Friday, October 31, 2014

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo Crashes in California, Killing One Pilot

Wreckage from Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo in Mojave, California October 31, 2014. Credit: Reuters/KNBC-TV

Virigin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo space tourism plane exploded and crashed during a test flight Friday over the Mojave Desert, killing one crew member and seriously injuring another, authorities said. Television footage of the Virgin Galactic crash site showed wreckage of the spacecraft lying in two large pieces on the ground, and the company said the spacecraft was destroyed. Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood said a debris field was spread over more than a mile. The co-pilot of the spaceship was killed in the crash, while the pilot, who ejected and parachuted to the ground, survived with serious injuries, Kern County Sheriff's spokesman Ray Pruitt said. The pilot was found at the scene and taken to a local hospital, he said. "Virgin Galactic's partner Scaled Composites conducted a powered test flight of SpaceShipTwo earlier today. During the test, the vehicle suffered a serious anomaly resulting in the loss of the vehicle," Virgin Galactic said in a statement.

China's Chang'e-2 Lunar Probe 100 Million Km Away from Earth

China's second lunar probe, Chang'e-2, was 100 million km into deep space in July, the longest journey of ant Chinese spacecraft, a senior engineer said Thursday. The lunar probe, launched on Oct. 1, 2010, has extended its service by several years and remains in good condition, Zhou Jianliang, chief engineer of the Beijing Aerospace Control Center told Xinhua. Chang'e-2 tested technology for Chang'e-3, the landing mission. It left lunar orbit for outer space in June 2011 after completing all of its tasks.

Oceans Arrived Early to Earth, Study Finds

In this illustration of the early solar system, the dashed white line represents the snow line—the transition from the hotter inner solar system, where water ice is not stable (brown) to the outer Solar system, where water ice is stable (blue). Two possible ways that the inner solar system received water are: water molecules sticking to dust grains inside the "snow line" (as shown in the inset) and carbonaceous chondrite material flung into the inner solar system by the effect of gravity from protoJupiter. With either scenario, water must accrete to the inner planets within the first ca. 10 million years of solar system formation. Credit: Jack Cook, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Earth is known as the Blue Planet because of its oceans, which cover more than 70 percent of the planet's surface and are home to the world's greatest diversity of life. While water is essential for life on the planet, the answers to two key questions have eluded us: where did Earth’s water come from and when? While some hypothesize that water came late to Earth, well after the planet had formed, findings from a new study led by scientists at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) significantly move back the clock for the first evidence of water on Earth and in the inner solar system. "The answer to one of the basic questions is that our oceans were always here. We didn't get them from a late process, as was previously thought," said Adam Sarafian, the lead author of the paper published Oct. 31, 2014, in the journal Science and a MIT/WHOI Joint Program student in the Geology and Geophysics Department.

Orion Spacecraft Complete and Ready for Integration with Delta IV Heavy Rocket

A fully assembled Orion stands 72 ft tall inside the Launch Abort System Facility (LASF) at Kennedy Space Center. The spacecraft will remain inside the LASF until it rolls to launch pad 37 in November. Credit: Lockheed Martin

NASA and Lockheed Martin have completed final assembly and testing of the Orion spacecraft. The spacecraft will remain inside NASA’s Launch Abort System Facility at Kennedy Space Center until it rolls to launch pad 37 in November. “An empty shell of a spacecraft arrived to Kennedy Space Center two years ago, and now we have a fully assembled Orion standing 72 feet tall,” said Michael Hawes Lockheed Martin Orion program manager. “We’re ready to launch it into space and test every inch.” The final assembly stages of the spacecraft included installing Orion’s Ogive panels, which protect the crew module from harsh acoustic and vibration environments during launch and ascent. Engineers also installed fasteners to secure the panels in place and covered them with a thermal protection coating. Orion was then lifted by crane, rotated into the proper orientation for mating with the Delta IV Heavy launch vehicle, and placed onto the transport pallet.

Astronomers Discover a Low-density Exoplanet That Won’t Stick to a Schedule

Credit: Michael S. Helfenbein

Yale University astronomers and the Planet Hunter program have found a low-mass, low-density planet with a punctuality problem. The new planet, called PH3c, is located 2,300 light years from Earth and has an atmosphere loaded with hydrogen and helium. It is described in the Oct. 29 online edition of The Astrophysical Journal. The elusive orb nearly avoided detection. This is because PH3c has a highly inconsistent orbit time around its sun, due to the gravitational influence of other planets in its system. “On Earth, these effects are very small, only on the scale of one second or so,” said Joseph Schmitt, a Yale graduate student and first author of the paper. “PH3c’s orbital period changed by 10.5 hours in just 10 orbits.” If Earth experienced such large changes, then if 2014 were 365 days long, 2024 would be 367.4 days long, almost two and a half days longer than 2014.

When Did Galaxies Settle Down?

A European Southern Observatory image of the barred spiral galaxy NGC 1365, rotated to match the orientation of the first image. NGC 1365 is about 56 million light years away, so we see it as it appears 56 million years ago, or 10 billion years later than the galaxy in the HST image. Credit: ESO/IDA/Danish 1.5 m/ R. Gendler, J-E. Ovaldsen, C. Thöne, and C. Feron.

Astronomers have long sought to understand exactly how the universe evolved from its earliest history to the cosmos we see around us in the present day. In particular, the way that galaxies form and develop is still a matter for debate. Now a group of researchers have used the collective efforts of the hundreds of thousands of people that volunteer for the Galaxy Zoo project to shed some light on this problem. They find that galaxies may have settled into their current form some two billion years earlier than previously thought. Dr Brooke Simmons of the University of Oxford and her collaborators describe the work in a paper in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Oh What a Sunny Day on Titan's Seas

This near-infrared, color view from Cassini shows the sun glinting off of Titan's north polar seas. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. Arizona/Univ. Idaho

This near-infrared, color mosaic from NASA/ESA Cassini spacecraft shows the sun glinting off of Titan's north polar seas. While Cassini has captured, separately, views of the polar seas and the sun glinting off of them in the past, this is the first time both have been seen together in the same view. The sunglint, also called a specular reflection, is the bright area near the 11 o'clock position at upper left. This mirror-like reflection, known as the specular point, is in the south of Titan's largest sea, Kraken Mare, just north of an island archipelago separating two separate parts of the sea.