Jupiter and Saturn will come close enough to form first ‘double planet’ visible in nearly 800 years

In the complex dance of the solar system, two celestial bodies about to partner up.



a star filled sky with Gallery Arcturus in the background: Jupiter and Saturn have been appearing increasingly closer in the night sky, and they will appear to overlap as a “double planet” on Dec. 21.


Jupiter and Saturn have been appearing increasingly closer in the night sky, and they will appear to overlap as a “double planet” on Dec. 21.

Jupiter and Saturn often look far apart — two separate specks puncturing different parts of the night sky. But later this month, the two largest planets in the solar system will come so close to each other that they may appear to be overlapping, according to NASA, creating a kind of “double planet” that has not been visible since the Middle Ages.

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Skywatch: What’s happening in the heavens in December

The once-in-a-lifetime sight is the product of an astronomical event known as a “conjunction,” in which two objects line up with each other in the sky. When it involves Jupiter and Saturn catching up to each other, it’s sometimes called a “great conjunction.”

“You can actually see it with your own eye. It doesn’t have to be measured with sophisticated instruments,” Michael Brown, an astronomer at Monash University in Australia, told The Washington Post. “The two objects are appearing very close in the sky but ultimately they’re very far away from each other.”

While Jupiter and Saturn will be separated on Dec. 21 by 0.1 degrees, or less than a third of the moon’s width, the two planets will nonetheless remain separated by about 450 million miles in space, he said.

Emily Lakdawalla, a freelance space writer, said planetary orbits can be compared to a kind of running track, with the sun in the middle. If Jupiter is running in circles closer to the inside, Saturn is walking at a slower pace further out.

“Jupiter is lapping Saturn,” she said.

Given the pace of their orbits — Jupiter takes about 12 Earth years to circle the sun compared to Saturn’s 30 — the two actually align in their paths roughly every two decades.

But there’s a catch: Because each track has a slightly different tilt, very close conjunctions like the one set for later this month are rare. The last time Saturn and Jupiter were close enough to create a “double planet” seen from Earth was in March 1226, Brown said.

The two planets came equally close in 1623, but that phenomenon was impossible to see from Earth because of glare from the sun, he added. So the conjunction later this month will be an extraordinarily rare event.

Since the summer, Jupiter and Saturn have been getting closer to one another, often visible at dusk, low in the western sky. Right around the solstice, they may appear as one overlapping body above the horizon.

Luckily, the Earth will not need to await another eight centuries to view another “double planet.” Given the tilts of each orbit, the next conjunction will actually be visible in 2080, according to projections from Rice University astronomer Patrick Hartigan.

But for many, this year will mark their first and only opportunity to get

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In Monterey Bay, California, scientists grab the chance to study white sharks up close

Growing over six meters (20 feet) long and armed with hundreds of serrated, razor-sharp teeth, white sharks are the world’s largest predatory fish.



a fish swimming under water


© Stanford University


In late summer and fall, up to 250 white sharks congregate in Monterey Bay, off the central Californian coast, to feast on marine mammals — including elephant seals and sea lions — that gather here to breed.

From a shark’s perspective, “think of Monterey Bay as having one of the best fast food restaurants on the planet,” says shark expert and Stanford professor, Barbara Block.

Block also travels to Monterey Bay because the annual marine mammal “buffet” offers her an ideal opportunity to study the sharks up close. She and her team lure the “curious” sharks alongside their small boat, attach electronic tags to their dorsal fins, and then track the sharks as they swim out to the open ocean and dive to depths of 2,000 meters (6,500 feet).

Data on white shark population sizes, life histories and migratory patterns, can be used to inform marine protection policy, says Block, adding that sharks play a vital role in maintaining ecological balance in the ocean. “We need these apex predators to keep our ecosystems healthy.”

Watch the video above to find out more.

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Pandemic spotlights education inequities. What schools are doing to close the gaps.

When the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing economic recession hit in early 2020, everyone faced new challenges and abrupt life changes. Some individuals, families, and communities are experiencing the effects more acutely than others — and disruptions to Washington students are particularly concerning.  

“National studies indicate that interruptions in education because of the pandemic are hitting some students of color and students from low-income backgrounds particularly hard compared to their peers,” says Brian Jeffries, policy director for Partnership for Learning.

A recent McKinsey study estimates that, because of COVID-related remote learning, K-12 students could return to school in January 2021 experiencing seven months of learning loss — and losses could be greater if school buildings remain closed beyond January. The study also concludes that learning loss experienced by Black students (10.3 months), Latinx students (9.2 months), and students from low-income backgrounds (12.4 months) could be even greater.

“The pandemic is clearly magnifying educational inequities that have long existed,” Jeffries adds.

In the broader economy, communities of color, young workers, and those with a high school diploma or less are bearing the brunt of the downturn. More than half of Black and Latinx households nationwide reported employment loss due to the pandemic. The national unemployment rate in October for workers age 20 to 24 was more than 1.5 times that of workers age 25 to 54. About two-thirds of workers claiming unemployment in Washington state in November did not have a credential, a 12 percentage point overrepresentation compared to non-credentialed workers in the general population.

“A critical take-away from the current economic recession is that, more than ever, post-high school credentials are essential in our state’s economy,” Jeffries says. “As we all manage life during the pandemic, it is imperative that students continue to learn and get the supports they need to prepare for and complete a credential, such as a degree, apprenticeship, or certificate.”

Strategies such as engaging families, partnering with community-based organizations, and using high-quality diagnostic tools can help maintain learning and support students, particularly those who are further from educational opportunity, to stay on track and work toward completing a postsecondary credential.

Supportive family involvement

As students navigate hybrid and virtual learning, both Liz Ritz, director of teaching and learning at Oak Harbor Schools, and Joycelin Vester, dean of students at North Whidbey Middle School, emphasize the importance of increased involvement with their students’ families to support academic success.

“It’s affirmation for parents to know that educators love and care about their kids and are thinking of them, even if we aren’t seeing them in person,” Vester says.

Educators are communicating with parents more intentionally and on an ongoing basis, and districts are getting creative about how they work together with parents to close equity gaps, says Michaela Miller, deputy superintendent at the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI).

“The pandemic has created a different and more meaningful opportunity to engage with families. The creativity and innovation around parent connection are critically important in closing gaps,” Miller

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Manned Mission To Mars Close To Possibility As New Tech Transforms Salty Water To Oxygen And Fuel

KEY POINTS

  • Unlike NASA’s MOXIE, this new technology can produce oxygen and hydrogen from salty water
  • The team behind this device wants to partner with NASA for its goal of bringing humans to Mars by 2023
  • Apart from Martian missions, the new technology is also useful on Earth

Access to water and fuel remains to be the biggest barrier to manned missions to Mars. The good news is that a new electrolyzer technology could trample that obstacle, making it possible for humans to survive the extreme conditions on the Red Planet. 

A team of engineers developed an electrolyzer device that can turn salty water into fuel and oxygen. Details of their development were published in the proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

This device can produce 25 times more oxygen than NASA’s Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE), which is currently used by the Perseverance rover that’s currently on its way to Mars.

Unlike MOXIE, which produces oxygen from carbon dioxide, the new tech from the engineers of Washington University can produce both oxygen and hydrogen even from salty water. 

“Our novel brine electrolyzer incorporates a lead ruthenate pyrochlore anode developed by our team in conjunction with a platinum on carbon cathode,” Vijay Ramani, lead author and professor at the McKelvey School of Engineering at Washington University, said in a press release.  

“These carefully designed components coupled with the optimal use of traditional electrochemical engineering principles has yielded this high performance,” he explained further.

The team hopes it could partner with NASA for its goal of bringing humans to Mars by 2023. After all, it performed a simulation of the Martian atmosphere at -33 degrees Fahrenheit in testing its brine electrolysis device.  

Salty water is abundant on Mars, a fact that has already been established by various studies in the past. In September, three underground lakes were also discovered on the Red Planet. The waters were found to contain extremely salty components. 

Apart from Martian missions, the technology is also useful on Earth, according to the engineers. The standard electrolysis device on Earth requires pure water, whereas this new device can make oxygen and fuel even from salty water, making it more economical to use. 

The electrolysis system also has diverse applications. For instance, submarines for deep ocean exploration can rely on the system to produce enough supply of oxygen and fuel from salty water.

Mars seen from the Hubble space telescope Mars seen from the Hubble space telescope Photo: NASA / NASA

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180-Foot Asteroid Will Come Extremely Close To Earth Thursday, Will Be Closer Than Moon

KEY POINTS

  • A 180-foot asteroid called 2020 VZ6 will be zipping by Earth Thursday
  • The asteroid will be closer to the planet than the moon at one point during its flyby
  • The space rock has not been included in the European Space Agency’s Risk List

A 180-foot asteroid will be zipping by Earth at a very close distance this week, according to NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS).

A near-Earth asteroid (NEA) called 2020 VZ6 is currently making its way toward Earth’s vicinity and is set to make its closest approach to the planet Thursday. With a diameter reaching 180 feet (55 meters), this asteroid is estimated to be as tall as the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy. The freestanding bell tower has a height of about 185 feet (56 meters).

The NEA’s size isn’t the most interesting part about it. 2020 VZ6, according to the CNEOS’ close approach data table, will fly by the planet very closely and will at one point be closer to Earth than even the moon.

At 6:06 a.m. EST, the asteroid will zip by at a distance of 214,000 miles (345,000 kilometers) away from the planet’s surface. This is less than one lunar distance (LD), or 238,000 miles, which is the distance of the moon from the Earth. 

Despite its close approach, 2020 VZ6 has not been included in the European Space Agency’s Risk List, which means it has no chance of entering Earth’s atmosphere and hitting the planet when it makes its flyby Thursday.

Asteroid 2020 VZ6 was discovered on Nov. 14. Considered an Apollo asteroid, the NEA follows an Earth-crossing orbit. This type of orbit intersects with that of the planet at a certain point. This would mean that close approaches are more likely to occur among Apollo asteroids.

The CNEOS is responsible for providing data pages for every near-Earth object (NEO) that passes by the planet. Information provided by the center includes orbital parameters, a close approach summary of the NEO, an interactive orbit viewer for better viewing of its route and other facts such as its discovery date.

The CNEOS is part of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), which predicts all NEO close approaches to Earth. Comprehensive assessments are made regarding each NEO/NEA and are uploaded to the site for the public to access.

In the event of a predicted impact of an NEA, CNEOS is the one assigned to provide the public with information on the impact time, location and geometry of the asteroid.

nasa giant asteroid vesta This full view of the giant asteroid Vesta was taken by NASA Dawn spacecraft, as part of a rotation characterization sequence on July 24, 2011, at a distance of 3,200 miles and shows impact craters of various sizes and grooves parallel to the equator. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

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820-Foot Asteroid Is Zooming Toward Earth At 68,000 Mph, To Make Close Approach This Week

KEY POINTS

  • 2020 WD5 will zip past Earth on Thursday 
  • The NEA is taller than the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco
  • The NEA has not been added to the ESA Risk List

To welcome the final month of the year is an 820 ft (250 m) asteroid, according to the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS). The giant, which is expected to be three-fourths as tall as the Eiffel Tower, is set to pass Thursday.

CNEOS’ Close Approach Data Table reported that a Near-Earth Asteroid (NEA) identified as 2020 WD5 is hurtling toward Earth this week. The NEA is said to be traveling at a speed of 18 miles per second (about 68,000 mph) and is expected to make its close approach Thursday, at 4:27 p.m. EDT.

The asteroid 2020 WD5 is about three-fourths as big as the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France. The tower, considered as the largest structure in Paris, stands at a height of 1,060 ft (323 m). For residents in San Francisco, the NEA would be taller than the Golden Gate Bridge in California. The height of each tower of the bridge is about 745 feet (227 m).

Luckily, the European Space Agency (ESA) has not included the giant NEA on its Risk List, although it still is under close observation by the agency. 2020 WD5’s closest approach with the planet will be about 3,900,000 miles (6,000,000 km) away from the planet’s surface.

2020 WD5 is an Apollo NEA, which means it follows an orbit that crosses that of the Earth. Asteroids with Earth-crossing orbits have a higher chance of having close approaches with the planet, with some entering the Earth’s atmosphere.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) Database Browser indicated that the NEA was first discovered on Nov. 18.

Asteroid The left-hand image shows SPHERE observations of Asteroid 1999 KW4. The angular resolution in this image is equivalent to picking out a single building in New York — from Paris. An artist’s impression of the asteroid pair is shown on the right. Photo: ESO

The CNEOS is responsible for making comprehensive assessments of near-Earth objects which pass near the planet. Continually updated calculations of orbital parameters, close approaches, and impact risks of asteroids are available on the website.

CNEOS provides a data page for every NEO, providing its parameters, approach summary, and an interactive orbit viewer which enables viewers to get a better view of the NEO. The parameters of each NEO are archived in the JPL Small-Body DataBase (SBDB).

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Stanford women inch Tara VanDerveer close to history with 68-point win

The college basketball season tipped off on Wednesday for most men’s and women’s teams around the Bay Area, but unlike a typical year, coaches and players may not measure their success in wins and losses.

As COVID-19 cases continue to rise around the country and in nearly every Bay Area county, simply staying healthy enough to play is a victory as dozens of programs were forced to cancel games this week.

The Stanford men’s team had its opener against Utah Valley called off on Wednesday after the Wolverines had a positive test within the program while the Cal men’s team shuffled its schedule to open the year in a non-conference matchup with Pac-12 foe Oregon State after its initial opponent, Colorado State, registered multiple positive coronavirus tests.

Cal had already stopped practices and team meetings earlier in the month due to the coronavirus, so the Bears understand that completing the season will require an unprecedented level of flexibility.

“In a year when disruption is likely the norm, we had to adjust with our own COVID-19 shutdown earlier this month, and now with Colorado State’s situation,” Cal head coach Mark Fox said in a press release. “It was not possible to replace Colorado State on such short notice and playing Oregon State proved to be the best solution because it’s most important that we play when we can safely do so.”

Guard Matt Bradley paced Cal with 21 points in Wednesday’s opener in Corvallis, but it wasn’t enough to save the Bears in a 71-63 loss to the Beavers.

The Bears return to action at 3 p.m. on Thursday against NAIA opponent, Northwest.

San Jose State women upset Cal

The Spartans shot under 29% from the field on Wednesday, but overcame a nine-point deficit after the first quarter to earn a 56-48 win, their first victory over a Pac-12 school since 2009. Three Spartans scored in double figures including senior Tyra Whitehead who recorded her 10th career double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds.

Ayzhiana Basallo scored the final six points of the game by hitting six free throws in the last 45 seconds.

Stanford women pile it on

Stanford scored at least 21 points in all four quarters and rolled to a 108-40 win over the Cal Poly Mustangs in Wednesday’s season-opener. The 68-point margin was the third largest in program history and moved legendary head coach Tara VanDerveer within four victories of passing the late Tennessee Volunteers head coach Pat Summitt to become the all-time winningest head coach in NCAA Division I women’s basketball.

Stanford star Haley Jones scored 16 points and added 10 rebounds in her first game action since suffering a season-ending knee injury 10 months ago.

The Cardinal’s next game, a Sunday matchup with the University of Pacific, has already been canceled due to a positive COVID-19 test that forced the Tigers to suspend program operations.

St. Mary’s men lose on national television, women shoot well but drop opener

The Gaels traveled to Sioux Falls, South

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2,690-Foot Asteroid Makes Close Approach To Earth On Thanksgiving Weekend

KEY POINTS

  • A massive asteroid will pass by Earth Sunday at 1:08 a.m. EST, according to NASA’s CNEOS
  • The space rock is estimated to be as massive as the Burj Khalifa in Dubai at 2,690 feet
  • The giant asteroid will zip past Earth harmlessly and is not included in the ESA’s Risk List

Passing by this Thanksgiving weekend is a rare 2,690-foot asteroid — a memorable way to mark this year’s holiday amid the pandemic.

Data gathered by NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies showed that an asteroid nearly as massive as the Burj Khalifa is expected to zip past Earth Sunday at 1:08 a.m. EST.

The giant asteroid, identified as 153201 (2000 WO107), is the biggest among the several near-Earth asteroids (NEA) that will make close approaches to Earth this week. If the visual of the Burj Khalifa (2,720 feet) in Dubai is not enough to give an idea about the space rock’s size, imagine stacking two Empire State Buildings (1,250 feet) on top of each other.

A 2,690-foot asteroid hurtling toward the planet certainly isn’t a pleasant thought to have during the holidays, especially if one considers the damage it could potentially cause if it crashes on Earth. However, the CNEOS has confirmed that the asteroid will pass by harmlessly when it makes its flyby in a few days.

The asteroid has not been included in the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Risk List and is also not a part of the space agency’s Priority List, which means it doesn’t pose a threat to Earth.

The closest distance asteroid 153201 (2000 WO107) will get is about 2.6 million miles (4.3 million kilometers) away from the surface of the planet, according to the CNEOS’ Close Approach Data Table.

The NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Small-Body Database Browser said the space rock was discovered about 20 years ago on Nov. 29, 2000.

The NEA is classified as an Aten asteroid, which means it has an Earth-crossing orbit that intersects with that of the planet at certain points. Aten asteroids have a higher chance of making a close approach to Earth due to the shape of their orbits. 

CNEOS is responsible for predicting near-Earth objects’ (NEO) close approaches with Earth. Continuously making calculations on different asteroid diameters, impact risks and statistics, the CNEOS publishes its findings on its website to inform the public about any updates concerning NEOs.

Burj Khalifa Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest tower, is located outside of the Dubai Mall. Photo: Reuters

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This Nuclear Fusion Reactor Is Damn Close to Burning Plasma



This nuclear fusion reactor is damn close to achieving "burning plasma." It will be a monumental milestone on the road to igniting a fusion reaction.


© Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory –
This nuclear fusion reactor is damn close to achieving “burning plasma.” It will be a monumental milestone on the road to igniting a fusion reaction.

  • The National Ignition Facility bombards fuel with lasers to reach productive fusion.
  • The fuel pellet is held inside a golden crucible that scientists are constantly redesigning.
  • Scientists are doing whatever they can to boost output without increasing power input.

A major nuclear fusion reactor powered by lasers has set up a new series of milestones. The National Ignition Facility (NIF), at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in California, says that after a decade of challenges, it’s finally homing in on the right range to reach productive nuclear fusion.

☢️ You love nuclear. So do we. Let’s nerd out over nuclear together.

This puts the facility in a slow-motion dead heat with half a dozen major fusion projects around the world that are all, they say, finally striding toward the goal of fusion ignition.

Science’s Daniel Clery reports:

“A decade and nearly 3000 shots later, NIF is still generating more fizz than bang, hampered by the complex, poorly understood behavior of the laser targets when they vaporize and implode. But with new target designs and laser pulse shapes, along with better tools to monitor the miniature explosions, NIF researchers believe they are close to an important intermediate milestone known as ‘burning plasma’: a fusion burn sustained by the heat of the reaction itself rather than the input of laser energy.”

Fusion has something of a reputation within the energy industry. The technology is far out in spirit and in mechanics, requiring an astonishing amount of energy input with the goal to turn out more than it takes in. But to even design and run experiments on these reactors is a huge cost—one that critics say isn’t any more worthwhile today than it has been for decades.

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Fusion advocates say they’re closer than ever to their extraordinary goals. And at LLNL, their approach continues to move along its own trajectory.

In the NIF, nearly 200 lasers bombard a tiny morsel of nuclear fuel—and the beams don’t even touch the fuel.

“The beams heat a gold can the size of a pencil eraser called a hohlraum, which emits a pulse of x-rays meant to ignite fusion by heating the fuel capsule at its center to tens of millions of degrees and compressing it to billions of atmospheres,” Science reports. The hohlraum is like an amped-up, centimeter-small crucible where all the action must happen.

📚 Further Reading: The Best Nuclear Books

Using a series of laser pulses means the harmonics of those pulses must be considered. In this case, LLNL has begun to leverage

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College football picks, odds for Big Ten in Week 12: Ohio State, Wisconsin stay close in marquee games

The Big Ten has been full of surprises over the past month since the conference returned to play. The conference has also been heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and last Saturday’s game between Ohio State and Maryland was canceled as a result of an outbreak within Maryland’s football program. 

The big matchup that everyone will have their eye on this week will be No. 3 Ohio State playing host to No. 9 Indiana in arguably the most-anticipated game in the Big Ten so far this season. Indiana has been one of the surprises in the conference as its jumped out to a 4-0 record with wins over Michigan and Penn State. The Hoosiers are coming off of a dominant win over Michigan State. If Indiana truly wants to challenge for a spot in the Big Title title game, this one that they’re going to need to win. 

On the contrary, Ohio State has its eyes on the College Football Playoff and needs to keep the train on the tracks. There aren’t any more ranked teams on Ohio State’s schedule following this week’s contest, so this is a chance for a marquee win for the Buckeyes.

Let’s dive into all the Big Ten action with this week’s Big Ten picks.

Minnesota is the team that I just can’t seem to quit. After being burned by the Golden Gophers multiple times so far this season, I’m still confident in what Minnesota will be able to do from an offensive standpoint this weekend. Purdue has held its opponents to just 3.8 yards per carry in 2020, which is one of the best rates in the Big Ten. However, the Boilermakers haven’t faced a rushing attack like Minnesota. Even in last week’s four-touchdown loss to Iowa, star running back Mohamed Ibrahim still racked up 33 carries. Minnesota won’t ever shy away from the run game and I think the Gophers can easily take this one. Pick: Minnesota (+2.5)

I came away very surprised with Nebraska’s effort against Penn State last week. Luke McCaffrey got the start under center and didn’t have a bad game. His athleticism certainly gives the Cornhuskers some upside at the position, but I still need to see more from McCaffrey on a weekly basis. This is the game where McCaffrey could definitely break out against an Illinois that is giving up almost 35 points a game. While 15.5 points is a lot, Illinois just doesn’t have enough talent at the skill positions to keep up. Pick: Nebraska (-15.5)

Indiana at Ohio State

Indiana has easily been the biggest surprise in the Big Ten this season and Saturday offers its biggest test. If the Hoosiers want to earn a spot in the Big Ten title game, this is a game that they have to win. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love quarterback Michael Penix Jr. and what Indiana has done this season. However, defeating Ohio State is a completely different animal. Justin Fields will have success against this tough

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