Sunday, March 31, 2013

Asteroid used as ham press by Spanish farmer worth $5.3 million

The Arthur Ross Hall of Meteorites is home to a similar asteroid — one not used as a ham press — the Gibeon Meteorite found in 1836 in Namibia, Africa. Credit:

A rock used by a Spanish farmer for more than 30 years to press ham has turned out to be an iron meteorite worth at least $5.3 million. Faustino Asensio Lopez found the 220-pound rock, which measures just 18-by-12.5-by-8 inches, as he was tending to livestock with his father in a field near Ciudad Real in 1980. Believing it to be military scrap from the country's civil war, it sat on his patio for more than three decades — used by family members to help cure meat.

Ultra-heavy booster needed to prevent Earth from asteroids

An ultra-heavy booster is needed to be created in order to prevent the Earth from asteroids and comets, head of the Russian space rocket corporation, Energia, Vitaly Lopota said on Friday. The booster should be designed on the basis of the existing flying components, which have been created within the Energia booster program, Lopota said. “Such booster will be able to carry and deploy detection and tracking system elements [a thermonuclear warhead if it necessary] near dangerous space facilities,” the corporation’s head explained.

Successful ignition of indigenous cryogenic engine

Successful ignition of an indigenous cryogenic engine on Wednesday at Mahendragiri in Tamil Nadu’s Kanyakumari district, in conditions simulating the high altitude atmosphere, has boosted the confidence of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) to go ahead with the launch of a Geo-synchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV-D5) in July. The hot-test took place in the newly-built high altitude test facility (HAT) at ISRO’s Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre (LPSC) at Mahendragiri.

Don't Let This Happen to Your Planet

Ozone stinks. People who breathe it gag as their lungs burn. The EPA classifies ground-level ozone as air pollution. Yet without it, life on Earth would be impossible. A fragile layer of ozone 25 km above Earth's surface is all that stands between us and some of the harshest UV rays from the sun. The ozone molecule O3 blocks radiation which would otherwise burn skin and cause cancer. On Mars, which has no ozone layer to protect it, solar UV rays strafe the surface with deadly effect, leaving the apparently lifeless planet without the simplest of organic molecules in the upper millimeters of exposed Martian soil.

Mars beckons ISRO, orbiter taking shape

The mother of all Indian space designs to date, Mars Orbiter Mission or MOM for now, is shaping up at a feverish pace at the satellite assembly centre here. It has a hit or miss date to keep. The earliest once-in-26-months window of opportunity opens in October. The Rs. 450-crore mission aims to glean Mars from as close as 372 km from its surface and it would be the first ever to scour its atmosphere and surface for methane there, an official of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) told The Hindu. The presence of methane is a telltale sign of life that may have existed on the planet.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

NASA's Swift Sizes Up Comet ISON

The Ultraviolet/Optical Telescope aboard NASA's Swift imaged comet ISON (center) on Jan. 30, when it was located about 3.3 degrees from the bright star Castor in the constellation Gemini. At the time of this 5.5-minute optical exposure, ISON was about 5,000 times fainter than the limit of human vision.  Credit: NASA/Swift/D. Bodewits, UMCP

Astronomers from the University of Maryland at College Park (UMCP) and Lowell Observatory have used NASA's Swift satellite to check out comet C/2012 S1 (ISON), which may become one of the most dazzling in decades when it rounds the sun later this year. Using images acquired over the last two months from Swift's Ultraviolet/Optical Telescope (UVOT), the team has made initial estimates of the comet's water and dust production and used them to infer the size of its icy nucleus. "Comet ISON has the potential to be among the brightest comets of the last 50 years, which gives us a rare opportunity to observe its changes in great detail and over an extended period," said Lead Investigator Dennis Bodewits, an astronomer at UMCP.

UNL engineering students prepare for NASA rover competition

'The Rover of the Corn' engineering team. Credit:

Eleven University of Nebraska-Lincoln College of Engineering students have spent six months and thousands of dollars preparing a planetary rover prototype — and they’re only halfway done. They’re calling it the “Rover of the Corn,” and some of the group members will travel with it to Houston in June to navigate the “Rock Yard” at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. The others will stay behind to work the robot’s controls as it competes in the 2013 RASC-AL Exploration Robo-Ops Competition, an engineering challenge sponsored by NASA and organized by the National Institute of Aerospace.

Proton rocket to be phased out after 2020 – head of the Russian Federal Space Agency

The Proton carrier rocket after 2020 will be phased out after the Angara rocket is launched and scores statistics, head of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roskosmos) Vladimir Popovkin said at a press conference on Friday. “In all three tests that have been conducted, the light-class Angara carrier rocket worked normally,” he stated.

Outcast black holes surround the Milky Way

Wandering naked or in tattered cloaks of dark matter, as many as 2000 black holes booted from their homes now live on the outskirts of the Milky Way. That's the prediction of new computer simulations, which looked at how our galaxy grew through mergers with smaller galaxies. Theory says that every galaxy may have a black hole at its centre. As galaxies merge, their central black holes merge too, building a supermassive black hole millions of times the mass of the sun.

Orbital's private launch may show whether NASA made right call

Antares rocket roll out. Credit: Orbital Sciences Corporation

On the face of it, the planned mid-April launch of a new commercial rocket from Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia won't be one for the record books. A number of barriers for commercial space companies already have been broken — for instance, SpaceX has flown to the International Space Station — and the maiden flight of Antares, a two-stage rocket built by Orbital Sciences of Virginia, is expected to do little more than prove it can put a dummy payload into orbit.

SERC flies NASA zero-G aircraft flights

Pictured left: Dr. Frank Little, top, and Dr. Rube Williams, left, weightless on a recent zero-gravity flight. Credit: SERC

The Space Engineering Research Center (SERC) recently participated in a series of zero-gravity aircraft flights out of Ellington Field in Houston. These flights, sponsored by NASA, fly a parabolic flight profile to provide brief periods of weightlessness that simulate the environment of space for both human and experimental payloads. SERC, a research center in the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station (TEES), has participated in a number of these flights in the past two decades, logging thousands of these weightless parabolas. They require particular expertise to design systems, especially those that involve fluids, to operate properly in space.

Hubble observes the hidden depths of Messier 77

Hubble image of Messier 77. Image credit: NASA, ESA & A. van der Hoeven

The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has captured this vivid image of spiral galaxy Messier 77, one of the most famous and well-studied galaxies in the sky. The patches of red across this image highlight pockets of star formation along the pinwheeling arms, with dark dust lanes stretching across the galaxy’s energetic centre. Messier 77 is a galaxy in the constellation of Cetus, some 45 million light-years away from us. Also known as NGC 1068, it is one of the most famous and well-studied galaxies. It is a real star among galaxies, with more papers written about it than many other galaxies put together!

Future Looks Bright for Private US Space Ventures

BEAM on the ISS. Credit: Bigelow Aerospace

From wealthy American technology executives to British billionaires, entrepreneurs are betting big on the emerging US private spaceflight industry. While some ventures claim to forge the path to US dominance, others aim to level the playing field for countries that lack space exploration programs. “The private sector is more efficient than the government and can do the same thing at a lower cost,” said John Logsdon, professor emeritus at the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University.

Friday, March 29, 2013

New Crew Aboard Station After Express Flight

Shortly after the arrival of three new crewmates aboard the International Space Station, all six Expedition 35 crew members speak with family members and mission officials back on Earth. Photo credit: NASA TV

The Soyuz TMA-08M spacecraft carrying three new Expedition 35 crew members docked with the International Space Station’s Poisk module at 10:28 p.m. EDT Thursday, completing its accelerated journey to the orbiting complex in less than six hours. Soyuz Commander Pavel Vinogradov and Alexander Misurkin of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) and NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy, who launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 4:43 p.m. (2:43 a.m. Friday, Baikonur time) are the first station crew members to take this expedited route to the orbiting laboratory. The Soyuz reached the station after only four orbits instead of the usual two-day launch-to-docking mission profile for a Russian spacecraft. While this is the first crewed spacecraft to employ this technique, Russian space officials successfully tested it with the last three Progress cargo vehicles.

Mighty Trojan found marching with Uranus

Keck II composite image of Uranus. The image is comprised of two different types of infrared light, which is invisible to human eyes. The exposures were assigned artificial color to show details in the planet and the rings. The body of planet Uranus appears brighter in one filter (H-band), and the rings appear relatively stronger in the other filter (K-band).  Credit: W. M. Keck Observatory (Marcos van Dam)

Uranus has a forbidden friend. The first asteroid to share the planet's orbit has been found, despite claims that Jupiter's mighty gravity should steal such companions away. The finding hints that more of these asteroids, called Trojans, lurk around unexpected worlds. Since Trojans don't always stay in place, finding new ones improves our picture of how space rocks migrate around the solar system. It also means there may be super-sized Trojans sharing orbits with massive exoplanets. Mike Alexandersen of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver and colleagues discovered the 60-kilometre-wide Trojan, named 2011 QF99, from an observatory in Hawaii. It lives in a Lagrange point, where the gravitational tugs from the sun and Uranus balance out.

SpaceX wants to launch Falcon 9 rocket with fly-back first stage

Falcon 9 rocket. Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX aims to launch Falcon 9 rockets with fly-back first stages from Cape Canaveral by the end of 2014 and Dragon spacecraft that land rather than splash down, the company’s chief designer said Thursday. The second-generation Falcon 9 will be 60 to 70 percent more powerful than the current rocket, said Elon Musk, who also is the firm’s founder and chief executive officer. SpaceX plans to debut the new Falcon 9 in late November, attempting to make first stage ocean recoveries before making powered landings to Launch Complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

ATK Successfully Ground Tests New CASTOR 30XL Upper Stage Solid Rocket Motor

ATK successfully ground tested its new CASTOR 30XL upper stage solid rocket motor March 27, 2013, at the U.S. Air Force's Arnold Engineering Development Complex (AEDC) in Tennessee. This motor will be used for NASA commercial and government launch vehicles. (PRNewsFoto/ATK)

ATK successfully tested its newly developed CASTOR® 30XL upper stage solid rocket motor today at the U.S. Air Force's Arnold Engineering Development Complex (AEDC) in Tennessee. The test was the final qualification for the ATK commercial motor, which was jointly developed by ATK and Orbital Sciences Corporation in just 20 months from concept to completion. The CASTOR 30XL is designed to ignite at altitudes in excess of 100,000 feet. In order to accurately test the motor performance, the static fire was conducted at AEDC using a vacuum chamber specially designed to simulate upper atmospheric conditions. Initial data indicate the motor performed as designed, and ATK will now analyze the results against its performance models.

Ex-NASA Langley contractor released on bond

Bo Jiang's profile at Linkedin

A federal magistrate judge ordered Thursday that a former NASA Langley Research Center contractor charged with giving a false statement to authorities be released while awaiting trial. Bo Jiang, 31, is charged with making a false statement to federal authorities about the amount of computers and storage devices he was in possession of when he was boarding a plane March 16 at Dulles International Airport, headed to Beijing, China.

NASA Wants $100 Million To Catch An Asteroid

NASA’s fiscal 2014 budget request will include $100 million for a new mission to find a small asteroid, capture it with a robotic spacecraft and bring it into range of human explorers somewhere in the vicinity of the Moon. Suggested last year by the Keck Institute for Space Studies at the California Institute of Technology, the idea has attracted favor at NASA and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

New Station Crew in Orbit, Docking Tonight

The Soyuz TMA-08 spacecraft launches from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Photo credit: NASA TV

The Soyuz TMA-08M spacecraft carrying three new Expedition 35 crew members launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 4:43 p.m. EDT Thursday (2:43 a.m. Friday, Baikonur time) to begin an accelerated six-hour journey to the International Space Station.  Soyuz Commander Pavel Vinogradov and Alexander Misurkin of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) and NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy are the first station crew members to take this expedited route to the orbiting laboratory. They are scheduled to rendezvous and dock with the station after only four orbits instead of the standard two-day flight required to reach the complex. While this is the first crewed spacecraft to employ this technique, Russian space officials have successfully tested it with the last three Progress cargo flights.

Yellow Blob Discovered After Meteor Sighting In China

Yellow Blob Discovered After Meteor Sighting In China. Credit:

On March 22 in Yongjin, Sichuan, China, Peng Xianyong witnessed a light in the sky. It brightened the landscape as it passed, red and green with a long, streaking tail. That would have been strange enough, but the next morning, Xianyong discovered four yellow blobs in his front yard, arranged in something that looked like a Chinese character.

Possible Hydrated Minerals on the Plains of Terra Sirenum

This image shows a small light-toned exposure of rock on the plains of Terra Sirenum, in a heavily cratered region of the Southern hemisphere of Mars. What's of interest here is the potential hydrated mineral signature that appears in CRISM multispectral data. Credit: HiRISE

This image shows a small light-toned exposure of rock on the plains of Terra Sirenum, in a heavily cratered region of the Southern hemisphere of Mars. What's of interest here is the potential hydrated mineral signature that appears in CRISM multispectral data.

Collision Course? A Comet Heads for Mars

Comet Heads for Mars. Credit: NASA

Over the years, the spacefaring nations of Earth have sent dozens of probes and rovers to explore Mars. Today there are three active satellites circling the red planet while two rovers, Opportunity and Curiosity, wheel across the red sands below. Mars is dry, barren, and apparently lifeless. Soon, those assets could find themselves exploring a very different kind of world. "There is a small but non-negligible chance that Comet 2013 A1 will strike Mars next year in October of 2014," says Don Yeomans of NASA's Near-Earth Object Program at JPL. "Current solutions put the odds of impact at 1 in 2000."

Saturn is Like an Antiques Shop, Cassini Suggests

The Cassini spacecraft observes three of Saturn's moons set against the darkened night side of the planet. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

A new analysis of data from NASA's Cassini spacecraft suggests that Saturn's moons and rings are gently worn vintage goods from around the time of our solar system's birth. Though they are tinted on the surface from recent “pollution,” these bodies date back more than 4 billion years. They are from around the time that the planetary bodies in our neighborhood began to form out of the protoplanetary nebula, the cloud of material still orbiting the sun after its ignition as a star. The paper, led by Gianrico Filacchione, a Cassini participating scientist at Italy's National Institute for Astrophysics, Rome, has just been published online by the Astrophysical Journal.

Japan prepares for second asteroid sample return

Artist's concept of the Hayabusa 2 spacecraft collecting samples from a crater created by the probe's small impactor. Credit: Akihiro Ikeshita/JAXA

Japanese engineers hurriedly redesigned the rock-collector and science payloads on the Hayabusa 2 spacecraft set to launch on an asteroid-sampling mission in late 2014, hoping to trump a problem which limited the load of asteroid rock fragments brought home by a preceding mission. With the launch of Hayabusa 2 scheduled in less than 2 years, engineers did not have time to make major alterations to the probe based on lessons learned from the Hayabusa mission, which returned the first samples from the surface of an asteroid to Earth in June 2010, according to Shogo Tachibana, a researcher from Hokkaido University in Japan and lead scientist for the Hayabusa 2 sampling system.

Young, Hot and Blue

Young stars in the open star cluster NGC 2547. Credit: ESO

This pretty sprinkling of bright blue stars is the cluster NGC 2547, a group of recently formed stars in the southern constellation of Vela (The Sail). This image was taken using the Wide Field Imager on the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile. The Universe is an old neighbourhood — roughly 13.8 billion years old. Our galaxy, the Milky Way, is also ancient — some of its stars are more than 13 billion years old (eso0425). Nevertheless, there is still a lot of action: new objects form and others are destroyed. In this image, you can see some of the newcomers, the young stars forming the cluster NGC 2547.

Ancient asteroid may have triggered global firestorm on Earth

A new look at conditions after a Manhattan-sized asteroid slammed into a region of Mexico in the dinosaur days indicates the event could have triggered a global firestorm that would have burned every twig, bush and tree on Earth and led to the extinction of 80 percent of all Earth’s species, says a new University of Colorado Boulder study. Led by Douglas Robertson of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, or CIRES, the team used models that show the collision would have vaporized huge amounts of rock that were then blown high above Earth’s atmosphere. The re-entering ejected material would have heated the upper atmosphere enough to glow red for several hours at roughly 2,700 degrees Fahrenheit -- about the temperature of an oven broiler element -- killing every living thing not sheltered underground or underwater.

Sun block for the "Big Dog"

Gone with the stellar wind: an extended dusty nebula surrounds VY CMa in the constellation Big Dog, one of the largest known stars in the universe. In the atmosphere of this huge sun, astronomers discovered the molecules TiO and TiO2. [less] © Molecule symbols: CDMS/T. Kamiński. Background image: NASA/ESA and R. Humphreys (University of Minnesota).

An international team of astronomers, including researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy and from the University of Cologne, successfully identified two titanium oxides in the extended atmosphere around a giant star. The object VY Canis Major is one of the largest stars in the known universe and close to the end of its life. The detection was made using telescope arrays in the USA and in France. The discovery was made in the course of a study of a spectacular star, VY Canis Majoris or VY CMa for short, which is a variable star located in the constellation Canis Major (Greater Dog). "VY CMa is not an ordinary star, it is one of the largest stars known, and it is close the end of its life," says Tomasz Kamiński from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy (MPIfR).

Stratolaunch marches forward

Credit: Stratolaunch

Stratolaunch is making steady progress on its satellite-launching aircraft design, and intends to reach major milestones "in the summer timeframe," according to CEO Gary Wentz. On 26 March the company announced finishing the second of two large hangars at Mojave, California, in which the one-off aircraft will largely be assembled. The massive aircraft design, to be the largest ever built, is designed to carry rockets to altitude before launch. Small parts of the wings, including the centre wing spars, are currently in production, with an eye towards full-scale production beginning in several months.

Hunting high-mass stars with Herschel

This three-colour image of the W3 giant molecular cloud combines Herschel bands at 70 μm (blue), 160 μm (green) and 250 μm (red). The image spans about 2 x 2 degrees. North is up and east is to the left.  W3 is an enormous stellar nursery about 6200 light-years away in the Perseus Arm, one of the Milky Way galaxy’s main spiral arms, that hosts both low- and high-mass star formation. In this image, the low-mass protostars are seen as tiny yellow dots embedded in cool red filaments, while the highest-mass stars – with greater than eight times the mass of our Sun – emit intense radiation, heating up the gas and dust around them and appearing here in blue. W3 Main and W3 (OH) contain the most recent high-mass star formation. Copyright ESA/PACS & SPIRE consortia, A. Rivera-Ingraham & P.G. Martin, Univ. Toronto, HOBYS Key Programme (F. Motte)

In this new view of a vast star-forming cloud called W3, ESA’s Herschel space observatory tells the story of how massive stars are born. W3 is a giant molecular cloud containing an enormous stellar nursery, some 6200 light-years away in the Perseus Arm, one of our Milky Way Galaxy’s main spiral arms. Spanning almost 200 light-years, W3 is one of the largest star-formation complexes in the outer Milky Way, hosting the formation of both low- and high-mass stars. The distinction is drawn at eight times the mass of our own Sun: above this limit, stars end their lives as supernovas.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

New Space Station Crew Approved

The Russian state commission on Wednesday approved the makeup of the main and back-up crews of a new expedition to the International Space Station, to be launched on Friday. “The chief medical commission ruled that both the main and the backup crew members were fit for performing a space flight,” said Sergei Krikalyov, the head of Russia’s Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center.

Astronomers Discover a New Kind of Supernova

This artist's conception shows the suspected progenitor of a new kind of supernova called Type Iax. Material from a hot, blue helium star at right is funneling toward a carbon/oxygen white dwarf star at left, which is embedded in an accretion disk. In many cases the white dwarf survives the subsequent explosion.  Credit: Christine Pulliam (CfA)

Until now, supernovas came in two main "flavors." A core-collapse supernova is the explosion of a star about 10 to 100 times as massive as our sun, while a Type Ia supernova is the complete disruption of a tiny white dwarf. Today, astronomers are reporting their discovery of a new kind of supernova called Type Iax. This new class is fainter and less energetic than Type Ia. Although both varieties come from exploding white dwarfs, Type Iax supernovas may not completely destroy the white dwarf. "A Type Iax supernova is essentially a mini supernova," says lead author Ryan Foley, Clay Fellow at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA). "It's the runt of the supernova litter."

Roscosmos plans to make flight over the Moon on prospective piloted spaceship after 2030

The Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) is planned to make a flight over the Moon on a prospective piloted spaceship after 2030, deputy head of the system designing centre of the Central Scientific-Research Institute of Machine-Building Anatoly Malchenko told reporters at the forum Infospace-2013 on Tuesday.

XCOR Aerospace Announces Significant Propulsion Milestone on Lynx Suborbital Vehicle

The XCOR® Lynx® rocket propulsion system is tested under full piston pump power. Credit: Mike Massee/XCOR

XCOR Aerospace on Tuesday announced a first in aviation and space history, the firing of a full piston pump-powered rocket engine. This breakthrough is the foundation for fully reusable spacecraft that can fly multiple times per day, every day. It is a game changing technology that has the power to fundamentally alter the way we as a society view, visit, and utilize the abundant resources around our planet and in our solar system. The initial portion of XCOR's pump test program culminated in a 67-second engine run with the propulsion system mated to the flight weight Lynx fuselage. After the installation of the flight sized liquid oxygen tank, the next test sequence will extend the engine run duration to the full powered flight duration of the Lynx Mark I suborbital vehicle.

Russia May Build Own Space Station From New Modules

Russia may use future modules of its segment of the International Space Station (ISS) to build its own orbital station, a senior space industry official said on Tuesday. Russia is planning to launch four new ISS modules – a multirole laboratory module (MLM), a node module and two science-power modules – by 2020, when the time comes to de-orbit the existing international outpost in space. “If the need arises, we could undock the new modules [from the ISS], starting with the MLM, and they will serve as a foundation for a new generation Russian space station,” Alexander Derechin, deputy chief designer for Russia’s space corporation RKK Energia, told a scientific forum in Moscow.

Measuring Mars: The MAVEN Magnetometer

MAVEN spacecraft. Credit: NASA

When the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission begins its journey to the Red Planet in 2013, it will carry a sensitive magnetic-field instrument built and tested by a team at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. Scheduled for launch in late 2013, MAVEN will be the first mission devoted to understanding the Martian upper atmosphere. The goal of MAVEN is to determine the history of the loss of atmospheric gases to space through time, providing answers about Mars’ climate evolution.

NASA to launch enormous, Arthur C Clarke-inspired solar sail in 2014

NASA plans to launch an enormous, ultra-thin sail into space to see whether it is possible to use the pressure of the sunlight to provide propellant-free transport capabilities. Solar sails have been mooted for centuries. In 1610, Johannes Kepler observed that comet tails always point away form the Sun and suggested that "provide ships or sails adapted to the heavenly breezes, and there will be some who will brave even that void". In 2010, JAXA launched a solar sail called Ikaros, which measured 200 square metres and travelled to Venus.

Russia Launches Mexican Telecoms Satellite

Russia’s Proton-M carrier rocket carrying a Mexican telecommunications satellite blasted off on Tuesday from the Baikonur space center in Kazakhstan, the Russian Federal Space Agency Roscosmos reported. The launch of the Satmex-8 satellite was initially scheduled for December 27, but was postponed following the Yamal-402 satellite trouble which involved a glitch in Proton-M’s Briz-M booster.

30 billion rubles needed to set up asteroid and comet security system

An asteroid and comet security system will cost an estimated 30 billion rubles to set up, the deputy general director of the JSC Russian Space Systems (RSS), Anatoly Perminov, told the Info Space 2013 forum on Tuesday. He said that Russia was already taking steps to create a system countering space threats.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Dragon Splashes Down in Pacific Ocean

Recovery boats approach Dragon after splashdown into the Pacific Ocean. Photo: SpaceX

The SpaceX Dragon fired its engines for the last time Tuesday at 11:42 a.m. EDT sending it through the Earth’s atmosphere for a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean at 12:34 p.m. A team of SpaceX engineers, technicians and divers will recover the vehicle and its scientific cargo off the coast of Baja, California, for the journey back to shore which will take about 30 hours.  Dragon's release from Canadarm2 occurred at 6:56 a.m. The Expedition 35 crew commanded the spacecraft to slowly depart from the International Space Station. Ground controllers earlier sent commands to the Canadarm2 to unberth Dragon from the Harmony node at 4:10 a.m.

Russia to Put 68 Spacecraft Into Orbit by 2015

Russia plans to put 68 spacecraft into orbit by 2015 and to almost double the number of its communications satellites to 44 by 2020, a deputy head of the Central Research Institute of Machine Building said Tuesday. “Under Russia's federal space program, we will launch 68 spacecraft between 2013 and 2015,” Anatoly Malchenko told the InfoSpace Innovative Technologies Forum.

NASA Scientists Find Moon, Asteroids Share History

Scientists have now discovered that studying meteorites from the giant asteroid Vesta helps them understand the event known as the "lunar cataclysm," when a repositioning of the gas giant planets destabilized a portion of the asteroid belt and triggered a solar-system-wide bombardment. Image credit: NASA/GSFC/ASU/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

NASA and international researchers have discovered that Earth's moon has more in common than previously thought with large asteroids roaming our solar system. Scientists from NASA's Lunar Science Institute (NLSI) in Moffett Field, Calif., discovered that the same population of high-speed projectiles that impacted our lunar neighbor four billion years ago, also hit the giant asteroid Vesta and perhaps other large asteroids. The research unveils an unexpected link between Vesta and the moon, and provides new means for studying the early bombardment history of terrestrial planets. The findings are published in the March issue of Nature Geoscience.

Earth is closer to the edge of Sun's habitable zone

Earth from space. Credit: ESA

The Earth could be closer than previously thought to the inner edge of the Sun's habitable zone, according to a new study by planetary scientists in the US and France. The research also suggests that if our planet moved out of the habitable zone, it could lead to a "moist greenhouse" climate that could kick-start further drastic changes to the atmosphere. A star's habitable zone is the set of orbits within which a planet could have liquid water on its surface – and being within this zone is considered to be an important prerequisite for the development of life.

Curiosity Resumes Science Investigations

This view of Curiosity's left-front and left-center wheels and of marks made by wheels on the ground in the "Yellowknife Bay" area comes from one of six cameras used on Mars for the first time more than six months after the rover landed. The left Navigation Camera (Navcam) linked to Curiosity's B-side computer took this image during the 223rd Martian day, or sol, of Curiosity's work on Mars (March 22, 2013). The wheels are 20 inches (50 centimeters) in diameter. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA's Mars rover Curiosity has resumed science investigations after recovery from a computer glitch that prompted the engineers to switch the rover to a redundant main computer on Feb. 28. The rover has been monitoring the weather since March 21 and delivered a new portion of powdered-rock sample for laboratory analysis on March 23, among other activities.  "We are back to full science operations," said Curiosity Deputy Project Manager Jim Erickson of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

Astro Watch is back! See last week's top stories!

Astro Watch is back! See last week's top stories!

Good to be back! Astro Watch is back after a temporary technical break. Thank you for your patience. In case you missed them, here are links to last week's top space stories:

Saturday, March 23, 2013

India, US agree for future cooperation in Moon, Mars missions

India and the US have agreed to cooperate on future missions to the Moon and Mars after successful collaboration in Chandrayaan-1 lunar mission. "Building on NASA's collaboration in India's highly successful Chandrayaan-1 lunar mission in 2008, NASA and ISRO agreed to explore further cooperative space exploration work, including future missions to the Moon and Mars.

Flash in East Coast sky likely a meteor

Associated Press/Hopkins Automotive Group - In this image taken from video provided by Tom Hopkins of Hopkins Automotive Group, a bright flash of light, top center, streaks across the early-evening sky in what experts say was almost certainly a meteor coming down, Friday, March 22, 2013 in Seaford, Del. Bill Cooke of NASA's Meteoroid Environmental Office said the flash appears to be "a single meteor event." He said it "looks to be a fireball that moved roughly toward the southeast, going on visual reports." (AP Photo/Hopkins Automotive Group) MANDATORY CREDIT: HOPKINS AUTOMOTIVE GROUP

East Coast residents were buzzing on social media sites and elsewhere Friday night after a brief but bright flash of light streaked across the early-evening sky —in what experts say was almost certainly a meteor coming down. Bill Cooke of NASA's Meteoroid Environmental Office said the flash appears to be "a single meteor event." He said it "looks to be a fireball that moved roughly toward the southeast, going on visual reports."

Russia Extends Space Cooperation With US

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev signed a decree set to extend the U.S.-Russia agreement on cooperation in the use and exploration of outer space till 2020, the government reported on Saturday. “The agreement extention corresponds with Russia’s interests and will help promote effective implementation of its space programs as well as joint U.S.-Russian space projects, including exploration of the Moon and Mars,” the government said in a statement on its official web site.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Astro Watch is temporary closed due to unexpected difficulties

We'll be back soon. Stay tuned and watch the sky above!

Northern lights dance with a comet

This closeup from Chad Blakley's video uses a black circle to highlight the comet's location. For more, check out Blakley's Lights Over Lapland page on Facebook. Credit: Chad Blakley / Lights Over Lapland

Talk about dancing with the stars: The glow of the northern lights danced through the night sky this week, thanks to a solar storm that swept past Earth over the past few days. Comet PanSTARRS, which is appearing a little bit farther north in western skies every evening, adds some extra sparkle. The time around the equinox is considered the peak of the aurora season, because this time of year strikes a balance between the dark skies of winter and the more clement temperatures of summer. And although PanSTARRS may not have panned out the way some of the more optimistic skywatchers might have expected, it's still observable in the Northern Hemisphere — particularly if you're watching with binoculars from a vantage point far from city lights, with a clear view to the western horizon.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Planck reveals an almost perfect Universe

The anisotropies of the Cosmic microwave background (CMB) as observed by Planck. The CMB is a snapshot of the oldest light in our Universe, imprinted on the sky when the Universe was just 380 000 years old. It shows tiny temperature fluctuations that correspond to regions of slightly different densities, representing the seeds of all future structure: the stars and galaxies of today. Copyright: ESA and the Planck Collaboration

Acquired by ESA’s Planck space telescope, the most detailed map ever created of the cosmic microwave background – the relic radiation from the Big Bang – was released today revealing the existence of features that challenge the foundations of our current understanding of the Universe. The image is based on the initial 15.5 months of data from Planck and is the mission’s first all-sky picture of the oldest light in our Universe, imprinted on the sky when it was just 380 000 years old. At that time, the young Universe was filled with a hot dense soup of interacting protons, electrons and photons at about 2700ºC. When the protons and electrons joined to form hydrogen atoms, the light was set free. As the Universe has expanded, this light today has been stretched out to microwave wavelengths, equivalent to a temperature of just 2.7 degrees above absolute zero.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Voyager 1 has entered a new region of space

Artist concept of NASA's Voyager spacecraft. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

"The Voyager team is aware of reports today that NASA's Voyager 1 has left the solar system," said Edward Stone, Voyager project scientist based at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, Calif. "It is the consensus of the Voyager science team that Voyager 1 has not yet left the solar system or reached interstellar space. In December 2012, the Voyager science team reported that Voyager 1 is within a new region called 'the magnetic highway' where energetic particles changed dramatically. A change in the direction of the magnetic field is the last critical indicator of reaching interstellar space and that change of direction has not yet been observed."

Amazon CEO Recovers NASA’s Apollo Engines from Ocean Deep

F-1 engine part on the deck of Bezos Expedition's Seabed Worker. Credit: Bezos Expedition founder and CEO Jeff Bezos today announced that his underwater expedition had successfully recovered the mangled wreckage of two rocket engines from NASA’s Apollo program from the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. After spending three weeks at sea, Bezos wrote on his personal blog that he and his team were heading back to Cape Canaveral, in Florida, with a treasure trove of NASA artifacts from the space era. “We’ve seen an underwater wonderland — an incredible sculpture garden of twisted F-1 engines that tells the story of a fiery and violent end, one that serves testament to the Apollo program,” Bezos wrote.

Large asteroid heading to Earth? Pray, says NASA

NASA chief Charles Bolden at a House Science, Space, and Technology Committee hearing on ‘Threats from Space: A Review of US Government Efforts to Track and Mitigate Asteroids and Meteors’ at Capitol Hill in Washington on 19 March. Photo: AFP

NASA chief Charles Bolden has advice on how to handle a large asteroid headed toward New York City: Pray. That's about all the United States - or anyone for that matter - could do at this point about unknown asteroids and meteors that may be on a collision course with Earth, Bolden told lawmakers at a U.S. House of Representatives Science Committee hearing on Tuesday. An asteroid estimated to be have been about 55 feet in diameter exploded on February 15 over Chelyabinsk, Russia, generating shock waves that shattered windows and damaged buildings. More than 1,500 people were injured.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Sees GRAIL's Explosive Farewell

Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera image shows the impact site of GRAIL A (Ebb spacecraft) before the spacecraft's descent to the lunar surface. Image credit: NASA/GSFC/ASU

Many spacecraft just fade away, drifting silently through space after their mission is over, but not GRAIL. NASA's twin GRAIL (Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory) spacecraft went out in a blaze of glory on Dec. 17, 2012, when they were intentionally crashed into a mountain near the moon's north pole. The successful mission to study the moon's interior took the plunge to get one last bit of science: with the spacecraft kicking up a cloud of dust and gas with each impact, researchers hoped to discover more about the moon's composition.

Herschel Discovers Some of the Youngest Stars Ever Seen

Astronomers have found some of the youngest stars ever seen thanks to the Herschel space observatory, a European Space Agency mission with important NASA contributions. Dense envelopes of gas and dust surround the fledging stars known as protostars, making their detection difficult until now. The discovery gives scientists a window into the earliest and least understood phases of star formation. Image credit: NASA/ESA/ESO/JPL-Caltech/Max-Planck Institute for Astronomy

Astronomers have found some of the youngest stars ever seen, thanks to the Herschel space observatory, a European Space Agency mission with important NASA contributions. Observations from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope and the Atacama Pathfinder Experiment (APEX) telescope in Chile, a collaboration involving the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Germany, the Onsala Space Observatory in Sweden, and the European Southern Observatory in Germany, contributed to the findings.

Goldstone Radar Snags Images of Asteroid 2013 ET

These radar images of asteroid 2013 ET were obtained when the asteroid was about 693,000 miles (1.1 million kilometers / 2.9 lunar distances) from Earth. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/GSSR

A sequence of radar images of asteroid 2013 ET was obtained on March 10, 2013, by NASA scientists using the 230-foot (70-meter) Deep Space Network antenna at Goldstone, Calif., when the asteroid was about 693,000 miles (1.1 million kilometers) from Earth, which is 2.9 lunar distances. The radar imagery suggests the irregularly shaped object is at least 130 feet (40 meters) wide. The 18 radar images were taken over a span of 1.3 hours. During that interval, the asteroid completed only a fraction of one rotation, suggesting that it rotates once every few hours.

First Light At SAAO For Third 1-Meter Node Of Global Telescope

Las Cumbres Observatory site at SAAO. Credit:

The first truly global telescope came a significant step closer to completion this month with the installation and first light on three new 1-meter telescopes at the South Africa Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) near Sutherland, South Africa. A team of five Las Cumbres engineers, technicians, and a postdoc, convened at Sutherland for three weeks during late February and early March to achieve this feat. "The South African Astronomical Observatory is pleased to collaborate with the Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope project, and we are excited by the prospects for both scientific observations and public outreach activities," Ted Williams, Director of SAAO said.

New Curiosity 'Safe Mode' Status Expected to be Brief

NASA's Mars rover Curiosity is expected to resume science investigations in a few days, as engineers quickly diagnosed a software issue that prompted the rover to put itself into a precautionary standby status over the weekend. Curiosity initiated this automated fault-protection action, entering "safe mode" at about 8 p.m. PDT (11 p.m. EDT) on March 16, while operating on the B-side computer, one of its two main computers that are redundant to each other. It did not switch to the A-side computer, which was restored last week and is available as a back-up if needed. The rover is stable, healthy and in communication with engineers.

Arianespace to launch three satellites for Intelsat

Arianespace announced yesterday a launch services contract with Intelsat S.A., the world’s leading provider of satellite services, for the launch of three satellites through 2017. Weighing more than six tons each at launch, the satellites will be placed into GTO by the Ariane 5 ECA from Europe’s Space Port in French Guiana. The three missions will include the launches of Intelsat’s previously announced, high throughput EpicNG–class satellites.

ISRO readies to take a crack at Mars

Scientific payloads for India's Mars Orbiter will be received in the end of this month for integration with Mars-bound spacecraft which is scheduled to be launched on November 27 this year, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) chairman, K Radhakrishnan has said. The Mars Orbiter mission is the country's most ambitious mission so far as it would be the first time that any Indian satellite would have gone as far as the Red Planet which is estimated to be about 54.6 million Kilometres away, taking a journey time of nine months for it to reach Mars.

Curiosity Mars Rover Sees Trend in Water Presence

On this image of the rock target "Knorr," color coding maps the amount of mineral hydration indicated by a ratio of near-infrared reflectance intensities measured by the Mast Camera (Mastcam) on NASA's Mars rover Curiosity. The color scale on the right shows the assignment of colors for relative strength of the calculated signal for hydration. The map shows that the stronger signals for hydration are associated with pale veins and light-toned nodules in the rock. This image and the data for assessing hydration come from a Mastcam observation of Knorr during the 133rd Martian day, or sol, of Curiosity's work on Mars (Dec. 20, 2012). The width of the area shown in the image is about 10 inches (25 centimeters).   Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/ASU

NASA's Mars rover Curiosity has seen evidence of water-bearing minerals in rocks near where it had already found clay minerals inside a drilled rock. Last week, the rover's science team announced that analysis of powder from a drilled mudstone rock on Mars indicates past environmental conditions that were favorable for microbial life. Additional findings presented today (March 18) at a news briefing at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in The Woodlands, Texas, suggest those conditions extended beyond the site of the drilling.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Coming soon: Planck unveils the cosmic microwave background

Coming soon: Planck unveils the cosmic microwave background

This Thursday, scientists will unveil the best image yet of the cosmic microwave background – the ‘afterglow’ of the Big Bang – by ESA’s Planck space telescope. Planck was launched on 14 May 2009 and the mission’s first all-sky image, shown here, was presented in July 2010. The main disc of our Milky Way Galaxy runs across the centre of the image with streamers of cold dust reaching above and below, tracing out a web of forming stars.

Sea Launch, EchoStar Announce Comsat Launch with Zenit-3SL

Sea Launch AG plans to launch a satellite for US satellite services provider Echostar Corp. from its Pacific Ocean-based Odyssey platform in 2015, the companies said Monday. Sea Launch and Echostar said in a joint statement that the satellite would be launched using a Zenit-3SL vehicle. This marks the first launch announcement by Sea Launch since one of its Zenit vehicles carrying an Intelsat-27 telecommunications satellite crashed shortly after lift-off on February 1.

Famous Supernova Reveals Clues About Crucial Cosmic Distance Markers

The remnant of Kepler's supernova, the famous explosion that was discovered by Johannes Kepler in 1604. Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/NCSU/M.Burkey et al; Infrared: NASA/JPL-Caltech

A new study using data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory points to the origin of a famous supernova. This supernova, discovered in 1604 by Johannes Kepler, belongs to an important class of objects that are used to measure the rate of expansion of the Universe. Astronomers have used a very long Chandra observation of the remnant of Kepler’s supernova to deduce that the supernova was triggered by an interaction between a white dwarf and a red giant star. This is significant because another study has already shown that a so-called Type Ia supernova caused the Kepler supernova remnant.