Saturday, October 25, 2014

Methane Ice Cloud Found in Titan's Stratosphere

This cloud in the stratosphere over the north pole of Titan is similar to Earth's polar stratospheric clouds. NASA scientists have determined that Titan's cloud contains methane ice, which was not previously thought to form in that part of the atmosphere. Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona/LPGNantes

NASA scientists have identified an unexpected high-altitude methane ice cloud on Saturn's moon Titan that is similar to exotic clouds found far above Earth's poles. This lofty cloud, imaged by NASA's Cassini spacecraft, was part of the winter cap of condensation over Titan's north pole. Now, eight years after spotting this mysterious bit of atmospheric fluff, researchers have determined that it contains methane ice, which produces a much denser cloud than the ethane ice previously identified there. "The idea that methane clouds could form this high on Titan is completely new," said Carrie Anderson, a Cassini participating scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and lead author of the study. "Nobody considered that possible before."

Dream Chaser Spacecraft Science Mission Variant Revealed

SNC's Dream Chaser Science Mission Mock-Up. Credit: SNC

Sierra Nevada Corporation's (SNC) Space Systems has presented the Dream Chaser Science Mission Mock-Up at the American Society for Gravitational and Space Research (ASGSR) conference in Pasadena, California, through Oct. 26. In addition to the primary function of transporting crew and cargo to and from low-Earth orbit (LEO), SNC’s Dream Chaser program team has been developing a science mission variant which leverages the inherent capabilities of the vehicle to offer a free-flying microgravity science laboratory. The Dream Chaser for Science, or DC4Science, spacecraft is designed to fly independently for short and extended durations to provide customers in such fields as biotech and pharmaceuticals, biology and life science, and material and fluid science with a flexible and evolvable vehicle easily suited for individual mission requirements.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Comet Smells Like Urine, ESA Scientists Reveal

Four-image NAVCAM mosaic of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, using images taken on 19 September 2014 when Rosetta was 28.6 km from the comet. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM

If you could smell the comet, you would probably wish that you hadn’t. ESA scientists have discovered the smell of the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko (67P/C-G): rotten eggs, horse urine and formaldehyde. Rosetta spacecraft's Orbiter Sensor for Ion and Neutral Analysis (ROSINA) has been ‘sniffing the fumes’ of 67P/C-G with its two mass spectrometers. “The perfume of 67P/C-G is quite strong, with the odour of rotten eggs (hydrogen sulphide), horse stable (ammonia), and the pungent, suffocating odour of formaldehyde," said Kathrin Altwegg, the principal investigator for ROSINA. "This is mixed with the faint, bitter, almond-like aroma of hydrogen cyanide. Add some whiff of alcohol (methanol) to this mixture, paired with the vinegar-like aroma of sulphur dioxide and a hint of the sweet aromatic scent of carbon disulphide, and you arrive at the ‘perfume’ of our comet.”

Lucky Star Escapes Black Hole With Minor Damage

Discovery image of ASASSN-14ae. The top-left panel shows the ASAS-SN V -band reference image and the top-right panel shows the ASAS-SN subtracted image from 2014 January 25. The bottom-left panel shows the archival SDSS g-band image of the host galaxy and the bottom-right panel shows an LT 2-m g- band image from 2014 February 08. The dates of the observations are listed in each panel, and the lower panels show a smaller  eld of view, indicated by the red box in the top-left panel. The red circles have radii of 5:000 and are centered on the host position. Credit: osu.edu

Astronomers have gotten the closest look yet at what happens when a black hole takes a bite out of a star—and the star lives to tell the tale. We may think of black holes as swallowing entire stars—or any other object that wanders too close to their immense gravity. But sometimes, a star that is almost captured by a black hole escapes with only a portion of its mass torn off. Such was the case for a star some 650 million light years away toward Ursa Major, the constellation that contains the “Big Dipper,” where a supermassive black hole tore off a chunk of material from a star that got away. Astronomers at The Ohio State University couldn’t see the star itself with their All-Sky Automated Survey for Supernovae (ASAS-SN, pronounced “assassin”). But they did see the light that flared as the black hole “ate” the material that it managed to capture. In a paper to appear in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society , they report that the star and the black hole are located in a galaxy outside of the newly dubbed Laniakea Supercluster, of which our home Milky Way Galaxy is a part.

Pac-Man in the Sky: Partial Solar Eclipse Creates Crescent Sun

Partial solar eclipse on Oct. 23, 2014 seen from Fort Riley, Kansas. Credit: Brian Martin

Skywatchers in North America were treated to the fourth and final eclipse of the year on Thursday. The partial solar eclipse - which occurred when a new moon hides part of the Sun making it look as though Pac-Man were eating his way across the sky – was almost exclusively visible on land from North America. Unlike a full solar eclipse it does not turn the sky dark because there is still plenty of sunlight. The event started to unfold near the Kamchatka Peninsula in far eastern Russia at around 3:37 p.m. EDT. The show in the sky reached its height at 5:45 p.m. EDT, NASA said, meaning the eastern half of the country should have gotten a view before the backdrop of golden twilight hues. The best views were on the west coast including California, where the moon blanked out nearly half of the solar disc in cloudless mid-afternoon skies.

Rocket Flight Tests Four Technology Payloads

Against a dramatic orange sky at sunrise, UP Aerospace' Spaceloft-9 sounding rocket lifts off from Spaceport America in New Mexico Oct. 23 carrying four experimental space technology payloads. Image Credit: Todd Dickson / Las Cruces Bulletin

Four NASA sponsored experiments were provided nearly four minutes of microgravity flight and testing after UP Aerospace's SpaceLoft rocket SL-9 soared into suborbital space from Spaceport America outside of Las Cruces, New Mexico on Thursday. While flying on suborbital launch vehicles in zero gravity, experimental technologies are briefly exposed to the space environment where they are expected to operate. Funded by NASA's Flight Opportunities Program, three of the technologies were flown in collaboration with NASA's Game Changing Development Program: an advanced micro sun sensor from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. a radiation-tolerant computer system from Montana State University, Bozeman and a vibration isolation platform from Controlled Dynamics, Inc. of Huntington Beach, Calif.

China Successfully Launches Moon Flyby Mission

An unmanned spacecraft is launched atop an advanced Long March-3C rocket from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China's Sichuan Province, Oct. 24, 2014. China launched the lunar orbiter early Friday to test technologies to be used in the Chang'e-5, a future probe that will conduct the country's first moon mission with a return to Earth. (Xinhua/Jiang Hongjing)

China launched an unmanned spacecraft at 6:00 p.m. UTC on Thursday to test technologies to be used in the Chang'e-5, a future probe that will conduct the country's first moon mission with a return to Earth. The lunar orbiter was launched atop an advanced Long March-3C rocket from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China's Sichuan Province. The test spacecraft separated from its carrier rocket and entered the expected the orbit shortly after the liftoff, according to the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense. The whole mission will take about eight days. Developed by China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, the spacecraft will fly around the moon for half a circle and return to Earth.