Saturday, April 19, 2014

Russia to Test Launch New Angara Rocket June 25

Russia to Test Launch New Angara Rocket June 25 © RIA Novosti. Grigory Dubovitsky

The date of the maiden launch of Russia’s new Angara rocket has been set for June 25, an official with the Russian Space Agency told RIA Novosti Friday. “The launch is set for June 25, with the 26th as a backup date,” the official said. He added the rocket would be fired without an orbital payload from the Plesetsk space center, located about 800 kilometers north of Moscow.

SpaceX Successfully Launches Dragon Cargo Spacecraft to Space Station

An exhaust cloud forms around the Falcon 9 rocket at Space Launch Complex 40 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station as the SpaceX-3 mission lifts off, carrying the Dragon resupply spacecraft to the International Space Station. Launch was during an instantaneous window at 3:25 p.m. EDT, April 18, 2014. Credit: NASA/SpaceX

A SpaceX Dragon spacecraft full of NASA cargo, experiments and equipment blazed into orbit Friday, April 18, aboard the company's Falcon 9 rocket. The astronauts aboard the International Space Station will unload the supplies after the Dragon arrives at the orbiting research laboratory. The manifest for the uncrewed Dragon includes almost 5,000 pounds of material including a spacewalking suit for astronauts plus related hardware and supplies for more than 150 science investigations to be conducted by the space station crews. "SpaceX is delivering important research experiments and cargo to the space station," said William Gerstenmaier, NASA associate administrator for human exploration and operations. "The diversity and number of new experiments is phenomenal. The investigations aboard Dragon will help us improve our understanding of how humans adapt to living in space for long periods of time and help us develop technologies that will enable deep space exploration."

NASA's LADEE Spacecraft Crashes into Moon

Concept art showing LADEE over the lunar surface. Image Credit: NASA

Ground controllers at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., have confirmed that NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) spacecraft impacted the surface of the moon, as planned, between 9:30 and 10:22 p.m. PDT Thursday, April 17. LADEE lacked fuel to maintain a long-term lunar orbit or continue science operations and was intentionally sent into the lunar surface. The spacecraft's orbit naturally decayed following the mission's final low-altitude science phase. During impact, engineers believe the LADEE spacecraft, the size of a vending machine, broke apart, with most of the spacecraft’s material heating up several hundred degrees – or even vaporizing – at the surface. Any material that remained is likely buried in shallow craters.

China Issues First Assessment on Space Activities

Shenzhou 10 launch. Credit: Xinhua

A leading space research group in China released the country's first assessment of the current situation and future trends of international space activities on Thursday. The report was compiled by the research group of the Qian Xuesen Laboratory of Launch Vehicle Technology. The report showed that space activities have flourished in recent years. Big space powers led in terms of satellite launch attempts and in-orbit assets. Modern facilities and equipment used in space activities are mostly owned by leading space powers. So far, 12 countries have gained the ability to launch satellites independently, said the report.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Exoplanets Soon to Gleam in the Eye of NESSI

The New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology's 2.4-meter (7.9-foot) Magdalena Ridge Observatory in Socorro County, N.M. Image Credit: New Mexico Tech

The New Mexico Exoplanet Spectroscopic Survey Instrument (NESSI) will soon get its first "taste" of exoplanets, helping astronomers decipher their chemical composition. Exoplanets are planets that orbit stars beyond our sun. NESSI got its first peek at the sky on April 3, 2014. It looked at Pollux, a star in the Gemini constellation, and Arcturus, in the Bo├Âtes constellation, confirming that all modes of the instrument are working. "After five years of development, it's really exciting to turn on our instrument and see its first light," said Michele Creech-Eakman, the principal investigator of the project at the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology in Socorro, N.M. "Planet hunters have found thousands of exoplanets, but what do we know about them? NESSI will help us find out more about their atmospheres and compositions."

First Discovery of Double Star That Brightens During clipse

White dwarf acts like a magnifying glass. Credit: physicsworld.com

For the first time, astronomers have seen a double star brighten rather than fade when one star passes in front of its companion. Predicted decades ago, the phenomenon arises from gravitational microlensing as the great surface gravity of a white-dwarf star magnifies its partner's light. The discovery by US researchers raises the hope that we will someday catch a neutron star or black hole doing the same thing, which would lend new insight into these extreme objects. Many star systems are double, having two stars that orbit each other. In some cases, the orbit aligns edge-on to our line of sight, so that one star periodically eclipses the other and dims the light that we see. Astronomers have known of these eclipsing binaries for centuries. The best example is Algol – Arabic for "the ghoul" – which medieval astrologers considered to be the most dangerous star in the sky, probably because they knew that its light flickers. In 1782 British astronomer Edward Pigott correctly explained why Algol dims.

A Cross-Section of the Universe

An image of a galaxy cluster taken by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope gives a remarkable cross-section of the Universe, showing objects at different distances and stages in cosmic history. They range from cosmic near neighbours to objects seen in the early years of the Universe. The 14-hour exposure shows objects around a billion times fainter than can be seen with the naked eye. Hubble’s images might look flat, but this one shows a remarkable depth of field that lets us see more than halfway to the edge of the observable Universe. Most of the galaxies visible here are members of a huge cluster called CLASS B1608+656, which lies about five billion light-years away. But the field also contains other objects, both significantly closer and far more distant, including quasar QSO-160913+653228 which is so distant its light has taken nine billion years to reach us, two thirds of the time that has elapsed since the Big Bang. Credit: NASA, ESA

An image of a galaxy cluster taken by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope gives a remarkable cross-section of the Universe, showing objects at different distances and stages in cosmic history. They range from cosmic near neighbours to objects seen in the early years of the Universe. The 14-hour exposure shows objects around a billion times fainter than can be seen with the naked eye. This new Hubble image showcases a remarkable variety of objects at different distances from us, extending back over halfway to the edge of the observable Universe. The galaxies in this image mostly lie about five billion light-years from Earth but the field also contains other objects, both significantly closer and far more distant.

Possible Spectacular Meteor Shower from Comet 209/LINEAR in May

Comet 209P (LINEAR). Credit: Remanzacco Observatory

209P/LINEAR is a periodic comet discovered by the Lincoln Laboratory Near-Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR) survey on five images taken on 2004, February 3.40 (discovery magnitude ~18.1). Reported by LINEAR as an apparent asteroidal object, it has been found to show a narrow 1'.1 tail in p.a. 274 deg (slightly expanding toward the end) on CCD images obtained by R. H. McNaught with the 1.0-m f/8 reflector at Siding Spring on Mar. 30.8 UT. This comet has been assigned the permanent designation 209P on 2008, December 12 (previous designation were P/2008 X2 (LINEAR) = P/2004 CB). Remanzacco Observatory performed follow-up measurements of this object on 2014, April 14.95 with the 2.0-m f/10.0 Ritchey-Chretien + CCD telescope of La Palma-Liverpool (J13 MPC code). You can see the image above with the comet's magnitude ~17.