Thursday, October 31, 2013

Iran New Satellite Ready for Lift-Off Into Space

Iranian Defense Minister Brigadier General Hossein Dehqan. Credit:

Iranian Defense Minister Brigadier General Hossein Dehqan says the country’s new domestically designed and manufactured satellite is ready to be launched into orbit, and it will be lifted into space in due time. “Presence in space is a strategic issue and indicates the scientific, technological and industrial power of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Dehqan said in the Iranian Persian Gulf island of Kish on Tuesday. He added that Iran enjoys “acceptable potential and capabilities” regarding the manufacture of satellites and satellite carriers as well as lift-off of satellites and their navigation in the space.

Exoplanet Hunters May Find ET by Glut of Alien Corpses

Credit: ESO

Little green men on alien planets may be discovered even once they have died out, especially if their demise was sudden. So suggests a model of our world after the sun becomes a red giant. Earth's grim future emerged last year when Jack O'Malley-James of the University of St Andrews, UK, and colleagues modelled the sun's expansion into a red giant. As Earth heats up in 1 billion years' time, animals and plants die, leaving microbes as the only survivors. As complex life is likely to exist for relatively short periods on alien planets too, this seemed to lower the odds of us finding them before they die out.

'Witch Head' Brews Baby Stars

An infrared portrait of the Witch Head nebula from NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, shows billowy clouds where new stars are brewing. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

A witch appears to be screaming out into space in this new image from NASA's Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE. The infrared portrait shows the Witch Head nebula (IC 2118), named after its resemblance to the profile of a wicked witch. Astronomers say the billowy clouds of the nebula, where baby stars are brewing, are being lit up by massive stars. Dust in the cloud is being hit with starlight, causing it to glow with infrared light, which was picked up by WISE's detectors.

Swarm Mission Launch Postponed

Swarm satellite. Credit: ESA/B. Bergaglio

The launch of ESA’s magnetic field mission from Plesetsk, Russia, has been postponed by about a week. The announcement from the mission’s launch service provider, Eurockot, follows the decision to replace a unit in the Breeze upper stage of the Rockot launcher. Originally scheduled for 14 November, the launch is expected to be delayed by about one week. More details will be given as they become available. The three-satellite Swarm mission aims to unravel one of the most mysterious aspects of our planet: the magnetic field.

Researchers Show How Universe's Violent Youth Seeded Cosmos with Iron

Suzaku explored faint X-ray emission along eight different directions in the Perseus Galaxy Cluster, shown here in false color. Bluer colors indicate fainter X-ray emission. The dashed circle marks the cluster's effective boundary, where new gas is now entering, and is 2.7 degrees wide. Image Credit: NASA/ISAS/DSS/O. Urban et al., MNRAS

New evidence that iron is spread evenly between the galaxies in one of the largest galaxy clusters in the universe supports the theory that the universe underwent a turbulent and violent youth more than 10 billion years ago. That explosive period was responsible for seeding the cosmos with iron and other heavy elements that are critical to life itself. Researchers from the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology (KIPAC), jointly run by Stanford University and the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, shed light on this important era by analyzing 84 sets of X-ray telescope observations from the Japanese-US Suzaku satellite. Their results appear in the Oct. 31 issue of the journal Nature.

New Dark Matter Detector Sends First Data

A mile underground, graduate student Jeremy Mock examines the xenon tank at the heart of the LUX dark matter detector. (Matt Kapust/Sanford Lab)

Results from the first run of the Large Underground Xenon experiment, operating a mile underground in the Black Hills of South Dakota, have proven the detector's sensitivity and ruled out some possible candidates for a dark matter particle. Initial results from 85 days worth of accumulated data were announced Wednesday, Oct. 30, at a seminar at the Sanford Underground Research Facility in Lead, S.D. "LUX is already producing the world's best results and excluding parameter space for a dark matter particle," said Matthew Szydagis, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, Davis, Department of Physics. Szydagis is responsible for coordinating data analysis among the members of the LUX team.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

First Earth-Sized Rocky Exoplanet Discovered

Artist's impression of the planet Kepler-78b and its host star. Art by Karen Teramura (UHIfA)

A team of astronomers has found the first Earth-sized planet outside the solar system that has a rocky composition like that of Earth. This exoplanet, known as Kepler-78b, orbits its star very closely every 8.5 hours, making it much too hot to support life. The results are being published in the journal Nature. This Earth-sized planet was discovered using data from NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope, and confirmed and characterized with the W. M. Keck Observatory. Every 8.5 hours the planet passes in front of its host star, blocking a small fraction of the starlight. These telltale dimmings were picked up by researchers analyzing the Kepler data.

Sun Emits Fourth X-class Flare in a Week

The sun emitted a significant solar flare – its fourth X-class flare since Oct. 23, 2013 -- peaking at 5:54 p.m. on Oct. 29, 2013. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory captured the flare in this image, which shows light in wavelengths of both 304 and193 Angstroms. Image Credit: NASA/SDO

The sun emitted a significant solar flare – its fourth X-class flare since Oct. 23, 2013 -- peaking at 5:54 p.m. on Oct. 29, 2013. This flare is classified as an X2.3 class flare. "X-class" denotes the most intense flares, while the number provides more information about its strength. An X2 is twice as intense as an X1, an X3 is three times as intense, etc. Solar flares are powerful bursts of radiation.

Black Holes Shrink But Endure


Old black holes never die, they just fade away. So says veteran cosmologist George Ellis of the University of Cape Town in South Africa, who suggests that the cosmos may be littered with an untold number of shrunken black hole remnants. Ellis’ speculative report, posted on 17 October on the preprint server arXiv (G. F. R. Ellis; 2013), seems to undermine the seminal work of Stephen Hawking, a cosmologist at the University of Cambridge, UK. In 1974, Hawking calculated that, owing to quantum effects, black holes are not entirely black: some particles escape the black hole’s gravitational barrier, known as the event horizon. For a solar-mass black hole, these particles, known as Hawking radiation, would be emitted over the course of 1067 years until the object vanished without a trace (S. W. Hawking Nature 248, 30–31; 1974).

Suborbital Spaceport in Wales Feasible

Spaceport America

The UK should focus on the nascent sub-orbital spaceflight sector and become a future hub, opening its own spaceports, if it wants to make the best out of the emerging technology, think tank believes. Speaking at the International Space Commerce Summit in London Tuesday, Dan Lewis, Energy Policy Adviser at the Institute of Directors, said that despite the high population density and the extremely dense air-traffic in its airspace, the UK should seize the opportunity brought about by companies such as Virgin Galactic, XCOR or Blue Origin.

Damaged Dream Chaser Can be Fixed and Program to Move Forward with Flight Tests

Left landing gear failed to deploy as private Dream Chaser spaceplane approaches runway at Edwards Air Force Base, Ca. during first free flight landing test on Oct. 26, 2013 – in this screenshot. Credit: Sierra Nevada Corp.

The privately built Dream Chaser ‘space taxi’ that was damaged after landing during its otherwise successful first ever free-flight glide test on Saturday, Oct 26, is repairable and the program will live on to see another day, says the developer Sierra Nevada Corp., (SNC). The Dream Chaser engineering test vehicle skidded off the runway and landed sideways when its left landing gear failed to deploy at the last second during touchdown on runway 22L at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., said Mark Sirangelo, corporate vice president for SNC Space Systems, at a media teleconference.

Curiosity Rover Approaches 'Cooperstown'

The low ridge that appears as a dark band below the horizon in the center of this scene is a Martian outcrop called "Cooperstown," a possible site for contact inspection with tools on the robotic arm of NASA's Mars rover Curiosity. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA's Mars rover Curiosity completed its first two-day autonomous drive Monday, bringing the mobile laboratory to a good vantage point for pictures useful in selecting the next target the rover will reach out and touch. When it drives autonomously, the rover chooses a safe route to designated waypoints by using its onboard computer to analyze stereo images that it takes during pauses in the drive. Prior to Monday, each day’s autonomous drive came after a segment earlier that day that was exactly charted by rover team members using images sent to Earth. The Sunday-Monday drive was the first time Curiosity ended an autonomous driving segment, then continued autonomously from that same point the next day.

Ed Mango Steps Down as Head of NASA's Commercial Crew Program

Ed Mango. Credit: NASA

The Kennedy Space Center manager in charge of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program left that position last week, NASA disclosed Tuesday. Responding to media inquiries, NASA said Ed Mango had stepped down “to tend to personal matters,” effective Oct. 21. Leadership of the important human spaceflight program is now under the control of Mango’s deputy, Kathryn Lueders, who is based at Johnson Space Center in Houston and is serving as the acting program manager. A NASA spokesman said the agency would locate a permanent replacement at KSC but provided no timeframe.

Countdown for India's Mars Mission to Begin on Sunday

Mars Orbiter Mission spacecraft. Credit: ISRO

Countdown for India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) starts on Sunday as ISRO gears up for the country’s first inter-planetary venture, a shining star in the country’s space programme. The launch of Mars Orbiter spacecraft is scheduled on November five at 2:36 pm IST onboard PSLV-C25 from Satish Dhawan Space Centre SHAR, Sriharikota, which means that it’s going to be a 56-hours-plus countdown, which commences at 6 am on Sunday. Bangalore-headquartered Indian Space Research Organisation also plans to undertake a launch rehearsal on Thursday (October 31). “Almost all the steps to be carried out during the countdown are checked during the rehearsal”, an ISRO official said. “Everything is progressing well“.

Martian Box of Delights

This spherical container has been engineered to house the most scientifically valuable cargo imaginable – samples brought back from the Red Planet. Weighing less than 5 kg, this 23 cm-diameter sphere has been designed to keep martian samples in pristine condition at a temperature of under  -10°C throughout their long journey back to Earth. The container seen here hosts 11 sealable receptacles, including one set aside for a sample of martian air. Credit: ESA-Anneke Le Floc'h

This spherical container has been engineered to house the most scientifically valuable cargo imaginable: samples brought back from the Red Planet. Still probably many years in the future and most likely international in nature, a Mars sample-return mission is one of the most challenging space ventures possible for robotic exploration. A robust, multifunctional sample container is an essential link in the long technical chain necessary to make such a mission successful. Weighing less than 5 kg, this 23 cm-diameter sphere is designed to keep martian samples in pristine condition at under –10°C throughout their long journey back to Earth.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

China Launches Remote-Sensing Satellite

The Yaogan XVIII remote-sensing satellite is launched on the back of a Long March 2C carrier rocket from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in Taiyuan, capital of north China's Shanxi Province, Oct. 29, 2013. Successfully launched on Tuesday, the satellite will be used to conduct scientific experiments, carry out land surveys, monitor crop yields and aid in preventing and reducing natural disasters. The launch marked the 183rd mission for the Long March rocket family. (Xinhua/Yan Yan)

The Yaogan 18 remote-sensing satellite was successfully launched on Tuesday from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in north China's Shanxi Province, according to a press release from the center. The satellite was launched at 10:50 a.m. on the back of a Long March 2C carrier rocket, according to the center. The satellite will be used to conduct scientific experiments, carry out land surveys, monitor crop yields and aid in preventing and reducing natural disasters.

Watching Earth’s Winds From the Space Station

Artist's rendering of NASA's ISS-RapidScat instrument (inset), which will launch to the International Space Station in 2014 to measure ocean surface wind speed and direction and help improve weather forecasts, including hurricane monitoring. It will be installed on the end of the station's Columbus laboratory. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Johnson Space Center

Built with spare parts and without a moment to spare, the International Space Station (ISS)-RapidScat isn't your average NASA Earth science mission. Short for Rapid Scatterometer, ISS-RapidScat will monitor ocean winds from the vantage point of the space station. It will join a handful of other satellite scatterometer missions that make essential measurements used to support weather and marine forecasting, including the tracking of storms and hurricanes. It will also help improve our understanding of how interactions between Earth's ocean and atmosphere influence our climate.

China Providing Space Training

In 2010, China Great Wall Industry Corporation (CGWIC), and the Bolivian Space Agency (ABE) signed the Contract for Tupak Katari Communications Satellite Program in La Paz, the administrative capital city of Bolivia. Mr. Ivan Zambrana, Executive General Director of ABE, and Mr. Yin Liming, President of CGWIC, executed the contract as the representative of each party. Credit:

China is providing training for space professionals from developing economies, enhancing their capacity in satellite operations and space technology application. "Hundreds of space engineers and scientists from several countries including Pakistan and Nigeria have received training in China since 2005," Li Lan, deputy general manager of the communications satellite division of China Great Wall Industry Corp, said on Monday. China Great Wall Industry Corp is the country's only commercial provider of international launch services and satellite in-orbit delivery. The latest training was provided to 35 Bolivian space experts, who completed their studies on Monday.

Ocean Used to Wash Martian Shores

This 23 March, 2004 NASA Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) Mars Orbiter Camera (MOC) image shows a crater in Utopia Planitia on Mars. (AFP/NASA)

There used to be an ocean on Mars about three billion years ago and its remains can still be observed, Russian scientists said. “Our studies have shown that an ocean existed in the Utopia Planitia region on the Red Planet,” Mikhail Ivanov from Space Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences told ITAR-TASS news agency. The glaciation of the ocean began during the Hesperian Period, which lasted on Mars about 3.5 – 2.9 billion years ago, the planetologist said.  “At that time, according to our hypothesis, the planet had constant hydrosphere and in the Utopia Planitia region there was an ocean, which was a rounded basin of impact origin,” he explained.

A Ghostly Trio from Spitzer Space Telescope

This trio of ghostly images from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope shows the disembodied remains of dying stars called planetary nebulas. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Harvard-Smithsonian CfA

In the spirit of Halloween, scientists are releasing a trio of stellar ghosts caught in infrared light by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. All three spooky structures, called planetary nebulas, are in fact material ejected from dying stars. As death beckoned, the stars' wispy bits and pieces were blown into outer space. "Some might call the images haunting," said Joseph Hora of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Cambridge, Mass., principal investigator of the Spitzer observing program. "We look to the pictures for a sense of the history of the stars’ mass loss, and to learn how they evolved over time."

NASA Prepares to Launch First Mission to Explore Martian Atmosphere

Inside the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, engineers and technicians perform a spin test of the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution, or MAVEN, spacecraft. The operation is designed to verify that MAVEN is properly balanced as it spins during the initial mission activities. Credit: NASA

A NASA spacecraft that will examine the upper atmosphere of Mars in unprecedented detail is undergoing final preparations for a scheduled 1:28 p.m. EST Monday, Nov. 18 launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution mission (MAVEN) will examine specific processes on Mars that led to the loss of much of its atmosphere. Data and analysis could tell planetary scientists the history of climate change on the Red Planet and provide further information on the history of planetary habitability.

Is Europa Too Prickly to Land On?

A field of penitentes in Chile -- could the same features on the Jovian moon Europa pose a challenge for surface missions? Credit: ESO

A deadly bed of icy javelins could be awaiting any spacecraft that tries to land on some parts of the ice-covered world Europa, say researchers who have carefully modeled the ice processes at work on parts of the Jovian moon to detect features beyond the current low resolution images. If the prediction of long vertical blades of ice is correct, it will not only help engineers design a lander to tame or avoid the sabers, but also help explain a couple of nagging mysteries about the strange moon. Currently, the very best images of Europa only see 10 meters per pixel, at best, said Daniel Hobley of the University of Colorado. That means that if giant ice daggers do exist, they could still be several meters long and still escape detection.

Preserving the Legacy of the X-ray Universe

Collage: NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory has released eight never-before-seen images from its archive. The Chandra Data Archive plays a central role in the Chandra mission by enabling the astronomical community. Image Credit: NASA/CXC/SAO

Every year, October is designated as American Archive Month. While many people may think “archive” means only dusty books and letters, there are, in fact, many other types of important archives. This includes the use of archives for major telescopes and observatories like NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory. The Chandra Data Archive (CDA) plays a central role in the mission by enabling the astronomical community – as well as the general public – access to data collected by the observatory. The primary role of the CDA is to store and distribute data, which the CDA does with the help of powerful search engines. The CDA is one of the legacies of the Chandra mission that will serve both the scientific community and the public for decades to come.

United Nations to Adopt Asteroid Defense Plan

When a meteor exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia in February, the world’s space agencies found out along with the rest of us, on Twitter and YouTube. That, says former astronaut Ed Lu, is unacceptable—and the United Nations agrees. Last week the General Assembly approved a set of measures that Lu and other astronauts have recommended to protect the planet from the dangers of rogue asteroids. The U.N. plans to set up an “International Asteroid Warning Group” for member nations to share information about potentially hazardous space rocks. If astronomers detect an asteroid that poses a threat to Earth, the U.N.’s Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space will help coordinate a mission to launch a spacecraft to slam into the object and deflect it from its collision course.

Orion Spacecraft Comes to Life

Technicians work inside the Orion crew module being built at Kennedy Space Center to prepare it for its first power on. Turning the avionics system inside the capsule on for the first time marks a major milestone in Orion’s final year of preparations before its first mission, Exploration Flight Test Image Credit: Lockheed Martin

NASA's first-ever deep space craft, Orion, has been powered on for the first time, marking a major milestone in the final year of preparations for flight. Orion's avionics system was installed on the crew module and powered up for a series of systems tests at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida last week. Preliminary data indicate Orion's vehicle management computer, as well as its innovative power and data distribution system -- which use state-of-the-art networking capabilities -- performed as expected. All of Orion's avionics systems will be put to the test during its first mission, Exploration Flight Test-1(EFT-1), targeted to launch in the fall of 2014.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Historic Demonstration Proves Laser Communication Possible

On Oct. 18, 2013, the Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration (LLCD) made history, transmitting data from lunar orbit to Earth at a record-breaking rate. Image Credit: NASA Goddard

In the early morning hours of Oct. 18, NASA’s Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration (LLCD) made history, transmitting data from lunar orbit to Earth at a rate of 622 Megabits-per-second (Mbps). That download rate is more than six times faster than previous state-of-the-art radio systems flown to the moon. “It was amazing how quickly we were able to acquire the first signals, especially from such a distance,” said Don Cornwell, LLCD manager. “I attribute this success to the great work accomplished over the years by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Lincoln Laboratory (MIT/LL) and their partnership with NASA.”

First Scottish-Built Satellite UKube-1 to Launch in 2014

UKube-1 satellite. Credit: Scottish Government

A date has been set for the launch of the first satellite to be built in Scotland. UKube-1 will begin its journey to Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan this week. The satellite will then be launched on 10 February next year aboard a Russian Soyuz-2 rocket. UKube-1 is the UK Space Agency's first CubeSat mission. It is relatively small satellite but it will pack in several experiments. These include FunCube, designed to engage school pupils in space, electronics, physics and radio.

Sun Continues to Emit Solar Flares

An X1.0-class flare exploded off the right side of the sun, peaking at 10:03 p.m. EDT on Oct. 27, 2013. This image was captured by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory in the 131 Angstrom wavelength, which is particularly good for showing solar flares and is typically colorized in teal. Image Credit: NASA/SDO

After emitting its first significant solar flares since June 2013 earlier in the week, the sun continued to produce mid-level and significant solar flares on Oct. 27 and Oct. 28, 2013. Solar flares are powerful bursts of radiation. Harmful radiation from a flare cannot pass through Earth's atmosphere to physically affect humans on the ground, however -- when intense enough -- they can disturb the atmosphere in the layer where GPS and communications signals travel.

Looking Toward the Limb

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

Another day, another beautiful view of Mercury's horizon. In this scene, which was acquired looking from the shadows toward the sunlit side of the planet, a 120-km (75 mi.) impact crater stands out near the center. Emanating from this unnamed crater are striking chains of secondary craters, which gouged linear tracks radially away from the crater. While this crater is not especially fresh (its rays have faded into the background), it does appear to have more prominent secondary crater chains than many of its peers.

Ten Candidate Names for China's First Moon Rover After Global Poll

The model of China's first moon rover. Credit:

Ten possible names for China's first moon rover, likely to be launched in December, have come out after a month-long online poll and debate of a jury board. "Yutu," or jade hare in Chinese, tops the list while "Tansuo," or explore, and "Lanyue," or catch moon, came at the second and third places, said Sunday's Beijing Times. Chinese at home and abroad were wooed to submit proposals for the name of the lunar rover at and from Sept. 25 to Oct. 25.

University of North Dakota Starts a Ten Day Lunar Habitat Experiment

University of North Dakota Starts a Ten Day Lunar Habitat Experiment. Credit:

A ten day lunar habitat experiment started Sunday at the University of North Dakota. Throughout the next week and half three University of North Dakota students will live in a lunar habitat, working with and testing a variety of space equipment. Travis Nelson/Mission Commander: “The significance of this is a step towards the future of space exploration and the advancement of science.” The trial is part of the university's NASA-funded NDX Planetary Exploration System. UND has been designing, planning and building the system which includes the following: an inflatable habitat, rover and space suits.

“Albert Einstein” Completes Mission at International Space Station

ATV-4 undocking. Credit: NASA

The European Space Agency’s fourth Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV-4), also known as the “Albert Einstein,” undocked from the aft port of the International Space Station’s Zvezda service module at 4:55 a.m. EDT Monday. Its departure sets the stage for the relocation of a Soyuz spacecraft currently docked at the station and the arrival of three new crew members. Expedition 37 Flight Engineers Luca Parmitano and Oleg Kotov, who together closed up the hatches to the ATV-4 Friday, monitored the automated departure from a control panel inside Zvezda, ready to take control of the process if needed. Meanwhile Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin photographed the departing space freighter to capture imagery of its docking assembly and a set of sensors at the forward end of the spacecraft. At the time of undocking, the station was orbiting about 260 miles above Kazakhstan.

ISRO 'Not Engaged in Space Race with China'

Scientists at the spacecraft control centre in Bangalore. Credit:

Indian Space Research Organisation Chairman K. Radhakrishnan does not believe the November 5 ‘desi’ Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) will fuel a space race with China which has not yet attempted such a venture to the red planet. Mr. Radhakrishnan, Secretary in the Department of Space and Chairman of Space Commission, said each country — whether it’s India, the US, Russia or China — had their own priorities. “There is no race with anybody. If you look at anybody, they have their own direction. So, I don’t find a place for race with somebody. But I would say we are always on race with ourselves to excel in areas that we have chalked out for ourselves,” he told PTI here in an interview.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Chinese Carrier Rocket Taken to Xichang Space Center to Launch Lunar Rover

Chinese Carrier Rocket Taken to Xichang Space Center to Launch Lunar Rover. Credit: CNTV

A Long March-3B carrier rocket is being transported towards the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China, after left Beijing Sunday morning, to prepare for the upcoming launch of Chang'e-3 moon probe. The carrier rocket left the capital aboard a train and is scheduled to reach the launch center on Nov. 1, said a statement from the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense.

Meteor Sighted Over Kansas

Credit: Leader&Times

A large, vibrant meteor lit up sky over Liberal early Friday morning, and one man who witnessed the meteor was impressed. While dodging traffic turning into National Beef’s north entrance at Eighth Street and U.S. Highway 54 this morning, Leader & Times Managing Editor Larry Phillips witnessed a large meteorite streaking through the sky just west of Liberal. “Just as I was coming into town – at 65 mph – as always, two eastbound cars turned right in front of me onto Eighth Street,” Phillips said. “I hit my bright lights and my brakes.

Soyuz TMA-11M Prime and Back-Up Crews Arrive at Baikonur

Soyuz TMA-11M Prime crew at Baikonur. Credit:

The prime crew of International Space Station Expedition 38/39 and the backup crew flew out from Chkalovsky airport located near Moscow and arrived at Baikonur, Kazakhstan on Saturday, the press secretary of the Cosmonaut Training Centre, Irina Rogova, told Itar-Tass. Cosmonauts traditionally are carried by two planes to the space launch centre. The first plane with Russian Mikhail Tyurin, NASA astronaut Richard Mastracchio and Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata aboard took off at 10:00 Moscow time, and the second plane with the backup crewmembers -- Maxim Surayev, Gregory Wiseman and Alexander Gerst -- took off at 10:20.

Dream Chaser Spaceship Damaged by Crash Landing in California

An Erickson Air-Crane helicopter lifts Sierra Nevada Corporation's Dream Chaser flight vehicle during a captive-carry flight test on Aug. 22, 2013. Credit: NASA/Carla Thomas

A test article of the lifting body Dream Chaser spaceship built by Sierra Nevada Corp., one of several companies receiving NASA funding to develop a commercial space taxi, made a crash landing on a runway at California's Edwards Air Force Base on Saturday, sources and news reports said. Engineers blamed the mishap on a problem during deployment of the Dream Chaser's left landing gear, which is derived the main gear used by the U.S. Air Force's F-5E Tiger fighter jet. The test flight over the Mojave Desert was conducted autonomously - without a pilot in the cockpit - after the Dream Chaser's release from a Sikorsky S-64 helicopter operated by Erickson Air Crane at 11:10 a.m. Pacific time (2:10 p.m. EDT; 1810 GMT), according to Sierra Nevada.

Russia Plans to Spend $22M on Soyuz-2 Launch Pad

The newly appointed head of Roscosmos, Oleg Ostapenko speaks at the Vostochny spaceport construction site. Credit:

Russia’s Federal Space Agency, Roscosmos, has announced a tender for construction of launch facilities for Soyuz-2 carrier rockets at the future Vostochny spaceport, being built in Russia’s Far East. The tender, worth 695 million rubles (some $22 million), stipulates the completion of construction by November 25, 2015. The newly appointed head of Roscosmos, Oleg Ostapenko, said Friday that the Vostochny project included construction of two launch pads: one for Soyuz-2 and another for Angara-family carrier rockets.

ATV-4 Mission Comes to an End

ATV Albert Einstein, Europe’s supply and support ferry, docked with the International Space Station on 15 June 2013, some ten days after its launch from Europe's Spaceport in French Guiana. In this image, ATV's four solar panel arrays can be seen along with the vertical antenna on top. This antenna is the ‘proximity boom’ that is used to communicate with the Station. Credit: ESA/NASA

ESA’s supply and support ferry ATV Albert Einstein has served the International Space Station faithfully since it was launched from Europe’s spaceport in French Guiana in June. Its mission comes to an end next week when it undocks on Monday and enters Earth’s atmosphere five days later. Albert Einstein is the fourth in the series of ESA’s Automated Transfer Vehicles that delivers supplies to the Station, reboosts its orbit and frees up space on the orbital outpost when it undocks with waste.

ILS Proton Successfully Launches the Sirius FM-6 Satellite

ILS Proton Successfully Launches the Sirius FM-6 Satellite. Credit:

International Launch Services (ILS), successfully carried the Sirius FM-6 satellite, built by SSL, into orbit Saturday on an ILS Proton for Sirius XM Radio Inc. The ILS Proton Breeze M vehicle launched from Pad 39 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome at 00:09 yesterday local time (18:09 GMT and 14:09 EDT on October 25). The first three stages of the Proton used a standard ascent profile to place the orbital unit (Breeze M upper stage and the Sirius FM-6 satellite) into a sub-orbital trajectory. From this point in the mission, the Breeze M performed planned mission maneuvers to advance the orbital unit first to a circular parking orbit, then to an intermediate orbit, followed by a transfer orbit, and finally to a geostationary transfer orbit.

New Horizons Spacecraft on the Path to Pluto, 5 AU and Closing

New Horizons Spacecraft on the Path to Pluto, 5 AU and Closing. Credit:

Pluto isn’t quite the next exit on New Horizons’ voyage through the outer solar system, but the destination is definitely getting closer. Today the NASA spacecraft speeds to within five astronomical units (AU) of Pluto – which is less than five times the distance between the Earth and the sun, or about 460 million miles. "It's exciting to be closing in on the Pluto system,” says Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator from Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, Colo. “The encounter begins in January 2015 – just over 14 months from now. You can really feel the energy level rising on this mission!"

Russia Mulls Development of New Super-Heavy Carrier Rocket

Oleg Ostapenkо © RIA Novosti. Dmitry Astakhov

Russia’s Federal Space Agency, Roscosmos, is to discuss with leading Russian scientists development of a new launch vehicle capable of carrying up payloads to 70 tons, its head said Friday. “We will analyze and use all the existing potential…to choose the optimal solution [for the super-heavy rocket],” newly-appointed Roscosmos chief Oleg Ostapenko told reporters. The results of the discussions will be used to outline the design and technical characteristics of the rocket, including its environmental safety.

MAVEN Spacecraft Fueled for Flight to Mars

Inside the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, engineers and technicians perform a spin test of the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution, or MAVEN, spacecraft. The operation is designed to verify that MAVEN is properly balanced as it spins during the initial mission activities. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

At Kennedy Space Center on Friday, NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft was fueled for its mission to Mars, which is scheduled to begin with a Nov. 18 blastoff from Cape Canaveral on an Atlas V rocket. Inside the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility, Lockheed Martin personnel planned to load the Mars orbiter with 431 gallons of highly toxic hydrazine propellant. The propellant will help MAVEN stay on course to reach orbit around Mars next September, complete a one-year science mission and then serve as a communications relay for rovers on the surface.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

China Launches Experimental Satellite Shijian-16

China launches experimental satellite Shijian-16. Credit:

China successfully launched its Shijian-16 satellite for space research and experiments Friday, the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center said. The satellite was boosted by a Long March-4B carrier rocket at 11:50, according to the center in northwest China. Shijian-16 is used mainly for conducting space environment exploration and technological experiments. Friday's launch marked the 182nd launch boosted by a Long March rocket. Shijian means "practice" in Chinese.

Carbon Worlds May be Waterless, Finds NASA Study

This artist's concept illustrates the fate of two different planets: the one on the left is similar to Earth, made up largely of silicate-based rocks with oceans coating its surface. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Planets rich in carbon, including so-called diamond planets, may lack oceans, according to NASA-funded theoretical research. Our sun is a carbon-poor star, and as result, our planet Earth is made up largely of silicates, not carbon. Stars with much more carbon than the sun, on the other hand, are predicted to make planets chock full of carbon, and perhaps even layers of diamond. By modeling the ingredients in these carbon-based planetary systems, the scientists determined they lack icy water reservoirs thought to supply planets with oceans.

Sun Emits Third Solar Flare in 2 Days

This image of a second solar flare on Oct. 25, 2013, was captured by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, or SDO, and shows a blend of light in wavelengths of 193 and 131 Angstroms. The flare, an X2.1, appears as the bright flash on the left. Image Credit: NASA/SDO/GSFC

The sun emitted a significant solar flare, peaking at 4:01 a.m. EDT on Oct. 25, 2013. This flare is classified as an X1.7 class flare. "X-class" denotes the most intense flares, while the number provides more information about its strength. An X2 is twice as intense as an X1, an X3 is three times as intense, etc. In the past, X-class flares of this intensity have caused degradation or blackouts of radio communications for about an hour. Another solar flare erupted from the same area of the sun on Friday, which peaked at 11:03 a.m. EDT. This flare is classified as an X2.1 class.

A Baby Step To Learning About Saturn’s Unique Moon

A concept drawing of the mission, where many Super Ball Bots could be deployed and bounce to a landing before moving and exploring the surface. Credit: NASA

It was a baby’s toy, of all things, that sparked a new spacecraft design concept to explore the murky surface of one of Saturn's moons. Adrian Agogino and Vytas Sunspiral, who both work in the Intelligent Systems Division at NASA Ames Research Center, were batting around a "tensegrity" in the office a few years ago. Similar to a bicycle wheel, but with more corners to it, a tensegrity shape has a system of wires and cables that deform when you press on it, then spring back when the pressure is released. This makes it perfect for small children to bash the toys against their head, other people, or the floor without causing damage. The toy fell to the ground, sparking the question: why not use that design to land on Titan?

ALMA Reveals Ghostly Shape of ‘Coldest Place in the Universe’

The Boomerang Nebula, called the “coldest place in the Universe,” reveals its true shape with ALMA. The background blue structure, as seen in visible light with the Hubble Space Telescope, shows a classic double-lobe shape with a very narrow central region. ALMA’s resolution and ability to see the cold molecular gas reveals the nebula’s more elongated shape, as seen in red.  Credit: Bill Saxton; NRAO/AUI/NSF; NASA/Hubble; Raghvendra Sahai

At a cosmologically crisp one degree Kelvin (minus 458 degrees Fahrenheit), the Boomerang Nebula is the coldest known object in the Universe – colder, in fact, than the faint afterglow of the Big Bang, which is the natural background temperature of space. Astronomers using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) telescope have taken a new look at this intriguing object to learn more about its frigid properties and to determine its true shape, which has an eerily ghost-like appearance. As originally observed with ground-based telescopes, this nebula appeared lopsided, which is how it got its name. Later observations with the Hubble Space Telescope revealed a bow-tie-like structure. The new ALMA data, however, reveal that the Hubble image tells only part of the story, and the twin lobes seen in that image may actually be a trick of the light as seen at visible wavelengths.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Seven-Planet Solar System Discovered

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Astronomers may have identified one of the richest planetary systems yet. The discovery of a seventh planet around the dwarf star KIC 11442793 could be a record, according to two separate teams of researchers. The system bears some similarities to our own, but all seven planets orbit much closer to their host star, which lies some 2,500 light-years from Earth. The crowded solar system is described in two papers published on the pre-print server One of the identifications was made by volunteers using the Planet Hunters website. The site was set up to allow volunteers to sift through the public data from NASA's Kepler space telescope - which was launched to search for so-called exoplanets - worlds orbiting distant stars.

Impact Risk Hiked for 400-Meter-Wide Asteroid 2013 TV135

Potentially Hazardous Asteroid 2013 TV135: 20 Oct. 2013. Credit:

NASA has upgraded the impact risk for a massive asteroid recently discovered by Ukrainian observers that will pass close to the Earth in 2032, although a collision remains unlikely. According to an update on NASA’s Near Earth Object Program site, the impact risk is now 1 in 9,090; up from 1 in 63,000 at the time the asteroid, identified as 2013 TV135, was discovered. However, the updated figures still mean that the chance of the asteroid completing a safe flyby is 99.989 percent, slightly down from 99.992 percent in the original estimate.

NASA's Great Observatories Begin Deepest Ever Probe of the Universe

Pandora's Cluster (Abell 2744). Credit: NASA, ESA, and R. Dupke (Eureka Scientific, Inc.), et al.

NASA's Great Observatories are teaming up to look deeper into the universe than ever before. With a boost from natural "zoom lenses" found in space, they should be able to uncover galaxies that are as much as 100 times fainter than what the Hubble, Spitzer, and Chandra space telescopes can typically see. This ambitious collaborative program is called The Frontier Fields. Astronomers will spend the next three years peering at six massive clusters of galaxies. Researchers are interested not only as to what's inside the clusters, but also what's behind them. The gravitational fields of the clusters brighten and magnify distant background galaxies that are so faint they would otherwise be unobservable. The clusters themselves are among the most massive assemblages of matter known.

SpaceX Completes Review of 2014 Commercial Crew Abort Test

The SpaceX Dragon commercial cargo craft, as it is about to be grappled by the Canadarm2 robotic arm at the International Space Station in May 2012. Credit: NASA

In preparation for a summer 2014 test, NASA partner Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) recently laid out its plan to demonstrate the Dragon spacecraft's ability to carry astronauts to safety in the event of an in-flight emergency. This review of the in-flight abort test plan provided an assessment of the Dragon's SuperDraco engines, the software that would issue the abort command, and the interface between the Dragon spacecraft and the Falcon 9 rocket on which the spacecraft will be launched.

NASA Releases Movie of Sun's Canyon of Fire

Images of a gigantic filament eruption on the sun were captured on Sept. 29-30, 2013, by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, or SDO. Image Credit: NASA/SDO

A magnetic filament of solar material erupted on the sun in late September, breaking the quiet conditions in a spectacular fashion. The 200,000 mile long filament ripped through the sun's atmosphere, the corona, leaving behind what looks like a canyon of fire. The glowing canyon traces the channel where magnetic fields held the filament aloft before the explosion. Visualizers at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. combined two days of satellite data to create a short movie of this gigantic event on the sun.

Milky Way Galaxy Is Fluttering Like a Flag

The Milky Way Over Devils Tower, Wyoming, USA. Credit & Copyright: Wally Pacholka (TWAN)

Our galaxy seems to be more milkshake than Milky Way, opening up a fresh cosmic mystery. A three-dimensional map of the speeds and distances of thousands of stars suggests that they are all shaken up and that the galaxy is undulating up and down, but no one knows why. The wavy motion could be driven by previous collisions with smaller galaxies or by clumps of dark matter. Figuring out the cause will tell us more about the Milky Way's history and will inform future surveys of our galactic home.

Sun Emits a Mid-level Solar Flare

NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory or SDO, captured this image on the sun of an M9.4-class solar flare, which peaked at 8:30 pm EDT on Oct. 23, 2013. The image displays light in the wavelength of 131 Angstroms, which is good for viewing the intense heat of a solar flare and typically colored teal. Image Credit: NASA/SDO

The sun emitted a mid-level solar flare that peaked at 8:30 pm EDT on Oct. 23, 2013. This flare is classified as an M9.4 flare, on a scale from M1 to M9.9. This rating puts it at the very top of the scale for M class flares, which are the weakest flares that can cause some space weather effects near Earth. In the past, they have caused brief radio blackouts at the poles. The next highest level is X-class, which denotes the most intense flares.

Russia’s 1st Private Space Satellite Set for Launch

Founded in 2011, Dauria, which is headquartered in Munich, is part of the space cluster at the Skolkovo Innovation Center on the outskirts of Moscow. ©

The first private Russian space satellite is set to launch in February and will leverage commonly used “cloud computing” and mobile phone technology to generate potentially huge profits for its investors, The Wall Street Journal reported. “In 2015 we are anticipating a certain percentage of revenue coming from the cloud platform,” Ilya Golubovich, a venture capitalist whose firm has invested $20 million in the satellite’s manufacturer Dauria, told The Wall Street Journal.

A Glimpse of the Violent Past of Milky Way's Giant Black Hole

Sagittarius A*, or Sgr A*, the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way galaxy. Credit: NASA

Researchers using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory have found evidence that the normally dim region very close to the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way Galaxy flared up with at least two luminous outbursts in the past few hundred years. This discovery comes from a new study of rapid variations in the X-ray emission from gas clouds surrounding the supermassive black hole, a.k.a. Sagittarius A*, or Sgr A* for short. The scientists show that the most probable interpretation of these variations is that they are caused by light echoes.

President Barack Obama Recognizes NASA Employees' Public Service

President Barack Obama congratulates William Borucki on being a finalist for the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal in the East Room of the White House, Oct. 23, 2013. Image Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

President Obama met with two NASA employees and 32 fellow public servants in the East Room at the White House in Washington to express gratitude and acknowledge their selection as recipients and finalists of the prestigious 2013 Samuel J. Heyman Service of America Medals or Sammies. The medals are presented annually by the nonprofit, nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service to recognize the outstanding achievements of federal workers and their significant work for our nation.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Next Station Crew Unveils Olympic Torch

At the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, Russia, Expedition 38 Flight Engineer Koichi Wakata of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (left), Soyuz Commander Mikhail Tyurin (center) and NASA Flight Engineer Rick Mastracchio pose for pictures with a model of the Olympic torch following a crew news conference Oct. 22, 2013. The trio is scheduled to launch Nov. 7, Kazakh time, from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on the Soyuz TMA-11M spacecraft for the start of a six-month mission on the International Space Station. Launching with the the crew will be one of the Olympic torches used in the Olympic relay that will culminate with the torch’s arrival at the opening ceremonies of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia next February. Photo credit: NASA

The Olympic torch will be carried up to the International Space Station when three Expedition 38 crew members launch Nov. 6 aboard a Soyuz TMA-11M spacecraft. Soyuz Commander Mikhail Tyurin with Flight Engineers Koichi Wakata and Rick Mastracchio unveiled a model of the torch Oct. 22 at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, Russia during a news conference. The torch will be returned Nov. 10 when Expedition 36 lands inside the Soyuz TMA-09M spacecraft. It will be used at the opening ceremonies of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia next February.

Stennis Space Center to Test SpaceX Methane Rocket Engine in 2014

NASA engineers conduct the first in a new round of tests on the next-generation J-2X rocket engine Feb. 15, 2013 at the Stennis Space Center. Credit: NASA/SSC

Another engine rocket testing program is coming to NASA’s Stennis Space Center in south Mississippi, Gov. Phil Bryant announced. SpaceX, a commercial spaceflight company, will bring initial testing of their Raptor methane rocket engines—the latest in propulsion technology, capable of generating nearly 300 tons of thrust in vacuum—to NASA’s Stennis Space Center. “With our rich history of supporting America’s space program, the state of Mississippi is an excellent choice for this type of innovative testing and aerospace technology,” Gov. Bryant said.

Mars Rover Opportunity Heads Uphill

NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity captured this southward uphill view after beginning to ascend the northwestern slope of "Solander Point" on the western rim of Endeavour Crater.  The view combines five frames taken by Opportunity's navigation camera on the 3,463rd Martian day, or sol, of the rover's work on Mars (Oct. 21, 2013). Opportunity had begun climbing the hill on Sol 3451 (Oct. 8) and completed three additional uphill drives before reaching this point. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA's Mars Exploration Rover has begun climbing "Solander Point," the northern tip of the tallest hill it has encountered in the mission's nearly 10 Earth years on Mars. Guided by mineral mapping from orbit, the rover is exploring outcrops on the northwestern slopes of Solander Point, making its way up the hill much as a field geologist would do. The outcrops are exposed from several feet (about 2 meters) to about 20 feet (6 meters) above the surrounding plains, on slopes as steep as 15 to 20 degrees. The rover may later drive south and ascend farther up the hill, which peaks at about 130 feet (40 meters) above the plains.

Universe's Most Distant Galaxy Discovered

An artist's rendition of the newly discovered most distant galaxy z8_GND_5296. (The galaxy looks red in the actual Hubble Space Telescope image because the collective blue light from stars get shifted toward redder colors due to the expansion of the universe and its large distance from Earth.)  Image credit: V. Tilvi, S.L. Finkelstein, C. Papovich, and the Hubble Heritage Team

University of Texas at Austin astronomer Steven Finkelstein has led a team that has discovered and measured the distance to the most distant galaxy ever found. The galaxy is seen as it was at a time just 700 million years after the Big Bang. Although observations with NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope have identified many other candidates for galaxies in the early universe, including some that might perhaps be even more distant, this galaxy is the farthest and earliest whose distance can be definitively confirmed with follow-up observations from the Keck I telescope, one of a pair of the world’s largest Earth-bound telescopes. Result appear in the Oct. 24 issue of the journal Nature. “We want to study very distant galaxies to learn how galaxies change with time, which helps us understand how the Milky Way came to be,” Finkelstein said.

NASA Chief, U.S. Senator Visit Goddard After Shutdown

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, NASA Goddard Center Director Chris Scolese and Maryland Senator Barbara Mikulski talk to the press during their tour of the NASA Goddard facilities. They are standing outside a clean room for the Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission (MMS). Image Credit: NASA/Goddard/Rebecca Roth

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland visited NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. Tuesday afternoon, marking their first visit since the end of the two-week government shutdown. Bolden and Mikulski viewed several Goddard missions, including the Global Precipitation Mission (GPM), Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission (MMS) and the James Webb Space Telescope. While touring the missions, Bolden and Mikulski spoke to key scientists and engineers for each mission, including GPM Project Manager Art Azarbarzin, MMS Project Manager Craig Tooley, Webb telescope Integrated Science Instrument Module Manager Craig Dunn, and Webb Telescope Senior Project Scientist John Mather.

Juno on its Way to Jupiter After Earth Flyby

NASA's Juno spacecraft during its flyby of Earth on Oct. 9, 2013. Depicted in the artist’s rendering, below the spacecraft, is the southern Atlantic Ocean and the coast of Argentina. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

As of Oct. 17, Juno was approximately 4.4 million miles (7.1 million kilometers) from Earth. The one-way radio signal travel time between Earth and Juno is currently about 24 seconds. Juno is currently traveling at a velocity of about 23.6 miles (38 kilometers) per second relative to the sun. Velocity relative to Earth is about 6.5 miles (10.4 kilometers) per second. Juno has now traveled 1.01 billion miles (1.63 billion kilometers, or 10.9 AU) since launch. Juno’s Earth flyby gravity assist was completed on Oct. 9. Several Juno science instruments made planned observations during the approach to Earth, including the Advanced Stellar Compass, JunoCam and Waves.