Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Cassini Spacecraft Reveals Forces Controlling Saturn Moon Jets

This set of images from NASA's Cassini mission shows how the gravitational pull of Saturn affects the amount of spray coming from jets at the active moon Enceladus. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/Cornell/SSI

The intensity of the jets of water ice and organic particles that shoot out from Saturn's moon Enceladus depends on the moon's proximity to the ringed planet, according to data obtained by NASA's Cassini spacecraft. The finding adds to evidence that a liquid water reservoir or ocean lurks under the icy surface of the moon. This is the first clear observation the bright plume emanating from Enceladus' south pole varies predictably. The findings are detailed in a scientific paper in this week's edition of Nature. "The jets of Enceladus apparently work like adjustable garden hose nozzles," said Matt Hedman, the paper's lead author and a Cassini team scientist based at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. "The nozzles are almost closed when Enceladus is closer to Saturn and are most open when the moon is farthest away. We think this has to do with how Saturn squeezes and releases the moon with its gravity."

Spitzer Discovers Young Stars with a 'Hula Hoop'

In this artist's impression, a disk of dusty material leftover from star formation girds two young stars like a hula hoop. As the two stars whirl around each other, they periodically peek out from the disk, making the system appear to "blink" every 93 days. Image Credit: Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Astronomers using NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope have spotted a young stellar system that "blinks" every 93 days. Called YLW 16A, the system likely consists of three developing stars, two of which are surrounded by a disk of material left over from the star-formation process. As the two inner stars whirl around each other, they periodically peek out from the disk that girds them like a hula hoop. The hoop itself appears to be misaligned from the central star pair, probably due to the disrupting gravitational presence of the third star orbiting at the periphery of the system. The whole system cycles through bright and faint phases, with the central stars playing a sort of cosmic peek-a-boo as the tilted disk twirls around them. It is believed that this disk should go on to spawn planets and the other celestial bodies that make up a solar system.

Did a meteor hit Orange County? Residents report huge explosion

A meteor pierces the night sky in Joshua Tree during a Perseid meteor shower. Residents in Lake Forest's Foothill Ranch community say a loud explosion and a flash of light Tuesday morning were the result of a meteor falling. (Wally Pacholka /

Unlike trees, when a meteor falls in the wilderness, everyone can hear it. And some Orange County residents think that's exactly what they heard when a thunderous boom rattled windows, scared pets and startled homeowners from their sleep early Tuesday morning. About 12:15 a.m., the Orange County Sheriff’s Department received three or four calls from residents in Lake Forest’s Foothill Ranch community about a loud explosion and a flash of light. Several South Orange County residents also tweeted about the incident, asking about the source of the blast.

Chandrayaan loses sheen as ISRO eyes Mars

Prototype of Chandrayaan-2 Rover

Uncertainty stares in the face of India's sequel to Chandrayaan, the moon mission. With the ISRO focussing all its energy and resources on the Mars mission, the second edition of Chandrayaan is likely to be delayed by more than two years. This, sources told TOI [Times of India], would damage the country's pursuit to explore lunar minerals seen as panacea of all future energy needs. Though Russia had backed of the Chandrayaan-II, Isro team had made steady progress including successful testing of an indigenous rover. The rover, with experimental payloads, was supposed to drill and test lunar surface for presence of water and helium-3.

South Korea, NASA discuss space partnership

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) administrator, Charles Bolden, and Kim Seung-jo, president of the Korea Aerospace Research Institute. Credit: Yonhap

South Korea and the United States on Monday discussed ways to boost cooperation in aeronautics research and space exploration, the U.S. space agency said. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) said its administrator, Charles Bolden, and Kim Seung-jo, president of the Korea Aerospace Research Institute, met at NASA's headquarters in Washington, D.C. It was their first meeting.

Hurling Stuff Into Orbit With The Slingatron

Artist's concept for a smaller Slingatron space launcher for payloads that can handle higher accelerations. Image credit: HyperV Technologies Corp.

A Virginia company is developing an alternative transportation system to send small payloads and bulk cargo, like water or fuel, into space. Rather than chemical rockets, HyperV Technologies Corp., proposes to slingshot objects off the planet. “Imagine the old-style sling, with a string that you would whirl a payload around and then you’d let go and it’d go flying off,” HyperV president and chief scientist Doug Witherspoon said in a promotional Kickstarter video. “You can only get a certain velocity out of that before the string breaks,” Witherspoon said.

ESA sets sights on small spaceplane following key trial of technology demonstrator

Credit: ESA

A European Space Agency bid to develop a small, reusable spaceplane in the 2017-2018 timeframe is on track for a summer 2014 launch to test key re-entry technologies, following a successful helicopter-drop splashdown trial. That June 2013 test, off the east coast of Sardinia, Italy, of a full-scale prototype of the Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle (IXV) left ESA confident that the vehicle will survive splashdown and recovery following its planned suborbital launch on a Vega rocket from Kourou, French Guiana in summer 2014.

SpaceX awarded launch reservation contract for largest Canadian space program

Artist illustration of the RADARSAT Constellation Mission. Credit: MDA

Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) was awarded a launch reservation contract with MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. (MDA) to support the largest space program to date in Canada, carrying the three satellites to orbit that will make up the RADARSAT Constellation Mission (RCM) on a Falcon 9 rocket in 2018. "SpaceX appreciates MDA’s confidence in our ability to safely and reliably transport their satellites,” said Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX President and COO. “We hope this agreement is the second of many with MDA.”

That's One Sharp Scarp!

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

Tuesday's image features a scarp, or cliff face, which is longer than the 77 km shown in this frame. Scarps form as one block of crust is thrusted forward over another, which can result from the cooling of the planet's interior causing global contraction. On Mercury, scarps are called "rupes," which is Latin for cliff. This image was acquired as a high-resolution targeted observation.

Laser communications set for Moon mission

ESA's Optical Ground Station (OGS) is 2400 m above sea level on the volcanic island of Tenerife. Visible green laser beams are used for stabilising the sending and receiving telescopes on the two islands. The invisible infrared single photons used for quantum teleportation are sent from the neighbouring island La Palma and received by the 1 m Telescope located under the dome of the OGS. Initial experiments with entangled photons were performed in 2007, but teleportation of quantum states could only be achieved in 2012 by improving the performance of the set-up.  Aside from inter-island experiments for quantum communication and teleportation, the OGS is also used for standard laser communication with satellites, for observations of space debris or for finding new asteroids. The picture is a multiple exposure also including Tenerife's Teide volcano and the Milky Way in the background. Copyright IQOQI Vienna, Austrian Academy of Sciences

An advanced laser system offering vastly faster data speeds is now ready for linking with spacecraft beyond our planet following a series of crucial ground tests. Later this year, ESA’s observatory in Spain will use the laser to communicate with a NASA Moon orbiter. The laboratory testing paves the way for a live space demonstration in October, once NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer – LADEE – begins orbiting the Moon. LADEE carries a terminal that can transmit and receive pulses of laser light. ESA’s Optical Ground Station on Tenerife will be upgraded with a complementary unit and, together with two US ground terminals, will relay data at unprecedented rates using infrared light beams at a wavelength similar to that used in fiber-optic cables on Earth.

Cracking How Life Arose on Earth May Help Clarify Where Else It Might Exist

A team of scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory is testing whether organic molecules can be brewed in a simulated ocean vent. Lauren White, a member of the NASA Astrobiology Icy Worlds team. Image Credit: Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Does life exist elsewhere or is our planet unique, making us truly alone in the universe? Much of the work carried out by NASA, together with other research agencies around the world, is aimed at trying to come to grips with this great and ancient question. “Of course, one of the most powerful ways to address this question, and a worthy goal in its own right, is to try to understand how life came to be on this planet,” said Elbert Branscomb, an affiliate faculty member at the Institute for Genomic Biology (IGB) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “The answer should help us discover what is truly necessary to spark the fateful transition from the lifeless to the living, and thereby, under what conditions and with what likelihood it might happen elsewhere.”

Planetary ‘runaway greenhouse’ more easily triggered, research shows

It might be easier than previously thought for a planet to overheat into the scorchingly uninhabitable “runaway greenhouse” stage, according to new research by astronomers at the University of Washington and the University of Victoria published July 28 in the journal Nature Geoscience. In the runaway greenhouse stage, a planet absorbs more solar energy than it can give off to retain equilibrium. As a result, the world overheats, boiling its oceans and filling its atmosphere with steam, which leaves the planet glowing-hot and forever uninhabitable, as Venus is now.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

First Liquid Hydrogen Tank Barrel Segment for the SLS Core Stage Completed at Michoud

Engineers at NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility transfer a 22-foot-tall barrel section of the SLS core stage from the Vertical Weld Center. Credit: NASA

The first liquid hydrogen tank barrel segment for the core stage of NASA's new heavy-lift launch vehicle, the Space Launch System (SLS), recently was completed at the agency's Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. The segment is considered a “confidence” barrel segment because it validates the vertical weld center is working the way it should. The vertical weld center is a friction-stir-weld tool for wet and dry structures on the SLS core stage.

NASA, ISRO in talks for jointly developing satellite for first time

US space agency NASA and India's premier space agency ISRO are in talks for jointly building a satellite for the first time. "Now, there is a feasibility study going on whether we can jointly make a satellite, with synthetic aperture radar (SAR) payloads working on two frequency bands - L-band and S-band", Chairman of Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) K Radhakrishnan said. Charles F Bolden Jr, Administrator of National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) of United States, visited the Space Applications Centre (SAC) of ISRO in Ahmedabad on June 25.

'Comet of the Century' already may have fizzled out

The sun-approaching Comet ISON floats against a seemingly infinite backdrop of numerous galaxies and a handful of foreground stars in this April 2013 composite image from the Hubble Telescope. Credit: Reuters/NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

Astronomers slated to meet this week to discuss observing plans for Comet ISON may not have much to talk about. The so-called "Comet of the Century" may already have fizzled out. "The future of comet ISON does not look bright," astronomer Ignacio Ferrin, with the University of Antioquia in Colombia, said in a statement on Monday. Ferrin's calculations show the comet, which is currently moving toward the sun at 16 miles per second, has not brightened since mid-January. That may be because the comet is already out of ice particles in its body, which melt as the comet moves closer to the sun, creating a long, bright tail.

Political party in Poland plans to create national space agency

Polish People’s Party (Polish: Polskie Stronnictwo Ludowe, PSL) is working on the creation of an agency that will coordinate all the activities in space sector, Rzeczpospolita newspaper reports. “Poland will lose a lot, if it hasn’t got any space coordinator” Jan Bury (PSL), parliamentary caucus leader said. Bury works on the bill that will initiate Polish Cosmonautics and Aeronautics Agency (Polish: Polska Agencja Kosmonautyki i Aeronautyki).

August launch for ISRO’s first defence satellite

GSAT-7 satellite. Credit: ISRO

In about a month, yet another but far more important Indian satellite for military communication network will be launched from the South American spaceport at Kourou. GSAT-7 or INSAT-4F is slated for launch on August 30 and is exclusively meant for the armed forces, primarily Indian Navy. From its slot over 74 degrees East longitude, it is said to boost the naval arm’s strategic communication strengths across warships in Indian waters and their commands — but that is about all we may know for now about the first Indian military-only communication spacecraft.

New Horizons Flyby Plan In Place

Credit: NASA/APL

Scientists on the New Horizons mission are beginning to plan in earnest how they will evaluate the data that will begin flowing back from Pluto in less than two years, when the nuclear-powered probe begins sending “better than Hubble” imagery of the distant body and its satellites. The spacecraft's Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (Lorri) has already resolved Pluto and Charron, its largest satellite, into two distinct objects (see image, page 22). With the resolution improving by the day, the mission team has planned and uploaded its flyby choreography, and has sent out a call to astronomers for parallel observation from Earth and its environs before, during and after the July 14, 2015, encounter.

Quest to test Einstein’s speed limit

Left to right, Dmitry Budker, Nathan Leefer and Michael Hohensee with their experiment to test Einstein’s speed limit. Photo by Andreas Gerhardus.

Albert Einstein’s assertion that there’s an ultimate speed limit – the speed of light – has withstood countless tests over the past 100 years, but that didn’t stop University of California, Berkeley, postdoc Michael Hohensee and graduate student Nathan Leefer from checking whether some particles break this law. The team’s first attempt to test this fundamental tenet of the special theory of relativity demonstrated once again that Einstein was right, but Leefer and Hohensee are improving the experiment to push the theory’s limits even farther – and perhaps turn up a discrepancy that could help physicists fix holes in today’s main theories of the universe.

GOES-R Satellite Magnetometer Boom Deployment Successful


The GOES-R Magnetometer Engineering Development Unit made an important development in the construction of the spacecraft recently after completing a successful boom deployment test at an ATK facility in Goleta, Calif. The Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite – R Series advanced spacecraft and instrument technology will result in more timely and accurate weather forecasts. It will improve support for the detection and observations of meteorological phenomena and directly affect public safety, protection of property, and ultimately, economic health and development.

US Lawmaker Seeks to Partner with Russia to Clean Up Space

Republican US Representative Dana Rohrabacher

A prominent US lawmaker and advocate of the United States’ role in space told a conference on the commercialization of space that the US and Russia should team up for extraterrestrial projects -- and suggested they start by cleaning up the hundreds of thousands of pieces of manmade space litter and capturing and deflecting asteroids hurtling toward Earth. “Now that Russia is no longer a communist dictatorship and has been evolving in the right direction, we should reach out to them even more than we did in the past, along with our European allies, to have joint missions in space,” Rep. Dana Rohrabacher said by Skype to attendees at the New Space 2013 conference in San Jose, California this past weekend.

India To Launch GSAT-14 on August 19

Credit: ISRO

The launch of India’s GSAT-14 satellite aboard a Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV-D5) fitted with an indigenous cryogenic engine will take place on Aug. 19, a top scientist says. “Currently, the launcher is being assembled, following which the GSLV-D5 will be lofted with GSAT-14 satellite on board, from the spaceport in Sriharikota,” says Deviprasad Karnik, scientist and spokesman at the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO).

Monday, July 29, 2013

NASA's Chandra Sees Eclipsing Planet in X-rays for First Time

This graphic depicts HD 189733b, the first exoplanet caught passing in front of its parent star in X-rays. Image Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO/K.Poppenhaeger et al; Illustration: NASA

For the first time since exoplanets, or planets around stars other than the sun, were discovered almost 20 years ago, X-ray observations have detected an exoplanet passing in front of its parent star. An advantageous alignment of a planet and its parent star in the system HD 189733, which is 63 light-years from Earth, enabled NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and the European Space Agency’s XMM Newton Observatory to observe a dip in X-ray intensity as the planet transited the star. "Thousands of planet candidates have been seen to transit in only optical light," said Katja Poppenhaeger of Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) in Cambridge, Mass., who led a new study to be published in the Aug. 10 edition of The Astrophysical Journal. "Finally being able to study one in X-rays is important because it reveals new information about the properties of an exoplanet."

Sander's Shining on Mercury

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

Today's color image highlights the bright hollows on the floor and peaks of Sander crater, named after the German photographer August Sander. The process responsible for these bright, shallow formations is still unknown, but it is possible that volatile sublimation is etching away at the surface. This image was acquired as a targeted high-resolution 11-color image set. Acquiring 11-color targets is a new campaign that began in March 2013 and that utilizes all of the WAC's 11 narrow-band color filters. Because of the large data volume involved, only features of special scientific interest are targeted for imaging in all 11 colors.

Dance of the X-rays

Bright strips of X-ray data record the slew history of ESA’s XMM-Newton as it moves its focus between different objects in the sky. The image contains information of over 1200 individual slews made between 2001 and 2012, and covers about 62% of the sky. It is a mosaic of 73 178 individual images of 1 x 0.5 degrees and is shown in Galactic projection, with the Galactic plane lying across the centre of the image. The data cover an energy range of 0.2–2 keV.  A number of well-known X-ray sources are seen in the image, including the Vela supernova remnant (the bright white feature at the far right), the Cygnus Loop (far left), Scorpius X-1 (just above the image centre), and the Small and Large Magellanic Clouds (in the south ecliptic pole, within the concentrated region of overlapping slews at the bottom right of the image). Copyright A. Read (University of Leicester)/ESA

Like car tail lights streaking through a busy city at night, this unique image records over a thousand movements made by ESA’s XMM-Newton space telescope as it shifts its gaze from one X-ray object to another. Orbiting in space since 1999, XMM-Newton is studying high-energy phenomena in the Universe, such as black holes, neutron stars, pulsars and stellar winds. Even when moving from object to object, the space telescope collects data. These slews are represented by the bright strips of X-ray data in this image, which records over 1200 individual slews between 2001 and 2012, and covers about 62% of the sky.

Vietnam to launch micro satellite

Together with the success of the Ground Breaking Ceremony of Vietnam Space Center Project on 19/09/2012, the Workshop “Vietnam - Japan cooperation in Space Technology” was organized on 20/09/2012 at Main Hall, Building A1, Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology (VAST). Credit:

The Vietnam National Satellite Centre (VNSC) has confirmed that the Vietnamese micro satellite Pico Dragon will be shipped to the International Space Station (ISS) early in August. The device, a 10x10x11.35 centimeter cube with nearly one kilogram in weight, is the first of its kind developed by Vietnamese engineers and researchers for launching into space. Its duties will be to capture images of the earth, collect space environment data and test communication systems.

World’s largest gamma-ray telescope to be built in Russia’s Buryatia

The Tunka Valley, the Republic of Buryatia. Eastern Siberia, Russia  June, 2012 Photo by Anna Ulyanova, Irkutsk

Astrophysicists from the Irkutsk State University have begun the construction of the world’s largest gamma-ray telescope Tunka-HiSCORE in the Tunka Valley in Buryatia, close to Russia’s border with Mongolia. “The telescope that has no analogues in the world will register ultrahigh energy particles coming from the Universe,” the press service of the Irkutsk State University said. The site will feature ten optical stations and 20 stations to register charged particles. Such particles are born “when cosmic rays and ultrahigh energy gamma photons enter the atmosphere,” scientists say. German-made equipment will be used in these detectors. The cost of this equipment is 92 million roubles. The bulk of the expenses will be covered by a grant Irkutsk’s researchers won in April.

INSAT-3D reaches closer to its orbital home

INSAT-3D was launched by Ariane-5 launch vehicle in the early hours of July 26 from Europe's Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. Credit: ESA

Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has confirmed that INSAT-3D, the most advanced weather satellite, has reached an intermediate orbit which is much closer to the 36,000 km outside the atmosphere of Earth. This is its final orbital home 36,000 km high geostationary orbit, its final orbital home, INSAT-3D was launched by Ariane-5 launch vehicle in the early hours of July 26 into a Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit with a perigee (nearest point to earth) of 250 km and an apogee (farthest point to earth) of 35,923 km. The inclination of INSAT-3D's orbit with respect to the equatorial plane was 3.495 degrees.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Nearly half a kilometer wide asteroid will miss Earth on August 9

Asteroid 2005 WK4 will make a close approach to Earth on August 9, 2013. The space rock will miss our planet at the distance of 8.1 LD (Lunar Distances). 2005 WK4 was discovered on November 27, 2005 by the Siding Spring Survey. Its absolute magnitude of 20.1 suggests a diameter within a factor of two of 0.3 km. NASA is planning radar observations of the asteroid over about a week at Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex and on four days at Arecibo Observatory. Observations are scheduled between Aug. 3-12 at Goldstone and on August 7 - 10 at Arecibo.

Terra Satellite Sees New Ice Island at Pine Island Glacier

NASA Earth Observatory image by Jesse Allen and Robert Simmon, using data from NASA/GSFC/METI/ERSDAC/JAROS, and U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team. Caption by Mike Carlowicz, based on information from George Hale, NASA GSFC, and Elisabeth Mittelbach, German Aerospace Center.

The longest and fastest moving glacier in West Antarctica calved a new iceberg in July 2013. The Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) instrument—built by Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry for NASA’s Terra satellite—acquired this image of two widening cracks along an edge of the Pine Island Glacier (PIG) in Antarctica. To the west of the cracks—in the image, north is to the upper right—a new 720-square-kilometer (280-square-mile) ice island was formed.

Delta Aquarid meteor shower peaks tonight

Comet 96P Machholz, the possible parent of the Delta Aquarid meteor shower, was discoverd on May 12, 1986, by Donald Machholz. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The Delta Aquarid meteor shower is predicted to be at its best during the wee hours before dawn on Monday, July 29, and Tuesday, July 30, 2013. The most favorable viewing window is from about 1 a.m. (2 a.m. Daylight Saving Time) until the onset of morning dawn. These viewing times apply to all time zones around the world. Although this shower is visible from both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, it tends to favor the more southerly latitudes. North of the equator, it’s better seen in the tropical and subtropical regions rather than farther north. This is a long, rambling shower that’ll stretch out for weeks beyond the peak, combining with the Perseid meteor shower peak on August 11-13. So if you miss the shower tonight, keep watching!

Progress M-20M cargo spacecraft successfully docks with ISS

Progress M-20M cargo spacecraft successfully docks with ISS. Credit: NASA TV

Russia’s Progress M-20M cargo spacecraft launched from the Baikonur space center in Kazakhstan earlier on Sunday successfully docked with the International Space Station (ISS), the Federal Space Agency, Roscosmos, said. A Soyuz-U launch vehicle carrying the space freighter blasted off from Baikonur at 00:45 a.m. Moscow time [20:45 GMT on Saturday]. “The docking was carried out in automated regime as scheduled,” a Roscosmos spokesman said.

Third Bright Supernova Discovered In Spiral Galaxy M74

One of the first photos of the possible new supernova (at tick marks) in the nearby galaxy M74 taken by the Italian Supernova Search Project. The object is located 93″ east and 135″ south of the galaxy’s center. Credit: Fabio Martinelli

Not only does M74 display a near perfect spiral form but if this latest supernova is confirmed, it will be the third to "go boom" in the galaxy in just 11 years. The new object, designated PSN J01364816+1545310, was discovered blazing near 12.4 magnitude by the Lick Observatory Supernova Search at Lick Observatory near San Jose, Calif. "PSN" stands for "possible supernova" and the long string of numbers give the object's position in the sky using the celestial equivalents of latitude and longitude.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Progress M-20M Space Freighter Launches to ISS

Progress 52 Supply Ship Launches to ISS. Credit: NASA TV

The Progress M-20M resupply spacecraft to International Space Station (ISS), launched tonight at 22:45 CEST (20:45 UT) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The spacecraft will take the fast-track route to ISS docking just 6 hours after launch at 04:26 CEST (02:26 UT) Sunday. Cargo on the Progress includes food, fuel, spare parts, experiment hardware and tools that might be used in ongoing troubleshooting of spacesuits after recent spacewalk was cut short.

Brown Dwarf Exoplanet Identified

Image credit: NASA

Brown dwarfs are often referred to as “failed stars,” but that moniker may have to be slightly modified to reflect one brown dwarf’s ability of birthing planets — a very star-like trait. Mysterious brown dwarfs have fascinated astronomers for decades, but only now are we able to observe them in any detail and truly understand their nature. Generally speaking, brown dwarfs are thought to form in a similar way to stars. However, they didn’t accrue enough mass from their stellar nursery to ignite fusion in their cores. Although there is some low-level fusion activity of deuterium and lithium in the cores of brown dwarfs, they certainly cannot fuse hydrogen (the “gold standard” of any self-respecting star) and can only be detected by their infrared emissions.

NASA Sees Enthusiastic Response to Asteroid Call for Ideas

Credit: NASA

NASA has received more than 400 responses to its request for information (RFI) on the agency's asteroid initiative, Deputy Administrator Lori Garver announced Friday. "Under our plan, we're increasing the identification, tracking and exploration of asteroids, and the response to this initiative has been gratifying," said Garver, speaking at the Space Frontier Foundation's NewSpace 2013 conference in San Jose, Calif. "The aerospace industry, innovative small businesses and citizen scientists have many creative ideas and strategies for carrying out our asteroid exploration mission and helping us to protect our home planet from dangerous near-Earth objects."

Russians Build ‘Mir Space Station’ for US Arts Festival

The model of the Mir space station will be built at a scale of 1:3 © Photo

A team of Russian artists has built a massive pyramid containing a model of the Mir space station and says it plans to display the work at the iconic “Burning Man” counterculture arts festival next month in the Nevada desert. Made entirely of wood, the installation consists of a pyramid standing 36 feet (11 meters) tall enclosing a scale model of the now-defunct Soviet and Russian space station. Visitors to the installation will have the opportunity to write messages that will later be burned together with the entire structure at the festival in the Black Rock Desert in northern Nevada.

Near-Earth Asteroid 2003 DZ15 is approaching

Near-Earth Asteroid 2003 DZ15: 26 July 2013. Credit:

Near-Earth Asteroid 2003 DZ15 is on its way around the Sun, approaching the Earth for the 30 July rendez-vous: that day it will be at 3.5 millions of km from our home (9.1 Lunar Distances, LD), this being a very safe distance. The PlaneWave 17″ robotic unit part of the Virtual Telescope has been tracking it for a while and Friday night it took another spectacular image: 2003 DZ15 was apparently moving pretty fast, so the advanced Paramount ME robotic mount was asked to track the asteroid, finally showing just perfect, as a point of light. Stars, of course, look as trails.

WGS Upgrades Loom As Next Spacecraft Prepares For Launch

Credit: U.S. Air Force photo/Patrick Corkery

The U.S. Air Force’s sixth Wideband Global Satcom (WGS) satellite is on track for its scheduled launch on Aug. 7 following its successful mating to a United Launch Alliance Delta IV launch vehicle at Cape Canaveral on July 23. The satellite will provide additional wideband satcom coverage for U.S. defense forces as well as those of Australia, which supported the cost of the sixth spacecraft under an interoperability agreement extending to 2029.

Out of This World: Sochi Champions to Get Meteorite Medals

© REUTERS/ Sergei Karpukhin

Some gold medal winners at the Sochi Winter Olympics are set to be rewarded for their out-of-this-world performances with extra medals embedded with meteorite fragments, Russian officials said Wednesday. The special medals are on offer to athletes who win their events on February 15, 2014, the one-year anniversary of a meteorite strike that injured 1,600 people, smashing windows and causing other damage in the Russian city of Chelyabinsk.

New sharp image of Whirlpool Galaxy

Cropped view of Spiral Galaxy M51, demonstrating the excellent sharpness of the One Degree Imager (ODI) on the WIYN 3.5-m telescope on Kitt Peak. Image credit: K. Rhode, M. Young and WIYN/NOAO/AURA/NSF.

The Whirlpool Galaxy (Messier 51) has been a popular night sky target for astronomers for centuries. Charles Messier first identified it in 1773 and listed it as number 51 in his catalog. To him, it looked like a faint, fuzzy object that might be a comet. William Parsons, the 3rd Earl of Rosse, used his 72-inch telescope “Leviathan” to observe the Whirlpool in 1845. Since then, Messier 51 has likely been targeted by virtually every telescope in the northern hemisphere. It is found in the constellation Canes Venatici (the Hunting Dogs) and is a classic example of a spiral galaxy. Now, a new camera on the WIYN 3.5-meter telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory has imaged the Whirlpool Galaxy anew. The wide field of the One Degree Imager (ODI) camera makes it possible to capture the entire galaxy and its companion in one pointing, something that even the Hubble Space Telescope cannot do.

China signs world-leading astronomical project

Artist's impression of Thirty Meter Telescope. Credit:

The National Astronomical Observatories of China (NAOC) signed the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) Master Agreement on Friday, a global project that will explore mysteries of the Universe by using next-generation telescopes. At a signing ceremony in Hawaii, where the telescope will be constructed in April 2014, China jointly signed the agreement with other international parties, including the United States, Canada, Japan and India, marking a major step forward in the creation of a revolutionary astronomical facility.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Station Astronauts Remotely Control Planetary Rover From Space

K10 Black planetary rover navigates the boulder field in the Roverscape during a Surface Telerobotics Operational Readiness Test at NASA's Ames Research Center. Image Credit: NASA/Dominic Hart

Just as remotely-operated vehicles help humans explore the depths of the ocean from above, NASA has begun studying how a similar approach may one day help astronauts explore other worlds. On June 17 and July 26, NASA tested the Surface Telerobotics exploration concept, in which an astronaut in an orbiting spacecraft remotely operates a robot on a planetary surface. In the future, astronauts orbiting other planetary bodies, such as Mars, asteroids or the moon, could use this approach to perform work on the surface using robotic avatars.

Russia’s Progress M-18M Spacecraft Splashes Down in Pacific

Progress M-18M spacecraft

Fragments of Russia’s Progress M-18M space freighter sunk safely in the Pacific Ocean after re-entering the atmosphere on Friday, a spokesman for the Russian mission control center said. The spacecraft undocked from the International Space Station (ISS) shortly after midnight Moscow time and started its final journey towards a remote location in the Pacific Ocean known as the “spacecraft cemetery.”

Stravinsky's Southern Rim

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

This image is of the southern rim of the crater Stravinsky. In this high-incidence-angle lighting, the topography of the crater is easily seen. Particularly noticeable is the difference between the crater's flat floor and the hummocky terrain of the ejecta blanket outside the crater. The area in the lower left of the image is part of the Vyasa basin. Since Stravinsky's ejecta overlaps Vyasa, we can deduce that Stravinsky is younger than Vyasa.

Galaxies, Comets, and Stars! Oh My!

The sun-approaching Comet ISON floats against a seemingly infinite backdrop of numerous galaxies and a handful of foreground stars. The icy visitor, with its long gossamer tail, appears to be swimming like a tadpole through a deep pond of celestial wonders.  In reality, the comet is much, much closer. The nearest star to the Sun is over 60,000 times farther away, and the nearest large galaxy to the Milky Way is over thirty billion times more distant. These vast dimensions are lost in this deep space Hubble exposure that visually combines our view of the universe from the very nearby to the extraordinarily far away. Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

Across the world, children fall asleep under the faint light from glow-in-the-dark astronomy stickers. Though undeniably adorable, these ceiling planetariums are too jam-packed to be realistic. One would never see stars, dozens of spiral galaxies, and comets all at the same time, all shining together from the same patch of sky. Unless, of course, you had Hubble. On April 30, NASA's Hubble Space Telescope observed Comet ISON, touted to be a spectacular, naked-eye comet in late 2013. In this composite image, Comet ISON is seen splashed out over deep space, embedded in a collage of colorful, distant neighbors.

Scientists discover surprising importance of 'I Love Q' for understanding neutron stars

Neutron stars are extremely compact and contain an enormous amount of mass. Because of that, they are so dense they exert a very strong gravitational pull. (NASA illustration).

Scientists can learn a tremendous amount about neutron stars and quark stars without understanding their internal structure in detail, according to two Montana State University scientists who published their findings in the July 26 issue of Science. “The stars could be the softest or the hardest in their kind, and it wouldn’t matter,” said Nicolas Yunes, assistant professor in MSU’s Department of Physics. The reason – discovered by Yunes and postdoctoral scholar Kent Yagi -- is almost universal relations among three intrinsic properties of these highly compressed stars. These relations will allow astrophysicists to learn about the shape and degree of deformation of these stars without knowing the details of their internal structure.

Hubble Eyes a Mysterious Old Spiral

Credit:  ESA/Hubble & NASA, Acknowledgement: Judy Schmidt

This striking cosmic whirl is the center of galaxy NGC 524, as seen with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. This galaxy is located in the constellation of Pisces, some 90 million light-years from Earth. NGC 524 is a lenticular galaxy. Lenticular galaxies are believed to be an intermediate state in galactic evolution — they are neither elliptical nor spiral. Spirals are middle-aged galaxies with vast, pin wheeling arms that contain millions of stars.

Airborne Campaign Preparing to Probe Pollution-Climate Link

The equipment bays and wing pods of NASA's high-altitude ER-2 will carry 15 specialized instruments to study how the vertical convection of air pollution and natural emissions affect climate change. Image Credit: NASA / Tom Tschida

The floor of a NASA hangar and an adjacent laboratory in Southern California's high desert have been in constant motion this month as scientists prepare their instruments for installation on two of the agency's specialized science aircraft that will begin a major NASA airborne science campaign in early August. Technicians and maintenance personnel at NASA's Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility in Palmdale, Calif., weigh, install, check, remove and reinstall the instruments prior to a flight dedicated to checking out their operation. The aircraft, a modified DC-8 jetliner and a high-flying ER-2, are being fitted with an eclectic assortment of sensors in preparation for a mission to study how the vertical convection of air pollution and natural emissions affect climate change.

Mars mission useless, says ex-ISRO boss Nair

G Madhavan Nair, former chairman of ISRO. Credit:

A Rs 450 crore Mars orbiter mission, proposed for launch around November by the Indian Space Research Organization, will be a dud since it will not achieve anything new in terms of technology or research, according to former chairman of ISRO G Madhavan Nair. Nair, who was forced to give up all roles at ISRO in 2011 in the light of the controversial and now annulled deal to launch satellites for startup firm Devas Multimedia, labelled the mission to send an orbiter to spin around and look at Mars after being launched on the PSLV, "a useless exercise". "It will only be a showpiece," he said.

NASA's WISE Finds Mysterious Centaurs May Be Comets

This artist's concept shows a centaur creature together with asteroids on the left and comets at right. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The true identity of centaurs, the small celestial bodies orbiting the sun between Jupiter and Neptune, is one of the enduring mysteries of astrophysics. Are they asteroids or comets? A new study of observations from NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) finds most centaurs are comets. Until now, astronomers were not certain whether centaurs are asteroids flung out from the inner solar system or comets traveling in toward the sun from afar. Because of their dual nature, they take their name from the creature in Greek mythology whose head and torso are human and legs are those of a horse.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Arianespace's heavy-lift Ariane 5 mission orbits key payloads for Europe and India

Ariane 5 liftoff. Credit: ESA

Today’s 70th launch of Arianespace’s heavy-lift launcher orbited Europe’s largest ever telecommunications satellite, Alphasat, and India’s latest meteorological spacecraft, INSAT-3D, on the third Ariane 5 mission of 2013. The Ariane 5 ECA rocket, took off at 19:54 GMT, 21:54 CEST from Kourou, French Guiana and delivered Alphasat into the target geostationary transfer orbit about 28 minutes later. Alphasat’s signal has been picked up by an Inmarsat ground station in Beijing as expected at 20:38 GMT (22:38 CEST), confirming that the satellite is at the predicted location, powered up and transmitting. Some five minutes after Alphasat’s deployment, Ariane 5 completed its mission with the successful separation of INSAT-3D, which will provide enhanced meteorological observation and monitoring of land/ocean surfaces. The satellite carries a six-channel imager and 19-channel sounder, as well as a data relay transponder for satellite-aided search and rescue operations.

NASA's Van Allen Probes Discover Particle Accelerator in the Heart of Earth’s Radiation Belts

Two swaths of particles surrounding Earth called the radiation belts are one of the greatest natural accelerators in the solar system, able to push particles up to 99% the speed of light. The Van Allen Probes launched in August 2012, have now discovered mechanisms behind this acceleration. Image Credit: NASA/Goddard /Scientific Visualization Studio

Scientists have discovered a massive particle accelerator in the heart of one of the harshest regions of near-Earth space, a region of super-energetic, charged particles surrounding the globe called the Van Allen radiation belts. Scientists knew thatsomething in space accelerated particles in the radiation belts to more than 99 percent the speed of light but they didn't know what that something was. New results from NASA's Van Allen Probes now show that the acceleration energy comes from within the belts themselves. Particles inside the belts are sped up by local kicks of energy, buffeting the particles to ever faster speeds, much like a perfectly timed push on a moving swing.

NASA's IRIS Telescope Offers First Glimpse of Sun's Mysterious Atmosphere

These two images show a section of the sun as seen by NASA's Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph, or IRIS, on the right and NASA's SDO on the left. The IRIS image provides scientists with unprecedented detail of the lowest parts of the sun's atmosphere, known as the interface region. Image Credit: NASA/SDO/IRIS

The moment when a telescope first opens its doors represents the culmination of years of work and planning -- while simultaneously laying the groundwork for a wealth of research and answers yet to come. It is a moment of excitement and perhaps even a little uncertainty. On July 17, 2013, the international team of scientists and engineers who supported and built NASA's Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph, or IRIS, all lived through that moment. As the spacecraft orbited around Earth, the door of the telescope opened to view the mysterious lowest layers of the sun's atmosphere and the results thus far are nothing short of amazing. The data is crisp and clear, showing unprecedented detail of this little-observed region.

ALMA Sheds Light on Mystery of Missing Massive Galaxies

This picture shows a view of a three-dimensional visualisation of ALMA observations of cold carbon monoxide gas in the nearby starburst galaxy NGC 253 (The Sculptor Galaxy). The vertical axis shows velocity and the horizontal axis the position across the central part of the galaxy. The colours represent the intensity of the emission detected by ALMA, with pink being the strongest and red the weakest.  These data have been used to show that huge amounts of cool gas are being ejected from the central parts of this galaxy. This will make it more difficult for the next generation of stars to form.  Credit:  ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)/Erik Rosolowsky

New observations from the ALMA telescope in Chile have given astronomers the best view yet of how vigorous star formation can blast gas out of a galaxy and starve future generations of stars of the fuel they need to form and grow. The dramatic images show enormous outflows of molecular gas ejected by star-forming regions in the nearby Sculptor Galaxy. These new results help to explain the strange paucity of very massive galaxies in the Universe. The study is published in the journal Nature on 25 July 2013. Galaxies — systems like our own Milky Way that contain up to hundreds of billions of stars — are the basic building blocks of the cosmos. One ambitious goal of contemporary astronomy is to understand the ways in which galaxies grow and evolve, a key question being star formation: what determines the number of new stars that will form in a galaxy?

Initial Recovery Tests of Kepler Spacecraft

Kepler spacecraft. Credit: NASA

On Thursday, July 18, 2013 the team initiated exploratory recovery tests on the spacecraft's two failed wheels. The recovery tests are a series of steps to characterize the performance of Reaction Wheels (RW) 4 and 2, and to determine if either could be returned to operation. The initial test began on Thursday, July 18, 2013, with RW4. In response to test commands, wheel 4 did not spin in the positive (or clockwise) direction but the wheel did spin in the negative (or counterclockwise) direction. Wheel 4 is thought to be the more seriously damaged of the two.

Polarization detected in Big Bang's echo

The South Pole Telescope has detected the first B-mode polarization signal in the cosmic microwave background. DANIEL LUONG-VAN, NSF

Astronomers have detected a long-predicted polarization signal in the ripples of the Big Bang. The signal, known as B-mode polarization, is caused by the gravitational tug of matter on microwave photons left over from the Big Bang. Its detection, posted this week to the arXiv preprint server and made by a microwave telescope at the South Pole, raises hopes that the signal can be used to map out the matter content of the Universe and determine the masses of the three types of neutrinos — in effect, using astronomy to achieve a key goal of particle physics. The detection also suggests that it might be possible to detect another type of B-mode, which would be evidence that the Universe, in the moment after the Big Bang, underwent a wrenching expansion known as inflation.

'International Beam Team' Solves Martian Meteorite Age Puzzle

A team led by Western University's Desmond Moser has solved a Martian meteorite age puzzle that paints a much clearer picture of the Red Planet's evolution that can now be compared to habitable Earth.

By directing energy beams at tiny crystals found in a Martian meteorite, a Western University-led team of geologists has proved that the most common group of meteorites from Mars is almost 4 billion years younger than many scientists had believed – resolving a long-standing puzzle in Martian science and painting a much clearer picture of the Red Planet's evolution that can now be compared to that of habitable Earth.

Solar system’s youth gives clues to planet search

Modeling results show where the injected gas and dust ended ups only 34 years after being injected at the disk’s surface. It was injected 9 astronomical units from the central prostar and is now in the disk’s midplane. The outer edge shown is 10 astronomical units from the central prostar. Mixing and transport are still underway and the underlying spiral arms that drive the mixing and transport can be seen. Image courtesy of Alan Boss.

Comets and meteorites contain clues to our solar system's earliest days. But some of the findings are puzzle pieces that don't seem to fit well together. A new set of theoretical models from Carnegie's Alan Boss shows how an outburst event in the Sun's formative years could explain some of this disparate evidence. His work could have implications for the hunt for habitable planets outside of our solar system. It is published by The Astrophysical Journal. One way to study the solar system’s formative period is to look for samples of small crystalline particles that were formed at high temperatures but now exist in icy comets.

Utopia Planitia's Surface

Image: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

The Martian landscape often owes its existence to the influences of liquid water and ice. This observation shows a couple of landforms that may result from the loss of large amounts of ice from subsurface deposits: polygonal patterns of troughs and large scallop-shaped depressions. Collectively, such landforms are referred to as "thermokarst." Cold ice is generally strong and supports the weight of overlying soil. But when ice is lost through melting or sublimation, the supported surface can subside or collapse into the gradually growing cavity left behind by the lost ice. The shapes of the resulting depressions can offer us with clues (and lingering questions) to the origin of the ice.

Alexander's space clinic

Alexander Gerst practising intubation to ventilate the lungs and prevent obstruction of the airway. A flexible plastic tube is inserted into the windpipe to maintain an open airway or to serve as a conduit for administering drugs. Credit: ESA

They are skills everyone hopes an astronaut never has to use but they are vital for the International Space Station, where no ambulance can reach. ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst recently boosted his medical skills in a busy hospital setting. Astronauts spend up to six months on the Space Station working on scientific experiments and maintaining the orbital outpost. They need to be able to handle any emergency – after all, hundreds of kilometres and a hard journey separate them from the nearest hospital. At least two Crew Medical Officers are assigned to each mission and these astronauts are taught basic medical procedures, from stitching wounds to filling teeth.

Tenth Parachute Test for NASA's Orion Adds 10,000 Feet of Success

A test version of the Orion capsule descends on two parachutes after being dropped from a C-17 35,000 feet above the Arizona desert on Wednesday, July 24. Credit: NASA

A complicated, high-altitude test Wednesday demonstrated NASA's new Orion spacecraft could land safely even if one of its parachutes failed. The 10th in a series of evaluations to check out the Orion multipurpose crew vehicle's parachute system dropped the test capsule from a C-17 aircraft at its highest altitude yet, 35,000 feet above the Arizona desert. One of three massive main parachutes was cut away early on purpose, leaving the spacecraft to land with only two. The test at the U.S. Army's Yuma Proving Ground was the highest-altitude test of a human spacecraft parachute since NASA's Apollo Program.

Hot-Fire Tests Show 3-D Printed Rocket Parts Rival Traditionally Manufactured Parts

Marshall engineers installed the injector in a subscale RS-25 engine model. During hot-fire testing, the engine and part were exposed to temperatures of nearly 6,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Image Credit: NASA/MSFC

What can survive blazing temperatures of almost 6,000 degrees Fahrenheit without melting? What did not break apart at extreme pressures? What is made by a new process that forms a complex part in just one piece? What takes less than three weeks to go from manufacturing to testing? What can reduce the costs of expensive rocket parts by 60 percent or more? Answer: 3-D printed parts. Engineers know that 3-D printed rocket parts have the potential to save NASA and industry money and to open up new affordable design possibilities for rockets and spacecraft. But until recently, no one had tested rocket parts critical to engine combustion in a hot-fire environment.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

UK team designs human mission to Mars

Credit: BBC

Scientists at Imperial College London have designed a concept mission to land astronauts on Mars. The plan envisages a three-person crew journeying to Mars aboard a small two-part craft. The craft would rotate to generate artificial gravity and use a heat shield to protect itself against solar flares. The crew would then return to Martian orbit in a pre-sent craft fuelled using ice from beneath the planet's surface. The concept, developed in conjunction with the BBC, is intended to spark further debate about the technical obstacles and risks that would have to be overcome in order to put humans on Mars. "Every part of this mission scenario has been demonstrated one way or the other, including the in situ propellant production on the surface of Mars," said Prof Tom Pike, who led the Imperial design team.

NASA Scientists Use Satellites to Measure Plant Health

NASA scientists have discovered a new way to use satellites to measure what's occurring inside Earth's land plants at a cellular level. Image Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

NASA scientists have established a new way to use satellites to measure what's occurring inside plants at a cellular level. Plants grow and thrive through photosynthesis, a process that converts sunlight into energy. During photosynthesis, plants emit what is called fluorescence – light invisible to the naked eye but detectable by satellites orbiting hundreds of miles above Earth. NASA scientists have now established a method to turn this satellite data into global maps of the subtle phenomenon in more detail than ever before.