UNIVERSE TODAY Update 1

THIS PAGE FEATURES HIGHLIGHTS FROM  UNIVERSETODAY.COM


March 16th, 2009

The Two Shall Become One (Galaxy, that is)

This image of a pair of colliding galaxies called NGC 6240 shows them in a rare, short-lived phase of their evolution just before they merge into a single, larger galaxy. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/STScI-ESA

This image of a pair of colliding galaxies called NGC 6240 shows them in a rare, short-lived phase of their evolution just before they merge into a single, larger galaxy. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/STScI-ESA


An imminent collision of biblical proportions has been captured by the Hubble and Spitzer Space Telescopes. The image here offers a rare view of a collision about to happen between the cores of two merging galaxies, each powered by a black hole with millions of times the mass of the sun. Already this union is considered to be one galaxy: NGC 6240, located 400-million light years away in the constellation Ophiuchus. Millions of years ago, each core was the dense center of its own galaxy before the two galaxies collided and ripped each other apart. Now, these cores are approaching each other at tremendous speeds and preparing for the final cataclysmic collision. They will crash into each other in a just a few million years.
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Filed under: Hubble, Spitzer, galaxies | 6 Comments »


March 16th, 2009

Indian Balloon Experiment Nets Three New Bacteria

balloon

Credit: ISRO

Indian scientists flying a giant balloon experiment have announced the discovery of three new species of bacteria from the stratosphere.

In all, 12 bacterial and six fungal colonies were detected, nine of which, based on gene sequencing, showed greater than 98 percent similarity with reported known species on earth. Three bacterial colonies, however, represented totally new species. All three boast significantly higher UV resistance compared to their nearest phylogenetic neighbors on Earth.

The experiment was conducted using a balloon that measures 26.7 million cubic feet  (756,059 cubic meters) carrying 1,000 pounds (459 kg) of scientific payload soaked in liquid Neon. It was flown from the National Balloon Facility in Hyderabad, operated by the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR). 

An onboard cryosampler contained sixteen evacuated and sterilized stainless steel probes. Throughout the flight, the probes remained immersed in liquid Neon to create a cryopump effect. The cylinders, after collecting air samples from different heights ranging from 20 km to 41 km (12 to 25 miles) above the Earth's surface, were parachuted down and retrieved. The samples were analyzed by scientists at the Center for Cellular and Molecular Biology in Hyderabad as well as the National Center for Cell Science in Pune for independent confirmation.

One of the new species has been named as Janibacter hoylei, after the astrophysicist Fred Hoyle, the second as Bacillus isronensis recognizing the contribution of ISRO in the balloon experiments which led to its discovery, and the third as Bacillus aryabhata after India’s celebrated ancient astronomer Aryabhata (also the name of ISRO's first satellite).

The researchers have pointed out in a press release that precautionary measures and controls operating in the experiment inspire confidence that the new species were picked up in the stratosphere.

"While the present study does not conclusively establish the extra-terrestrial origin of microorganisms, it does provide positive encouragement to continue the work in our quest to explore the origin of life," they added.

This was the second such experiment conducted by ISRO, with the first one in 2001. Even though the first experiment had yielded positive results, the researchers decided to repeat the experiment while exercising extra care to ensure that it was totally free from any terrestrial contamination.

Source: Indian Space Research Organisation

Additional links: Center for Cellular and Molecular BiologyNational Center for Cell ScienceTata Institute of Fundamental Research



March 16th, 2009

ESO Image Reveals Galaxy Duo in Explosive Dance

arp-261

The 'peculiar galaxy' Arp 261 has been imaged in unprecedented detail, revealing two galaxies in a slow motion — but highly chaotic and disruptive — close encounter. 

Arp 261 lies about 70 million light-years distant in the constellation of Libra, the Scales. The new close-up was captured by the ESO’s Very Large Telescope, at the Paranal Observatory in Chile.

Although individual stars are very unlikely to collide in such an interaction, the huge clouds of gas and dust certainly do crash into each other at high speed, leading to the formation of bright new clusters of very hot stars that are clearly seen in the picture. The paths of the existing stars in the galaxies are also dramatically disrupted, creating the faint swirls extending to the upper left and lower right of the image. Both interacting galaxies were probably dwarfs not unlike the Magellanic Clouds orbiting our own galaxy.

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March 15th, 2009

Journey Inside M104

Sombrero Parallel by Jukka Metsavainio

Sombrero Parallel by Jukka Metsavainio


Almost every amateur astronomer is familiar with the Sombrero Galaxy (also known as M104 or NGC 4594) - an unbarred spiral galaxy in the constellation Virgo. We've seen it in both small and large telescopes, picked up its ghostly signature in binoculars and dreamed over its structure in photographs. Now, for the first time ever, Jukka Metsavainio is giving us the opportunity to visualize what it might be like to approach this amazing galaxy from space and see it in dimension. Step inside and let's learn. Click to continue…

Filed under: Astrophotos | 31 Comments »


March 13th, 2009

Earth Cyclones, Venus Vortices Have Much in Common

vi0310_02_5_h

Scientists have spotted an S-shaped feature in the center of the vortices on Venus that looks familiar — because they've seen it in tropical cyclones on Earth.

Researchers from the United States and Europe spotted the feature using NASA's Pioneer Venus Orbiter and The European Space Agency's Venus Express. Their new discovery confirms that massive, swirling wind patterns have much in common where they have been found — on Venus, Saturn and Earth.

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Filed under: Astronomy, NASA, Venus | 46 Comments »


March 13th, 2009

Google Earth Now 'Live From Mars'

Mars in Google Earth.  Credit: Google
Google Earth announced a big update today of its Mars features, including a chance to see a continuous stream of new, high resolution satellite imagery just hours after NASA receives them. Called "Live from Mars," this section features imagery from NASA's THEMIS camera on board the Mars Odyssey spacecraft, and the HiRISE Camera from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. You can become one of the very first people to lay eyes on images taken just days or even hours ago. You can also see live satellite orbital tracks, or check out where these cameras plan to image next.

But wait! There's more! Users can also travel back in time to see the Red Planet through the eyes of the pioneers of Mars science in the 'Historical Maps' layer by exploring antique maps by astronomers Giovanni Schiaparelli, Percival Lowell, and others. But also, if you don't know exactly where to start with your Mars exploration, there are guided tours of Mars narrated by Ira Flatow of Public Radio's Science Friday and Bill Nye the Science Guy, allowing you to enjoy the PB&J (passion, beauty and joy) of the Red Planet through their eyes.
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Filed under: Mars | 18 Comments »


March 12th, 2009

New Horizons Spots Neptune's Moon Triton

nh_triton_composite

New Horizons got a great shot of Neptune's moon Triton last fall, as it was trucking toward Pluto and the Kuiper Belt. 

The mission was 2.33 billion miles (3.75 billion kilometers) from Neptune on Oct. 16, when its Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) locked onto the planet and snapped away. The craft was following a programmed sequence of commands as part of its annual checkout. NASA released the image Thursday afternoon.

Mission scientists say the shot was good practice for imaging Pluto, which New Horizons will do in 2015. Neptune's moon Triton and Pluto — the former planet retitled in 2006 as the ambassador to the Kuiper Belt — have much in common.

“Among the objects visited by spacecraft so far, Triton is by far the best analog of Pluto,” said New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern. 

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Filed under: Missions, NASA, Neptune, Pluto | 2 Comments »


March 12th, 2009

Dawn Spacecraft on Target for Vesta Following Gravity Assist

This image was taken near the point of closest approach to Mars on Feb. 17, 2009, during Dawn's gravity assist flyby. Image credit: NASA/JPL/MPS/DLR/IDA, and the Dawn Flight Team

Recently, the Dawn spacecraft – on its circuitous route to the asteroid belt — used the gravity of Mars to provide a little 'kick' to the spacecraft's velocity. Universe Today finally had the chance to catch up with the team from the Dawn mission following this maneuver to find out how things went, and how the spacecraft is doing following the gravity assist operations. "The gravity assist accomplished exactly what we needed to get on course for Vesta," Dawn Chief Engineer Marc Rayman told UT. "In addition to the gravity assist, we decided to undertake some bonus instrument calibrations, taking advantage of flying by such a well-studied planet. In doing so, we obtained some performance data on some of our instruments." The image seen here of Mars' surface is one of the results of those calibrations.
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Filed under: Asteroids, Missions | 6 Comments »


March 12th, 2009

Stars at Milky Way Core 'Exhale' Carbon, Oxygen

'Cat's Eye' Planetary Nebula

Carbon and oxygen have been spotted in the dust around stars in the center of the Milky Way galaxy, suggesting that the stars have undergone recent disruptionsof some kind — and hinting at a new way that stars can send heavy elements — like oxygen, carbon, and iron — out across the universe, paving the way for life.

Scientists have long expected to find carbon-rich stars in our galaxy because we know that significant quantities of carbon must be created in many such stars. But carbon had not previously shown up in the clouds of gas around these stars, said Matthew Bobrowsky, an astrophysicist at the University of Maryland and a co-author of a new study reporting the discovery.

“Based on our findings, this is because medium-sized stars rich in carbon sometimes keep that carbon hidden until very near the end of their stellar lives, releasing it only with their final ‘exhalations’,” explained Bobrowsky.

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Filed under: Astronomy, Spitzer, milky way | 8 Comments »


March 12th, 2009

Hubble Finds Evidence of Dark Matter Around Small Galaxies

Perseus Cluster.  Credit: NASA, ESA, and Z. Levay (STScI)
The Hubble Space Telescope has uncovered a strong new line of evidence that galaxies are embedded in halos of dark matter. By looking at the Perseus galaxy cluster, Hubble discovered a large number of small galaxies that have remained intact while larger galaxies around them are being ripped apart by the gravitational tug of other galaxies. "We were surprised to find so many dwarf galaxies in the core of this cluster that were so smooth and round and had no evidence at all of any kind of disturbance," said astronomer Christopher Conselice of the University of Nottingham, UK, and leader of the team that made the Hubble observations. "These dwarfs are very old galaxies that have been in the cluster for a long time. So if something was going to disrupt them, it would have happened by now. They must be very, very dark-matter-dominated galaxies."
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Filed under: Hubble | 29 Comments »


March 12th, 2009

Cassini Switches to Backup Thrusters

cassini

Artist's rendering of the Cassini spacecraft. Credit: NASA

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NASA's Cassini spacecraft successfully switched to a backup set of propulsion thrusters late Wednesday, which will allow the long-lived machine to continue scoping out Saturn and its moons.

The swap was performed because of degradation in the performance of the primary thrusters, which had been in use since Cassini’s launch in 1997. This is only the second time in Cassini’s 11 years of flight that the engineering teams have gone to a backup system.

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Filed under: Missions, NASA, Saturn | 3 Comments »


March 12th, 2009

Close Call: Astronauts Evacuate But Space Station Avoids Debris Hit

International Space Station.  Credit: NASA

International Space Station. Credit: NASA


The three crew members on board the International Space Station were told to "evacuate" into the Soyuz spacecraft earlier today, when they were notified of possible debris hit to the station. However, thankfully, the debris passed by harmlessly. NASA and mission control in Moscow received a "RED threshold late notice conjunction threat alert” Thursday morning, confirming the object, cataloged as "25090 PAM-D" – said to be a piece of a spent satellite rocket motor –, would approach near the station at 16:39 GMT. Mission control radioed to the crew the possibility of impact to the station was low, but the piece of debris was large enough that if it hit the ISS, there would only be a 10 minute reserve time. NASA sources said the debris was estimated to be 0.009 meters (0.35 inches) wide, weighing less than 1 kg, (Update: NASA now says the object was about 5 inches (12.7 cm) and was expected to pass about 4.5 kilometers (2.8 miles) from the station. That is close enough for concern in space.
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Filed under: Space Station | 8 Comments »


March 12th, 2009

Book Review: Solar Sails – A Novel Approach to Interplanetary Travel

Solar Sails - A Novel Approach to Interplanetary Travel

Solar Sails - A Novel Approach to Interplanetary Travel


Great pleasure can be had in sailing across a gentle, blue sea with a fair wind at the back. With little more effort than a slight nudge upon the tiller, you and your craft can travel great distances at a leisurely, enjoyable, relaxing pace. Now, replace wind and water by sail and photon as a trio of authors write in their book "Solar Sails – A Novel Approach to Interplanetary Travel". In it, Giovanni Vulpetti, Les Johnson and Gregory L. Matloff show a very capable and promising method of local and interstellar travel.
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Filed under: Book Reviews | 10 Comments »


March 12th, 2009

ISS Crew May Need to Evacuate: Possible Debris Hit

Soyuz attached to the ISS. Credit: NASA

Soyuz attached to the ISS. Credit: NASA


According to NASASpaceflight.com, the three crew members on board the International Space Station are being prepared for the contingency of evacuation into the Soyuz spacecraft attached to the station following a “RED threshold late notice conjunction threat” alert. The object's closest approach would occur at 11:39 CDT, slightly more than an hour from the time of this posting. The object, cataloged as "25090 PAM-D" is orbital debris, and was initially classed as a low threat of collision with the ISS. However, latest tracking suggests the threat is now greater. As a contingency, NASA’s Expedition 18 Commander Mike Fincke, Russian Flight Engineer Yury Lonchakov, and NASA’s Sandra Magnus may be asked to evacuate into the Russian Soyuz, which would serve as their means of departing from the Station - should it be required.
UPDATE: (10:45 am CDT) Communications with ISS crew from mission control confirms the crew will be going into the Soyuz in case of impact. There is a low probability of impact, but the object is large, and if it does hit, they are talking about only a 10 minute reserve time. Fincke will be closing out the hatches on the US segment.
2nd UPDATE (11:15 am CDT) ISS is closing hatches on all the modules in preparation for evacuation into Soyuz. Crew will stay in the Soyuz from 16:30 to 16:45 GMT, possible debris hit would be at 16:39.
Final update: Debris passed harmlessly. See post-event article.
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Filed under: Space Station | 12 Comments »


March 12th, 2009

Why is Science Important?

Science is everywhere in today’s world. It is part of our daily lives, from cooking and gardening, to recycling and comprehending the daily weather report, to reading a map and using a computer. Advances in technology and science are transforming our world at an incredible pace, and our children’s future will surely be filled with leaps in technology we can only imagine. Being “science literate” will no longer be just an advantage but an absolute necessity. We can’t escape from the significance of science in our world.

But not everyone understands that, or has been taught to think critically, or been provided with the tools to analyze and test a problem or situation.

Alom Shaha is a school teacher in the UK, and he has put together a website and a video, asking people to share why science is important. There are scientists, educators, psychologists, artists and many others from different walks of life who participated in this project. The video is of exceptional quality, and I urge everyone to watch and share it.


March 11th, 2009

Fermilab Putting the Squeeze on Higgs Boson

smhiggs05-0440-01d_hr

The Standard Model describes the interactions of fundamental particles. The W boson, the carrier of the electroweak force, has a mass that is fundamentally relevant for many predictions, from the energy emitted by our sun to the mass of the elusive Higgs boson. Credit: Fermilab

Scientists at the Department of Energy’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory have achieved the world’s most precise measurement of the mass of the W boson by a single experiment. Combined with other measurements, a tighter understanding of the W boson mass will also lead researchers closer to the mass of the elusive Higgs boson particle.

The Higgs boson is a theoretical but as yet unseen particle, also called the "God particle," that is believed to give other particles their mass. The W boson, which is about 85 times heavier than a proton, enables radioactive beta decay and makes the sun shine. 

Today's announcement marks the second major discovery in a week for the international DZero collaboration at Fermilab. Earlier this week, the group announced the production of a single top quark at Fermilab's Tevatron collider. 

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Filed under: Physics | 6 Comments »


March 9th, 2009

Fermilab Scientists Discover Rare Single Top Quark

This proton-antiproton collision, recorded by the DZero collaboration, is among the single top quark candidate events. The top quark decayed and produced a bottom quark jet (b jet), a muon and a neutrino. Credit: DZero collaboration.

This proton-antiproton collision, recorded by the DZero collaboration, is among the single top quark candidate events. The top quark decayed and produced a bottom quark jet (b jet), a muon and a neutrino. Credit: DZero collaboration.


Scientists at Fermilab have observed particle collisions that produce single top quarks, a 1 in 20 billion find. This discovery confirms important parameters of particle physics, including the total number of quarks. Previously, top quarks had only been observed when produced by the strong nuclear force. That interaction leads to the production of pairs of top quarks. The production of single top quarks involves the weak nuclear force and is harder to identify experimentally. This observation occurred almost 14 years to the day of the top quark discovery in 1995.
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March 11th, 2009

Top Ten Gamma Ray Sources from the Fermi Telescope

This view from NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope is the deepest and best-resolved portrait of the gamma-ray sky to date. The image shows how the sky appears at energies more than 150 million times greater than that of visible light. Among the signatures of bright pulsars and active galaxies is something familiar -- a faint path traced by the sun. Credit: NASA/DOE/Fermi LAT Collaboration

The Fermi Telescope is seeing a Universe ablaze with Gamma Rays! A new map combining nearly three months of data from the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope is giving astronomers an unprecedented look at the high-energy cosmos."Fermi has given us a deeper and better-resolved view of the gamma-ray sky than any previous space mission," said Peter Michelson, the lead scientist for the spacecraft's Large Area Telescope (LAT) at Stanford University, Calif. "We're watching flares from supermassive black holes in distant galaxies and seeing pulsars, high-mass binary systems, and even a globular cluster in our own." The sources of these gamma rays come from within our solar system to galaxies billions of light-years away. To show the variety of the objects the LAT is seeing, the Fermi team created a "top ten" list comprising five sources within the Milky Way and five beyond our galaxy.
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Filed under: Astronomy, Satellites | 32 Comments »


March 11th, 2009

Watch Discovery Light Up the Night Sky

Shuttle Discovery on the launchpad.  Credit:  NASA/Bill Ingalls

Shuttle Discovery on the launchpad. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls


2nd UPDATE: (6:45 EDT) Mission managers have reset the launch of Discovery on STS-119 to no earlier than Sunday, March 15 at 7:43:38 p.m. EDT. Engineers will troubleshoot problems with a leaky hydrogen line.

UPDATE: (2:25 pm EDT) Launch scrub due to leak in hydrogen line while fueling. Rats! Latest news is that NASA will try again tomorrow to launch. The launch time has now been set for 8:54 pm EDT on Thursday, March 12.

Space shuttle Discovery will light up the night sky with a Wednesday Thursday Sunday evening launch, at 9:20 pm EDT (1:20 am GMT). 8:54 pd EDT (12:54 am GMT). 7:43 pm EDT (11:443 pm GMT). Mission managers have given the go-ahead for filling the external fuel tank with the super-cold propellants and the weather looks favorable, so things are looking good for an on-time launch. Night launches are always gorgeous to watch, and there are a plethora of ways to follow the launch. First and foremost, if you live along the Eastern coast of the United States, you may be able to see the shuttle rise from Earth with your own eyes! If the skies are clear in your area, look low in the sky at launch time, about 5 to 15 degrees above the horizon, depending on your viewing point. You'll see a light moving quite fast, streaking across 90 degrees of azimuth in less than a minute.

Below is a list of the different webcasts and feeds that will be showing the launch live for those of us that don't live on the US Eastern seaboard. Plus, I'll be Twittering during pre-launch and launch if you want to join me.
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Filed under: NASA, Space Shuttle | 4 Comments »


March 10th, 2009

Phoenix Team Divided: Are the Mars Liquid Water Observations a "Matter of Belief"?

Detail of the three controversial images of the Phoenix Mars Lander's leg. Are they droplets of water? (Renno, et al., NASA)

Last month, it was announced that in the few days after the landing of the Phoenix lander in May 2008, the camera attached to the robotic arm captured visual evidence of (what appeared to be) droplets of water, almost like condensation forming on the leg of the lander. In three images dated on sol 8, sol 31 and sol 44 of the mission, the droplets appear to move, in a fluid-like manner. Although a recent publication indicates this oddity could be a water-perchlorate mix (where the toxic salt acts as a potent anti-freeze, preventing the water from freezing and subliming), other members of the Phoenix team are very dubious, saying that there is another, more likely explanation…
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Filed under: Mars | 19 Comments »


March 10th, 2009

Hubble, VLT Team Up to View the History of the Universe in 3-D

NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope images of the three galaxies studied by a team of astronomers who try to understand how galaxies formed when the Universe was half its current age (upper panels). The same galaxies were then studied with the FLAMES/GIRAFFE instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) to probe the motions of gas in these objects (lower panels). P
Once upon a time, before our Sun and Earth existed, distant galaxies were being created. Because this happened so long ago, astronomers know very little about how these galaxies formed. But now, by combining the Hubble Space Telescope's acute vision with the Very Large Telescope's spectrograph, astronomers have obtained exceptional 3-D views of distant galaxies, seen when the Universe was half its current age. By looking at this unique “history book” of our Universe, scientists hope to solve the puzzle of how galaxies formed in the remote past.
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Filed under: Hubble, galaxies | 2 Comments »


March 10th, 2009

Debris From Satellite Collision to Start Entering Earth's Atmosphere

Map of debris from satellite collision.  Credit: Dan Deak and Spaceweather.com

Map of debris from satellite collision. Credit: Dan Deak and Spaceweather.com

Debris from the satellite collision that occurred on February 10th will soon start entering Earth's atmosphere. 355 debris fragments from the collision between the Cosmos 2251 and the Iridium 33 satellites are being tracked by US Strategic Command, and one fragment will enter the atmosphere on March 12, followed by one on March 28th and another on March 30th. According to Spaceweather.com, these are likely centimeter-sized pieces that will disintegrate in the atmosphere, posing no threat to people on the ground. Each fragment is cataloged and tracked.
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Filed under: Satellites | 4 Comments »


March 10th, 2009

Live From Space: Streaming Webcam Now Available

Earth as seen from the ISS. Credit: NASA
It's not exactly what Al Gore had in mind, but its close. Live streaming video is now available every day of the week from the International Space Station. The video will show views of Earth and the exterior structure of the station, as seen from cameras mounted outside the ISS, and other times, activities going on inside the station. If you regularly watch NASA TV online, just go to the same website, and now there's another choice of channels. Just click on the "Live Space Station Video" tab to enjoy. The Earth views will usually be seen during what is the crew off-duty or sleep periods, usually from about 6 pm to 6 am GMT (1 p.m. to 1 a.m. CST.) During times when the crew is awake and working, selected video will be available, accompanied by audio of communications between Mission Control and the astronauts. Be advised that during working hours when there are special events going on — for example, today as I'm writing this there is a spacewalk taking place — the public channel offers better views and commentary.
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Filed under: Earth Observation, Space Station | 6 Comments »


March 4th, 2009

Astronomers Detect Two Black Holes in a Cosmic Dance

Artist's conception of the binary supermassive black hole system. Credit P. Marenfeld, NOAO

Artist's conception of the binary supermassive black hole system. Credit P. Marenfeld, NOAO

Paired black holes are theorized to be common, but have escaped detection — until now.

Astronomers Todd Boroson and Tod Lauer, from the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO) in Tucson, Arizona, have found what looks like two massive black holes orbiting each other in the center of one galaxy. Their discovery appears in this week's issue of Nature.

Astronomers have long suspected that most large galaxies harbor black holes at their center, and that most galaxies have undergone some kind of merger in their lifetime. But while binary black hole systems should be common, they have proved hard to find.  Boroson and Lauer believe they've found a galaxy that contains two black holes, which orbit each other every 100 years or so. They appear to be separated by only 1/10 of a parsec, a tenth of the distance from Earth to the nearest star

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Filed under: Black Holes, galaxies | 105 Comments »


March 3rd, 2009

A Supernova Story

SN 2009ab as seen by the AlbaNova Telescope in Stockholm, Sweden.  Credit: Magnus Persson, Robert Cumming and Genoveva Micheva/Stockholm University

SN 2009ab as seen by the AlbaNova Telescope in Stockholm, Sweden. Credit: Magnus Persson, Robert Cumming and Genoveva Micheva/Stockholm University

Have you ever discovered a supernova? Well, I haven't, but I can only imagine finding a star that has blown itself to smithereens must be pretty exciting. At least that's what I thought, anyway….

Seemingly, a fair amount of folks must be out there who have found supernovae. In 2008 alone,  only 278 supernovae were found, one by a 14-year old girl. But 2008 was a really slow year in the supernova department. In 2007, 584 were discovered – a record number – and in 2006, 557 supernovae were spied by astronomers, both professional and amateur. 40 have been found so far in 2009. But even with those fairly big numbers, I still gotta believe that finding a supernova must be absolutely incredible. So when someone I knew, Robert Cumming from Stockholm University in Sweden, recently played a part in finding a supernova, I emailed him my congratulations. Imagine my surprise when he replied, "It's no big deal, really."
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Filed under: Astronomy, Observing | 11 Comments »


March 3rd, 2009

Moonlet Could Be Source of Saturn's G Ring

This sequence of three images, obtained by NASA's Cassini spacecraft over the course of about 10 minutes, shows the path of a newly found moonlet in a bright arc of Saturn's faint G ring. Image credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute
Saturn's G ring has been the ring without a moon, until now. In trying to understand the mysterious G ring, Cassini scientists have taken every opportunity they can to take a closer look at what could be creating the ring. In 2007, scientists identified a possible source of the G ring as relatively large, icy particles that resided within a bright arc on the ring's inner edge. But the researchers thought there had to be more than just these particles "shepherding" the ring, and concluded that there had to be larger, yet-unseen bodies hiding in the arc. Their persistence has now paid off, as a small moonlet has been found within the ring. "Before Cassini, the G ring was the only dusty ring that was not clearly associated with a known moon, which made it odd," said Matthew Hedman, a Cassini imaging team associate at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. "The discovery of this moonlet, together with other Cassini data, should help us make sense of this previously mysterious ring." The sequence of three images above, obtained by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft over the course of about 10 minutes, shows the path of the moonlet in a bright arc of Saturn's faint G ring.
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Filed under: Missions, Saturn | 4 Comments »


March 3rd, 2009

Hubble Watches Triple Galaxy Smash Up

Trio of galaxies.  Image credit: NASA, ESA and R. Sharples (University of Durham, U.K.)

Trio of galaxies. Image credit: NASA, ESA and R. Sharples (University of Durham, U.K.)


Is this an image of two galaxies? Actually, its three interacting galaxies that are locked in a gravitational tug-of-war. The give and take going on here may eventually tear at least one galaxy apart, and someday the three will likely merge into one super-large galaxy. This new image from the Hubble Space Telescope's Advanced Camera for Surveys allows astronomers to view the movement of gases from galaxy to galaxy, and already, strong tidal interaction surging through the galaxies has dragged a significant number of stars away from their original homes.
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Filed under: Hubble, galaxies | 49 Comments »


March 2nd, 2009

Public Wants Hubble to Study Hugging Galaxies

The winner:  Arp 274.  Credit: NASA

The winner: Arp 274. Credit: NASA


NASA asked the public to vote on where they want the Hubble Space Telescope to be pointed in the "Hubble, You Decide" contest. Nearly 140,000 votes were cast online to help decide. And the winner is: a pair of interacting galaxies that look like they are hugging. Called Arp 274 (from the Arp Atlas of Peculiar Galaxies) these two galaxies won over five other celestial candidates. The Hubble observations will be taken during the International Year of Astronomy’s “100 Hours of Astronomy,” taking place April 2 – 5. The full-color galaxy image will be released publicly during that time.
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Filed under: Hubble, NASA | 44 Comments »


March 2nd, 2009

Enjoy the Carnival of Space #92

lulin
The latest Carnival of Space is so big, it takes two posts to fit everything in! Or as Mike over at The Launch Pad said, (home of Carnival #92) there's the Carnival and then the Sideshow.

So check out both posts and enjoy the show!

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March 2nd, 2009

Pluto's Atmosphere Boasts Methane, Warmer Temps

Artist’s impression of how the surface of Pluto might look, if patches of pure methane rest on the surface. At the distance of Pluto, the Sun appears about 1,000 times fainter than on Earth. Credit: ESO

Pluto is certainly frigid, but new research has revealed its atmosphere is a bit warmer.

Astronomers using the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope have found unexpectedly large amounts of methane in Pluto's atmosphere, which evidently helps it stay about 40 degrees warmer than the dwarf planet's surface. The atmosphere warms to -180 degrees Celsius (-356 degrees Fahrenheit), compared to a surface that's usually -220 degrees Celsius (-428 degrees Fahrenheit).

“With lots of methane in the atmosphere, it becomes clear why Pluto’s atmosphere is so warm,” said Emmanuel Lellouch of the Observatoire de Paris in France. Lellouch is lead author of the paper reporting the results, which is in press at the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics.

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Filed under: Pluto, Solar System | 16 Comments »



February 24th, 2009

OCO Press Conference Notes: Fairing Did Not Separate

NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory and its Taurus booster lift off from Vandenberg Air Force Base. A contingency was declared a few minutes later. Image credit: NASA TV
As Ian reported earlier this morning, NASA's Orbiting Carbon Observatory satellite failed to reach orbit after its 4:55 a.m. EST liftoff Tuesday from California's Vandenberg Air Force Base. At a press conference, officials said preliminary indications are that the fairing on the Taurus XL launch vehicle failed to separate about three minutes into the flight. The fairing, or nosecone, is a clamshell structure that covers the satellite as it travels through the atmosphere. "The fairing has considerable weight, and when it separates off you get a jump in acceleration," said John Brunschwyler from Orbital Sciences Corporation, the rocket's manufacturer. "We did not have that jump of acceleration and as a direct result of carrying that extra weight, we could not make orbit. And so, the initial indications are that the vehicle did not have enough Delta V to reach orbit, and landed just short of Antarctica in the ocean."

Brunschwyler added, "Our whole team, at a very personal level, is disappointed in the events of this morning….Certainly for the science community it's a huge disappointment. It's taken so long to get here."

Watch the launch video below:
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Filed under: Satellites, Space Flight | 10 Comments »


February 24th, 2009

Orbiting Carbon Observatory Launch Failure

The OCO launches on board a Taurus booster from Vandenberg Air Force Base (NASA TV)This morning (Tuesday), shortly after 2am PST (10am GMT), the launch of Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO) mission resulted in failure. According to reports from NASA, a "launch contingency" was declared shortly after the Taurus rocket upper stage finished firing T+12 minutes, 30 seconds into the flight. The rocket nose cone fairing failed to separate as expected, therefore the satellite could not be released. Further news is pending, but it appears that the failed Taurus XL upper stage plus OCO satellite remains in orbit. The OCO mission is declared lost…
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Filed under: NASA, Satellites | 22 Comments »


February 23rd, 2009

Evidence of Supernovae Found in Ice Core Sample

Ice core sample.  Credit:  University of Alaska Geophysical Institute

Ice core sample. Credit: University of Alaska Geophysical Institute


Chinese and Arabic astronomers left historical documentation of a supernova that occurred in our own galaxy in the year 1006 (SN 1006), and another one 48 years later (SN 1054). Some of the writings about SN 1006 say there was a visual explosion half the size of the moon, and it shone so brightly that objects on the ground could be seen at night. We know these writings weren't just fantastical imaginations because we now have the "leftovers" of these supernovae; Supernova Remnant 1006 and the Crab Nebula. But now there is more evidence. A team of Japanese scientists has found the first evidence of supernovae in an ice core sample.
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February 23rd, 2009

UFOs or High Altitude Lightning?

Sprites over thunderstorms in Kansas on August 10, 2000, observed in the mesosphere, with an altitude of 50-90 kilometers as a response to powerful lightning discharges from tropospheric thunderstorms. Credit: Walter Lyons, FMA Research, Fort Collins, Colorado

Sprites over thunderstorms in Kansas on August 10, 2000, observed in the mesosphere, with an altitude of 50-90 kilometers as a response to powerful lightning discharges from tropospheric thunderstorms. Credit: Walter Lyons, FMA Research, Fort Collins, Colorado

Over 90% of UFO sightings can be easily explained, and are usually visual misinterpretations of meteors, weather balloons, a flock of birds, blimps, or even the Moon. Here's one more to add to the list of items mistakenly identified as UFO's: sprites. No, not the elf or troll-like sprites, but a natural phenomenon which occurs during thunderstorms. "Sprites appear above most thunderstorms," said Colin Price of the Tel Aviv University, "but we didn't see them until recently. They are high in the sky and last for only a fraction of a second." While there is much debate over the cause or function of these mysterious flashes in the sky, Price says they may explain some bizarre reports of UFO sightings.
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February 21st, 2009

Sounds Painful: Are Deadly Asteroids Stuck in Earth's Lagrangian Points?

Did the asteroid that hit the Earth, creating the Moon, originate from one of Earth's Lagrangian points? (ESA)

Did the asteroid that hit the Earth, creating the Moon, originate from one of Earth's Lagrangian points? (ESA)

Two solar telescopes launched to study coronal mass ejections and the solar wind have been sent to do an entirely different task. Currently, the Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO) probes are flying in opposite directions; one directly in front of Earth's orbit and the other directly behind. This unique observatory is intended to view the solar-terrestrial environment in unprecedented detail, allowing us to see the Sun from two vantage points.

This might sound like an exciting mission; after all, how many space-based observatories have such a unique perspective on the Solar System from 1 AU? However, both STEREO probes are currently moving further away from the Earth (in opposite directions), approaching a gravitational no-man's land. STEREO is about to enter the Earth-Sun Lagrangian points L4 and L5 to hunt for some sinister lumps of rock…
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February 20th, 2009

GLOBE at Night 2009 - Can You See the Stars?

ganTurning out the lights for "Earth Hour" is going to be a great way to demonstrate caring about climate changes by turning off the lights - but what about the impact that light pollution has on our skies? 2008 marked a monumental shift in human history when the number of people living in cities exceeded half the people on Earth. Because of the ambient light of urban landscapes, many city dwellers have never seen a sky full of stars. Are you interested in helping science study the impact of lighting in your area? Then step inside and learn more about GLOBE… Click to continue…

February 20th, 2009

Earth Hour 2009 - Where Will You Be When The Lights Go Out?

earth-hour

With less than six weeks to go, more than 500 cities around the world have officially agreed to go dark in support of global action on climate change. On March 28, 2009 at 8:30 p.m., local time, World Wildlife Fund is asking individuals, businesses, governments and organizations around the world to turn off their lights for one hour Earth Hour — to make a global statement of concern about climate change and to demonstrate their commitment to finding solutions. Step inside and find out how you can become a part of this historic event… Click to continue…

Filed under: Earth, Environment | 17 Comments »



February 14th, 2009

V is For Valentine… V838

V838 Monocerotis Parallel by Jukka Metsavainio

V838 Monocerotis Parallel by Jukka Metsavainio

And the V we're taking a stereo look at on Valentine's Day is V838 Monocerotis - an unusual "light echo" from a variable star. If you're curious to know more about what you're looking at, then prepare to take a 20,000 light year journey across space and step inside… Click to continue…

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February 14th, 2009

More Ancient Hot Springs Discovered on Mars?

Arabia Terra, a possible MSL landing site on Mars.  Credit: NASA/JPL/HiRISE team

In March 2007, the Spirit rover found a patch of bright-colored soil rich in silica. Scientists proposed water must have been involved in creating the region, and not just water, but hot water. Now, data from retrieved from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) suggest the discovery of another ancient hot springs region in Vernal Crater in Arabia Terra, an area in the northern hemisphere of Mars. It is densely cratered and heavily eroded. The research team says the striking similarities between these features on Mars and hot springs found on Earth provide evidence on an ancient Martian hot-spring environment. On Earth these environments teem with microbial life.
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February 14th, 2009

How and Why Did Two Satellites Collide This Week?

A simulated view of the debris clouds shortly after the collision on Feb. 10, 2009.  Image courtesy of Analytical Graphics, Inc. (www.agi.com)

A simulated view of the debris clouds shortly after the collision on Feb. 10, 2009. Image courtesy of Analytical Graphics, Inc. (www.agi.com)


The collision this week involving an active U.S. commercial Iridium satellite and an inactive Russian Cosmos 2251 satellite in low Earth orbit has, if nothing else, raised public awareness of the growing problem of space debris. But how and why did this collision happen? If NORAD, the U.S. Air Forces's Space Surveillance Network, NASA's Orbital Debris Program Office and other entities are tracking space debris, did anyone know the collision was going to occur? Those who analyze data and track satellites say predicting collisions is difficult because of changes in satellite orbits which occur due to solar radiation and the gravitational effects of the Moon and Earth. Therefore, the orbit analysis is only as good as the data, which may be imprecise. "The main problem here is the data quality for the data representing the satellites locations," said Bob Hall, Technical Director of Analytical Graphics, Inc. (AGI), the company that released video and images on Thursday recreating the collision event. "Given the uncertainty in the accuracy of the TLE orbital data, I do not believe anyone was predicting or necessarily expecting an event."
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February 14th, 2009

Q&A with Kepler Scientist from — Iowa?

Artist's rendering of the Kepler Mission, courtesy of NASA.

Artist's rendering of the Kepler Mission, courtesy of NASA.

kawaler

With a target launch date of March 5, NASA's Kepler mission is just weeks away from its tantalizing journey to peer at faraway stars and the Earth-like planets they may be hosting. Hundreds of astronomers from all over the world have a stake in the data. The United States participants hail from all the usual astronomy hubs, among them Arizona, California, Texas and … Iowa? Steve Kawaler, an astrophysicist at Iowa State University, took a moment to chat with Universe Today about his role in a less-publicized goal of the Kepler mission — and his research out of a less-publicized astronomy program.

Q. Why Iowa?

Kawaler: Iowa's a great place. I'm originally a New Yorker, and went to grad school at the University of Texas, but landing at Iowa State (mostly by chance) still feels right. 

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Filed under: Astronomy, Extrasolar Planets, Missions | No Comments »


February 14th, 2009

Looking for the Answer for this Week's WITU Challenge?

The answer for this week's Where In The Universe Challenge has now been posted back on the original Challenge post. Sorry for the delay in getting the answer up this week! (And thanks to UT reader Timber for reminding me!) Check back again next week for another WITU Challenge!

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February 14th, 2009

Orbital Spares: Iridium Already Replaced Destroyed Satellite

An Iridium satellite in orbit (Iridium)

An Iridium satellite in orbit (Iridium)

On Tuesday, a communications satellite in the Iridium fleet suffered complete obliteration at the hands of a defunct Russian satellite Cosmos 2251. Although satellites have been hit by space junk in the past (four times since 1996), this is the first time a satellite has suffered a direct hit… from another satellite. The aftermath of the collision was messy and US Space Command is tracking hundreds of pieces of debris. There is some concern the ex-satellite parts could collide with other active satellites or even the International Space Station (although the odds are still well within safety margins for the crew), but much effort is being put into tracking and modelling the new space junk additions.

If you thought AGI was quick at assembling those superb satellite animations only a day after the event, you'll be even more impressed with the company who lost their expensive piece of kit. Iridium has a replacement satellite. A spare. Already in orbit. And plans are afoot to "plug the hole" in the satellite phone network. Now that's what I call service!
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February 13th, 2009

Climate Change Satellite gets Green Light for Launch

smos_graphicThe European Space Agency's Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity (SMOS) satellite has been cleared for takeoff next month, following nearly a year in limbo while the mission team awaited the go-ahead from a private launch company.

Originally expected to launch in 2008, SMOS has been in storage at Thales Alenia Space's facilities in Cannes, France since last May, awaiting a  launch appointment at the Russian Plesetsk Cosmodrome, north of Moscow. If all goes according to plan, the craft will now launch between July and October, the second ESA mission in a series of six designed to observe Earth from space and bolster an understanding of climate change. The first of the satellites in its new Living Planet Program, The Gravity field and steady-state Ocean Circulation Explorer (GOCE), is scheduled to go up March 16. 

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Filed under: Astronomy, Earth, Earth Observation, Environment, Missions | 8 Comments »


February 13th, 2009

Last Summer's Fireball in Pieces on the Ground?

 
fireball
The Bejar bolide photographed from Torrelodones, Madrid, Spain. The incoming fireball is the streak to the right of the floodlit house. The bright light at the top is the overexposed Moon. Credit: J. Perez Vallejo/SPMN.

Astronomers have analyzed the cometary fireball that blazed across the sky over Europe last year and concluded it was a dense object, about a meter (3.2 feet) across and with a mass of nearly two tons – large enough that some fragments probably survived intact and fell to the ground as meteorites.

Last July, people in Spain, Portugal and France watched the brilliant fireball produced by a boulder crashing down through the Earth’s atmosphere. In a paper to be published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, astronomer Josep M. Trigo-Rodríguez, of the Institute of Space Sciences in Spain, and his co-authors present dramatic images of the event. The scientists also explain how the boulder may originate from a comet which broke up nearly 90 years ago, and suggest that chunks of the boulder (and hence pieces of the comet) are waiting to be found on the ground.

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Filed under: Astronomy, Comets, Earth Observation, Meteorites | 2 Comments »


February 13th, 2009

Weekend SkyWatcher's Forecast - February 13-15, 2009

thm-binosGreetings, fellow SkyWatchers! With the Moon gone from the early evening skies and the weather beginning to warm for northern climes, isn't it about time you at least took a pair of binoculars out and scanned the skies with me? Some of mankind's greatest astronomers were born over the next three days, included J.L.E. Dreyer, Fritz Zwicky, William Pickering and Galileo Galilei! Although our weekend targets are simple and you've probably already seen them before - how long has it been since you've last looked? Or tried with alternative sized optics? Ah… Yes. You begin to see the light! Come on. Dust those old binoculars off and head out into the back yard. I'll be waiting… Click to continue…

Filed under: Astronomy, Observing | 14 Comments »


February 12th, 2009

This Video is Really Far!

George Hrab, courtesy of George

George Hrab, courtesy of George


Every day, I love bopping and jiving to the theme song for the 365 Days of Astronomy podcast. The song was written and recorded by George Hrab of Geologic Records. George also wrote a full-length version of the theme song, "Far," as opposed to the 30-second condensed version we use for the daily podcast. Now, George has completely outdone himself by creating a music video, which is loads of fun to watch!

By the way, if you're not listening the the 365 Days of Astronomy podcast every day, you are missing out on a very entertaining and informational podcast, created by people from all around the world! It's an official International Year of Astronomy event, and its free, too, so what more could you ask for?

Thanks to George Hrab for sharing his talents with the 365 Days of Astronomy podcast! If you want to know the words to the song "Far," they are posted below.

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Filed under: IYA 2009 | 12 Comments »


February 12th, 2009

Images, Video, Interactive Tools Provide Insight into Satellite Collision

Predicated satellite debris trajectory.  Image courtesy of Analytical Graphics, Inc. (www.agi.com)

Predicated satellite debris trajectory. Image courtesy of Analytical Graphics, Inc. (www.agi.com)


The unprecedented collision between two large satellites on February 10 has created a cloud of debris that likely will cause problems in Earth orbit for decades. To help understand the collision and potential future problems of the debris, Analytical Graphics, Inc., (AGI) of Philadelphia, working with its Colorado Springs-based research arm the Center for Space Standards & Innovation, has used its software to reconstruct the event, creating images and providing an interactive tool that allows the user to view the collision from any position or time. "We've worked around the clock since the collision to create these images and a video of the event," Stefanie Claypoole, Media Specialist with AGI told Universe Today. "Our software can also assess the possibility of additional collisions by applying breakup models for debris prediction."

AGI also has a video recreation of the event.


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February 12th, 2009

New high-res maps suggest little water in moon

Lunar global topographic map obtained from Kaguya (SELENE) altimetry data shown in Hammer equal-area projection. Credit: Hiroshi Araki et al. 2009

Lunar global topographic map obtained from Kaguya (SELENE) altimetry data shown in Hammer equal-area projection. Credit: Hiroshi Araki et al. 2009

New maps of the moon from Japan's Kaguya (SELENE) satellite suggest a lunar surface too rigid to allow for any liquid water, even deep below.

The new view is unveiled in one of three new papers in this week's issue of the journal Science based on Kaguya (SELENE) data. In it, lead author Hiroshi Araki, from the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, and international colleagues report that the Moon’s crust seems to be relatively rigid compared to Earth’s and may therefore lack water and other readily evaporating compounds. The new map is the most detailed ever created of the Moon, and reveals never-before-seen craters at the lunar poles.

"The surface can tell us a lot about what's happening inside the Moon, but until now mapping has been very limited," said C.K. Shum, professor of earth sciences at Ohio State University, and a study co-author. "For instance, with this new high-resolution map, we can confirm that there is very little water on the Moon today, even deep in the interior. And we can use that information to think about water on other planets, including Mars."

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February 12th, 2009

Cleaning Event Boosts Spirit's Power Levels; Oppy Back on the Road

Spirit's solar panels show a marked difference between Sol 1811 (Feb 5 - left) and Sol 1813 (Feb 7 - right). Images: NASA/JPL, collage, N.Atkinson

Spirit's solar panels show a marked difference between Sol 1811 (Feb 5 - left) and Sol 1813 (Feb 7 - right). Images: NASA/JPL, collage, N.Atkinson


Great news about the both Mars Exploration Rovers! Spirit's dusty solar panels have been cleaned by a wind event, and Opportunity is back driving again after standing down a few days after a charged particle hit. Sprit's solar arrays have been extremely dusty ever since a huge dust storm last year enveloped much of Mars, but a dust devil or gust of wind on Sol 1812 (Feb. 6, 2009 here on Earth) has cleaned the panels just enough to make a marked difference in power available to the intrepid rover. Before the event, dust buildup on the arrays had reached the point where only 25 percent of sunlight hitting the array was getting past the dust to be used by the photovoltaic cells. Now, it is up to 28 percent. "It may not sound like a lot, but it is an important increase," said Jennifer Herman, and engineer for the MER team.
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February 12th, 2009

Ultra Compact Dwarf Galaxies once crowded with stars

The background image was taken by Michael Hilker of the University of Bonn using the 2.5-metre Du Pont telescope, part of the Las Campanas Observatory in Chile. The two boxes show close-ups of two UCD galaxies in the Hilker image. These images were made using the Hubble Space Telescope by a team led by Michael Drinkwater, at the University of Queensland

Astronomers think they've found a way to explain why Ultra Compact Dwarf Galaxies, oddball creations from the early universe, contain so much more mass than their luminosity would explain.

Pavel Kroupa, an astronomer at the University of Bonn in Germany, led a research team that's proposing the unexplained density may actually be a relic of stars that were once packed together a million times more closely than in the solar neighbourhood. The new paper appears in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

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February 10th, 2009

Cosmologists Look Back to Cosmic Dawn

The Universe 590 million years after the Big Bang. Credit: Alvaro Orsi, Institute for Computational Cosmology, Durham University.

The Universe 590 million years after the Big Bang. Credit: Alvaro Orsi, Institute for Computational Cosmology, Durham University.


What did the Universe look like early in its history, only 500 million years after the Big Bang? Currently, we have no way of actually "looking" back that far with our telescopes, but cosmologists from Durham University in the UK have used a computer simulation to predict how the very early Universe would have appeared. The images portray the "Cosmic Dawn," and calculate the formation of the first big galaxies. The simulation also attempts to discern the role that dark matter played in galaxy formation. "We are effectively looking back in time and by doing so we hope to learn how galaxies like our own were made and to understand more about dark matter," said Alvaro Orsi, lead author of the study from Durham University's Institute for Computational Cosmology (ICC). "The presence of dark matter is the key to building galaxies – without dark matter we wouldn't be here today."
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February 10th, 2009

Fermi, Swift spy outburst from gamma-ray star

Gamma-rays flares from SGR J1550-5418 may arise when the magnetar's surface suddenly cracks, releasing energy stored within its powerful magnetic field. Credit:NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Conceptual Image Lab

Gamma-ray flares from SGR J1550-5418 may arise when the magnetar's surface suddenly cracks, releasing energy stored within its powerful magnetic field. Credit:NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Conceptual Image Lab

NASA's Swift satellite and Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope have keyed in on a rowdy stellar remnant 30,000 light-years away. The object, already known as a source of pulsing radio and X-ray signals, lies in the southern constellation Norma. It kicked out some moderate eruptions in October, but then it settled down again. Late last month, it roared to life.

"At times, this remarkable object has erupted with more than a hundred flares in as little as 20 minutes," said Loredana Vetere, who is coordinating the Swift observations at Pennsylvania State University. "The most intense flares emitted more total energy than the sun does in 20 years."

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Filed under: Astronomy, Gamma Ray Bursts, NASA | 7 Comments »


February 10th, 2009

ESA extends Mars, Venus, Earth missions

Artist's impression of Mars Express, by Alex Lutkus (courtesy of ESA)

The European Space Agency has extended operations of three missions: Mars Express, Venus Express and Cluster, until the end of the year, citing "excellent" research returns from all three missions. Each mission has been extended at least once in its history, said Monica Talevi, an ESA spokeswoman — but they're all worth it.

"The scientific community recognizes and ESA recognizes that these missions have provided excellent results," she said.

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February 10th, 2009

The Journey of Space Exploration: Ex-Astronaut Views on NASA

Why has "one small step for man" turned into "one giant leap backward" for NASA? (NASA)

Why has "one small step for man" turned into "one giant leap backward" for NASA? (NASA)

It reads like the annual progress report from my first year in university. He lacks direction, he's not motivated and he has filled his time with extra-curricular activities, causing a lack of concentration in lectures. However, it shouldn't read like an 18 year-old's passage through the first year of freedom; it should read like a successful, optimistic and inspirational prediction about NASA's future in space.

What am I referring to? It turns out that the Houston university where President John F. Kennedy gave his historic "We go to the Moon" speech back in 1962 has commissioned a report, recommending that NASA should give up its quest for returning to the Moon and focus more on environmental and energy projects. The reactions of several astronauts from the Mercury, Apollo and Shuttle eras have now been published. The conclusions in the Rice University report may have been controversial, but the reactions of the six ex-astronauts went well beyond that. They summed up the concern and frustration they feel for a space agency they once risked their lives for.

At the end of the day, it all comes down to how we interpret the importance of space exploration. Is it an unnecessary expense, or is it part of scientific endeavour where the technological spin-offs are more important than we think?
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Filed under: NASA, Physics, Space Exploration | 27 Comments »


February 9th, 2009

CERN Aims for LHC Restart in September, First Collisions in October

Repair work on the LHC continues... (CERN/LHC)

Repair work on the LHC continues... (CERN/LHC)

It may seem that the delay is getting longer and longer for the restart of the LHC after the catastrophic quench in September 2008, but progress is being made. Repair costs are expected to hit the $16 million mark as engineers quickly rebuild the damaged electromagnets and track down any further electrical faults that could jeopardize the future operation of the complex particle accelerator.

According to the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), the Large Hadron Collider will resume operations in September. But the best news is: we could be seeing the first particle collisions only a month later
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Filed under: Physics | 16 Comments »


February 9th, 2009

NuSTAR Will Ride Pegasus XL to Orbit

Artist concept of NuSTAR in orbit.  Credit: NASA/JPL

Artist concept of NuSTAR in orbit. Credit: NASA/JPL


NASA announced today Orbital Sciences Corporation will launch the first high energy X-ray telescope, NuSTAR (Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array) on board a Pegasus XL rocket. Orbital has also been the prime industrial contractor for building NuSTAR itself. The spacecraft will fly in 2011, launching from the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site located at the Pacific Ocean’s Kwajalein Atoll. NuSTAR is the first satellite to fly a focusing X-ray telescope in space for energies in the 8-80 keV range, searching for black holes and supernova remnants.
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Filed under: Black Holes, Space Flight | 9 Comments »


February 9th, 2009

LCROSS Gets Set for Lunar Smash-Up

 

Artist's rendering of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and LCROSS at separation, courtesy of NASA

Artist's rendering of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and LCROSS at separation, courtesy of NASA

Early next week, a NASA craft designed to hammer the moon will travel from California to the Kennedy Space Center — one step closer to the planned May 20 launch. The Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite, or LCROSS, will hitch a ride to the moon aboard the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. The orbiter carries a suite of instruments for taking detailed temperature readings, looking at the effects of radiation on the lunar surface and scoping out good landing sites for future missions, among other science goals.

Sound a little intrusive?  That's nothing compared to the 15-foot (4.5-meter) deep, 100-foot (30 meter) wide hole that LCROSS will gouge into the lunar surface. Click to continue…

Filed under: Astronomy, Moon, NASA | 13 Comments »


February 9th, 2009

Australian Wildfire Update

Australian Fires - Bert Candusio

Australian Fires - Bert Candusio

As Nancy reported on February 8th, the wild fires in Australia were not only serious, but out-of-control. While we had a look at satellite imagery, there's nothing scarier than having it hit close to home and friends… Our friends at Southern Galactic. Click to continue…

Filed under: Universe Today News | 13 Comments »


February 8th, 2009

Look Into the Cat's Eye…

NGC 6543 Parallel - Jukka Metsavainio

NGC 6543 Parallel - Jukka Metsavainio

Are you ready for more stereo vision? This haunting Hubble Telescope image has been visualized for dimension by the one and only Jukka Metsavainio and gives us a look at one of the most complex planetary nebulae ever photographed. Inside NGC 6543 - nicknamed the "Cat's Eye Nebula" - the Hubble has revealed delicate structures including concentric gas shells, jets of high-speed gas, and unusual shock-induced knots of gas… and thanks to Jukka's "magic vision" we're able to take a look into the Cat's Eye as it might appear in dimension. Step inside and let's learn more… Click to continue…

Filed under: Astronomy, Astrophotos | 31 Comments »


February 8th, 2009

Satellite Images of 2009 Australian Bushfires

Satellite image of bushfires in southeast Australia taken Feb. 7, 2009.  NASA image courtesy the MODIS Rapid Response Team, NASA Goddard Space Flight

Satellite image of bushfires in southeast Australia taken Feb. 7, 2009. NASA image courtesy the MODIS Rapid Response Team, NASA Goddard Space Flight

UPDATE: Satellite Images from February 9 have now been added below.

As of this writing, 94 people (update 2/9/09) 135 have been killed by out-of-control bushfires in southeast Australia. This image from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite shows multiple large fires (outlined in red) burning in Victoria on February 7. Huge plumes of smoke spread southeast, driven by fierce winds. Click here to see a larger version of the image, which shows a larger area, and a dust storm blowing over interior deserts to the northwest. News sources report these fires sprang up and exploded in size in just a few short hours. According to ABC News, authorities suspect arsonists are responsible for some of the fires. NASA says images captured by another satellite, the Terra MODIS sensor, just a few hours prior to this image showed no sign of these fires. Twice-daily images of southeastern Australia are available from the MODIS Rapid Response Team, and Universe Today will try to update the images when they are available. See more below.
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Filed under: Earth Observation, Environment | 30 Comments »


February 7th, 2009

Next-Generation Telescope Gets Team

 

Artist's rendering of the Giant Magellan Telescope and support facilities at Las Campanas Observatory, Chile, high in the Andes Mountains. Photo by Todd Mason/Mason Productions

Astronomy organizations in the United States, Australia and Korea have signed on to build the largest ground-based telescope in the world – unless another team gets there first. The Giant Magellan Telescope, or GMT, will have the resolving power of a single 24.5-meter (80-foot) primary mirror, which will make it three times more powerful than any of the Earth's existing ground-based optical telescopes. Its domestic partners include the Carnegie Institution for Science, Harvard University, the Smithsonian Institution, Texas A & M University, the University of Arizona, and the University of Texas at Austin. Although the telescope has been in the works since 2003, the formal collaboration was announced Friday.
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Filed under: Astronomy, Cosmology, Dark Energy, Dark Matter, Extrasolar Planets, Observatories, galaxies | 15 Comments »


February 7th, 2009

New Potentially Hazardous Asteroid Discovered

Image where PHA 2009 BD81 (left) was discovered. PHA 2008 EV5 is on the right. Image courtesy Robert Holmes.

Image where PHA 2009 BD81 (left) was discovered. PHA 2008 EV5 is on the right. Image courtesy Robert Holmes.

While observing a known asteroid on January 31, 2009, astronomer Robert Holmes from the Astronomical Research Institute near Charleston, Illinois found another high speed object moving nearby through the same field of view. The object has now been confirmed to be a previously undiscovered Potentially Hazardous Asteroid (PHA), with several possible Earth impact risks after 2042. This relatively small near-Earth asteroid, named 2009 BD81, will make its closest approach to Earth in 2009 on February 27, passing a comfortable 7 million kilometers away. In 2042, current projections have it passing within 5.5 Earth radii, (approximately 31,800 km or 19,800 miles) with an even closer approach in 2044 2046. Data from the NASA/JPL Risk web page show 2009 BD81 to be fairly small, with a diameter of 0.314 km (about 1000 ft.) Holmes, one of the world's most prolific near Earth object (NEO) observers, said currently, the chance of this asteroid hitting Earth in 33 years or so is quite small; the odds are about 1 in 2 million, but follow-up observations are needed to provide precise calculations of the asteroid's potential future orbital path.
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Filed under: Asteroids, Astronomy | 21 Comments »


February 6th, 2009

NASA Launch Notes: Go/No-Go

The Delta II rocket lofts the NOAA-N Prime spacecraft into the night sky over Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Photo credit: NASA/Carleton Bailie, ULA

The Delta II rocket lofts the NOAA-N Prime spacecraft into the night sky over Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Photo credit: NASA/Carleton Bailie, ULA


Just a few notes on a couple of NASA launches; one was a go, and the other is a no-go for now. The NOAA-N Prime spacecraft got off the ground early Friday morning, lifting off at 2:22 a.m. PST, after working through technical problems that delayed the launch twice. The spacecraft successfully reached its polar orbit, and was renamed NOAA-19. The new satellite will collect data about the Earth's surface and atmosphere to aid in weather forecasts, climate observations and search and rescue operations. Watch the launch video. On the other side of the coin, the launch of space shuttle Discovery on a space station assembly mission, which was delayed earlier this week from Feb. 12 to Feb. 19 because of concerns about hydrogen flow control valves, has now been slipped to no earlier than Feb. 22 to give engineers more time to complete testing, NASA officials said today.
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February 6th, 2009

More Images From Aurora Flights

ACES Flight from Jan. 29, 2009. Credit: Dr. Craig Heinselman.

ACES Flight from Jan. 29, 2009. Credit: Dr. Craig Heinselman.


On January 29, two sounding rockets simultaneously flew through the veil of an aurora to collect data from both the top and bottom edges of the arc. Dr. Scott Bounds, the principal investigator for the Auroral Current and Electrodynamics Structure (ACES) mission, provided Universe Today with images from the flight, showing the rockets flying through the aurora, near Poker Flats, Alaska. The above image shows a single-stage Black Brant V rocket that flew through the lower portion of the aurora. It reached an altitude of nearly 83 vertical miles, flying for roughly eight minutes. (See below for more images.) Other rockets have flown through aurorae previously, but this is the first time two rockets were used together. These two flights for the ACES mission will provide insight on the structural subtleties of the aurora, finding details that researchers may have missed when previous measurements were done using only a single vehicle (see our original article on the flights).
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February 6th, 2009

Weekend SkyWatcher's Forecast - February 6-8, 2009

new_scope_cartoon Weekend SkyWatchers Forecast - February 6-8, 2009Greetings, fellow SkyWatchers! For some parts of the world, baby? It's cold outside… But those -23C temperatures haven't kept some of us from chasing Comet C/2007 N3 Lulin and just knowing a few bright stars and having a pair of binoculars is all it takes for you to spot it, too! Or maybe you'd just like to spot the ISS? If skies are clear, why not spot the Moon and where SMART-1 did some imaging? Better yet, how about spotting a bright star to learn about - or a fantastic lunar impact crater? If you're ready to see some "spots", then grab your observing equipment and meet me outside… Click to continue…

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February 6th, 2009

Answer Now Posted for This Week's WITU Challenge

Curious to know the answer for this week's Where In The Universe Challenge? Check it out on the original post, which now includes an additional image to provide more information. And check back next week Wednesday for another WITU Challenge!

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February 5th, 2009

Opportunity Rover Sidelined by Charged Particle Hit

MER's camera mast, which holds several cameras, may have been hit by a cosmic ray. Credit: NASA/JPL

MER's camera mast, which holds several cameras, may have been hit by a cosmic ray. Credit: NASA/JPL


The Opportunity rover recently surpassed the five-year mark on Mars. And what did she get as a birthday present? A thorough zapping by a charged particle, perhaps a cosmic ray, which has sidelined the rover for the past several days. "Opportunity stood down for a few sols as a result of a PMA (Panoramic Mast Assembly) error," said Scott Maxwell, one of the rover drivers for the two Mars Exploration Rovers, Opportunity and Spirit. "This turned out to be due to an SEU (Single-Event Upset), as reported by the on-board motor controller." An SEU happens when a charged particle whizzes through a transistor on the rover and flips a bit somewhere inside. "Fortunately, the motor controllers can detect and report these events, so that the rover can safely stop," Maxwell told Universe Today. "We have good reason to hope that Opportunity's PMA is undamaged and that she'll be back on the road shortly." The PMA is the rover's "neck and head;" it is the mast that holds the Panoramic Cameras, the Navigation Cameras and the Mini-Thermal Emission Spectrometer. It would be a critical blow to the mission to lose any or all of these instruments. The Spirit rover may also have been hit recently by a cosmic ray, causing her to "loose her memory" for a short period. The good news is that Spirit seems to be back to normal and has resumed driving again.
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February 5th, 2009

HiRISE Captures Bolide Break-up and Impact on Mars

Bolide impact on Mars. Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona
Incoming! Hundreds of small objects, mostly asteroid fragments, impact Mars every year. Sometimes, like on Earth, objects break up in the Martian atmosphere. But Mars' atmosphere is much thinner than Earth's, meaning more stuff hits the ground on the Red Planet. If a bolide breaks apart and but doesn't disintegrate, the result can be a cluster of craters. The image here is an example of that, with this group of recently made small impact craters. Although small Martian crater clusters are common, this example is unusual because there is a dark line between the two largest craters. The HiRISE scientists hypothesize that atmospheric breakup created two nearly equal-size objects that impacted close together in space and time so the air blasts interacted with each other to disturb the dust along this line. Wow!
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February 5th, 2009

Astronomers Find Cosmic Dust Fountain

HST image of the Red Rectangle. Photo: Van Winckel, M. Cohen, H. Bond, T. Gull, ESA, NASA

HST image of the Red Rectangle. Photo: Van Winckel, M. Cohen, H. Bond, T. Gull, ESA, NASA

Dust is everywhere in space, but the pervasive stuff is one thing astronomers know little about. Cosmic dust is also elusive, as it lasts only about 10,000 years, a brief period in the life of a star. "We not only do not know what the stuff is, but we do not know where it is made or how it gets into space," said Donald York, a professor at the University of Chicago. But now York and a group of collaborators have observed a double-star system, HD 44179, that may be creating a fountain of dust. The discovery has wide-ranging implications, because dust is critical to scientific theories about how stars form.
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February 5th, 2009

Deep Hubble View of Unusual "Fluffy" Galaxy – and Beyond

This deep image taken with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope shows the spiral galaxy NGC 4921 along with a spectacular backdrop of more distant galaxies. It was created from a total of 80 separate pictures taken with yellow and near-infrared filters.   Credits: NASA, ESA and K. Cook (Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, USA)

The Coma Galaxy cluster is home to a rich collection of galaxies in the nearby Universe. NGC 4921 is one of the rare spirals in Coma, and a rather unusual one. It looks "fluffy," with lots of swirling dust. Astronomers say this galaxy is an "anemic spiral" where a small amount of star formation is taking place, and so less light is coming from the galaxy's arms, as is usually seen in a spiral galaxy. This is an image from the Hubble Space Telescope, and with Hubble's sharp vision, you can see a few bright young blue stars. But what's really amazing, besides seeing the incredible detail of NGC 4921, is looking beyond the big fluffy galaxy and seeing how Hubble was able to pick up a marvelous collection of remote galaxies of all shapes, sizes and colors. Many have the spotty and ragged appearance of galaxies from the early Universe. Click here to get a bigger, better view.
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February 4th, 2009

New Robot Could Explore Treacherous Terrain on Mars

Axel concept as a tethered marsupial rover for steep terrain access. Credit: JPL

Axel concept as a tethered marsupial rover for steep terrain access. Credit: JPL


If you've looked at the high resolution HiRISE images from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, or had the chance to explore the new Google Mars, you know Mars is fraught with craters, mountains, gullies, and all sorts of interesting – and dangerous – terrain. Areas such as these with layered deposits, sediments, fracturing and faulting are just the type of places to look for the sources of methane that is being produced on Mars. But it's much too risky to send our current style of rovers, including the 2011 Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), into treacherous terrain. But engineers from JPL, along with students at the California Institute of Technology have designed and tested a versatile, low-mass robot that could be added to larger rovers like MSL that can rappel off cliffs, travel nimbly over steep and rocky terrain, and explore deep craters.
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February 4th, 2009

Where In The Universe #41

where-in-the-universe-41

Are you ready for another Where In The Universe Challenge? Take a look at the image above and see if you can name where in the Universe this image is from. Give yourself extra points if you can name the spacecraft responsible for the image. We'll provide the image today, but won't reveal the answer until tomorrow. This gives you a chance to mull over the image and provide your answer/guess in the comment section. Check back tomorrow on this same post to see how you did. Good luck!

UPDATE: The answer to this Challenge has now been posted below. Don't peek at the answer until you make a guess!
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February 4th, 2009

Take a Spin Around the Altair Lunar Lander

Artist concept of Altair on the Moon. Credit: NASA
What will NASA's next generation of lunar landers be like? Well, right now the Altair lander is just a concept and the fine details of what the inside crew cabin will look like are still being figured out. But there are some general parameters the Altair program uses as a guideline, such as the lander needs to carry four astronauts to the lunar surface and serve as their home for up to a week. So that means Altair has to be much bigger than the Apollo lunar landers. (See below for a comparison of Altair and Apollo) There are Altair mock-ups already built at the Johnson Space Center in Houston where habitability teams are working inside, trying out different configurations. These teams are taking a look at how astronauts will live and work inside, so that Altair can be built in the best way possible for the mission. So what is their idea of how the inside will look? The folks at NASA have created a video depicting a 360 degree tour, just like the online home tours that realtors have for selling houses! So take a spin around inside! Click here for Windows Media, and here for RealPlayer.

NASA has a few other great videos of what landing on the moon will be like with Altair:
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February 4th, 2009

New Technique to Accurately Measure Asteroids

Artist’s impression of the asteroid (234) Barbara. Thanks to a unique method that uses ESO’s Very Large Telescope Interferometer, astronomers have been able to measure sizes of small asteroids in the main belt for the first time. Their observations also suggest that Barbara has a complex concave shape, best modelled as two bodies that may possibly be in contact. Credit: ESO/L. Calçada
It's one thing to know the position of an asteroid out in space. It's quite another to know the size and shape of a particular asteroid that might be heading our way. A team of French and Italian astronomers have devised a new method for measuring the size and shape of asteroids that are too small or too far away for traditional techniques by using ESO's Very Large Telescope Interferometer (VLTI). This will increase the number of asteroids that can be measured by a factor of several hundred, and provide the ability to resolve asteroids as small as about 15 km in diameter located in the main asteroid belt, 200 million kilometers away. This is equivalent to being able to measure the size of a tennis ball a distance of a thousand kilometers.
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February 3rd, 2009

"Over Twitter" To Find Out What's Orbiting Over Your Head

An iridium flare from an orbiting satellite. Credit:HobbySpace.com

An iridium flare from an orbiting satellite. Credit:HobbySpace.com


If you enjoy satellite spotting and are a fan of the social networking mini-feed Twitter here's something just for you. Robert Simpson at Orbiting Frog has created a Twitter feed that reports upcoming visible transits of interesting objects orbiting over several cities in the world, such as Amsterdam, Belfast, Chicago, Hong Kong, Honolulu, Moscow, New York, Paris, Rome, San Francisco, Sydney, and Vancouver. And he is willing to take requests for creating feeds for cities all over the planet. Rob creates the feeds with data from the Heaven’s Above website to determine when the International Space Station (ISS) and Hubble will be visible in the relevant location. When an overhead pass approaches a certain location, an alert appears on the Twitter feed. You will get 30-45 minutes warning on the sighting opportunity. So, if you’re a Twitter-aholic like me, check out Orbiting Frog's website.
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February 2nd, 2009

Journey Inside A Bok Globule

NGC281/IC1590 Hubble Heritage Parallel Vision - Jukka Metsavainio

NGC281/IC1590 Hubble Heritage Parallel Vision - Jukka Metsavainio

You asked for more? You got it. This time our dimensional visualization is going to take us 9500 light years away from where you're sitting now and deep into the Perseus spiral arm of the Milky Way Galaxy. Buckle your seat belt and relax your eyes, because we're heading into two versions of a 132 light year expanse known as NGC 281 and the central core called IC 1590… Click to continue…




January 25th, 2009

Strange Asteroid 2009 BD Stalks the Earth

2009 BD is approximately 400,000 miles from Earth (NASA)

The stalker watches us from afar. 2009 BD is approximately 400,000 miles from Earth (NASA)

A 10 meter-wide asteroid named 2009 BD discovered earlier this month is making a slow pass of the Earth, coming within 400,000 miles (644,000 km) of our planet. The near-Earth asteroid (NEO) poses no threat to us, but it is an oddity worth studying. Astronomers believe the rock is a rare "co-orbital asteroid" which follows the orbit of the Earth, not receding more than 0.1 AU (15 million km) away. It is stalking us.

On looking at the NASA JPL Small-Body Database orbital plot, it is hard to distinguish between the orbital path of the Earth and 2009 BD, showing just how close the asteroid is shadowing the Earth on its journey around the Sun
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January 23rd, 2009

Take a 3-D Ride Through Tycho Crater

Central peak of Tycho Crater.  Credit: JAXA

Central peak of Tycho Crater. Credit: JAXA


This is extremely very cool! Make sure you have your 3-D glasses on and take a 3-D ride in and around Tycho Crater on the Moon, courtesy of Japan's Kaguya (Selene) mission. Tycho Crater is the big crater located on the Moon's southern hemisphere, easily visible, especially when the Moon is full. The crater is notable for its emanating bright rays. The movie starts with an overview image of Tycho Crater, then approaches the central peak, flies along the steep slope of the inner wall, flies over the backside of the crater, and approaches the central peak again. Go get your 3-D glasses, and view the movie here. And hang on!

More about the movie and Tycho Crater:
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January 22nd, 2009

Scientists Want to Exhume Galileo's Body

Galileo Gallelei

Galileo Galilei

This is not tops on my list as a good way to celebrate the International Year of Astronomy. Italian and British scientists want to exhume the body of 16th century astronomer Galileo Galilei in order to determine if his severe vision problems may have affected some of his findings. The scientists said DNA tests would help answer some unresolved questions about the health of the man known as the father of astronomy, whom the Vatican condemned for teaching that the Earth revolves around the sun. "If we knew exactly what was wrong with his eyes we could use computer models to recreate what he saw in his telescope," said Paolo Galluzzi, director of the Museum of History and Science in Florence, the city where Galileo is buried.
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January 22nd, 2009

A Twist on the "Trunk" - IC1396 and Van den Berg 142 by Takayuki Yoshida

IC1396 and Van den Berg 142 by Takayuki Yoshida

IC1396 and Van den Berg 142 by Takayuki Yoshida

Out in the reaches of the constellation of Cepheus some 2400 light years from Earth, a cloud of hydrogen gas and dust harbors young star cluster IC 1396. These newborn stars emit their light upon the scene… shedding infrared radiation through a 20 light year wide corridor known as the "Elephant's Trunk"… Click to continue…


January 21st, 2009

Zoom 13 Million Light-years to See Heart of Active Galaxy

Galaxy NGC 253 is shown here as observed with the WFI instrument, while the insert shows a close-up of the central parts as observed with the NACO instrument on ESO's Very Large Telescope and the ACS on the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.  Credit:  ESO
Using data from the Very Large Telescope's powerful near-infrared eyes, astronomers have created a movie that takes you across 13 million light-years to galaxy NGC 253, an active galaxy filled with young, massive and dusty stellar nurseries. "We now think that these are probably very active nurseries that contain many stars bursting from their dusty cocoons," says Jose Antonio Acosta-Pulido, a member of the team from Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias in Spain. NGC 253 is known as a starburst galaxy, after its very intense star formation activity. Each bright region could contain as many as one hundred thousand young, massive stars. And in the center of this galaxy appears a strikingly familiar sight: a virtual twin of our own Milky Way's supermassive black hole.

Watch the movie. (For different viewing options, click here).
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January 21st, 2009

This Week's Where In The Universe Challenge

where-in-the-universe
Are you ready for another Where In The Universe Challenge? Take a look at the image above and see if you can name where in the Universe this image is from. Give yourself extra points if you can name the spacecraft responsible for the image. We'll provide the image today, but won't reveal the answer until tomorrow. This gives you a chance to mull over the image and provide your answer/guess in the comment section. Check back tomorrow on this same post to see how you did. Good luck!
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January 21st, 2009

No More Tourists on the ISS?

Space tourist Richard Garriott on board the ISS in 2008.  Credit: Richardinspace.com

Space tourist Richard Garriott on board the ISS in 2008. Credit: Richardinspace.com



An official from the Russian Federal Space Agency Roscosmos said the International Space Station will not be available for visits by space tourists after 2009, the Russian news agency Novosti reported. As the ISS crew grows from three to six, all the seats on the Soyuz-TMA spacecraft will be used by astronauts and cosmonauts from the various international partners of the ISS, not leaving any room for paying tourists. Director Anatoly Perminov said the last commercial flights would be made this year; in March 2009 former Microsoft software guru Charles Simonyi will make his second trip to the space station, and a Kazakh cosmonaut will fly to the ISS in the fall of 2009.
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January 21st, 2009

NASA Does the Parade Wave and Moon Walk

Composit picture of NASA' Rover during the parade, as President and Michelle Obama look on.  Credit: NASA

Composite picture of NASA' Rover during the parade, as President and Michelle Obama look on. Credit: NASA


If you didn't get a chance to watch the inaugural parade yesterday in honor of the new US president, here are a few NASA-related pictures and videos. NASA seemingly made a good impression on President and Michelle Obama by bringing up the rear of the parade with the new Lunar Electric Rover. The LER pivoted, pirouetted, and performed flawlessly as the crowd cheered wildly and the Obamas seemed transfixed by the rover. Too bad many of the spectators in the Presidential booth had already left. Take a look by going to "Click to continue":

Compare the new rover with the old "moon buggy" from the 1970's Apollo missions:
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January 20th, 2009

Lots of Pure Water Ice at Mars North Pole

Mars North Polar Ice Cap.  Credit:  NASA/JPL
Planum Boreum, Mar's north polar cap contains water ice "of a very high degree of purity," according to an international study. Using radar data from the SHARAD (SHAllow RADar) instrument on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), French researchers say the data point to 95 percent purity in the polar ice cap. The north polar cap is a dome of layered, icy materials, similar to the large ice caps in Greenland and Antarctica, consisting of layered deposits, with mostly ice and a small amount of dust. Combined, the north and south polar ice caps are believed to hold the equivalent of two to three million cubic kilometers (0.47-0.72 million cu. miles) of ice, making it roughly 100 times more than the total volume of North America's Great Lakes, which is 22,684 cu. kms (5,439 miles).
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January 18th, 2009

"Google Satellite" Had an Orbital View Over Obama's Inauguration

Washington D.C. from orbit. The Google Satellile GeoEye-1 will spy on Obama's inauguration (Google)

Washington D.C. from orbit. The Google Satellile GeoEye-1 will spy on Obama's inauguration (GeoEye)

President-elect Barack Obama's inauguration on Capitol Hill will be the place-to-be on Tuesday (January 20th). According to some news sources, tickets for the event were trading for a price exceeding 5 figures (in one case, according to CNN in November, an online vendor was asking for $20,095 for a single ticket - I hope they get a "free" bottle of Champagne with that!). It would appear that ticket demand outstripped supply, making the 44th presidential inauguration one of the hottest (and most costly) events to attend in 2009.

However, there is a far cheaper (and less crowded) alternative to view Obama and Biden getting sworn into office. A satellite called GeoEye-1 will be orbiting 423 miles above Washington D.C. looking down at the vast crowd minutes before the excitement begins…
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January 17th, 2009

Naming Pluto (Review)

http://www.universetoday.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/01/081106-naming-pluto-poster-low-res.jpg

Naming Pluto Promotional Poster  (© Father Films)

Naming Pluto explores the chain of events that lead to Pluto's naming and in 2007 sees Venetia Phair viewing Pluto for the very first time through a telescope, on her 89th birthday, 77 years after Pluto's discovery. A wonderful, intimate look into the story behind how Pluto got its name. A review of the short film directed and produced by Ginita Jimenez, distributed by Father Films.

In recent years, Pluto has seen its status change from being a planet to what many people view as a planetary underclass. The reasons behind this have been set out by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) to cater for the increasing number of Solar System bodies being discovered; the traditional nine planets have had to make room for a growing minor planet population. Unfortunately, Pluto was at the front line as it inhabits a region of space dominated by the gas giant Neptune, plus thousands of other Kuiper belt objects. Although the mysterious body lost its planetary status (as it does not have the ability to "clear its own orbit"), it has taken the title of "dwarf planet" and now has an entire class of object named in its honour: "Plutoids".

However, the recent tumultuous history of the traditional "9th planet" has not impacted the fascination we have for Pluto. It has, and always will be, viewed with intrigue and wonder.

The key to Pluto's romantic tale begins in the year 1930 when a mysterious heavenly was discovered by Clyde Tombaugh, a 23 year-old astronomer working at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona. However, the honour of naming Pluto didn't rest on Tombaugh's shoulders. Over 5000 miles away in Oxford (UK) an 11 year old girl was having breakfast with her grandfather, wondering what this newly discovered planet should be called…
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January 17th, 2009

Latest Chandrayaan-1 Images

A Mini-SAR strip overlain on an Earth-based, Arecibo Observatory radar telescope image. Taken Nov. 17, 2008, the south-polar SAR strip shows a part of the moon never seen before: a portion of Haworth crater that is permanently shadowed from Earth and the sun. Credit: ISRO/NASA/JHUAPL/LPI/Cornell University/Smithsonian
A few "new" images have been released from the Chandrayaan-1 lunar orbiter mission. The latest are the first images from NASA's radar instrument that's hitching a ride on board the Indian Space Research Organization's (ISRO) spacecraft. Called the Mini-SAR (synthetic aperture radar), NASA's instrument recently passed initial in-flight tests and sent back its first data from Nov. 17, 2008, showing the first look inside one of the Moon's coldest, darkest craters. The image above shows a swath from the Mini-SAR overlaid on a ground-based telescope image of Haworth Crater. The swath shows the floor of this permanently-shadowed polar crater on the moon that isn't visible from Earth. The instrument will map both polar regions to search the insides of craters for water ice.
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January 15th, 2009

NASA ISS Supply Contracts to SpaceX and Orbital On Hold

Artist impression of the SpaceX Dragon approaching the space station (SpaceX)

Artist impression of the SpaceX Dragon approaching the space station (SpaceX)

A Chicago-based space launch partnership has formally lodged a complaint against NASA's decision to give space station supply contracts to SpaceX and Orbital Sciences late last year. PlanetSpace, a joint effort by space contractors Lockheed Martin Corp, Boeing Co. and Alliant Techsystems Inc., has formally filed a complaint with the US Government Accountability Office (GAO). PlanetSpace is angry with the US space agency as they believe they presented NASA with a better resupply deal than SpaceX and Orbital.

NASA has been given 30 days to respond to the complaint and the GAO has said it won't make a ruling until April 29th. Unfortunately this means NASA will have to halt drawing up the ISS supply contracts until the matter has been resolved.

Just when we thought it was going so well…
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January 15th, 2009

Study Solves Mystery of How Massive Stars Form

Volume renderings of the density field in a region of the simulation at 55,000 years of evolution. The left panel shows a polar view, and the right panel shows an equatorial view. The fingers feeding the equatorial disk are clearly visible.  Images by Krumholz et al

Volume renderings of the density field in a region of the simulation at 55,000 years of evolution. The left panel shows a polar view, and the right panel shows an equatorial view. The fingers feeding the equatorial disk are clearly visible. Images by Krumholz et al



For a long time, scientists have understood that stars form when interstellar matter inside giant clouds of molecular hydrogen undergoes gravitational collapse. But massive stars–up to 120 times the mass of the Sun—generate strong radiation and stellar winds. How do they maintain the clouds of gas and dust that feed their growth without blowing it all away? The problem, however, turns out to be less mysterious than it once seemed. A study published this week in the journal Science shows how the growth of a massive star can proceed despite outward-flowing radiation pressure that exceeds the gravitational force pulling material inward.
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January 15th, 2009

Apollo Rock Reveals Moon Had Molten Core

Harrison Schmidt during Apollo 17.  Credit: NASA

Harrison Schmidt during Apollo 17. Credit: NASA


Back in the 1960's and '70's when scientists claimed that the Moon rocks returned by the Apollo astronauts would keep researchers busy for decades, they weren't kidding. Analysis on one of the rocks collected during the Apollo 17 mission has helped to solve a longstanding puzzle about the Moon. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) carried out the most detailed analysis ever of the oldest pristine rock from the Apollo collection. Magnetic traces recorded in the rock provide strong evidence that 4.2 billion years ago the moon had a liquid core with a dynamo, like Earth's core today, that produced a strong magnetic field.
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January 15th, 2009

Large Quantities of Methane Being Replenished on Mars

This image shows concentrations of Methane discovered on Mars. Credit: NASA
Methane has been measured in large quantities in Mars atmosphere over several seasons, meaning Mars is active, either geologically or biologically. "We found methane," said Dr. Geronimo Villanueva from the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, one member of a team of scientists reporting on their research at a press conference today at NASA Headquarters. "We can measure not only the methane, and but where it is coming from and when it is being released." This is the first definitive detection of methane on Mars that includes maps identifying areas of active release. "Mars is active," said Michael Meyers, lead NASA scientist for the Mars Program, "but we don't know if it's because of biology or geology or both."
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January 15th, 2009

Watch Very Cool Video of a Hot Engine

The Common Extensible Cryogenic Engine, or CECE. Image Credit: Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne

The Common Extensible Cryogenic Engine, or CECE. Image Credit: Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne



Yes, you're seeing this image correctly. There are icicles forming at the rim of this rocket engine bell, and this particular engine generates a scalding 2,760 C (5,000 F) degree steam and a whopping 13,000 lbs of thrust. How can that happen? Cryogenics. NASA is developing the engines that will be used for the next generation lunar lander, the Altair. These engines are called the Common Extensible Cryogenic Engine (CECE). CECE is fueled by a mixture of -182 C (-297 F) liquid oxygen and -253 C (-423 F) liquid hydrogen. The engine components are super-cooled to similar low temperatures–and that's where the icicles come from. As CECE burns its frigid fuels, hot steam and other gases are propelled out the nozzle. The steam is cooled by the cold nozzle, condensing and eventually freezing to form icicles around the rim. Watch the video.

More about the engine.
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January 15th, 2009

Will We Look Like This in 5 Billion Years?

Planetary nebula NGC 2818 is nested inside the open star cluster NGC 2818A. Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

Planetary nebula NGC 2818 is nested inside the open star cluster NGC 2818A. Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)


In another amazingly gorgeous image, Hubble has captured a unique planetary nebula nested inside an open star cluster. Both the cluster (NGC 2818A) and the nebula (NGC 2818) reside over 10,000 light-years away, in the southern constellation Pyxis (the Compass). This spectacular structure contains the outer layers of a sun-like star that were sent off into interstellar space during the star's final stages of life. These glowing gaseous shrouds were shed by the star after it ran out of fuel to sustain the nuclear reactions in its core. Our own sun will undergo a similar process, but not for another 5 billion years or so. But what a beautiful way to go!

More about this image:
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January 15th, 2009

Venus Possibly Had Continents, Oceans

Venus.  Credit: NASA
A new look at data gathered from the Galileo spacecraft in 1990 reveals that Venus at one time may have been habitable, with evidence of past continents and oceans. In a flyby of Venus on the spacecraft's journey to Jupiter, a near-infrared mapping instrument detected signatures which the researchers have interpreted as granite. An international team led by planetary scientist George Hashimoto, at Okayama University, Japan, found that Venus's highland regions emitted less infrared radiation than its lowlands. One interpretation of this dichotomy, says the team's new paper, is that the highlands are composed largely of 'felsic' rocks, particularly granite. Granite, which on Earth is found in continental crust, requires water for its formation.
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January 15th, 2009

Radio Astronomers Form Telescope the Size of Earth

Map showing telescopes being used in the IYA project.  Credit: Paul Boven
Telescopes located all around the world are being used together to work in real-time as a single gigantic instrument. As part of the opening events for the International Year of Astronomy 2009 in Paris, (watch live) a nearly continuous 33-hour observation is being conducted on January 15-16. 17 telescopes in Asia, Australia, Europe, North America and South America, are taking part in the mammoth project.
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January 14th, 2009

Was Galileo the First?

The first drawing of the Moon through a telescope, dated 26th July 1609, by Thomas Harriot. Image: (c) Lord Egremont
Italian Galileo Galilei has usually been attributed with making the first celestial observations with a telescope and then creating notations and drawings to record his observations. And that's the focus of what's being celebrated during this International Year of Astronomy. But a British historian is taking this opportunity to publicize the work of another astronomer, Thomas Harriot, who actually was the first person to create drawings of the what the Moon looks like through a telescope, doing so well before Galileo. Historian Allan Chapman says dated maps prove that Harriot drew Moon maps several months earlier than Galileo, in July 1609. You can hear Chapman talk about Harriot in today's 365 Days of Astronomy Podcast.
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January 14th, 2009

Ground-Based Telescopes Observe Atmospheres of Exoplanets

TrES-3b is a gas giant like Jupiter, but with an orbit much closer to its star than Mercury is to our Sun.Credit: Leiden Observatory.
For the first time, astronomers have measured light emitted from extrasolar planets around sun-like stars using ground-based telescopes. The observations were obtained simultaneously and independently by two separate teams for two different planets. Incredibly, they were also able to determine properties of the exoplanets' atmospheres as well. Measuring the light emitted from a planet at different wavelengths reveals the planet's spectrum, which can be used to determine the planet's day-side temperature. In addition, this spectrum can reveal many physical processes in the planet's atmosphere, such as the presence of molecules like water, carbon monoxide and methane, and the redistribution of heat around the planet. "This first direct detection of light emitted by another planet, using existing telescopes on the ground, is a major milestone in the study of planets beyond our own Solar System," said Professor Gary Davis, Director of the United Kingdom Infrared Telescope (UKIRT). "This is a very exciting scientific discovery."
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January 14th, 2009

Where In The Universe Challenge #37

where-in-the-universe-37

Are you up for another Where In The Universe Challenge? Take a look and see if you can name where in the Universe this image is from. Give yourself extra points if you can name the spacecraft responsible for the image. As usual, we'll provide the image today, but won't reveal the answer until tomorrow. This gives you a chance to mull over the image, and provide your answer/guess in the comment section — if you're up to the challenge! Check back tomorrow on this same post to see how you did. Good luck!

UPDATE: (1/15) The answer has been posted below. No peeking before you make your guess!
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January 14th, 2009

Fine Young Big Blue Cannibal Stars

Blue Stragglers.  Credit:NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Blue Stragglers. Credit:NASA Goddard Space Flight Center


Stars known as "blue stragglers" have stumped astronomers for years. Blue stragglers are found in open or globular clusters, and are hotter, bigger and bluer than other stars in the same vicinity. According to conventional theories, these massive stars should have died long ago because all stars in a cluster are born at the same time and should therefore be at a similar phase. Instead of being older, however, these massive rogue stars appear to be much younger than the other stars and are found in virtually every observed cluster. But now researchers have discovered these mysterious overweight stars are the result of 'stellar cannibalism' where plasma is gradually pulled from one star to another to form a massive, unusually hot star that appears younger than it is. The process takes place in binary stars - star systems consisting of two stars orbiting around their common center of mass. This helps to resolve a long standing mystery in stellar evolution.
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January 14th, 2009

Comet Lulin is On the Way!

Comet Lulin on January 11, 2009.  Credit: Gregg Ruppel

Comet Lulin on January 11, 2009. Credit: Gregg Ruppel


A new comet is swinging around the sun, and soon it will be more visible to stargazers, perhaps even with the naked eye. Both professional and amateur astronomers have been tracking this unusual comet, named Comet Lulin. Thanks to amateur astronomer Gregg Ruppel, who lives in the St. Louis, Missouri area for sharing images he has acquired of Comet Lulin. Gregg took the image above on January 11, 2009. The most interesting characteristic of this comet is its orbit. Lulin is actually moving in the opposite direction as the planets, so its apparent velocity will be quite fast. Estimates are it will be moving about 5 degrees a day across the sky, so when viewed with a telescope or binoculars, you may be able to see the comet's apparent motion against the background stars. This is quite unusual! Today, January 14, the comet is at perihelion, closest to the sun. As it moves to its closest approach to Earth on February 24, Lulin is expected to brighten to naked-eye visibility in rural areas, (at best about magnitude 5 or 6) and will be observable low in the sky in an east-southeast direction before dawn.
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January 13th, 2009

Viewing Earth as an Extra-Solar Planet

Earth scenes and corresponding spectra reconstructed for two observer’s positions.  Credit:  Arnold, et al.
What if another civilization had telescopes and spacecraft better than ours? Would Earth be detectable from another planet a few light-years away? Likewise, what will it take for us to detect life on an Earth-like planet within a similar distance? It's interesting to consider those questions, and now, there is data to help answer them. In December 1990, when the Galileo spacecraft flew by Earth in its circuitous journey to Jupiter, scientists pointed some of the instruments at Earth just to see how the old home planet looked from space. Since we knew life could definitely be found on Earth, this exercise helped create some criteria that if found elsewhere, would point to the existence of life there as well. But what if Earth's climate was different from what it is now? Would that signature still be detectable? And could potential biomarkers from extra solar planets holding climates much colder or warmer than ours be obvious? A group of researchers in France input some various criteria garnered from different epochs in Earth's history to test out this hypothesis. What did they find?
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January 13th, 2009

Aurora Australis at the South Pole

Aurora Australis over the elevated station at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, Antarctica. Credit: Calee Allen, National Science Foundation

Aurora Australis over the elevated station at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, Antarctica. Credit: Calee Allen, National Science Foundation


I just had to share this gorgeous image of the Aurora Australis over the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station in Antarctica. "Northerners" like myself occasionally get to see the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, but fewer people get to the the Aurora Australis because so few people live in Antarctica during the austral winter. In both hemispheres however, the cause of these eerie light shows is the same: the solar wind passing through the Earth's upper atmosphere. This image was taken in May of 2008, but was just recently posted by the National Science Foundation.

Here's a link to a larger, hi-res version of the image above.

The Amundsen-Scott Station has been open for just a year, and below are more pictures and information.
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January 13th, 2009

XMM Newton Zeroes in on Zombie Star

False colour X-ray image of the sky region around SGR 1627-41 obtained with XMM-Newton. Credits: ESA/XMM-Newton/EPIC (P. Esposito et al.)

False colour X-ray image of the sky region around SGR 1627-41 obtained with XMM-Newton. Credits: ESA/XMM-Newton/EPIC (P. Esposito et al.)


Soft Gamma-ray Repeaters (SGRs) are strange and relatively rare objects, with only five known to exist (four in the Milky Way and one in the Large Magellanic Cloud.) Each is between 10 and 30 km across, yet contains about twice the mass of the Sun. SGRs are collapsed cores of large stars that have exploded, called neutron stars, and seemingly, they refuse to die: they will repeatedly flare up after remaining quiet for long periods. Now, ESA's XMM-Newton spacecraft zeroed in on one of these stellar zombies, SGR 1627-41 revealing it to be extremely unique and unusual.
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January 12th, 2009

XCOR Releases New Images of Rocket Test

5K18 "Lynx" engine.  Credit:  XCOR and Mike Massee
In December, XCOR Aerospace, Inc. successfully completed its first test fire of the rocket engine that will be used to power its Lynx suborbital launch vehicle to the edge of space. Today, they released some new images of the test that are sure to excite any rocket enthusiast. The new engine, called the 5K18, produces between 2500-2900 lbs of thrust by burning a mixture of liquid oxygen and kerosene. The engine was fired Monday, December 15th, 2008 at XCOR’s rocket test facility located at the Mojave Air and Space Port. XCOR is the company that dropped its price of a suborbital ride to the edge of space to $95,000. The Lynx will use four of the 5K18 engines to carry people or payloads 61 kilometers (37 miles) above the Earth. “Firing a new rocket engine is always an important milestone,” said XCOR COO Andrew Nelson. “It gives everyone on the team a tremendous sense of accomplishment and demonstrates to customers and investors that XCOR knows how to take new ideas and make them a reality.”

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January 12th, 2009

Stardust and Aerogel Return Home Again

Artist rendering of Stardust-NeXT spacecraft approaching Earth's gravitational pull, resulting in accelerating of spacecraft and bending of flight path. Courtesy: NASA
Remember the Stardust mission that returned samples of comet dust back to Earth in 2006? The spacecraft dropped off a capsule containing samples of a comet's coma and interstellar dust particles, but the spacecraft "bus" is still out there in an elongated orbit of the sun. It will come home again, swinging by Earth on January 14, at 19:40 UTC (12:40 pm PST), getting a gravity assist from the home planet as it flies approximately 5713 miles (9200 kilometers) from the Earth’s surface. But the spacecraft isn't just wandering the solar system with nothing to do. It has a new job and a new mission. Called Stardust NExT, (New Exploration of Tempel 1) the spacecraft will re-survey comet Tempel 1 – the comet that the Deep Impact mission left a mark on — encountering the comet on Feb. 14, 2011.

And remember aerogel – the wispy material that collected the comet dust? Turns out this stuff can come home, too: into homes and other buildings as a super-insulating material. Engineers say using aerogel as an insulator can increase the thermal insulation factor of a wall by over 40%!
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January 12th, 2009

Profiling Potential Supernovae

Astronomical plate showing Sagittarius. Credit: Ashley Pagnotta

Astronomical plate showing Sagittarius. Credit: Ashley Pagnotta



Just as psychologists and detectives try to "profile" serial killers and other criminals, astronomers are trying to determine what type of star system will explode as a supernova. While criminals can sometimes be caught or rehabilitated before they do the crime, supernovae, well, there's no stopping them. But there's the potential of learning a great deal in both astronomy and cosmology by theorizing about potential stellar explosions. At the American Astronomical Society meeting last week, Professor Bradley E. Schaefer of Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, discussed how searching through old astronomical archives can produce unique and front-line science about supernovae – as well as providing information about dark energy — in ways that no combination of modern telescopes can provide. Additionally, Schaefer said amateur astronomers can help in the search, too.
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Filed under: Astronomy, Cosmology, Dark Energy | 5 Comments »


January 12th, 2009

Watch the New Moon Rover in Action

Small Pressurized Rover prototype.  Credit: NASA

Small Pressurized Rover prototype. Credit: NASA


The prototype for NASA's new moon buggy will be part of the inauguration day parade on January 20 when Barack Obama becomes the new president of the US. The space agency is hoping the new president — and the rest of the viewing audience — will be impressed with the new concept for roving across the lunar surface. At the parade down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington D.C., astronaut Mike Gerhardt will show off the rover's capabilities of gliding smoothly, pirouetting and walking like a crab. Last Friday, NASA had a "test run" of the parade, showcasing the rover in a demonstration at Johnson Space Center in Houston.
Watch a video from the Houston Chronicle to see the rover in action. Reportedly, the rover will bring up the rear of the parade and hopefully provide a lasting impression on the new president. Just what can this rover do?
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January 11th, 2009

SpaceX Falcon 9 Now Vertical at Cape Canaveral (Gallery)

Falcon 9, plus lightning towers, stand proud, for the first time, over the Cape (SpaceX)

Falcon 9, plus lightning towers, stand proud, for the first time, over the Cape (SpaceX)

Yesterday (Jan. 10th) was a huge day for SpaceX. For the first time ever, one of their rockets (the mighty Falcon 9) was hoisted vertically in preparation for the Falcon 9 maiden launch (presumably) in the next few weeks. No launch window has been announced as yet, but I am sure SpaceX will be working hard to ignite the nine Merlin-1C engines as soon as possible. Static tests have proven the launch system works, and the successful Falcon 1 flight in September proved SpaceX technology was a reality, so all that is needed is for the largest Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) in the SpaceX fleet to take to the skies, showing the world SpaceX is extending its lead in the commercial space race…
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January 10th, 2009

After the Storm: Measuring the Structure and Temperature of a Quiescent Neutron Star

Accretion can cause neutron stars to flare violently

Accretion can cause neutron stars to flare violently

So how do you take the temperature of one of the most exotic objects in the Universe? A neutron star (~1.35 to 2.1 solar masses, measuring only 24 km across) is the remnant of a supernova after a large star has died. Although they are not massive enough become a black hole, neutron stars still accrete matter, pulling gas from a binary partner, often undergoing prolonged periods of flaring.

Fortunately, we can observe X-ray flares (using instrumentation such as Chandra), but it isn't the flare itself that can reveal the temperature or structure of a neutron star.

At the AAS conference last week, details about the results from an X-ray observing campaign of MXB 1659-29, a quasi-persistent X-ray transient source (i.e. a neutron star that flares for long periods), revealed some fascinating insights to the physics of neutron stars, showing that as the crust of a neutron star cools, the crustal composition is revealed and the temperature of these exotic supernova remnants can be measured…
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January 10th, 2009

Hunt is on for "Killer" Third Star in BD+20 307 Binary System

Exoplanet collision in BD+20 301. Possibly an Earth-like rocky exoplanet was involved? (Lynette Cook)

In September, it was announced the Chandra X-ray Observatory had spotted something very odd about BD+20 307. The binary system appeared to have a dusty disk surrounding it, indicative of a young, planet-forming system a fraction of the age of the Solar System. However, it was well known that the binary was actually several billion years old. It turns out that this disk was created by a rare planetary event; a cataclysmic planetary collision.

On Wednesday, at the AAS conference in Long Beach, I attended the "Extrasolar Planets" session to listen in on more results from Hubble about the exciting exoplanet discoveries in November… however, for me, the most captivating talk was about the strange, dusty old binary and the future detective work to be carried out to track down a planet killer…
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