Wednesday, November 26, 2014

ESO Telescope Captures a Colourful Gathering of Middle-aged Stars

The MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile captured this richly colourful view of the bright star cluster NGC 3532. Some of the stars still shine with a hot bluish colour, but many of the more massive ones have become red giants and glow with a rich orange hue. Credit: ESO/G. Beccari

The MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at the European Southern Observatory's (ESO) La Silla Observatory in Chile has captured a richly colourful view of the bright star cluster NGC 3532. Some of the stars still shine with a hot bluish colour, but many of the more massive ones have become red giants and glow with a rich orange hue. NGC 3532 is a bright open cluster located some 1300 light-years away in the constellation of Carina (The Keel of the ship Argo). It is informally known as the Wishing Well Cluster, as it resembles scattered silver coins which have been dropped into a well. It is also referred to as the Football Cluster, although how appropriate this is depends on which side of the Atlantic you live. It acquired the name because of its oval shape, which citizens of rugby-playing nations might see as resembling a rugby ball.

Space Station's 3-D Printer Creates First Object in Space

International Space Station Commander Barry “Butch” Wilmore holds up the first object made in space with additive manufacturing or 3-D printing. Wilmore installed the printer on Nov. 17, 2014, and helped crews on the ground with the first print on Nov. 25, 2014. Image Credit: NASA

History was made on Nov. 24 at 9:28 p.m. GMT, when the first 3D printer built to operate in space successfully manufactured its first part on the International Space Station (ISS). This is the first time that hardware has been additively manufactured in space, as opposed to launching it from Earth. "This first print is the initial step toward providing an on-demand machine shop capability away from Earth," said Niki Werkheiser, project manager for the International Space Station 3-D Printer at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. "The space station is the only laboratory where we can fully test this technology in space.” The first part made in space is a functional part of the printer itself – a faceplate for its own extruder printhead. “This ‘First Print’ serves to demonstrate the potential of the technology to produce replacement parts on demand if a critical component fails in space,” said Jason Dunn, Chief Technical Officer for Made In Space. “When the first human fashioned a tool from a rock, it couldn’t have been conceived that one day we ’d be replicating the same fundamental idea in space,” said Aaron Kemmer, CEO of Made In Space, Inc. “We look at the operation of the 3D printer as a transformative moment, not just for space development, but for the capability of our species to live away from Earth.”

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Supercomputers Help Reveal the Sun's Hidden Mysteries

This visualization shows magnetic field loops in a portion of the sun, with colors representing magnetic field strength from weak (blue) to strong (red). The simulation was run on the Pleiades supercomputer at the NASA Advanced Supercomputing facility at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California. Credit: Robert Stein, Michigan State University; Timothy Sandstrom, NASA/Ames

Bursting from the Sun at up to 2,000 miles per second, explosive clouds of plasma and radiation can extend millions of miles into space with the energy of nearly a billion atomic bombs. The most powerful of these coronal mass ejections (CMEs) are associated with sunspots—short-lived dark areas of intense magnetic activity that can be bigger than the Earth—but scientists are not yet sure how the phenomena are related. "We don't know exactly how sunspots form, or how sunspot regions initiate solar flares and CMEs," said Irina Kitiashvili, research scientist with NASA's Heliophysics Modeling and Simulation (HMS) Project. Solving these mysteries will help scientists forecast space weather events that can have an enormous impact here on Earth: magnetic storms caused by CMEs and other solar activity can disrupt radio and satellite communication, prompt airplanes to divert from polar routes, and even cause massive power blackouts.

Prelaunch Activities Set for Orion's Test Flight

Engineers and technicians at Space Launch Complex 37 move Orion into place in the service structure so the spacecraft can be lifted and joined to the top of the Delta IV Heavy rocket. Photo credit: NASA/Radislav Sinyak

The first flight test of Orion, NASA’s next-generation spacecraft that will send astronauts to an asteroid and onward to Mars, is scheduled for Thursday, Dec. 4. NASA will host a series of news conferences and flight test commentary on NASA Television, as well as media events at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Orion will launch, uncrewed, on a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket at 7:05 a.m. EST from Space Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) in Florida. The window for launch is two hours 39 minutes.

India Has Its Own 'Orion': ISRO's Unmanned Spacecraft Prepared for Launch in December

ISRO’s unmanned crew module undergoing tests at the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, Thiruvananthapuram. The maiden flight of GSLVMark III in December 2014 will put the unmanned crew module in the orbit. Credit: VSSC/ISRO

As NASA prepares for the test launch of its Orion spacecraft, India awaits the first ever flight of its indigenous space capsule. Just like Orion, it will be launched in December, but the exact date has not been decided yet. The mission is a stepping stone to the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) ultimately sending astronauts into space in the module. The 3.65-tonne module will get de-mated from the topmost cryogenic stage at an altitude of 125 km and return to the earth. At an altitude of 15 km, there will be an “aerial ballet,” featuring three huge parachutes which will open up one after the other to slow down the module’s descent.

Carnegie Mellon University Unveils Its Moon Rover

"Andy" rover. Credit:

Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) on Monday unveiled Andy, a four-wheeled robot designed to scramble up steep slopes and survive the temperature swings and high radiation encountered while exploring the moon's pits, caves and polar ice. "Every extraterrestrial robot carries some DNA from Carnegie Mellon, but Andy would be the first true CMU robot to make the leap from Earth," said William "Red" Whittaker, professor of robotics and director of the Field Robotics Center. "This is the culmination of lots of work by lots of people and is the next step toward Carnegie Mellon becoming a spacefaring university." Andy, which derives its moniker from university namesakes Andrew Carnegie and Andrew Mellon, was developed over the last nine months by a largely student workforce and drew on expertise and resources from across the university, including the School of Computer Science, the College of Engineering, the College of Fine Arts and the Mellon College of Science.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Hell Over Wallops: Journalists Release Stunning New Images of Antares Rocket Fiery Explosion

Antares descended into a hellish inferno after the first stage propulsion system at the base of Orbital Sciences’ Antares rocket exploded moments after blastoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014, at 6:22 p.m. Credit: Elliot Severn/Zero-G News

For the NASA press corps, specifically the photojournalists responsible for capturing suicidal up-close images at liftoff, camera setups for the recent launch attempt of an Orbital Sciences Corporation Antares rocket on the Orb-3 mission was as usual, but the outcome was anything but. The rocket’s base exploded violently and unexpectedly just seconds after a beautiful evening liftoff on Oct. 28, due to the failure of one of the refurbished AJ26 first stage Soviet-era engines built four decades ago. Now, many exclusive, up close launch pad photos and videos from a group of space journalists working together from Universe Today, AmericaSpace, and Zero-G news, are released to the public.