Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Russian Cargo Spacecraft Undocks From Space Station

Russian Progress spacecraft undocks from the ISS on July 21, 2014. Credit: artemjew.ru

A Russian space freighter departed the International Space Station Monday, clearing the way for the next express delivery of cargo on Wednesday. The ISS Progress 55 cargo craft undocked from the Pirs docking compartment at 5:44 p.m. EDT Monday after spending more than three months at the orbiting complex. Progress 55 delivered nearly three tons of food, fuel and supplies when it arrived at the orbiting complex on April 9. “The spacecraft’s undocking from the station passed normally, at 01:44 a.m., Moscow time,” Roscosmos said. After undocking, the Progress moved to a safe distance away from the station for 10 days of engineering tests before it is deorbited on July 31 (Aug. 1 Moscow time).

Astronomers Discover Transiting Exoplanet with Longest Known Year

This artist's conception shows the Uranus-sized exoplanet Kepler-421b, which orbits an orange, type K star about 1,000 light-years from Earth. Kepler-421b is the transiting exoplanet with the longest known year, circling its star once every 704 days. It is located beyond the "snow line" – the dividing line between rocky and gaseous planets – and might have formed in place rather than migrating from a different orbit. Credit: David A. Aguilar (CfA)

Astronomers have discovered a transiting exoplanet with the longest known year. Kepler-421b circles its star once every 704 days. In comparison, Mars orbits our Sun once every 780 days. Most of the 1,800-plus exoplanets discovered to date are much closer to their stars and have much shorter orbital periods. "Finding Kepler-421b was a stroke of luck," says lead author David Kipping of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA). "The farther a planet is from its star, the less likely it is to transit the star from Earth's point of view. It has to line up just right." Kepler-421b orbits an orange, type K star that is cooler and dimmer than our Sun. It circles the star at a distance of about 110 million miles. As a result, this Uranus-sized planet is chilled to a temperature of -135° Fahrenheit.

Monday, July 21, 2014

America Celebrates 45th Anniversary of First Moon Landing

On July 21, 2014, NASA renamed the Operations & Checkout Building at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida in honor of Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon. From left to right: NASA administrator Charles Bolden, astronauts Mike Collins, Buzz Aldrin, Jim Lovell and KSC director Bob Cabana. Credit: NASA

The world watched 45 years ago as NASA's Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin set their lunar module Eagle down in the Sea of Tranquility, while crewmate Michael Collins orbited above in the command module Columbia. Today, as well as last and next week, NASA commemorates Armstrong's "one giant leap for mankind" through a number of events across, and above the United States. The astronauts launched from Florida on July 16, 1969. Armstrong and Aldrin ventured out onto the lunar surface on July 20, 1969. The two men spent 21.5 hours on the moon before taking off from the lunar surface to meet up with Collins in the command module and fly back to Earth. NASA astronauts returned to the surface of the moon on multiple missions, however, no human has touched down on the natural satellite's surface since 1972.

Oceans Vital for Possibility of Alien Life, Research Shows

Artist's rendering of an ocean on an exoplanet. Credit: J. Whatmough

Researchers at the University of East Anglia (UEA) have made an important step in the race to discover whether other planets could develop and sustain life. New research published today in the journal Astrobiology shows the vital role of oceans in moderating climate on Earth-like planets. Until now, computer simulations of habitable climates on Earth-like planets have focused on their atmospheres. But the presence of oceans is vital for optimal climate stability and habitability. The research team from UEA’s schools of Mathematics and Environmental Sciences created a computer simulated pattern of ocean circulation on a hypothetical ocean-covered Earth-like planet. They looked at how different planetary rotation rates would impact heat transport with the presence of oceans taken into account. Prof David Stevens from UEA’s school of Mathematics said: “The number of planets being discovered outside our solar system is rapidly increasing. This research will help answer whether or not these planets could sustain alien life.

Lunar Rock Collisions Behind Chinese Rover Damage

Yutu rover on the moon. Credit: xinhua.net

Ailing Chinese moon rover Yutu, or "Jade Rabbit," might have been damaged by knocking against rocks on a lunar surface that is more complicated than expected, its designer has said. Yutu, China's first moon rover, drove onto the lunar surface on Dec. 15 last year during the Chang'e-3 lunar mission, but in January it suffered a "mechanical control abnormality" which has continued to trouble it ever since. The rover was tested in Beijing, Shanghai and the desert in northwestern China before its launch, but the terrain of the landing site proved to be much more rugged than expected, said Zhang Yuhua, deputy chief designer of the lunar probe system for the Chang'e-3 mission. "It is almost like a gravel field."

Sunday, July 20, 2014

UK Space Agency Reveals Winners of the Great British Space Dinner

Celebrity Chef Heston Blumenthal and UK ESA astronaut Tim Peake. Credit: UK Space Agency

During his 6 month mission to the ISS, British ESA astronaut Tim Peake will be tucking into a unique British-inspired menu, thanks to the creative input of UK students who have won the UK Space Agency’s ‘Great British Space Dinner’ competition.The Great British Space Dinner was open to classes, other groups (such as after-school clubs, Scouts, Guides, etc) and individuals. There were 2 categories, one for primary level children and one for secondary level children. Children were asked to design a British-inspired meal for Tim to eat in space, taking account of good nutritional principles as well as the constraints of space (such as handling, packaging and preservation).

ESA Mission to Space Station Delayed

ATV-5 on its Ariane 5 launcher in the BAF (Final Assembly Building), on 11 July 2014. Credit: ESA–M. Pedoussaut, 2014

The last flight of Europe's heavy-duty Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) heading for the International Space Station will be delayed a few days while engineers resolve a problem with the spaceship's Ariane 5 launcher, officials said Friday. "In order to proceed with complementary verifications on the Ariane 5 ES launch system, Arianespace has decided to delay the VA219 launch for a few days," Arianespace said in a statement. The launch is known as VA219 in Arianespace's mission naming system. Liftoff was scheduled for July 24 from the European-run Guiana Space Center on the northern coast of South America, the tropical spaceport that is home to the Ariane 5, Soyuz and Vega rockets operated by the French launch services firm Arianespace.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

New Geologic Map of Mars Reveals Detailed Landscapes

USGS’s new geologic map of Mars is the most thorough representation yet of the red planet’s surface. Credit: USGS

Get ready, because now you can explore the most comprehensive representation of Mars with a new global geologic map created by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). This new view of the “Red Planet’s” surface provides a framework for continued scientific investigation of Mars as the long-range target for human space exploration. The USGS-led mapping effort reveals that the Martian surface is generally older than previously thought. Three times as much surface area dates to the first major geologic time period – the Early Noachian Epoch – than was previously mapped. This timeframe is the earliest part of the Noachian Period, which ranges from about 4.1 to about 3.7 billion years ago, and was characterized by high rates of meteorite impacts, widespread erosion of the Martian surface and the likely presence of abundant surface water.