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Since astronauts must learn to adjust to dark, isolated and confined spaces, scant equipment, privacy and supplies--where better to practice for the deprivations of life in space than deep underground? Because navigating safely in a cave requires tethering, 3D orientation, with no-touch areas (statlactites, stalagmites) and treacherous no-go zones, it can provide many of the same technical challenges as a spacewalk.

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One of the better images from the transit of Venus to emerge this week comes from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory. It shows a detailed view of the face of the Sun with Venus approaching on June 5th, 2012.

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As the next residents of the International Space Station--Gennady Padalka and Sergei Revin of Russia and Joe Acaba from the USA--prepared for takeoff on May 15th, an Orthodox priest blessed the Soyuz rocket at the Baikonur Cosmodrome Launch pad on Monday, May 14, 2012, in Kazakhstan.

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NASA has released a new three-part composite image of 30 Doradus created to celebrate the Hubble telescope’s 22nd anniversary in orbit. It combines one image each from NASA’s great observatories; Chandra, Spitzer and Hubble. 30 Doradus is a large star-creating region in our neighboring galaxy, the Large Magellanic Cloud. Smack in the middle of 30 Doradus, thousands of stars are producing radiation and intense winds. Super hot gases from these winds and explosions are detected by the Chandra X-ray Observatory–here you can see these as blue. The Hubble image is green and shows the light of these huge stars and stages of star births. The Spitzer image can be seen in red, and shows cooler gas and dust formed by the powerful winds at the center.

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The rare transit of Venus across the face of the Sun in 2004 was photographed widely from Europe, to Asia to Africa and North America by professionals and amateurs. North Carolina based photographer David Cortner explains how he made the photograph, which was featured on Astronomy Picture of the Day: “I made this photo on a rainy morning from an overlook above North Carolina’s Catawba River. The sky was clear for only a few minutes, just long enough to grab this photo with a Nikon DSLR and a 5-inch Astro-Physics refractor. I wouldn’t have bothered to get up at all except for the thought that if James Cook would sail halfway around the world to see a transit of Venus, who was I not to at least set up the telescope and hope for the best.”

The next transit of Venus will be in on June 5 or 6, depending on your location. You may want to pencil it in, because the one after June 2012 is not until December 2117. Venus transits come in pairs, eight years apart, then don’t come again for more than 100 years. To see a NASA simulation of the coming transit, click here.

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Connecticut-based artist Bryan Nash Gill rescues wood from lumberyards and from land near his home, cutting and preparing blocks of different trees, cut lumber, plywood, and even a cedar telephone pole, making relief prints by pressing the inked wood to paper. The results are engrossing documents that tell the story of the wood over time—showing how old it is, how its branches healed over after a cut, what insects lived inside it, the speed and shape of its growth pattern, and even the weather. A swell coffee table companion for hip young DIY-ers who cultivate a lumberjack look that says they’ve come straight from splitting firewood, the new book “Woodcut” is also likely to appeal to a much wider audience.

Captions by Bryan Nash Gill


Red Ash Heartwood. The heartwood is the central nonliving part of the trunk with the densest and hardest wood. This is a full bleed print of the center of the Ash block–the annual ringed radiate form the tree’s first year at the center to the edges of the paper.


Locust. “I discovered this block while cutting split-rail rending. the print showcase the distinct separation of heartwood form sapwood (the softer, more productive layers of wood), as well as the beginning of branching and a ray-like pattern of checks.”


Hemlock. “This trunk was found at a pig farm in Barkhamsted, Connecticut. I was immediately drawn the the strong pattern of the wavy rings (the result of irregularities in the froth of the bole). In the print, a cut branch creates a prominent form that extends from the center to the right edge, and various insect holes dot the lower perimeter of the block.”

Eastern Red Cedar. Red Cedar is often used for fence posts because of its resistance to rot (it has high oil content and is very dense). It also has an attractive purple center and a distinct, familiar smell that repels insects. The piece has a strong outer edge and when found had a vine of poison ivy growing up its bar


Maple. “As I was preparing firewood for the winter, I noticed the undulating outer edge of this maple specimen. Maples generally grow straight and tall in the thick woods, however, at ground level, some take on a naturally curvy shape. Lacking visible growth rings (typical of hard maple wood), the perimeter is imperative to the success of the print. The block also features marks of peeling bark and rot, seen in the white shapes just off center.”

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