NASA’s New Horizons, IAU Set Pluto Naming Themes

In early 2015, the SETI Institute hosted the “OurPluto” naming campaign, which was endorsed by NASA and the International Astronomical Union (IAU). The goal was to prepare a list of potential categories and names for the surface features on Pluto and its large moon Charon. At the time, New Horizons was speeding toward the Pluto system, preparing for its July encounter.

Today, the IAU accepted the naming themes that were developed as a part of the public campaign. This clears the way for the IAU to begin formalizing the names that were proposed by the public through the OurPluto web site.

“We have been delighted to be able to share the excitement of the New Horizons mission with people from all over the world,” said Mark Showalter, a senior research scientist at the SETI Institute and the New Horizons team member who organized the “Our Pluto” naming campaign. “I look forward to seeing many of the public’s thoughtful suggestions officially assigned to the maps of Pluto and its moons.”

After voyage of more than nine years and 3 billion miles, New Horizons made history by flying through the Pluto system on July 14, 2015, returning data that have transformed our view of these intriguing worlds on the planetary frontier. Next up for the spacecraft is a flyby of another Kuiper Belt object, identified as 2014 MU69, on Jan. 1, 2019.

To learn more about the naming themes:

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Tuesday Feb. 14, Seth Shostak and Eugene Mirman Get Real About Climate Change

On this week’s episode of StarTalk All-Stars, veteran host Seth Shostak and co-host Eugene Mirman invite guest Ken Caldeira, climate scientist at the Carnegie Institution for Science, for a serious discussion about climate change.

One of my favorite Carl Sagan quotes is, “It’s far better to grasp the universe how it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.”

That’s what this week’s episode is all about, getting down to the truth of climate change: what’s happening, how it’s happening, and what we can do about it.

With Ken in the house, strap in for sharp discussion on all aspects of climate change. Hear how the U.S. has played a big leadership role in the development of climate-friendly infrastructure around the world, at least until now. Explore the consequences of rising sea levels for the near term and far in the future. You’ll also discover how the future of climate science lies not in studying the problem of climate change, but in the experimentation and discovery of solutions to fix it.

However, this being StarTalk, it’s not all science and no fun. Eugene offers ideas on different ways to use coal, oil and gas, for example… a hand cream, and that he’s rather ok with Florida might succumbing to the rising sea levels of the future.

Ken reveals how many trees it would take to reverse the damage already done by the destruction of the rain forests. (Hint…it’s quite a lot.)

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SETI Project: Climate and Geoscience Reasearch Thrust

The University of the Underground is open for application

University of the Underground, visual artist Marta Giralt, ©NellyBenHayounStudiosLtd

Following the International Space Orchestra performance with Sigur Ros at the Hollywood Bowl, and therelease of the trailers from the astrobiology project The Life, the Sea and the Space Viking; SETI Institute's Designer of Experiences Nelly Ben Hayoun, is now up to a new challenge. She is opening a university in the undergrounds of cities. 

As seen in Its Nice That today, Nelly is calling out to all the Willy Wonkas of modern times, the contemporary Joy Division’s, JG Ballard's, Marie Curie's and Rauschenberg's, action researchers and designers, mythologists and makers of new worlds! 

With the aim of teaching postgraduate students how to engineer situations, to design experiences and events, that best support social dreaming, social actions and power shifts within institutions, companies and governments, the world’s first University of the Underground, based in the underground of the urban space, promotes unconventional collages of references, interdisciplinary practices, chaos and experimentations at the start of any creative process.

The University of the Underground responds to the current trend of increased fees for postgraduate programmes by firstly proposing a business model in which every student is provided with scholarships to cover their tuition fees.  By hosting the University of the Underground, Sandberg Instituut is making steps towards a new, ambitious model for financing education. Scholarships are to be provided to students through the support of philanthropists (80%) and governmental grants (20%). As such, it aims to act as a model of what can be achieved through coordination, shared passion and belief in the next generation. The goal being to create many more of these educative structures worldwide with the same financial structure 80%, 20%.

The University of the Underground is Sandberg Instituut’s MA design programme based in the underground of cities. The Sandberg’s Instituut is the postgraduate programme of the Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam. The University of the Underground is developing Sandberg Instituut’s Unconventional Research Practices Department that is aiming to provide PhDs in the near future. The programme will, therefore, emphasise research, critical theories and context within students’ practices.  

The University of the Underground is established as a foundation in Amsterdam, composed of a multidisciplinary world class team as part of its advisory board and teaching team. It is directed by Nelly Ben Hayoun and managed by Nelly Ben Hayoun Studios Ltd in the Village Underground in London and from the SETI Institute in Mountain View,  California, where Nelly will soon return.

Please click HERE for more Information.

The Kepler-K2 Team Wins the National Space Society’s 2017 Space Pioneer Award for Science and Engineering

By David Brandt-Erichsen
Originally published on

The NASA Kepler and K2 Team is the winner of the National Space Society’s 2017 Space Pioneer Award in the Science and Engineering category. This prestigious award will be presented to team representatives Charles K.Sobeck, Project Manager, and Dr. Natalie Batalha, Project Scientist, on Sunday, May 28, 2017 at the National Space Society’s 2017 International Space Development Conference® ( This will be the 36th ISDC® and will be held in St Louis, Missouri, at the Union Station Hotel. The conference will run from May 25-29, 2017.

NSS proudly presents this award in recognition of the massive amount of work carried out by the whole team to propose, design, launch and operate the Kepler and K2 missions and to analyze the resulting data over many years. It also recognizes all of the many volunteers who have been poring over the Kepler data to assist in finding planets around other stars.

About the Space Pioneer Award

The Space Pioneer Award consists of a silvery pewter Moon globe cast by the Baker Art Foundry in Placerville, California, from a sculpture originally created by Don Davis, the well-known space and astronomical artist. The globe, as shown at right, which represents multiple space mission destinations and goals, sits freely on a brass support with a wooden base and brass plaque, which are created by the greatly respected Michael Hall’s Studio Foundry of Driftwood, TX. NSS has several different categories under which the award is presented each year, starting in 1988. Some of the recent winners of Space Pioneer Awards include Elon Musk, Ray Bradbury, Robert Bigelow, Apollo Astronaut Russell L. Schweickart, Dr. Michael Griffin, and the Rosetta Mission Team.

About the Kepler-K2 Mission and Team 

After no less than five mission proposals, starting in 1992, the Kepler mission was finally approved in December of 2001 as a Discovery Class mission. Launched on March 7, 2009, the Kepler spacecraft has returned an enormous database, recording the brightness variations of more than 160,000 stars and galaxies. In addition to the primary objective of detecting and characterizing the distribution of terrestrial-size exoplanets, the mission has revolutionized the field of asteroseismology – the study of stars through their intrinsic brightness variability – ushering in a new golden age of stellar astrophysics.

As of January, 2017, Kepler and the follow-on mission K2 have confirmed 2514 actual exoplanets out of 5216 planet candidates. Kepler has made a massive contribution to the ongoing effort to obtain a large statistical sample of exoplanets so that the frequency of each type of planet can be estimated. In addition, it has helped to revolutionize our understanding of what types of exoplanets and exoplanet systems actually exist.

NASA’s Ames Research Center manages the Kepler and K2 missions for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. JPL managed Kepler mission development. Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corporation operates the flight system with support from the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

What’s Causing Those Mysterious ‘Bursts’ From Deep Space?

By Seth Shostak, Senior Astronomer
Originally published on

They are blasts from the past, shrieks from the black abyss of the universe unlike anything ever found before. And they are deeply mysterious.

Are these some new cosmic phenomenon, an odd habit of nature that we never knew? Or could they be the deliberate wails of societies howling from the farthest corners of space?

In 2007, Duncan Lorimer at West Virginia University was digging through historical records from the Parkes radio telescope in Australia when he and his colleagues stumbled across an unusual signal.

It was no more than a hiccup, a burst of radio energy as fleeting as ocean foam. No one had ever found anything similar, and probably for that reason it was overlooked even by those who had first recorded the data.

Lorimer published this discovery, and the astronomical community scratched its collective pate. What the heck was this? Was it even for real? Some had doubts. Regular visitors to the Parkes antenna, which squats in the fly-filled sheep country west of Sydney, Australia know that there's a kitchen microwave just below the control room. In the 1990s, I frequently used it myself to heat up lunch. So maybe the radio hoots weren't heavenly, but merely ovenly.

However, when other, similar bursts were later found by the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico, the Parkes microwave was exonerated. Clearly, these quick radio blasts — christened "fast radio bursts," or FRBs — are for real.

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