A Year on Pluto

Last week, NASA’s Dawn probe entered orbit above Ceres, a dwarf planet in the asteroid belt. But later this summer, the New Horizons spacecraft is set to race past Pluto, formerly a planet but now a dwarf planet. New Horizons launched in 2006 and will have taken nine years to reach Pluto. But how long is a year on Pluto? Thanks to the New Horizons team, we can see how one year on Pluto is 248 Earth years, or longer than the history of the independent United States.

A year on Pluto
A year on Pluto

Credit for the piece goes to the NASA/New Horizon team graphics department.

Habitable Exoplanets

What is out there beyond our solar system? Are there little green men in flying saucers? Or Klingons waging war? The first step in figuring that out is knowing how many planets can be inhabited by life as we know it. This interactive graphic from National Geographic explores just that. And as it turns out, most of the exoplanets we have discovered are not habitable. But a few offer promise. If only we could warp on over and properly explore them.

Exoplanet habitability
Exoplanet habitability

Credit for the piece goes to John Tomanio and Xaquín G.V.

Comet Siding Spring

Today we head off to the stars. Well, more appropriately the comets. The New York Times had a piece a little while back that looked at the orbits of several comets that pass near the Sun. Siding Spring in particular is highlighted because of its near approach later this autumn.

Comet paths near the sun
Comet paths near the sun

Credit for the piece goes to Jonathan Corum.

Voyager 1 Has Left the Solar System

Last week NASA announced that last year, Voyager 1 left the Solar System about 25 August 2012. A lot of the graphics that were published to support that story chronicled the distance travelled by that probe. However, this excellent graphic by the Los Angeles Times instead looks at how NASA determined through the data returned that Voyager had left the Solar System.

Voyager 1 departs the Solar System
Voyager 1 departs the Solar System

The piece does a really good job of setting up the story in illustrating the instrument packaged used to collect the data. Moving down the piece, it shows locations and the different environments and then how those environments differ in electron density. Lastly it looks at how NASA interpolated the date from the data collected. A really solid piece.

Credit for the piece goes to Monte Morin, Doug Stevens, and Anthony Pesce.

Mars or Bust…Wait a Minute…

We already got to Mars. At the end of a week of maps and map-related things. Here’s a map of Mars. Well, sort of. It’s more of a map of Mars as explored by Curiosity. (Remember that guy?)

It’s an interactive piece from the New York Times that charts out just where the rover has driven and photographs of the stops along the way. There’s also a nice little chart that shows just how much of the trip has consisted of driving.

A day in the life…on Mars…
A day in the life…on Mars…

Credit for the piece goes to Jonathan Corum and Jeremy White.

Space Weather

A few weeks ago the Washington Post published a graphic that explained how space weather can have significant impacts on Earth. This is more of an illustrated diagram and less of a data visualisation piece, but it still worth a read. Why? Because, if scientists are correct, the sun’s magnetic poles should soon finish a polarity reversal. And that creates the potential for some stormy space weather.

Impacts of space weather
Impacts of space weather

Credit for the piece goes to Bonnie Berkowitz and Alberto Cuadra.

A (Time and) Space Race

First of all, I grew up a fan of Star Trek and not Star Wars. Star Trek is, after all, more science-y. Now, for today’s post, I could make references to the battlestar Galactica, the good ship Tardis, Planet Express deliveries, or avoiding the Alliance throughout the Verse. Instead I’ll just submit this interactive graphic from Slate.

Voyager 1 is slow
Voyager 1 is slow

It compares the times needed by various nerd-loved starships/spaceships/space vehicles to reach very distant (and real) stellar destinations. Don’t worry, there is a bar chart in the end with Voyager 1 thrown in for comparison to reality. (Though I suppose they could have just made it Voyager 6.)

Not accounting for differing technologies or laws of physics
Not accounting for differing technologies or laws of physics

See, a bar chart. It fits within the scope of this blog.

Credit for the piece goes to Chris Kirk, Andrew Morgan, and Natalie Matthews.

The Universe Keeps Getting Bigger

The Kepler observatory is responsible for finding Earth-like planets in distant solar systems. It was launched only in 2009, but has been incredibly successful. Earlier this week scientists announced the discovery of Kepler 62, a star system that has five planets. Two of those planets exist within the Goldilocks zone, where conditions are just right for habitable planets (for Earth-like organisms) to form and exist. Of course, not all planets in such zones are habitable, look at Venus and Mars for examples. But still, the news is quite significant.

Over at the New York Times, Jonathan Corum plotted all the data on all the systems so far discovered by Kepler, including that new information on Kepler 62. The result is a mesmerising view of star systems beyond our own. The stars are planets are enlarged for visibility and the orbits are made a bit more circular, but the overview is still fantastic.

The chart shows the relative sizes of the stars and their temperatures and allows you to compare the orbits of the planets so far known. You can also sort the chart either by size or time of discovery. It also shows the relative times of the planets’ orbits. That is, they move…

The Kepler star systems
The Kepler star systems

Fans of this will remember that in 2011, the New York Times used a similar, albeit static, method to explain the discovery of planets at Kepler 20, whose planets all orbit closer to their star than Mercury to ours.

Credit for the piece goes to Jonathan Corum.

Pro Tip #314: Don’t Stare Into the Sun

Don’t stare into the sun. It’ll burn your eyes out, kid. Okay, so maybe that’s a stretch of a reference, but, seriously, don’t. Let the professionals do it with (properly shielded) telescopes and such. This piece from the New York Times looks at a solar flare from 2012 and shows how quickly it developed. The bottom of the piece then shows the reader the frequency of solar minimums and maximums along with some explanatory graphics about just what flares and sunspots are and how they are created.

Also note the centre panel in the top row for the relative size of Earth. Yeah, who’s feeling big now? (Not me.)

Don't stare into it…
Don't stare into it…

Credit for the piece goes to Jonathan Corum.