Saturday, August 31, 2013

Aurigid Meteor Shower Peaks Before Dawn September 1

Composite image of Aurigid shower with 15 Aurigids by Jason Hatton, ESA/ESTEC. The meteors span the period 11:04:44 to 11:50:54UT 1st September 2007 (a 46 minute period covering the peak). Notice the one Aurigid that seems to fall behind the horizon! A satellite trail is visible just below alpha Columbae. Photo: NASA/ESA

According to the American Meteor Society (AMS), the Aurigid meteor shower will be worth watching in 2013, particularly on the morning of September 1. The Aurigids should already be flying, with Earth having entered the meteor stream today (August 31), but the peak should be Sunday morning September 1, and North America appears to be well placed for the peak. From a rural site in North America, you might expect to see about 14-20 meteors in the last hour before dawn on Sunday, September 1. You might even see some meteors this evening, perhaps 5 an hour, according to the AMS. If you live elsewhere in the Northern Hemisphere, try watching in the hour before dawn September 1, but expect to see fewer meteors per hour.

‘Albert Einstein’ Pulls Up International Space Station

‘Albert Einstein’ Pulls Up ISS. Credit: NASA

Russian mission control successfully adjusted the orbit of the International Space Station (ISS) on Saturday using thrusters of the unmanned European spacecraft ATV-4 “Albert Einstein” docked with the station. The perigee height of the ISS is now 412 kilometers (256 miles) and apogee height 418 kilometers (260 miles), a mission control spokesman told RIA Novosti.

HiRISE Camera Pictures Migrating and Static Sand Ripples on Mars

Image: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

Having operated at Mars for more than seven years, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and the HiRISE camera continue to make new discoveries. One of these is that many sand dunes and ripples are moving, some at rates of several meters per year. In this observation, a dune field in a Southern hemisphere crater was observed approximately one Mars year apart, first on 2 September 2011 and then again on 11 July 2013 (a year on Mars is 687 Earth days).

Virgin Galactic Will Host a Career Fair Online and in Mojave, California

SpaceShipTwo. Credit: Virgin Galactic

Virgin Galactic along with its sister space vehicle manufacturing organization, The Spaceship Company, are hosting a career fair in Sept. 7 in Mojave, Calif., and online from 8-11 a.m. More than 100 positions are available for engineers, procurement gurus, composite technicians and more, offering what the company called a “truly out-of-this-world career with history-making opportunities.”

NASA Sites Lunar Far Side For Low-Frequency Radio Telescope

Unmanned Lander and Rover on the lunar farside. Artist’s conception of a roll-out Kapton film antenna on the Moon. Credit: Joe Lazio/JPL

After decades of discussion, the far side of the moon — the most radio quiet spot in the inner solar system — is finally being taken seriously for a kilometers-wide, low- frequency radio array. Such a NASA array would electronically-link thousands of dipole antennas spread over a range of five to ten kms and combine their long wavelength signals in a way that would mimic the imaging resolution of one large kms-wide radio telescope. This kind of radio “interferometry” is routinely used in ground-based astronomy.

Mercury's Wings

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

Fresh and bright, this unnamed, elongated crater appears to have been formed by an impactor that struck the surface at an oblique angle, causing most of the ejecta to be thrown out unevenly around the crater (notice the bright rays above, below, and to the right of the crater). The marginally bright material in the bottom left corner is actually part of a ray from Hokusai, over 1380 km (about 860 mi.) away!

JWST, Commercial Crew Spared Cuts in NASA FY2013 Operating Plan

Credit: NASA

With only six weeks left in FY2013, Congress and the Obama Administration finally reached agreement on NASA's FY2013 operating plan that details how the agency will spend the money appropriated by Congress. Although the agency was subject to across-the-board cuts of about 7 percent that were to be applied proportionately to all its activities, at least two projects were spared those cuts -- the commercial crew program and the James Webb Space Telescope.

Major Fireball Explodes Over the Southeastern US

Aug. 28 fireball from one of NASA’s All-Sky cameras. Credit: NASA

A fabulously bright fireball lit up the sky over the southeastern U.S. around 2:27 a.m. CDT Aug. 28. "The fireball reached a peak apparent magnitude of -16, about 20 times brighter than a Full Moon, and cast shadows on the ground. This indicates that the meteoroid had a mass of more than 110 kg (240 lbs) and was up to a meter in diameter. It hit the top of Earth's atmosphere traveling 25 km/s (56,000 mph)." lead researcher Bill Cooke of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office said.

Station Crew Preps for Spacesuit Troubleshooting, Cargo Ship Departure

NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy, Expedition 36 flight engineer, enters data in a computer in the Tranquility node of the International Space Station. Image Credit: NASA

The International Space Station’s Expedition 36 crew spent Friday immersed in robotics and research, and prepared for this weekend’s troubleshooting of a faulty spacesuit that resulted in an abbreviated spacewalk in July. Flight Engineers Karen Nyberg and Luca Parmitano began their day with an array of medical tests and checkups, including ultrasound exams of their eyes. Later the two flight engineers participated in blood pressure measurements and cardiac scans for the Ocular Health study. Vision changes have been observed in some astronauts returning from long-duration spaceflight, and researchers are seeking to learn more about its root causes and develop countermeasures to mitigate the risk.

Hubble Sees a Cosmic Caterpillar

Compass and Scale Image for Protostar IRAS 20324+4057. Credit: Credit: NASA, ESA, and Z. Levay (STScI/AURA)

This light-year-long knot of interstellar gas and dust resembles a caterpillar on its way to a feast. But the meat of the story is not only what this cosmic caterpillar eats for lunch, but also what's eating it. Harsh winds from extremely bright stars are blasting ultraviolet radiation at this "wanna-be" star and sculpting the gas and dust into its long shape. The culprits are 65 of the hottest, brightest known stars, classified as O-type stars, located 15 light-years away from the knot, towards the right edge of the image. These stars, along with 500 less bright, but still highly luminous B-type stars make up what is called the Cygnus OB2 association. Collectively, the association is thought to have a mass more than 30,000 times that of our sun.

Van Allen Probes Mark First Anniversary with New Discoveries and New Investigations

Artist's rendition of Earth's radiation belts with the twin Van Allen Probes traveling through them. Image Credit: NASA

One year after their launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 4:05 a.m. E DT on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012, NASA’s twin Van Allen Probes have already fundamentally changed how we understand the Van Allen radiation belts above our planet. Data from the probes have already led to several significant discoveries, some made just days after the special twin spacecraft soared into orbit. The mission has answered one long-standing question about the nature and behavior of the belts, and revealed that the outer belt can split into two separate belts.

Researchers take a step closer to finding cosmic ray origins

UD's Bakhtiyar Ruzybayev works on an IceTop cosmic ray detector, part of an extensive array at the surface of the IceCube Neutrino Observatory at the South Pole. Credit:

The origin of cosmic rays in the universe has confounded scientists for decades. But a study by researchers using data from the IceCube Neutrino Observatory at the South Pole reveals new information that may help unravel the longstanding mystery of exactly how and where these “rays” (they are actually high-energy particles) are produced. Cosmic rays can damage electronics on Earth, as well as human DNA, putting astronauts in space especially at risk. The research, which draws on data collected by IceTop, the IceCube Observatory’s surface array of detectors, is published online in Physical Review D, a leading journal in elementary particle physics.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Russia, Europe Discuss Joint Missions to the Largest Moon in the Solar System

Enhanced-color Galileo spacecraft image of Ganymede's trailing hemisphere. The crater Tashmetum's prominent rays are at lower right, and the large ejecta field of Hershef at upper right. Part of dark Nicholson Regio is at lower left, bounded on its upper right by Harpagia Sulcus. Credit: NASA

Russia’s and Europe’s space agencies are considering teaming up to study the largest moon in the solar system, Jupiter’s Ganymede, the European Space Agency (ESA) chief said Thursday. ESA general director Jean-Jacques Dordain said Europe planned to send an orbiter to Ganymede, while for a separate mission Russia’s federal space agency, Roscosmos, envisaged sending a landing module. "We intend to study how these two missions may interwork, because our orbiter and the Russian landing module are capable of interacting with each other,” Dordain told reporters during the MAKS international air show near Moscow.

Einstein@Home discovers 24 new pulsars in archival data

Einstein@Home searches for unknown neutron stars through their pulsed radio emission. This image shows an artist's impression of a neutron star, surrounded by its strong magnetic field (blue). It emits a narrow beam of radio waves (magenta) above its magnetic poles. When the star's rotation sweeps these beams over the Earth, the neutron star can be detected as a radio pulsar. Credit: NASA

The combined computing power of 200,000 private PCs helps astronomers take an inventory of the Milky Way. The Einstein@Home project connects home and office PCs of volunteers from around the world to a global supercomputer. Using this computer cloud, an international team lead by scientists from the Max Planck Institutes for Gravitational Physics and for Radio Astronomy analysed archival data from the CSIRO Parkes radio telescope in Australia. Using new search methods, the global computer network discovered 24 pulsars – extraordinary stellar remnants with extreme physical properties. These can be used as testbeds for Einstein's general theory of relativity and could help to complete our picture of the pulsar population.

Virginia, Alaska form space launch alliance

Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport in Virginia. Credit: NASA

Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell and Alaska Governor Sean Parnell jointly announced on Thursday the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to establish a formal operating relationship between the Virginia Commercial Spaceflight Authority (VCSFA) and the Alaska Aerospace Corporation (AAC). Speaking about the announcement, Governor McDonnell said, "The Commonwealth's partnership with Alaska will further this new era of commercial aerospace activity throughout the Commonwealth.

Uranus' First Known Trojan Companion Unveiled

One of three discovery images of 2011 QF99 taken from CFHT on 2011 October 24 (2011 QF99 is inside the green circle). This is the first of three images of the same patch of sky, taken one hour apart, that were then compared to find moving light-sources. Credit: Credit: UBC Astronomy

Canadian and French scientists have announced the discovery of the first celestial object known to share its orbit with Uranus in a Trojan configuration. The object, a 60-km wide ball of rock and ice temporarily known by the code 2011 QF99, shares an orbit with the planet Uranus at a distance 19 times as far from the Sun than Earth is. This previously-unknown object was discovered in October 2011 during the team's search of the outer Solar System for even more-distant transneptunian objects beyond the planet Neptune. The comparatively fast-moving 2011 QF99 was re-observed many times during 2011 and 2012 to track it across the sky; these observations securely determined that it was indeed on a Uranian Trojan orbit.

GSLV-D5 launch to be delayed till December

GSLV-D5 rocket. Credit: ISRO

India's wait for a successful flight of a GSLV rocket fitted with an indigenous cryogenic engine will prolong till mid December. Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) chairman K Radhakrishnan told Times of India on Wednesday that GSLV-D5, whose launch on August 19 as aborted because of a leak in the liquid fuel tank, had to be disassembled and studied closely before the next launch which is likely to be more than four months later.

Our Galaxy's Giant Black Hole Rejecting Food

Supermassive black hole Sagittarius A* at the heart of the Milky Way galaxy Image Credit: X-ray: NASA/UMass/D.Wang et al., IR: NASA/STScI

Astronomers using NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory have taken a major step in explaining why material around the giant black hole at the center of the Milky Way Galaxy is extraordinarily faint in X-rays. This discovery holds important implications for understanding black holes. New Chandra images of Sagittarius A* (Sgr A*), which is located about 26,000 light-years from Earth, indicate that less than 1 percent of the gas initially within Sgr A*'s gravitational grasp ever reaches the point of no return, also called the event horizon. Instead, much of the gas is ejected before it gets near the event horizon and has a chance to brighten, leading to feeble X-ray emission.

NASA Data Reveals Mega-Canyon under Greenland Ice Sheet

Hidden for all of human history, a 460 mile long canyon has been discovered below Greenland's ice sheet. Using radar data from NASA's Operation IceBridge, scientists found the canyon runs from near the center of the island northward to the fjord of the Petermann Glacier. Credit: NASA

Data from a NASA airborne science mission reveals evidence of a large and previously unknown canyon hidden under a mile of Greenland ice. The canyon has the characteristics of a winding river channel and is at least 460 miles (750 kilometers) long, making it longer than the Grand Canyon. In some places, it is as deep as 2,600 feet (800 meters), on scale with segments of the Grand Canyon. This immense feature is thought to predate the ice sheet that has covered Greenland for the last few million years.

200 new start-ups launched

ESA’s Technology Transfer Programme Office runs the Agency’s ESA Business Incubation Centres (BICs) throughout Europe. The contract for ESA BIC Sud France was signed at Paris Air Show, 20 June 2013. ESA BIC Barcelona will open later in 2013. Credit: ESA

When it comes to innovation, the sky is not the limit – this month sees the 200th new start-up company launched through ESA’s Business Incubation Centres. Whether it’s for quick mapping of disaster-stricken areas by crowdsourcing, offering smarter transportation solutions, alternative energy handling or improving production technologies, these start-ups benefit local economies while promoting the use of space technology in terrestrial applications. All of these start-ups nurtured at the ESA Business Incubation Centres (ESA BICs) have one thing in common as their winning key driver: innovation.

Ariane 5 launches with 25B/Es’hail-1 and GSAT-7

Ariane 5 launch. Credit: Arianespace

Thursday evening, an Ariane 5 launcher lifted off from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana on its mission to place two communications satellites, Eutelsat 25B/Es’hail 1 and GSAT-7, into their planned geostationary transfer orbits. Liftoff of flight VA215 occurred at 20:30 GMT (22:30 CET; 17:30 French Guiana) at the opening of the launch window. The target injection orbit had a perigee altitude of 249 km, an apogee altitude of 35 929 km with an inclination of 3.5° relative to the equator. Eutelsat-25B/Es’hail 1 and GSAT-7 were accurately injected into their transfer orbits approximately 27 and 34 minutes after launch, respectively.

Bruce Murray, co-founder of the Planetary Society and former JPL director, dies at 81

From left to right: Bruce Murray, Carl Sagan (seated) with Louis Friedman and Harry Ashmore (standing). Credit: NASA

Bruce Murray, a former head of Jet Propulsion Laboratory who co-founded the Planetary Society with Carl Sagan and Louis Friedman, died early Thursday morning after suffering complications from Alzheimer's disease. He was 81. Growing up in Santa Monica, Murray loved reading the adventures Captain James Cook. That 18th-century explorer charted distant corners of the globe. Throughout his life, Murray brought that same sense of adventure to the entire solar system, said long-time friend Louis Friedman. He would often say, “it’s not just science, it’s exploration,” Friedman said.

Dwarf Planet Ceres – 'A Game Changer in the Solar System'

NASA's Hubble Space Telescope color image of Ceres, the largest object in the asteroid belt. Astronomers optimized spatial resolution to about 18 km per pixel, enhancing the contrast in these images to bring out features on Ceres' surface, that are both brighter and darker than the average which absorbs 91% of sunlight falling on it. (Original description by NASA) (Earth Distance: 1.64 AU and Angular diameter: 0.798"). Credit: NASA, ESA, J. Parker (Southwest Research Institute), P. Thomas (Cornell University), and L. McFadden (University of Maryland, College Park)

In March of 2015, NASA's Dawn mission will arrive at the dwarf planet Ceres, the first of the smaller class of planets to be discovered and the closest to Earth. Ceres, which orbits the Sun in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, is a unique body in the Solar System, bearing many similarities to Jupiter's moon Europa and Saturn's moon Enceladus, both considered to be potential sources for harboring life. On Thursday, August 15, Britney Schmidt, science team liaison for the Dawn Mission, and Julie Castillo-Rogez, planetary scientist from JPL, spoke in an Google Plus Hangout titled 'Ceres: Icy World Revealed?' about the growing excitement related to the innermost icy body. "I think of Ceres actually as a game changer in the Solar System," Schmidt said. "Ceres is arguably the only one of its kind."

NASA Wallops offers public viewing sites for lunar launch

Artist's impression of LADEE spacecraft. Credit: NASA

NASA Wallops’ officials said they have designated two premier sites that will allow the public to view next Friday’s 11:27 p.m. launch of Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE). NASA has partnered with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Accomack County Board of Supervisors and the Town of Chincoteague to provide visitors a view of the night lift-off, Sept. 6, from Robert Reed Park on Chincoteague or Beach Road, which includes the area between Chincoteague and Assateague Islands.

Ultracold Big Bang experiment successfully simulates evolution of early universe

Prof. Cheng Chin and his UChicago associates have simulated the impossibly hot conditions that followed the big bang within an ultracold vacuum chamber in his sub-basement laboratory in the Gordon Center for Integrative Science. Photo by Jason Smith

Physicists have reproduced a pattern resembling the cosmic microwave background radiation in a laboratory simulation of the Big Bang, using ultracold cesium atoms in a vacuum chamber at the University of Chicago. “This is the first time an experiment like this has simulated the evolution of structure in the early universe,” said Cheng Chin, professor in physics. Chin and his associates reported their feat in the Aug. 1 edition of Science Express, and it will appear soon in the print edition of Science. Chin pursued the project with lead author Chen-Lung Hung, PhD’11, now at the California Institute of Technology, and Victor Gurarie of the University of Colorado, Boulder. Their goal was to harness ultracold atoms for simulations of the Big Bang to better understand how structure evolved in the infant universe.

Orbital launch set for Sept. 17

Antares test launch on April 21, 2013. Credit: Orbital

Orbital Sciences and NASA announced a new launch date for a demonstration mission to the International Space Station being launched from Wallops Island in September. The launch is now set for Tuesday, Sept. 17, at 11:16 a.m., with a 15-minute launch window. The previous date announced was Sept. 14, with a launch window from Sept. 14-19. The launch of Orbital’s Antares rocket carrying the Cygnus spacecraft is one of two high-profile missions planned for take-off in September from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at NASA Wallops Flight Facility.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

NuSTAR Delivers the X-Ray Goods

Artist's concept of NuSTAR on orbit. NuSTAR has a 10-m (30') mast that deployed after launch to separate the optics modules (right) from the detectors in the focal plane (left). Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, is giving the wider astronomical community a first look at its unique X-ray images of the cosmos. The first batch of data from the black-hole hunting telescope is publicly available today, Aug. 29, via NASA's High Energy Astrophysics Science Archive Research Center, or HEASARC. "We are pleased to present the world with NuSTAR's first look at the sky in high-energy X-rays with a true focusing telescope," said Fiona Harrison, the mission's principal investigator at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena.

Japanese astronaut to command space station in March

Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Koichi Wakata, Expedition 18 flight engineer, attired in his Russian Sokol launch and entry suit, is pictured near a hatch on the International Space Station while Space Shuttle Discovery (STS-119) remains docked with the station. 18 March 2009. Credit: NASA

The first Japanese astronaut to live aboard the International Space Station is preparing for a return flight, this time to serve as commander, officials said on Wednesday. Koichi Wakata of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA, is due to leave in November with a pair of veteran astronauts from the United States and Russia. Wakata, 50, is expected to take command of the orbital research outpost in March, marking the first time a Japanese astronaut will lead a human space mission.

Are We All Martians? New Evidence Supports Theory That Life Started on Mars

We may all be Martians, according to scientists who recently discovered more evidence that life on Earth may have started on Mars. "In addition, recent studies show that these conditions, suitable for the origin of life, may still exist on Mars," Professor Steven Benner, from The Westheimer Institute for Science and Technology in the USA, said in at the annual Goldschmidt conference. Benner explained that an oxidized mineral form of molybdenum, an element that may have been crucial to the origin of life, could only have been available on the surface of Mars and not on Earth. "It's only when molybdenum becomes highly oxidized that it is able to influence how early life formed," Benner said.

Milky Way Gas Cloud Causes Multiple Images of Distant Quasar

Artist's Diagram of the refraction event (not drawn to scale), showing how radio waves from the distant quasar jet are bent by a gas cloud in our own Galaxy, creating multiple images seen with the Very Long Baseline Array. Credit: Bill Saxton, NRAO/AUI/NSF

For the first time, astronomers have seen the image of a distant quasar split into multiple images by the effects of a cloud of ionized gas in our own Milky Way Galaxy. Such events were predicted as early as 1970, but the first evidence for one now has come from the National Science Foundation's Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA) radio telescope system. The scientists observed the quasar 2023+335, nearly 3 billion light-years from Earth, as part of a long-term study of ongoing changes in some 300 quasars. When they examined a series of images of 2023+335, they noted dramatic differences. The differences, they said, are caused by the radio waves from the quasar being bent as they pass through the Milky Way gas cloud, which moved through our line of sight to the quasar.

Curiosity Views Eclipse of the Sun by Phobos

This set of three images shows views three seconds apart as the larger of Mars' two moons, Phobos, passed directly in front of the sun as seen by NASA's Mars rover Curiosity. Curiosity photographed this annular, or ring, eclipse with the telephoto-lens camera of the rover's Mast Camera pair (right Mastcam) on Aug. 17, 2013, the 369th Martian day, or sol, of Curiosity's work on Mars. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Malin Space Science Systems/Texas A&M Univ.

Images taken with a telephoto-lens camera on NASA's Mars rover Curiosity catch the larger of Mars' two moons, Phobos, passing directly in front of the sun -- the sharpest images of a solar eclipse ever taken at Mars. Phobos does not fully cover the sun, as seen from the surface of Mars, so the solar eclipse is what’s called a ring, or annular, type. A set of three frames from Curiosity's Mast Camera (Mastcam), taken three seconds apart as Phobos eclipsed the sun, is at

China prepares Chang'e-3 spacecraft for a first soft landing on the Moon since 1976

The model of Chang'e-3 on display at the 2012 Zhuhai Airshow. Credit:

China's Chang'e-3 lunar probe is scheduled to be launched at the end of this year for a moon landing mission, the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defence announced on Wednesday. "Chang'e-3 has officially entered its launch stage, following its research and manufacture period," said a statement released by the administration after Wednesday's meeting on the mission. The mission will see a Chinese space probe land on a celestial body for the first time. It will be also the first soft landing on the Moon since 1976, when Soviet probe Luna 24 landed.

Oldest Solar Twin Identified

This image tracks the life of a Sun-like star, from its birth on the left side of the frame to its evolution into a red giant star on the right. On the left the star is seen as a protostar, embedded within a dusty disc of material as it forms. It later becomes a star like our Sun. After spending the majority of its life in this stage, the star's core begins to gradually heat up, the star expands and becomes redder until it transforms into a red giant. Marked on the lower timeline are where our Sun and solar twins 18 Sco and HIP 102152 are in this life cycle. The Sun is 4.6 billion years old and 18 Sco is 2.9 billion years old, while the oldest solar twin is some 8.2 billion years old —  the oldest solar twin ever identified. By studying HIP 102152, we can get a glimpse of what the future holds for our Sun. Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser

An international team led by astronomers in Brazil has used ESO’s Very Large Telescope to identify and study the oldest solar twin known to date. Located 250 light-years from Earth, the star HIP 102152 is more like the Sun than any other solar twin — except that it is nearly four billion years older. This older, but almost identical, twin gives us an unprecedented chance to see how the Sun will look when it ages. The new observations also provide an important first clear link between a star’s age and its lithium content, and in addition suggest that HIP 102152 may be host to rocky terrestrial planets.

National Reconnaissance Office Mission Successfully Launches on World's Largest Rocket

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV Heavy rocket carrying a payload for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) lifts off from Space Launch Complex-6. Designated NROL-65, the mission is in support of national defense. This is ULA’s eighth launch in 2013, the 24th Delta IV mission and the second Delta IV Heavy launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base. Credit: ULA

A United Launch Alliance Delta 4 "Heavy," the most powerful rocket in the U.S. inventory, thundered away from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., Wednesday on a classified mission to boost a National Reconnaissance Office spy satellite into orbit. Made up of three "common core" hydrogen-fueled boosters and a powerful upper stage, the 235-foot-tall Delta 4's trio of RS-68 first-stage engines roared to life at 2:03 p.m. EDT (GMT-4), instantly pushing the rocket away from Space Launch Complex 6 with nearly 2 million pounds of thrust.

SDO Mission Untangles Motion Inside the Sun

Observations by the Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager on NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory show a two-level system of circulation inside the sun. Such circulation is connected to the flip of the sun's north and south magnetic poles that occurs approximately every 11 years. Image Credit: Stanford

Using an instrument on NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, called the Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager, or HMI, scientists have overturned previous notions of how the sun's writhing insides move from equator to pole and back again, a key part of understanding how the dynamo works. Modeling this system also lies at the heart of improving predictions of the intensity of the next solar cycle.

Teamwork Makes Chopper Drop a Success

Crash test dummies inside a full-scale helicopter fuselage dropped from a height of 30 feet at NASA's Langley Research Center had a rough ride. Data from the crash test will take a while to analyze, but engineers say from preliminary observations had some of the occupants been human they might not h Image Credit: NASA Langley / David C. Bowman

Dummies strapped into their seats. Check. Instrumentation and cameras hooked up. Check. Helicopter fuselage ready for lift. Check. After more than two years of preparation and collaboration between NASA, the U.S. Navy, U.S. Army and Federal Aviation Administration, the day had finally come. Thirteen instrumented crash test dummies and two un-instrumented manikins stood, sat or reclined for a potentially rough ride – the Transport Rotorcraft Airframe Crash Testbed full-scale crash test at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Titan May Have Rigid Ice Shell

This image of the surface of Saturn's moon Titan was obtained by the European Space Agency's Huygens Probe on Jan. 14, 2005, after it was delivered to Titan by NASA's Cassini spacecraft. Image Credit: ESA/NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

An analysis of gravity and topography data from the Saturnian moon Titan obtained by NASA's Cassini spacecraft suggests there could be something unexpected about the moon's outer ice shell. The findings, published on Aug. 28 in the journal Nature, suggest that Titan's ice shell could be rigid, and that relatively small topographic features on the surface could be associated with large ice "roots" extending into the underlying ocean. The study was led by planetary scientists Douglas Hemingway and Francis Nimmo at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who used data from Cassini. The researchers were surprised to find a counterintuitive relationship between gravity and topography.

First Danish Astronaut Set for Space Mission

Andreas Mogensen. Credit: ESA - P. Sebirot, 2012

ESA's Danish astronaut Andreas Mogensen has been assigned to be launched on a Soyuz spacecraft from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan in September 2015 for a mission to the International Space Station. This 10-day mission will be Andreas's first flight into space and the first ever space mission by a Danish astronaut. The flight is directly connected to the new era in ISS operations: two experienced spacefarers from the USA and Russia will work on the Station for one year from May 2015. During his stay onboard the ISS, he will conduct a series of experiments preparing future missions and testing new technologies.

Programming error suspected behind scrubbed rocket launch

Epsilon rocket before the scheduled launch on Aug. 27. Credit: NHK

Experts suspect a computer programming error and lax preliminary checks were among the reasons Japan’s newest rocket didn’t get off the ground Tuesday. The computer controlling the launch of the three-stage Epsilon rocket at the Uchinoura Space Center in Kagoshima Prefecture detected an abnormality in the rocket’s position only 19 seconds before its scheduled liftoff scheduled for 1:45 p.m., but it was later found to be normal.

Space Laser To Prove Increased Broadband Possible

Artist's rendering of the LADEE satellite in orbit. Image Credit: NASA

When NASA’s Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration (LLCD) begins operation aboard the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) mission managed by NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., it will attempt to show two-way laser communication beyond Earth is possible, expanding the possibility of transmitting huge amounts of data. This new ability could one day allow for 3-D High Definition video transmissions in deep space to become routine.

Virgin Galactic takes step toward flight license

Credit: Virgin Galactic

Virgin Galactic, the main client of Spaceport America, has taken a step closer to launching passengers to suborbital space from southern New Mexico after a recent move by federal flight officials. The company's application for a license for its commercial space system, which includes a plane and a spaceship, has been officially accepted by the Federal Aviation Administration, Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides said. "It is our application for a license to fly commercial customers to space," he said. "This is the primary license we will require to begin commercial operations."

Russian rocket engine export ban could halt US space program

A RD-180 rocket engine used in the first stages of American rockets Atlas-3 and Atlas-5 is displayed at the Glushko Energomash Research and Production Association, Khimki. (RIA Novosti / Sergey Pyatakov)

Over the last decade, most of NASA’s Atlas V heavy rocket launches performed by the United Launch Alliance (a Boeing/Lockheed Martin joint venture) were carried out using Russian RD-180 dual-nozzle rocket engines, a legacy of the Soviet Buran space shuttle program and its unparalleled rocket booster Energia, which could put 100 tons worth of spacecraft or satellite payloads into orbit.

Static test for Mars mission successful

A replica of India's first spacecraft to Mars on display at the exhibition organised on the sidelines of the 100th Indian Science Congress at Kolkata. Photo: Arunangsu Roy Chowdhury

The Shar scientists have successfully conducted some vital static tests for strap-on motor (PSOM-XL) related to PSLV-C25/Mars mission at Satish Dhawan Space Centre at 4.35 pm on Monday. The mission is scheduled for launch in October this year. Tests were conducted in presence of the ISRO chairman, Dr K. Radhakrishnan. According to Shar officials the PSOM-XL was a one-metre diametre, with length of 13.5 metres and it carries 11.45 tonnes of solid propellant. It was produced in three parts at ISRO’s rocket propellant plant in Trivandrum and they were assembled at Shar for the test.

ESA tightens cooperation with Roscosmos, participation in Russian lunar projects discussed

Soyuz VS01 being transferred at the launch zone in Kourou, French Guyana. Credit: ESA/AP

Two launches of Russian Soyuz rockets will be made from the Kourou spaceport in French Guiana before the end of the current year and four next year, French Space Agency head Jean-Yves Le Gall told RIA Novosti on Tuesday. On September 30, Russia will orbit four 03b Networks satellites to provide broadband Internet access in remote areas, and on November 20 will send up the Gaia telescope for the European Space Agency.

Curiosity Rover Debuts Autonomous Navigation

This mosaic of images from the Navigation Camera (Navcam) on NASA's Mars rover Curiosity shows the scene from the rover's position on the 376th Martian day, or sol, of the mission (Aug. 27, 2013). The images were taken right after Curiosity completed the first drive during which it used autonomous navigation on unknown ground. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA's Mars rover Curiosity has used autonomous navigation for the first time, a capability that lets the rover decide for itself how to drive safely on Mars. This latest addition to Curiosity's array of capabilities will help the rover cover the remaining ground en route to Mount Sharp, where geological layers hold information about environmental changes on ancient Mars. The capability uses software that engineers adapted to this larger and more complex vehicle from a similar capability used by NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity, which is also currently active on Mars.

What stopped India's rocket launch? 750 kg of leaking fuel

GSLV rocket minutes before the launch. Credit: NDTV

When India's Rs. 205-crore space mission was aborted earlier this month, scientists from the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) blamed a fuel leak in the rocket that was meant to place a communications satellite in space. NDTV has now learnt that scientists discovered that 750 kilograms of highly inflammable and explosive fuel had leaked from the engine. The countdown clock was stopped barely 74 minutes before the scheduled lift-off for the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) fitted with a cryogenic engine made in India.

Chelyabinsk meteorite had previous collision or near miss

Fragment of Chelyabinsk meteorite, showing the fusion crust -- the result of a previous collision or near miss with another planetary body or with the sun. Credit: Dr. Victor Sharygin

The Chelyabinsk meteorite either collided with another body in the solar system or came too close to the Sun before it fell to Earth, according to research announced Tuesday 27th August at the Goldschmidt conference in Florence. A team from the Institute of Geology and Mineralogy (IGM) in Novosibirsk have analysed fragments of the meteorite, the main body of which fell to the bottom of the Chebarkul Lake near Chelyabinsk on 15 February this year. Although all of the fragments are composed of the same minerals, the structure and texture of some fragments show that the meteorite had undergone an intensive melting process before it was subjected to extremely high temperatures on entering the Earth's atmosphere.

Colorado works to create its bridge beyond the Final Frontier

Matt Lenda, an aerospace engineering student and LASP employee, works in the command center for NASA mission Kepler under the guidance of Bill Possel, Director of Mission Ooperations and data Systems for LASP. (Photo by Glenn J. Asakawa/University of Colorado)

Colorado is close to the heavens in more ways than one — not only in relative distance, but also from an economic perspective. As the state with the second-largest space economy, Colorado is either the primary or secondary home to more than 160 aerospace companies. And although many of those companies specialize in defense contracting, there are those that push the boundaries of the Final Frontier. “Aerospace is big in Colorado,” said Andy Merritt, chief defense officer at the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance. “That includes crossover — a lot of stuff that would be considered defense-related — but it is an important part of our economy here locally.”

Explore Mars, Discover Earth at the World Space Week 2013


More than twenty organizations spread across four continents will be exploring Mars - and discovering more about Earth in October (4-10) during the World Space Week (WSW). A campaign of networked Mars analog demonstrations is being launched to celebrate WSW 2013. In the most ambitious global outreach and education campaign for WSW to date, teams of researchers, explorers and educators will carry out Mars simulations and tests of rovers, spacesuits and other hardware at locations worldwide.

Green Bank Telescope Secures $1 Million Boost

Green Bank Telescope. Credit:

About a year ago, a National Science Foundation committee proposed cutting funding to several telescopes across the U.S. to pave the way for future projects. Though some of the cuts were expected in this era of budget pressure, others were surprises. Putting on the chopping block the just-13-year-old Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope, the world’s largest fully steerable, single-dish radio antenna, qualified as a surprise. “No other telescope on Earth is competitive with the Green Bank Telescope in any measurable parameter,” Thomas Bania (Boston University) said at the time. Astronomers at astro blogs, such as AstroBetter and Dynamics of Cats, chimed in with dismay at the cuts. A local organization even started a petition to “Save the GBT”.

USAF: Pentagon Must Update Space Policy

Satellites like Lockheed's Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) system are highly capable, but if the Air Force has its way, they would give way to smaller, more dispersed systems. (Lockheed Martin)

Air Force Space Command has released a new white paper laying out its argument for moving towards a new architecture for military space programs. That strategy, known as “disaggregation,” has been promoted for some time by Gen. William Shelton, the head of Space Command. But this document, released Aug. 21, provides the clearest look yet at how the Pentagon views its future space strategy. “The threat environment has changed extraordinarily, and we must adapt critical US capabilities if our operational advantage is to endure,” wrote the uncredited authors of the paper.

Robotics, Science and Spacesuit Tests Aboard Station

Flight Engineer Chris Cassidy checks out the spacesuit that Flight Engineer Luca Parmitano wore during a July 16 spacewalk that was cut short when water leaked into the helmet. Image Credit: NASA TV

The Expedition 36 crew of the International Space Station performed a variety of scientific investigations Tuesday, prepared for the departure of three crewmates and tested a faulty spacesuit that resulted in an abbreviated spacewalk back on July 16. Following the crew’s daily planning conference with flight control teams around the world, Flight Engineer Luca Parmitano powered up the InSPACE-3 experiment for another session. This experiment examines colloidal fluids classified as smart materials, which transition to a solid-like state in the presence of a magnetic field.

Scientists Detect Water Below Moon’s Surface Using Data from India's Chandrayaan-1 Spacecraft

Central peak of Bullialdus crater on the Moon. Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

NASA-funded lunar research has yielded evidence of water locked in mineral grains on the surface of the moon from an unknown source deep beneath the surface. Using data from NASA’s Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3) instrument aboard the Indian Space Research Organization’s Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft, scientists remotely detected magmatic water, or water that originates from deep within the moon’s interior, on the surface of the moon.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Remanzacco Observatory Announces the Discovery of a New Comet

Comet C/2013 P4 (PANSTARRS). Credit:

Cbet nr. 3638, issued on 2013, August 26, announces the discovery of a new comet (discovery magnitude ~20.8) by professional survey F51 Pan-STARRS 1 (Haleakala) on CCD images obtained with 1.8-m Ritchey-Chretien on August 15, 2013. After posting on the Minor Planet Center's NEOCP webpage, other CCD astrometrists have commented on the object's cometary appearance. The new comet has been designated C/2013 P4 (PANSTARRS).

LADEE Entering Final Preparations for Launch, NASA Invites Media to Ames Science Night

Engineers at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia encapsule the LADEE spacecraft into the fairing of the Minotaur V launch vehicle nose-cone. LADEE is the first spacecraft designed, developed, built, integrated and tested at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. Image credit: NASA Wallops / Terry Zaperach

In an attempt to answer prevailing questions about our moon, NASA is making final preparations to launch a probe at 11:27 p.m. EDT Friday, Sept. 6, 2013, from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va. Media are invited to attend NASA Ames Science Night, featuring the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) mission, a showcase of science for the public hosted from 5 to 9 p.m. PDT Friday, Sept. 6, on Shenandoah Plaza in the NASA Research Park at Moffett Field, Calif. Exhibits will be on display and Ames scientists and engineers will be available to speak about LADEE and other NASA programs and projects. Weather permitting, the public may watch a NASA TV broadcast of the LADEE launch on a screen on the lawn of Moffett Field’s Shenandoah Plaza.

Russian government to review aerospace industry reform project on September 4

Proton-M crash. Credit: RIA Novosti

The Russian government will consider a project to reform the aerospace industry on September 4, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin wrote in his Twitter. "The Roskosmos aerospace agency submitted a plan to reform the aerospace industry. We'll review it on September 4," Rogozin wrote. On July 2, the mass media reported that the Russian President had set up a special commission to reform the aerospace industry, following another rocket accident in which a Proton-M booster carrying three Glonass-M satellite deviated from the trajectory immediately after the launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, disintegrated in midair and exploded.

ISRO to assemble another engine for aborted GSLV

GSLV rocket. Credit: ISRO

The Indian space agency will assemble another engine to fly its heavy rocket geosynchronous satellite launch vehicle (GSLV), while packing off the leaking one to its Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre (LPSC) for detailed study, an official said on Tuesday. The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) had called off the launch of its GSLV rocket carrying the communication satellite GSAT-14 Aug 19 after the liquid fuel started leaking like a tap from the rocket's second stage.

NASA Tests Limits of 3-D Printing with Powerful Rocket Engine Check

A 3-D printed rocket part blazes to life during a hot-fire test. Image Credit: NASA/MSFC/David Olive

The largest 3-D printed rocket engine component NASA ever has tested blazed to life Thursday, Aug. 22 during an engine firing that generated a record 20,000 pounds of thrust. This test is a milestone for one of many important advances the agency is making to reduce the cost of space hardware. Innovations like additive manufacturing, or 3-D printing, foster new and more cost-effective capabilities in the U.S. space industry.

Mystery 'meteor' flashes over Canary Islands

Experts say that it was probably a meteor burning up in the Earth's atmosphere. Photo: YouTube

Social media was set ablaze after witnesses reported a light as bright "as if it was daytime" at 10.35pm local time on Sunday over the north of the Canary Islands. A green light "brighter than the day" and lasting three seconds was reported by pilots and witnesses on the ground. The official Twitter account of Spain's Air Traffic Control (@controladores) was the first to break the news, according to The Huffington Post.

ISRO case scuttled cryogenic engine development, says former scientist

Nambi Narayanan. Credit: Youtube

Former ISRO scientist Nambi Narayanan on Monday reiterated before the Kerala High Court that India could have developed a cryogenic engine by 2000 if indiscriminate arrests had not been made by Siby Mathews, former ADGP and head of the SIT of the Kerala Police which initially investigated the ISRO espionage case. Mr. Narayanan and all others arraigned as accused in the case had been discharged on basis of a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) report that the allegations were found to be false.

Cosmosphere Launches Website To View Apollo Engine Conservation Live

F-1 Engines Conservation. Credit:

The Apollo F-1 Conservation Project, commissioned by Bezos Expeditions, is well underway at the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center’s SpaceWorks conservation lab. Public tours of the project are offered Monday through Saturday, every week, to allow visitors to watch the conservation process as it happens and learn the history of the Apollo program and the process behind the recovery and conservation of the F-1 engines that powered project Apollo to the Moon and back.

Launch of Japan's Epsilon Rocket Cancelled

Epsilon rocket on the launch pad minutes before the launch. Credit:

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) cancelled today's launch of the first Epsilon Launch Vehicle (Epsilon-1) with the Spectroscopic Planet Observatory for Recognition of Interaction of Atmosphere (SPRINT-A) onboard from the Uchinoura Space Center, because an automatic stop alarm was issued as an attitude abnormality was detected approximately 19 seconds prior to the liftoff time during the automatic countdown sequence. The launch had been originally scheduled for 1:45:00 p.m. today (Japan Standard Time). JAXA is currently investigating the cause. The rocket remains on the launch pad.

Rocket for MAVEN Mars mission arrives at Cape Canaveral

The Atlas V booster and Centaur upper stage that will launch the next NASA Mars orbiter were unloaded and transported Monday to the Atlas Spaceflight Operations Center. / Tim Shortt/FLORIDA TODAY

With a honk of its horn Monday morning, a flatbed truck rolled off a ship onto a Cape Canaveral Air Force Station wharf carrying the booster that will blast NASA’s next Mars-bound orbiter into space. The United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket’s Centaur upper stage, wrapped in a protective cover, followed close behind. “It’s precious cargo,” observed Capt. Bob Martus of Foss Maritime Co., who safely piloted the two stages aboard ULA’s “Delta Mariner” on a more than 2,000-mile, week-long trip from Decatur, Ala. The rocket will now be prepared for a planned Nov. 18 launch of NASA’s $671 million MAVEN mission.

NASA's Plan To Put a Landsail Rover on Venus

The Zephyr landsail rover. Credit: NASA

Venus is like a reclusive celebrity that gets the public's attention every couple of years, though in the planet's case it's more like every century. One group at NASA wants to get to know the real story behind Venus in a much more intimate setting. Rather than observe the planet from afar, either through Earth's observatories or with satellites and probes, Geoffrey Landis and his team at NASA want to put a sail-powered rover on Venus's surface.

Station Crew Works With Science, Cargo Ships

Flight Engineer Karen Nyberg checks procedures on a laptop computer as she prepares to conduct another session of the InSPACE-3 experiment aboard the International Space Station. Image Credit: NASA TV

The six astronauts and cosmonauts of the International Space Station’s Expedition 36 crew began their week Monday supporting a variety of science experiments, working with cargo ships that keep the station supplied and preparing for the departure of three crewmates. Flight Engineers Chris Cassidy, Karen Nyberg and Luca Parmitano kicked off their workday with routine periodic health evaluations to keep flight surgeons on Earth apprised of the astronauts’ health during their long-duration stays aboard the station.

ALMA observatory halts work amid labour dispute

Radio antennas at the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array have stopped gathering data because of a workers' strike. Credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), C. PADILLA

Less than half a year after the inauguration of a US$1.4-billion radio telescope array in Chile, astronomical observations have ceased because of a labour strike. Work at the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) ground to a halt on 22 August after contract negotiations broke down with the local workers’ union. Many of the 195 striking employees remain at the operations-support facility, a hub more than halfway up the 5,000-metre-high Chajnantor plateau in Chile’s Atacama Desert. Most staff astronomers, who are not part of the union, have left.

Astronaut Gregory H. Johnson Leaves NASA for CASIS

Credit: NASA

NASA astronaut Col. Gregory H. Johnson has left the agency, after a 15-year career that included more than 31 days in space, for a position with the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) - the nonprofit entity selected by NASA to manage the utilization of the International Space Station (ISS) U.S. National Laboratory. Johnson will assume his role effective September 1, 2013. As executive director, Johnson will lead the CASIS organization to identify novel applications and new partnership opportunities advancing use of our nation's orbiting laboratory.

Monday, August 26, 2013

NASA Continues Preparation for SLS Engine Testing at Stennis

A welder at NASA’s Stennis Space Center works on a portion of piping to be installed on the A-1 Test Stand for RS-25 rocket engine testing. Image Credit: NASA/SSC

Think about negotiating an intricate maze, and you begin to appreciate the challenge of designing and fabricating test stand piping for NASA’s RS-25 rocket engine. NASA is meeting that challenge at its Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Miss., where liquid oxygen (LOX), liquid hydrogen and related piping is being produced for RS-25 engine testing on the A-1 test stand. Testing of the core-stage engine for NASA’s new Space Launch System (SLS) is scheduled to begin next spring. The SLS is being developed to carry humans deeper into space than ever before.