clouds? No problem. Tune into Space Weather Radio for live echoes from eta Aquarids passing over the US Air Force Space Surveillance Radar in Texas. Radar signals can detect meteors in bad weather, through lunar glare, and even in broad daylight.
VENUS IS NOT ALONE: When the sun sets tonight, go outside and look west. The Evening Star, Venus, is not alone. Second-magnitude star El Nath is less than a degree away. Marek Nikodem photographed the pair on May 2nd from the countryside near Niedźwiady, Poland:
The planet and the star are converging. At closest approach on May 6th, they will be 0.8 degrees apart, a gap so small you can hide it behind the outstreched tip of your index finger.
If you have a telescope, point it at Venus. The planet is at its brightest for all of 2012, and backyard optics easily resolve it into a 27% crescent. Swing over to El Nath for a different experience. The star, which lies 130 light years away, is a pinprick of light unresolved by the most powerful telescopes on Earth.
more images: from John Chumack of Dayton, Ohio; from Gene Taylor near Skyline Arch in Arches National Park, Utah; from Andrea Aletti of Varese, Italy; from Luis Argerich of Buenos Aires, Argentina; from Mariusz Rudziński of Mirostowice Dolne, Poland; from Carlos Rosatti of San Jose, Uruguay;