Mar 12

Keeping an eye – from the sky – on volcanoes

Source: ESA

InSAR image of Mount Alutu, a volcano in central Ethiopia.
Image credits: J. Biggs, University of Bristol.

The importance of global and frequent data coverage of volcanoes was highlighted in a recent article published in Science. Satellites are finding that volcanoes previously thought to be dormant are showing signs of unrest.(read more)

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Mar 12

Many Billions of Rocky Planets in the Habitable Zones around Red Dwarfs in the Milky Way

Source: ESO Science Release eso1214

Artist’s impression of sunset on the super-Earth world Gliese 667 Cc.
Image credits: ESO/L. Calçada.

A new result from ESO’s HARPS planet finder shows that rocky planets not much bigger than Earth are very common in the habitable zones around faint red stars. The international team estimates that there are tens of billions of such planets in the Milky Way galaxy alone, and probably about one hundred in the Sun’s immediate neighbourhood. This is the first direct measurement of the frequency of super-Earths around red dwarfs, which account for 80% of the stars in the Milky Way.(read more)

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Mar 12

Signs of thawing permafrost revealed from space

Source: ESA

Seasonal freezing patterns on land surfaces in the
northern hemisphere have varied over recent years.
Image credits: Vienna University of Technology.

Satellite are seeing changes in land surfaces in high detail at northern latitudes, indicating thawing permafrost. This releases greenhouse gases into parts of the Arctic, exacerbating the effects of climate change. (read more)

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Mar 12

Galilean School of Higher Education: Applications open.

Submitted by Laura Abati

The Galileian School of Higher Education is the possibility for some excellent students, selected by admission tests, to live in a very stimulating contest. Tutors, seminars, special internal courses, cultural exchanges, computer facilities should promote their personal and cultural better formation.

The goal is to allow, following the example of Galileo, an integrated learning method in order to form a highly qualified international group.

The School, is inspired by Galileo who was not only great Astronomer and mathematician, but also a fine philosopher and a man of literature, has beside a scientific group and a humanist.

The location is in an old noble building in the town of Padua. Students can live there (single rooms) and all the facilities are FREE.

The conditions and results are very good in the university and inners courses ( media Marks >- 27/30 , single examination>-24/30)

Each year 24 students are admitted. Up to now there are only Italian students but the new actual director , prof. Cesare Barbieri, will be glad to receive also some European students.

The GS has been active for 6 years but isn't spreadly known. Teachers should tell their students about this unique opportunity.

The main points that have to be fulfilled by the applicant is the he/she must be/have :

  • Excellent student
  • European
  • Age < 22
  • Enrolled at Padua university for the first time in scientific ( not only Astronomy) or humanistic courses
  • Entrance examinations in English for not Italian students

TheGalilean School offers

  • FREE accommodation ( single rooms) and
  • FREE facilities ( tutors, seminars, internal courses , computer)

Attention: The APPLICATION DEADLINE is September, 2012.


Galileian School of Higher Education

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Mar 12

MESSENGER App Now Available

Source: MESSENGER Press Release

Artist's impression  of the MESSENGER Spacecraft.
Image credits: NASA /MESSENGER.

The MESSENGER team has launched a free app that brings you inside NASA’s history-making study of Mercury – the first images of the entire planet, along with the detailed data on Mercury’s surface, geologic history, thin atmosphere, and active magnetosphere that MESSENGER sends back every day.

Now available in the iTunes App Store, "MESSENGER: NASA's Mission to Mercury" brings users the latest news and pictures from the mission, as well as details on the spacecraft and science instruments, and offers access to educational programs and activities.

Circle the innermost planet aboard MESSENGER, the first mission to orbit Mercury. Examine a detailed view of the MESSENGER spacecraft and its science instruments, browse the latest news and images, or trace the spacecraft’s path over Mercury as it scans the scorched surface of the Sun’s closest planetary neighbor. Can you take the heat?

Main Features Include:

Get up-to-the-minute reports from the MESSENGER Web News Center and Twitter feed.


Have the “Mercury Image of the Day” sent straight to your device; flip through hundreds of stunning pictures of Mercury taken by the spacecraft’s cameras; watch videos that trace MESSENGER’s 4.9-billion mile journey to Mercury that included six planetary flybys and 15 trips around the Sun.


Tour the robust MESSENGER spacecraft and science payload; see what MESSENGER was designed to learn about Mercury; pick up some quick facts about the mission and its planetary target.


Follow MESSENGER as it loops around Mercury; pinpoint its location over the surface; see how much time remains in its current, 12-hour orbit.

 Education (iPad only)

Use the interactive QuickMap to view areas on Mercury observed or targeted for hi-resolution observation by MESSENGER instruments, locate craters and other “named” surface features, and explore detailed global and regional images

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Mar 12

GRAIL MoonKam Returns First Student-Selected Lunar Images

Source: NASA Science Releases

GRAIL MoonKAM Image. Image credits: NASA/GRAIL.

One of two NASA spacecraft orbiting the moon has beamed back the first student-requested pictures of the lunar surface from its onboard camera. Fourth grade students from the Emily Dickinson Elementary School in Bozeman, Mont., received the honor of making the first image selections by winning a nationwide competition to rename the two spacecraft.

The image was taken by the MoonKam, or Moon Knowledge Acquired by Middle school students. Previously named Gravity Recovery And Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) A and B, the twin spacecraft are now called Ebb and Flow. Both washing-machine-sized orbiters carry a small MoonKAM camera. Over 60 student-requested images were taken aboard  the Ebb spacecraft from March 15-17 and downlinked to Earth on March 20.

"MoonKAM is based on the premise that if your average picture is worth a thousand words, then a picture from lunar orbit may be worth a classroom full of engineering and science degrees," said Maria Zuber, GRAIL mission principal investigator from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass. "Through MoonKAM, we have an opportunity to reach out to the next generation of scientists and engineers. It is great to see things off to such a positive start."

GRAIL is NASA's first planetary mission to carry instruments fully dedicated to education and public outreach. Students will select target areas on the lunar surface and request images to study from the GRAIL MoonKAM Mission Operations Center in San Diego.

The MoonKAM program is led by Sally Ride, America's first woman in space, and her team at Sally Ride Science in collaboration with undergraduate students at the University of California in San Diego. More than 2,700 schools spanning 52 countries are using the MoonKAM cameras.

"What might seem like just a cool activity for these kids may very well have a profound impact on their futures," Ride said. "The students really are excited about MoonKAM, and that translates into an excitement about science and engineering."

To view the student-requested images, visit:

For more information about MoonKAM, visit:


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Mar 12

Solar Storm Dumps Gigawatts into Earth's Upper Atmosphere

Source: NASA Science Casts


A flurry of solar activity in early March dumped enough heat in Earth's upper atmosphere to power every residence in New York City for two years. The heat has since dissipated, but there's more to come as the solar cycle intensifies.

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Mar 12

VISTA Stares Deep into the Cosmos

Source: ESO Photo Release eso1213

VISTA stares deep into the cosmos.
Image credits: ESO/UltraVISTA team.

ESO's VISTA telescope has created the widest deep view of the sky ever made using infrared light. This new picture of an unremarkable patch of sky comes from the UltraVISTA survey and reveals more than 200 000 galaxies. It forms just one part of a huge collection of fully processed images from all the VISTA surveys that is now being made available by ESO to astronomers worldwide. UltraVISTA is a treasure trove that is being used to study distant galaxies in the early Universe as well as for many other science projects. (read more)

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Mar 12

Dawn Sees New Surface Features on Giant Asteroid Vesta

Source: NASA News

Bright material extends out from the crater Canuleia on Vesta.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA/UMD.

NASA's Dawn spacecraft has revealed unexpected details on the surface of the giant asteroid Vesta. New images and data highlight the diversity of Vesta's surface and reveal unusual geologic features, some of which were never previously seen on asteroids.

Vesta is one of the brightest objects in the solar system and the only asteroid in the so-called main belt between Mars and Jupiter visible to the naked eye from Earth. Dawn found that some areas on Vesta can be nearly twice as bright as others, revealing clues about the asteroid's history.

"Our analysis finds this bright material originates from Vesta and has undergone little change since the formation of Vesta over 4 billion years ago," said Jian-Yang Li, a Dawn participating scientist at the University of Maryland, College Park. "We're eager to learn more about what minerals make up this material and how the present Vesta surface came to be."

Bright areas appear everywhere on Vesta but are most predominant in and around craters. The areas vary from several hundred feet to around 10 miles across. Rocks crashing into the surface of Vesta seem to have exposed and spread this bright material. This impact process may have mixed the bright material with darker surface material.

While scientists had seen some brightness variations in previous images of Vesta from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, Dawn scientists also did not expect such a wide variety of distinct dark deposits across its surface. The dark materials on Vesta can appear dark gray, brown and red. They sometimes appear as small, well-defined deposits around impact craters. They also can appear as larger regional deposits, like those surrounding the impact craters scientists have nicknamed the "snowman."

"One of the surprises was the dark material is not randomly distributed," said David Williams, a Dawn participating scientist at Arizona State University, Tempe. "This suggests underlying geology determines where it occurs."

The dark materials seem to be related to impacts and their aftermath. Scientists theorize carbon-rich asteroids could have hit Vesta at speeds low enough to produce some of the smaller deposits without blasting away the surface.

Higher-speed asteroids also could have hit the asteroid's surface and melted the volcanic basaltic crust, darkening existing surface material. That melted conglomeration appears in the walls and floors of impact craters, on hills and ridges, and underneath brighter, more recent material called ejecta, which is material thrown out from a space rock impact.

Vesta's dark materials suggest the giant asteroid may preserve ancient materials from the asteroid belt and beyond, possibly from the birth of the solar system.

"Some of these past collisions were so intense they melted the surface," said Brett Denevi, a Dawn participating scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md. "Dawn's ability to image the melt marks a unique find. Melting events like these were suspected, but never before seen on an asteroid."

Dawn launched in September 2007. It will reach its second destination, Ceres, in February 2015.

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Mar 12

MESSENGER Provides New Look at Mercury's Landscape, Metallic Core, and Polar Shadows

Source: MESSENGER Press Release

Artist's impression  of the MESSENGER Spacecraft.
Image credits: NASA /MESSENGER.

MESSENGER completed its one-year primary mission on March 17. Since moving into orbit about Mercury a little over one year ago, the spacecraft has captured nearly 100,000 images and returned data that have revealed new information about the planet, including its topography, the structure of its core, and areas of permanent shadow at the poles that host the mysterious polar deposits.

The latest findings are presented in two papers published online in Science Express today, and in 57 papers presented this week at the 43rd Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in The Woodlands, Texas. Team members at the meeting will also preview MESSENGER’s extended mission, set to run to March 2013. The event, scheduled for 12:30 p.m. CDT (1:30 p.m. EDT), will be streamed live on the Web at http://www.livestream.com/lpsc2012. Presentation materials are available online at http://messenger.jhuapl.edu/news_room/presscon11.html.

 “The first year of MESSENGER orbital observations has revealed many surprises,” says MESSENGER Principal Investigator Sean C. Solomon, of the Carnegie Institution of Washington. “From Mercury’s extraordinarily dynamic magnetosphere and exosphere to the unexpectedly volatile-rich composition of its surface and interior, our inner planetary neighbor is now seen to be very different from what we imagined just a few years ago. The number and diversity of new findings being presented this week to the scientific community in papers and presentations provide a striking measure of how much we have learned to date.”


Mercury’s Landscape

Ranging observations from MESSENGER’s Mercury Laser Altimeter (MLA) have provided the first-ever precise topographic model of the planet’s northern hemisphere and characterized slopes and surface roughness over a range of spatial scales. From MESSENGER’s eccentric, near-polar orbit, the MLA illuminates surface areas as wide as 15 to 100 meters, spaced about 400 meters apart.

The spread in elevations is considerably smaller than those of Mars or the Moon, notes MESSENGER Co-investigator Maria T. Zuber, author of one of the papers published in Science Express According to Zuber, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the most prominent feature is an extensive area of lowlands at high northern latitudes that hosts the volcanic northern plains. Within this lowland region is a broad topographic rise that formed after the volcanic plains were emplaced.

At mid-latitudes, the interior of the Caloris impact basin — 1,500 kilometers wide — has been modified so that part of the basin floor now stands higher than the rim, Zuber says. “The elevated portion of the floor of Caloris appears to be part of a quasi-linear rise that extends for approximately half the planetary circumference at mid-latitudes,” she writes. “Collectively, these features imply that long-wavelength changes to Mercury’s topography occurred after the earliest phases of the planet’s geological history.”

A Surprising Core

Scientists have also come up with the first precise model of Mercury’s gravity field which, when combined with the topographic data and earlier information of the planet’s spin state, shed light on the planet’s internal structure, the thickness of its crust, the size and state of its core, and its tectonic and thermal history.

Mercury’s core is huge for the planet’s size, about 85% of the planetary radius, even larger than previous estimates. The planet is sufficiently small that at one time many scientists thought the interior should have cooled to the point that the core would be solid. However, subtle dynamical motions measured from Earth-based radar combined with parameters of the gravity field, as well as observations of the magnetic field that signify an active core dynamo, indicate that Mercury’s core is at least partially liquid. “MESSENGER’s observations of the gravity field have let us peer inside Mercury and get the first good look at its largest component — the core,” says Case Western Reserve University’s Steven A. Hauck II, coauthor of one of the papers published in Science Express.

Scientists sought to unravel the mystery of the size and state of Mercury’s core by studying its effect on long-wavelength variations in the planet’s gravity field, and recent results point to a much different interior structure for Mercury from that expected.

“Mercury’s core may not look like any other terrestrial planetary core,” Hauck says. “The structure certainly is different from that of Earth, which has a metallic, liquid outer core sitting above a solid inner core. Mercury appears to have a solid silicate crust and mantle overlying a solid, iron sulfide outer core layer, a deeper liquid core layer, and possibly a solid inner core.”

These findings will have implications for how Mercury’s magnetic field is generated and for understanding how the planet evolved thermally, Hauck adds.

Polar Shadows

A chief goal of MESSENGER’s primary mission was to understand the nature of the radar-bright deposits at the poles of Mercury. The leading proposal since the deposits were discovered has been that radar-bright material consists dominantly of frozen water ice.

“We’ve never had the imagery available before to see the surface where these radar-bright features are located,” says Nancy L. Chabot, instrument scientist for MESSENGER’s Mercury Dual Imaging System (MDIS) at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL). “MDIS images show that all the radar-bright features near Mercury’s south pole are located in areas of permanent shadow, and near Mercury’s north pole such deposits are also seen only in shadowed regions, results consistent with the water-ice hypothesis.”

This finding is not definitive proof that those deposits are water ice, says Chabot, who is presenting her results at LPSC. And some of the radar-bright deposits are located in craters that provide thermally challenging environments to the water-ice theory. For instance, for the radar-bright material in many of the craters to be water ice would require that there be a thin layer of insulation to keep it colder than the surface, Chabot says.

But the MDIS images, combined with ongoing analysis of data from MESSENGER’s Neutron Spectrometer and the MLA, will provide a more complete picture of the nature of the deposits.

Extending the Discoveries

MESSENGER’s second year at Mercury will build upon these and other results from the primary mission phase, emphasizes MESSENGER Project Scientist Ralph L. McNutt Jr., of APL. “The second year of orbital operations will not be a simple continuation of the primary mission,” he says. “Extended mission themes will include more comprehensive measurement of the magnetosphere and exosphere during a period of more active Sun, greater focus on observations at low spacecraft altitudes, and a greater variety of targeted observations.”

“MESSENGER has already fundamentally changed our view of this innermost planet,” he adds. “With the extension of the MESSENGER mission, many more discoveries can be expected.”

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Mar 12

MESSENGER Completes Primary Mission at Mercury, Settles in for Another Year


Image credit: NASA/MESSENGER.

On March 17, 2012, MESSENGER successfully wrapped up a year-long campaign to perform the first complete reconnaissance of the geochemistry, geophysics, geologic history, atmosphere, magnetosphere, and plasma environment of the solar system’s innermost planet. The following day, March 18, 2012, marked the official start of an extended phase designed to build upon those discoveries. What MESSENGER has accomplished since its launch in August 2005 is “amazing,” says MESSENGER Mission Systems Engineer Eric Finnegan, of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Md.

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Mar 12

Glittering Jewels of Messier 9

Source: ESA/Hubble Photo Release heic1205

Globular cluster Messier 9.
Image credits: ESA/NASA/HST.

The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has produced the most detailed image so far of Messier 9, a globular star cluster located close to the centre of the galaxy. This ball of stars is too faint to see with the naked eye, yet Hubble can see over 250 000 individual stars shining in it.(read more)

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Mar 12

Mysterious Objects at the Edge of the Electromagnetic Spectrum

Source: NASA Science Casts

NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope is finding hundreds of new objects at the very edge of the electromagnetic spectrum. Many of them have one thing in common: Astronomers have no idea what they are.

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Mar 12

Evolution of the Moon in 2.5 minutes

Source: NASA Explorer (@YouTube)

From year to year, the moon never seems to change. Craters and other formations appear to be permanent now, but the moon didn't always look like this. Thanks to NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, we now have a better look at some of the moon's history. A new video that sgows us changes on lunar surface has been released by NASA. Some effects seem exagerated, but nonetheless the big picture is there.

The original site of the movie is at Goddard Space Flight Center's webpage.

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Mar 12

New WISE mission catalog of the entire Infrared Sky

Source: NASA Press Releases-Caltech/WISE Team

The Entire WISE Sky.Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/WISE Team.

NASA unveiled a new atlas and catalog of the entire infrared sky today showing more than a half billion stars, galaxies and other objects captured by the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) mission.

"Today, WISE delivers the fruit of 14 years of effort to the astronomical community," said Edward Wright, WISE principal investigator at UCLA, who first began working on the mission with other team members in 1998.

WISE launched Dec. 14, 2009, and mapped the entire sky in 2010 with vastly better sensitivity than its predecessors. It collected more than 2.7 million images taken at four infrared wavelengths of light, capturing everything from nearby asteroids to distant galaxies. Since then, the team has been processing more than 15 trillion bytes of returned data. A preliminary release of WISE data, covering the first half of the sky surveyed, was made last April.

The WISE catalog of the entire sky meets the mission's fundamental objective. The individual WISE exposures have been combined into an atlas of more than 18,000 images covering the sky and a catalog listing the infrared properties of more than 560 million individual objects found in the images. Most of the objects are stars and galaxies, with roughly equal numbers of each. Many of them have never been seen before.

WISE observations have led to numerous discoveries, including the elusive, coolest class of stars. Astronomers hunted for these failed stars, called "Y-dwarfs," for more than a decade. Because they have been cooling since their formation, they don't shine in visible light and could not be spotted until WISE mapped the sky with its infrared vision.

WISE also took a poll of near-Earth asteroids, finding there are significantly fewer mid-size objects than previously thought. It also determined NASA has found more than 90 percent of the largest near-Earth asteroids.

Other discoveries were unexpected. WISE found the first known "Trojan" asteroid to share the same orbital path around the sun as Earth. Oneof the images released today shows a surprising view of an "echo" of infrared light surrounding an exploded star. The echo was etched in the clouds of gas and dust when the flash of light from the supernova explosion heated surrounding clouds. At least 100 papers on the results from the WISE survey already have been published. More discoveries are expected now that astronomers have access to the whole sky as seen by the spacecraft.

"With the release of the all-sky catalog and atlas, WISE joins the pantheon of great sky surveys that have led to many remarkable discoveries about the universe," said Roc Cutri, who leads the WISE data processing and archiving effort at the Infrared and Processing Analysis Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. "It will be exciting and rewarding to see the innovative ways the science and educational communities will use WISE in their studies now that they have the data at their fingertips." (learn more)

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Mar 12

The feeding habits of teenage galaxies

Source: ESO Science Release eso1212

Galaxies in a deep view of a tiny patch of sky in the constellation of Cetus.
Image credits: ESO/CFHT

New observations made with ESO’s Very Large Telescope are making a major contribution to understanding the growth of adolescent galaxies. In the biggest survey of its kind astronomers have found that galaxies changed their eating habits during their teenage years - the period from about 3 to 5 billion years after the Big Bang. At the start of this phase smooth gas flow was the preferred snack, but later, galaxies mostly grew by cannibalising other smaller galaxies. (read more)

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Mar 12

Venus and Jupiter are very close after sunset

Venus and Jupiter on March 10.
Image credits: Alan Dyer @ The Amazing Sky

Venus and Jupiter will finally come together this week in a dazzling show for skywatchers. The two planets have been dancing towards each other in the evening sky, but now they will really get close.

Beginning tonight, the two brightest planets in the sky will be so close together that you'll be able to block both of them out with a few fingers held at arm's length. The celestial action peaks March 15 (Thursday), when Venus and Jupiter line up in what's known as a planetary conjunction.

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Mar 12

Mapping the Moho with GOCE

Source: ESA News

Global Moho from GOCE.
Image credits: GEMMA project.

The first global high-resolution map of the boundary between Earth’s crust and mantle – the Moho (the short name for Mohorovičić discontinuity) – has been produced based on data from ESA’s GOCE gravity satellite. Understanding the Moho will offer new clues into the dynamics of Earth’s interior. (read more)

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Mar 12

It's time for Aurora Borealis

An aurora borealis swirls in the sky over
the Yukon River village of Ruby, Alaska.
Image credits: Associated Press.

This is the season of Aurora Borelis (Northern Lights). The image above was taken on March 11, 2012.

As you may suspect, the best place to see the Aurora Borealis is from high latitudes up north. More specifically, anywhere you can get to that's within 2500km  from the North Pole. That includes a number of countries, like Finland, Norway, Sweden, Russia, Canada, Greenland and USA (only Alaska). All these countries have regions that fall into this region. The northern areas of all these countries is where you'll want to be.

The phenomena called aurora is a natural light display in the sky particularly in the high latitude (Arctic and Antarctic) regions, caused by the collision of energetic charged particles with atoms in the high altitude atmosphere (thermosphere). The charged particles originate in the magnetosphere and solar wind and, on Earth, are directed by the Earth's magnetic field into the poles atmosphere.

Since the charged particles are directed by Earth's magnetic field lines you can actually see the Northern Lights from the South Pole. So, why don't they call it the Southern Lights?

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Mar 12

NASA Launches International Competition to Develop Space Apps

Source: Space Apps Challenge

NASA, governments around the world and civil society organizations will co-host the International Space Apps Challenge on April 21-22 with events across seven continents and in space.

The apps competition will bring people together to exploit openly available data collected by space agencies around the world to create innovative solutions to longstanding global challenges. An initiative of the U.S. Open Government National Action Plan, the challenge will showcase the impact scientists and citizens can have by working together to solve challenging problems that affect every person on Earth. Events will take place in San Francisco (USA), Exeter (UK), Melbourne (Australia), São Paulo (Brasil), Nairobi (Kenya), Jakarta (Indonesia), Tokyo (Japan), McMurdo Station (Antarctica) and at the International Space Station.(learn more)

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