Monday, October 24, 2016

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Spacecraft in Good Health After Testing Its Thrusters

OSIRIS-REx Spacecraft at Bennu. Image Credit: NASA

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft continues its so far flawless journey to asteroid Bennu, after successfully completing its first Trajectory Correction Maneuver (TCM-1) on Oct. 7. According to the mission’s Deputy Principal Investigator, the probe is currently in good health and all of its instruments are working properly.

Playing BINGO with the Universe: Astronomers Aim to Unravel the Mysteries of Dark Energy

Diagram representing the accelerated expansion of the universe due to dark energy. Image credit: Ann Feild (STScI)

Now you might wonder, how exactly playing bingo could help astronomers uncover the mysteries of elusive dark matter? Well, instead of playing this game literally, an international team of researchers, has proposed a project named BINGO (Baryon acoustic oscillations In Neutral Gas Observations) to build a special purpose radio telescope that could provide crucial insight on the real nature of dark energy. So, does this mean we could be hearing astronomers shouting out loud: “Bingo!” or rather “BINGO!”, when solving another astronomical conundrum?

Orbital ATK’s OA-5 Cygnus Spacecraft Arrives at the ISS

The S.S. Alan Poindexter holds position at the 30-meter mark on its approach to the ISS. Credit: NASA

Nearly a week after its launch, Orbital ATK’s Cygnus spacecraft berthed with the International Space Station (ISS) on Sunday, October 23, 2016, at 10:53 a.m. EDT (14:53 GMT), 250 miles (402 kilometers) above the Indian Ocean. The capsule is now attached to the nadir (Earth-facing) port on the station’s Unity module.

Psyche: Unexpected Discoveries on a Metal World

An artist’s concept of the Psyche spacecraft, a proposed mission for NASA’s Discovery program that would explore the huge metal Psyche asteroid from orbit (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Astronomers have discovered possible evidence for water on the surface of the largest metallic asteroid in the solar system. Named 16 Psyche, the bolide is one of the most massive in the Asteroid Belt, measuring 186 miles across and consisting of almost pure nickel-iron metal. It is thought to be the remnant core of a planetary embryo that was mostly destroyed by impacts billions of years ago.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

NASA Spacecraft Eyes Remains of ESA’s Schiaparelli Lander

A NASA Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Context Camera (CTX) image taken on 20 October 2016. This is the ‘after’ image in the pair of images taken to locate the Schiaparelli entry, descent and landing demonstrator module, which shows two new features appearing following the arrival of the module on 19 October.  One of the features is bright and can be associated with the 12-m diameter parachute used in the second stage of Schiaparelli’s descent, after the initial heat shield entry. The parachute and the associated back shield were released from Schiaparelli prior to the final phase, during which its nine thrusters should have slowed it to a standstill just above the surface.  The other new feature is a fuzzy dark patch roughly 15 x 40 metres in size and about 1 km north of the parachute. This is interpreted as arising from the impact of the Schiaparelli module itself following a much longer free fall than planned, after the thrusters were switched off prematurely. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) has confirmed the worst fears of the ExoMars team by identifying new markings on the surface of the Red Planet that are believed to be related to Europe’s Schiaparelli test lander, which arrived at Mars on Oct. 19. Schiaparelli’s signal cut off about 50 seconds before its planned touchdown.

Uranus May Have Tiny, Undiscovered Moons

Uranus is seen in this false-color view from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope from August 2003. The brightness of the planet's faint rings and dark moons has been enhanced for visibility. Credits: NASA/Erich Karkoschka (Univ. Arizona)

University of Idaho researchers have spotted patterns in Uranus’ rings that hint at the presence of two tiny, previously undiscovered moonlets orbiting the solar system’s seventh planet. Rob Chancia, a doctoral student in the UI College of Science Department of Physics, spotted the patterns while examining decades-old data on Uranus’ rings obtained by the Voyager 2 spacecraft in 1986. He noticed the amount of ring material on the edge of the alpha ring, one of the brightest of Uranus’ multiple rings, varied periodically. A similar, even more promising pattern occurred in the same part of the neighboring beta ring.

Found: Oldest Known Planet-Forming Disk

Artist’s concept of the newly discovered disk. Credits: Jonathan Holden

A group of citizen scientists and professional astronomers, including Carnegie’s Jonathan Gagné, joined forces to discover an unusual hunting ground for exoplanets. They found a star surrounded by the oldest known circumstellar disk—a primordial ring of gas and dust that orbits around a young star and from which planets can form as the material collides and aggregates.