Thursday, April 30, 2015

New Horizons Spacecraft Detects Surface Features, Possible Polar Cap on Pluto

This image of Pluto and it largest moon, Charon, was taken by the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) on NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft on April 15, 2015. The image is part of several taken between April 12-18, as the spacecraft’s distance from Pluto decreased from about 69 million miles (111 million kilometers) to 64 million miles (104 million kilometers). Credits: NASA/JHU-APL/SwRI

For the first time, images from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft are revealing bright and dark regions on the surface of faraway Pluto – the primary target of the New Horizons close flyby in mid-July. The images were captured in early to mid-April from within 70 million miles (113 million kilometers), using the telescopic Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) camera on New Horizons. A technique called image deconvolution sharpens the raw, unprocessed images beamed back to Earth. New Horizons scientists interpreted the data to reveal the dwarf planet has broad surface markings – some bright, some dark – including a bright area at one pole that may be a polar cap.

NuSTAR Captures Possible 'Screams' from Zombie Stars

NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, has captured a new high-energy X-ray view (magenta) of the bustling center of our Milky Way galaxy. The smaller circle shows the center of our galaxy where the NuSTAR image was taken. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Peering into the heart of the Milky Way galaxy, NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) has spotted a mysterious glow of high-energy X-rays that, according to scientists, could be the "howls" of dead stars as they feed on stellar companions. "We can see a completely new component of the center of our galaxy with NuSTAR's images," said Kerstin Perez of Columbia University in New York, lead author of a new report on the findings in the journal Nature. "We can't definitively explain the X-ray signal yet -- it's a mystery. More work needs to be done." The center of our Milky Way galaxy is bustling with young and old stars, smaller black holes and other varieties of stellar corpses -- all swarming around a supermassive black hole called Sagittarius A*.

Mercury Crater-naming Contest Winners Announced

An image of Mercury marked with the locations of the five craters and their new names. Credit: IAU/NASA/MESSENGER

The MESSENGER Education and Public Outreach (EPO) Team, coordinated through the Carnegie Institution for Science, has announced the winners from its competition to name five impact craters on Mercury after artist’s. Entries had to be submitted by 15 January 2015, and the International Astronomical Union (IAU) Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature made the selections from a total of 3600 submissions, and a semifinal round of 17 names. The newly selected crater names are Carolan, Enheduanna, Karsh, Kulthum, and Rivera.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Robot Discovers Two New Earth’s Neighbors

Artist’s impression of a view from the HD 7924 planetary system looking back toward our sun, which would be easily visible to the naked eye. Since HD 7924 is in our northern sky, an observer looking back at the sun would see objects like the Southern Cross and the Magellanic Clouds close to our sun in their sky. Art by Karen Teramura & BJ Fulton, UH IfA.

A team of astronomers using ground-based telescopes in Hawaii, California, and Arizona recently discovered a planetary system orbiting a nearby star that is only 54 light-years away. All three planets orbit their star at a distance closer than Mercury orbits the sun, completing their orbits in just 5, 15, and 24 days. The paper is being published in the Astrophysical Journal. Astronomers from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, the University of California, Berkeley, the University of California Observatories, and Tennessee State University found the planets using measurements from the W. M. Keck Observatory on Maunakea, Hawaii, the Automated Planet Finder (APF) Telescope at Lick Observatory in California and the Automatic Photometric Telescope (APT) at Fairborn Observatory in Arizona. The team discovered the new planets by detecting the wobble of the star HD 7924 as the planets orbited and pulled on the star gravitationally. APF and Keck Observatory traced out the planets’ orbits over many years using the Doppler technique that has successfully found hundreds of mostly larger planets orbiting nearby stars. APT made crucial measurements of the brightness of HD 7924 to assure the validity of the planet discoveries.

ISRO to Eye Asteroids, Far Away Planets

Picture of Mars taken by India's Mars Orbiter Mission spacecraft. Credit: ISRO

Tasting success with Mars mission and Chandrayaan, ISRO now plans to do research on asteroids and collect samples from farther planets. Speaking to Deccan Chronicle on the sidelines of the 24th convocation at Sathyabama University on Monday, ISRO chairman Dr A.S. Kiran Kumar said they would be looking at future missions such as sample return mission, asteroid mission and lander mission. “All this will be determined by the advisory committee on science chaired by Prof U.R. Rao. They will go through the discussions and decide what kind of plans we should have in future and set our priorities,” he said.

Water Could Have Been Abundant in the First Billion Years

This Hubble image features dark knots of gas and dust known as "Bok globules," which are dense pockets in larger molecular clouds. Similar islands of material in the early universe could have held as much water vapor as we find in our galaxy today, despite containing a thousand times less oxygen. Credit: NASA, ESA, and The Hubble Heritage Team

How soon after the Big Bang could water have existed? Not right away, because water molecules contain oxygen and oxygen had to be formed in the first stars. Then that oxygen had to disperse and unite with hydrogen in significant amounts. New theoretical work finds that despite these complications, water vapor could have been just as abundant in pockets of space a billion years after the Big Bang as it is today. "We looked at the chemistry within young molecular clouds containing a thousand times less oxygen than our Sun. To our surprise, we found we can get as much water vapor as we see in our own galaxy," says astrophysicist Avi Loeb of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA).

Solar Telescope Peers Deep into the Sun to Track the Origins of Space Weather

Fine details of a magnetic flux rope captured by the New Solar Telescope at Big Bear Solar Observatory for Solar Active Region 11817 on 2013 August 11. The structure is further demonstrated by the 3-D magnetic modeling based the observations of Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager on board Solar Dynamic Observatory. The image was created by Chang Liu, one of the co-authors of the paper.

Scientists at the Big Bear Solar Observatory (BBSO), operated by the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT), have captured the first high-resolution images of the flaring magnetic structures known as solar flux ropes at their point of origin in the Sun’s chromosphere. Their research, published today in Nature Communications, provides new insights into the massive eruptions on the Sun’s surface responsible for space weather. Flux ropes are bundles of magnetic fields that together rotate and twist around a common axis, driven by motions in the photosphere, a high-density layer of the Sun’s atmosphere below the solar corona and chromosphere. The NJIT images were taken from observations of the newly commissioned 1.6m New Solar Telescope (NST) at BBSO.

Russian Progress M-27M Spacecraft Lost in Space, Falls to Earth

Soyuz 2.1a rocket carrying the Progress M-27M spacecraft launches to the ISS on Apr. 28, 2015. Credit: Roscosmos

After a successful launch of a Russian Soyuz 2.1a rocket carrying the Progress vessel from the Baikonur Space Center in Kazakhstan at 3:09 a.m. EDT (1:09 p.m. local time) on Tuesday, the cargo craft encountered problems when separating from the rocket. The spacecraft was initially set to dock with the International Space Station (ISS) six hours later, but numerous problems have resulted in what is now a lost vehicle, as it was seen spinning wildly on orbit. "Specialists have agreed that Progress is hopeless. Its controlled deorbiting is impossible," a source in the space rocket industry has told TASS. "Commands were sent many a time. None of them worked." Ship debris will fall to Earth between May 7 and 11, according to Interfax.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Senate Confirms Dava Newman as NASA Deputy Administrator

Dava Newman. Credit: MIT

The U.S. Senate yesterday unanimously confirmed the appointment of MIT Professor Dava Newman as NASA deputy administrator, the agency’s number-two position. The appointment will become official when signed by President Obama. Senators voted 87-0 on the nomination. Thirteen senators missed the vote, which remained open for roughly an hour. Newman is a professor of aeronautics and astronautics and of engineering systems. On the MIT faculty since 1993, she directs the Institute’s Technology and Policy Program and MIT Portugal Program, and is co-director of the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics’ Man Vehicle Laboratory. She is a Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology faculty member, and a Margaret McVicar Faculty Fellow.

SpaceX Successfully Launches Turkmenistan's First Satellite

Falcon 9 lifts off from SpaceX’s Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station carrying the TurkmenÄlem52E/MonacoSat satellite on Apr. 27, 2015. Credit: SpaceX

On Monday, April 27, 2015 at 7:03pm ET, Falcon 9 lifted off from SpaceX’s Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, carrying the TurkmenÄlem52E/MonacoSat satellite for Thales Alenia Space. While weather had remained a concern throughout the countdown, weather officers were able to find a window in the clouds and Falcon 9 lifted off without a hitch. This launch represented Falcon 9’s fifth launch in four months and second liftoff in 13 days, beating SpaceX’s previous turnaround record by one day. Once in service, TurkmenÄlem52E/MonacoSAT will allow Turkmenistan to operate its first national satellite telecommunications system, ensuring enhanced, secure telecommunications for the country. "Today's mission marks the 18th successful launch in a row for Falcon 9," said Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX president and chief operating officer. "With our increased cadence of both commercial and government launches out of the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, SpaceX greatly appreciates the continued support of the 45th Space Wing as a critical mission partner in launching satellites and spacecraft for our customers from across the globe."

Gaia Spacecraft Mistaken for Earth's New Moon

Artist's impression of Gaia spacecraft: Credit: ESA–D. Ducros, 2013

Earth had a new moon on Monday for about 13 hours... or so we thought. On Monday morning, astronomer Gareth Williams from the International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Centre (MPC) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, posted a description of 2015 HP116, seemingly an asteroid about a meter across that was spotted in a geocentric orbit by the Pan-STARRS telescope in Maui, Hawaii, last week. But the apparent near-Earth object orbiting our Earth ended up being something else. 

Russia's New Rocket Will Be Named Fenix

Russian Soyuz rocket on the launch pad. Credit: Roscosmos

Russia’s space agency (Roscosmos) plans to begin in 2018 the development of a medium-class carrier rocket to replace the Soyuz rocket family the creation of which had started during the USSR times when Sergey Korolev was the country’s chief rocket engineer, a rocket and space industry source told TASS on Monday. "Roscosmos is to prepare the technical design specification for the medium-class carrier rocket during 2016-2017. In 2018, it is planned to begin the experimental development work on this rocket named Fenix," he said. According to the source, in the period from 2015 to 2018 Roscosmos plans to spend more than 30 billion rubles (almost $600 million) on the project.

KSC Tests Ground Support Component for NASA's Space Launch System

Power lines have been connected from the aft skirt electrical umbilical to the simulated flight vehicle interface April 2 at the Launch Equipment Test Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credits: NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis

NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) recently completed testing equipment that will provide electrical power and data connections to the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket until it lifts off from its launch pad. The SLS will be the world’s most powerful rocket, launching the Orion spacecraft to send humans on deep space missions beyond low-Earth orbit. The SLS core with liquid fuel and two solid rocket boosters will provide the energy necessary to push the spacecraft to orbit. The rocket and spacecraft will be put together in the Vehicle Assembly Building atop the mobile launcher platform, which will then carry the SLS out to Launch Pad 39B. A tower on the mobile launcher will have a series of lines connected to various stages of the rocket to provide the necessary power, fuel, and communications until launch. These umbilical lines must be able to provide the connections, release at liftoff, and retract to clear the way for lift off.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Vostochny Report, Part 3: Hunger Games

"Four months without pay", "we want to work" written by workers on the roofs at the Vostochny Cosmodrome construction site. Credit: ampravda.ru

“We have worked four months without a pay check! Save the workers! We want to work!” More than 500 people including fitters, welders, and crane operators claim they have not received any money for four months. That was two weeks ago, but earlier in April, 100 workers went on a strike and 26 started a hunger strike. The Vostochny Hunger Games are on and Russia’s space future is at stake here.

Is the Universe a Hologram?

Credit: tuwien.ac.at

Describing the universe requires fewer dimensions than we might think. New calculations show that this may not just be a mathematical trick, but a fundamental feature of space itself. At first glance, there is not the slightest doubt: to us, the universe looks three dimensional. But one of the most fruitful theories of theoretical physics in the last two decades is challenging this assumption. The "holographic principle” asserts that a mathematical description of the universe actually requires one fewer dimension than it seems. What we perceive as three dimensional may just be the image of two dimensional processes on a huge cosmic horizon. Up until now, this principle has only been studied in exotic spaces with negative curvature. This is interesting from a theoretical point of view, but such spaces are quite different from the space in our own universe. Results obtained by scientists at Technische Universität Wien (Vienna) now suggest that the holographic principle even holds in a flat spacetime.

Strange Supernova Is 'Missing Link' in Gamma-Ray Burst Connection

In an ordinary core-collapse supernova with no "central engine," ejected material expands outward nearly spherically, left. At right, a strong central engine propels jets of material at nearly the speed of light and generates a gamma-ray burst (GRB). The center panel shows an intermediate supernova like SN 2012ap, with a weak central engine, weak jets, and no GRB. CREDIT: Bill Saxton, NRAO/AUI/NSF

Astronomers using the National Science Foundation's Very Large Array (VLA) have found a long-sought "missing link" between supernova explosions that generate gamma-ray bursts (GRBs) and those that don't. The scientists found that a stellar explosion seen in 2012 has many characteristics expected of one that generates a powerful burst of gamma rays, yet no such burst occurred. "This is a striking result that provides a key insight about the mechanism underlying these explosions," said Sayan Chakraborti, of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA). "This object fills in a gap between GRBs and other supernovae of this type, showing us that a wide range of activity is possible in such blasts," he added.

20 ExoWorlds Now Available for Naming Proposals

Marked in this Milky Way panorama are the 20 ExoWorlds that are available for naming proposals. Credit: IAU/ESO/S. Brunier

The NameExoWorlds contest, organised by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) and Zooniverse, is now entering its next stage. The 20 most popular ExoWorlds have been made available for naming proposals from registered clubs and non-profit organisations. Although people have been naming celestial objects for millennia, the IAU has the task of assigning scientifically recognised names to newly discovered celestial bodies by its member countries. The NameExoWorlds contest provides not only the first opportunity for the public to name exoplanets, but also, for the first time in centuries, to give popular names to some stars — those that have known exoplanets in orbit around them.

Astrophysicists Draw Most Comprehensive Map of the Universe

A slice through the 3D map of the nearby universe. Our Milky Way galaxy is in the centre, marked by a cross.  The map spans nearly two billion light years from side to side. Regions with many galaxies are shown in white or red, whereas regions with fewer galaxies are dark blue. Credit: uwaterloo.ca

Astrophysicists have created a 3D map of the universe that spans nearly two billion light years and is the most complete picture of our cosmic neighbourhood to date. The spherical map of galaxy superclusters will lead to a greater understanding of how matter is distributed in the universe and provide key insights into dark matter, one of physics’ greatest mysteries. Professor Mike Hudson, Jonathan Carrick and Stephen Turnbull, of the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Waterloo, Canada, and Guilhem Lavaux the Institute d’Astrophysique de Paris of the Centre national de la recherche scientifique of France, created the map. Professor Hudson is also an affiliate member of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics. “The galaxy distribution isn’t uniform and has no pattern. It has peaks and valleys much like a mountain range. This is what we expect if the large-scale structure originates from quantum fluctuations in the early universe,” said Hudson, also associate dean of science, computing.

The Days Dwindle Down to a Precious Few

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

MESSENGER's days are indeed down to a precious few. This image was obtained on the day following MESSENGER's final orbital correction maneuver. The image is located just inside the southern rim of Chong Chol crater on Mercury, named for a Korean poet of the 1500s. It is challenging to obtain good images when the spacecraft is very low above the planet, because of the high speed at which the camera's field of view is moving across the surface.

Arianespace Launches Thor 7 and Sicral 2 Satellites

Arianespace’s workhorse Ariane 5 launcher lifts off from French Guiana on its 64th consecutive successful mission, which deployed the THOR 7 and SICRAL 2 satellites. Credit: Arianespace

Arianespace has successfully launched two telecommunications satellites: Thor 7 for the private Norwegian operator Telenor Satellite Broadcasting (TSBc), and Sicral 2 for the operator Telespazio, on behalf of the Italian Ministry of Defense and the French defense procurement agency DGA (Direction Générale de l'Armement, part of the Ministry of Defense). Sunday's launch, the third of the year for Arianespace and the 64th successful launch in a row by Ariane 5, took place at 5:00 pm local time from the Guiana Space Center (CSG) in Kourou, French Guiana. "Arianespace is very proud of having successfully carried out this dual mission today: launching the Thor 7 satellite for the private operator Telenor Satellite Broadcasting, to bolster its position in maritime and offshore communications, and also launching the Sicral 2 satellite for French and Italian armed forces, who will use it to increase their secure communications capacity with theaters of operation," said Stéphane Israël, Arianespace Chairman and CEO.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Has Egypt Lost Contact with Its Satellite?

EgyptSat 2 during prelaunch processing. Credit: RKK Energia

Russian newspaper Izvestia reported Thursday that Egypt has lost communication with its remote sensing Earth observation satellite EgyptSat 2, less than a year since it was launched in April 2014. Sources from RSC Energia; a Russian manufacturer of spacecraft and space station components that built the satellite told the Russian newspapers that “the satellite is not responding to the instructions and does not properly orbit Earth.” But the head of Egypt's National Authority for Remote Sensing and Space Sciences (NARSS) claims the satellite is under the full control of the Egyptian experts.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Russia’s New Space Program: Search for Extraterrestrial Life Amid Budget Cuts

Russian infographic showing ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter developed by Roscosmos and ESA. Credit: RIA Novosti

Russia's space agency Roscosmos is determined to search for extraterrestrial life, despite losing 35% of its budget. According to a draft of federal space program for 2016-2025 made public Thursday, Russia plans the launches of several spacecraft designed to find alien life. The project includes sending satellites and interplanetary missions into orbit around Mars and Earth’s moon. Taking into account the state of economy and the political situation, the reduction of the state program’s financing and the increased cost of works, the budgetary requirements for Russia's Federal Space Program (FSP) through 2025 will be approximately 2 trillion rubles ($37 billion). The program is expected to be submitted to the government by June 10, 2015.

MESSENGER Executes Last Orbit-Correction Maneuver, Prepares for Impact

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

MESSENGER mission controllers at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Md., conducted the last of six planned maneuvers on April 24 to raise the spacecraft's minimum altitude sufficiently to extend orbital operations and further delay the probe's inevitable impact onto Mercury's surface. With the usable on-board fuel consumed, this maneuver expelled gaseous helium -- originally carried to pressurize the fuel, but re-purposed as a propellant. Without a means of boosting the spacecraft's altitude, the tug of the Sun's gravity will draw the craft in to impact the planet on April 30, at about 8,750 miles per hour (3.91 kilometers per second), creating a crater as wide as 52 feet (16 meters).

To Flare or Not to Flare: The Riddle of Galactic Thin–thick Disk Solved

The Milky Way analog galaxy, NGC 891. Overlaid are color curves that show the flares from groups of stars with similar ages. When all stars are put together, the disk has constant thickness, shown by the straight white lines.  (Credit: Adam Block, Mt. Lemmon SkyCenter, University of Arizona / Ivan Minchev, AIP)

A long-standing puzzle regarding the nature of disk galaxies has finally been solved by a team of astronomers led by Ivan Minchev from the Leibniz Institute for Astrophysics Potsdam (AIP), using state-of-the-art theoretical models. The new study shows that groups of stars with the same age always flare as the result of massive galactic collisions. When taken all together, these flares, nested like the petals of a blooming rose, puff up the disk and constitute what astronomers call the “thick” disk. “We were able to show for the first time that galactic thick disks are not composed only of old stars but must also contain young stars at larger distances from the galactic centre”, explains Minchev. “The flaring seen in groups of stars with the same age is caused mostly by the bombardment of small satellite galaxies. These cosmological car crashes pummel the young disk and cause it to swell and flare.“

Can Sound Help Us Detect 'Earthquakes' on Venus?

Seismic waves radiating from a Venus quake propagate as Rayleigh waves in the Venus surface layers and generate infrasonic waves traveling upwards through the dense Venus atmosphere. These low frequency sound waves can be detected by a balloon (upper left) floating within the Venus clouds at an altitude of 55 km where temperatures are similar to those on the Earth's surface. As the infrasonic waves penetrate the clouds and enter the upper atmosphere they produce thermal variations and molecular excitations. These signals can be viewed from space by infrared imaging sensors as an expanding pattern of concentric circles by on the orbiting spacecraft (upper right). Credit: Keck Institute for Space Studies (KISS)

Detecting an "earthquake" on Venus would seem to be an impossible task. The planet's surface is a hostile zone of crushing pressure and scorching temperatures--about 874 degrees F, hot enough to melt lead--that would destroy any of the normal instruments used to gauge seismic activity. But conditions in Venus' atmosphere are much more hospitable, and it is here that researchers hope to deploy an array of balloons or satellites that could detect Venusian seismic activity--using sound.

Students Design Furniture for Other Planets

Rice University students, in collaboration with NASA, have designed prototypes of a simple and flexible set of furniture for future space habitats. Standing from left: Laura Blumenschein, Alex Schmidt, Archit Chaba and Rey Amendola. Seated, Daniel Peera. Credit: Jeff Fitlow/Rice University

Have a seat and mind the gravity. A team of Rice University in Houston, Texas students had to think a lot about that in recent months as they designed furniture intended for use on the moon, Mars and whatever other far-flung destinations humanity may consider in the future. At the behest of NASA, a team of five seniors in mechanical engineering designed and assembled a prototype chair and table meant to give maximum flexibility to astronauts in space or for habitats in places other than Earth. The furniture could serve many functions in environments where maximum flexibility with a minimum of fuss are a plus. The Lunar Lounger team assembled the pieces at Rice’s Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen as its capstone project. Capstone projects are required of most of the university’s senior engineering students.

First Light for PEPSI

The LBT observatory from inside. Credit: aip.de

The Potsdam Echelle Polarimetric and Spectroscopic Instrument (PEPSI) has received its first celestial light through the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT). Astronomers from the Leibniz Institute for Astrophysics Potsdam in Germany, showed the instruments incredible capabilities at different wavelengths and resolving powers. Among the first targets were several of the bright Gaia-ESO benchmark stars, magnetically active stars, solar-like stars with planets, a solar twin in M67, Jupiter’s four Galilean moons, and the bright Nova Sgr 2015b.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Giant Cosmic Tsunami Brings Galaxies Back to Life

A radio image highlighting the shock wave (seen here as the bright arc running from bottom left to top right) in the ‘Sausage’ merging cluster, made using the Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope. The shock wave was generated 1 billion years ago, when the two original clusters collided, and is moving at a very high speed of 9 million kilometres per hour. Credit: Andra Stroe.

Galaxies are often found in clusters, with many 'red and dead' neighbours that stopped forming stars in the distant past. Now an international team of astronomers, led by Andra Stroe of Leiden Observatory and David Sobral of Leiden and the University of Lisbon, have discovered that these comatose galaxies can sometimes come back to life. If clusters of galaxies merge, a huge shock wave can drive the birth of a new generation of stars – the sleeping galaxies get a new lease of life. The scientists publish their work in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Hubble Space Telescope Turns 25

Hubble Space Telescope orbiting Earth. Credit: NASA/ESA

On 24 April 1990 the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope was sent into orbit aboard the space shuttle Discovery as the first space telescope of its kind. It offered a new view of the Universe and has, for 25 years, reached and surpassed all expectations, beaming back data and images that have changed scientists’ understanding of the Universe and the public’s perception of it. "Even the most optimistic person to whom you could have spoken back in 1990 couldn’t have predicted the degree to which Hubble would re-write our astrophysics and planetary science textbooks," said Charlie Bolden, NASA administrator and pilot of the mission that brought Hubble into orbit. "A quarter century later, Hubble has fundamentally changed human understanding of the universe and our place in it."

Lyrid Meteor Shower Lights Up the Night Sky

Lyrid meteor seen over Rääkkylä, Finland, on Apr. 23, 2015. Credit: Satu Juvonen

The dazzling Lyrid meteor shower reached its peak Wednesday night and early Thursday morning with as many as 20 meteors per hour darting through the night sky. The meteors are pieces of the comet C/1861 G1 Thatcher and have made an appearance every April for at least the past 2,600 years as Earth runs into a stream of debris from the comet. Bits and pieces shed by this comet litter its orbit and bombard the Earth’s upper atmosphere at 177,000 kilometers (110,000 miles) per hour. The vaporizing debris streaks the nighttime with medium-fast Lyrid meteors.

Researchers Illuminate Understanding of Cosmological 'Dark Ages'

An artist’s impression of some of the first stars in the early Universe. Five protostars are seen here forming in the centre of disks of gas. Credit: Shantanu Basu, University of Western Ontario.

The first stars in the Universe were born several hundred million years after the Big Bang, ending a period known as the cosmological 'dark ages' – when atoms of hydrogen and helium had formed, but nothing shone in visible light. Now two researchers from Western University, Canada, have calculated what these objects were like. Alexander DeSouza and Shantanu Basu from Western's Faculty of Science found that the first stars could have clustered together in phenomenally bright groups with periods when they were as luminous as 100 million Suns. The findings were published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Small Victims of Galactic Threesomes Can Run Away

This schematic illustrates the creation of a runaway galaxy. In the first panel, an "intruder" spiral galaxy approaches a galaxy cluster center, where a compact elliptical galaxy (cE) already revolves around a massive central elliptical galaxy. In the second panel, a close encounter occurs and the compact elliptical receives a gravitational kick from the intruder. In the third panel, the compact elliptical escapes the galaxy cluster while the intruder is devoured by the giant elliptical galaxy in the cluster center. Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team

Astronomers think, that there are dozens of billions undetectable free floating planets that straggle along our Milky Way galaxy, being not gravitationally bound to any star. Moreover, there are about two dozens known stars that escaped from our Galaxy at high velocities, and even one runaway star cluster hosting a million stars that fled the giant galaxy Messier 87 in the Virgo cluster. All those objects have one thing in common - they have been thrown away from their home systems by gravitational perturbations. Two Russian astronomers, Igor Chilingarian and Ivan Zolotukhin of Sternberg Astronomical Institute, Moscow State University, who currently works at Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, USA and L'Institut de Recherche en Astrophysique et Planétologie, Toulouse, France, respectively, have shown that some galaxies can also be thrown away from their host clusters and groups by interacting with their neighbours.

Tau Ceti: The Next Earth? Probably Not

How would an alien world like this look? That's the question that ASU undergraduate art major Joshua Gonzalez attempted to answer. He worked with Professor Patrick Young's group to learn how to analyze stellar spectra to find chemical abundances, and inspired by the scientific results, he created two digital paintings of possible unusual extrasolar planets, one being Tau Ceti for his Barrett Honors Thesis. Credit: Joshua Gonzalez

As the search continues for Earth-size planets orbiting at just the right distance from their star, a region termed the habitable zone, the number of potentially life-supporting planets grows. In two decades we have progressed from having no extrasolar planets to having too many to search. Narrowing the list of hopefuls requires looking at extrasolar planets in a new way. Applying a nuanced approach that couples astronomy and geophysics, Arizona State University (ASU) researchers report that from that long list we can cross off cosmic neighbor Tau Ceti. The Tau Ceti system, popularized in several fictional works, including Star Trek, has long been used in science fiction, and even popular news, as a very likely place to have life due to its proximity to Earth and the star's sun-like characteristics. Since December 2012 Tau Ceti has become even more appealing, thanks to evidence of possibly five planets orbiting it, with two of these - Tau Ceti e and f - potentially residing in the habitable zone.

When the Sun Goes Quiet, Titan Gets Gassy

Saturn's moon Titan. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Saturn's moon Titan is the only moon in the solar system that has an atmosphere as thick as Earth's, consisting of more than 98 percent nitrogen, roughly 1.4 percent of methane, and smaller amounts of other gases. NASA's Cassini satellite has been circling Saturn since 2004, witnessing more than one-third of its 29-year orbit around the Sun, allowing it to observe the changing of the seasons. However, a new study finds that the seasons are not the only thing changing Titan's atmosphere: its chemical makeup fluctuates according to the Sun's 11-year cycle of magnetic activity.

Experimental Space Rocket Crashes in Russia

Plesetsk cosmodrome. Credit: an-tuan-net.livejournal.com

An experimental carrier rocket fell down today Wednesday after a planned test launch, a source at the Plesetsk space center in the Arkhangelsk Region, northern Russia, told TASS on Thursday. "The rocket designed by a defense company successfully kicked off the launch pad but some minutes later strayed off trajectory and fell down in an unpopulated area in the Arkhangelsk Region," the source said. Local authorities and the Emergencies Ministry said the 9.6-ton rocket carried no dangerous components and posed no threat to environment and local residents. The failed launch caused no explosion or fire. "The fuel of this rocket poses no environmental threat," the source said.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

First Exoplanet Visible Light Spectrum Detected

This artist’s view shows the hot Jupiter exoplanet 51 Pegasi b, sometimes referred to as Bellerophon, which orbits a star about 50 light-years from Earth in the northern constellation of Pegasus (The Winged Horse). This was the first exoplanet around a normal star to be found in 1995. Twenty years later this object was also the first exoplanet to be be directly detected spectroscopically in visible light.  Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser/Nick Risinger (skysurvey.org)

Astronomers using the HARPS planet-hunting machine at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile have made the first-ever direct detection of the spectrum of visible light reflected off an exoplanet. These observations also revealed new properties of this famous object, the first exoplanet ever discovered around a normal star: 51 Pegasi b. The result promises an exciting future for this technique, particularly with the advent of next generation instruments, such as ESPRESSO, on the VLT, and future telescopes, such as the E-ELT. The exoplanet 51 Pegasi b lies some 50 light-years from Earth in the constellation of Pegasus. It was discovered in 1995 and will forever be remembered as the first confirmed exoplanet to be found orbiting an ordinary star like the Sun. It is also regarded as the archetypal hot Jupiter — a class of planets now known to be relatively commonplace, which are similar in size and mass to Jupiter, but orbit much closer to their parent stars.

Exploding Stars Help Understand Thunderclouds on Earth

A particle shower initiated by a cosmic ray reaches LOFAR through a thundercloud. Image credit: Radboud University

How is lightning initiated in thunderclouds? This is difficult to answer - how do you measure electric fields inside large, dangerously charged clouds? It was discovered, more or less by coincidence, that cosmic rays provide suitable probes to measure electric fields within thunderclouds. This surprising finding is published in Physical Review Letters on Apr. 22. The measurements were performed with the LOFAR radio telescope located in the Netherlands. "We used to throw away LOFAR measurements taken during thunderstorms. They were too messy." says astronomer Pim Schellart. "Well, we didn't actually throw them away of course, we just didn't analyze them."

Latest View of Curiosity Rover in Gale Crater

Mars image from the orbiter's High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

A view from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter on April 8, 2015, catches sight of NASA's Curiosity Mars rover at the center of the image, passing through a valley called "Artist's Drive" on the lower slope of Mount Sharp. The image from the orbiter's High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera shows the rover's position after a drive of about 75 feet (23 meters) during the 949th Martian day, or sol, of the rover's work on Mars. Oddly, the rover’s tracks are not visible nearby, maybe because the surfaces it has driven over lately don't make high-contrast lines, or maybe some blowing dust has recently erased the tracks.

Scientists Create 'Comb' that Detects Terahertz Waves with Extreme Precision

Caltech chemists have developed a precise ruler of terahertz light that will aid in the study of organic molecules in space, and the soft interactions between molecules in water. Due to its resemblance to a hair comb, the ruler is called a terahertz frequency comb, Credit: Lance Hayashida/Caltech and NASA/ESA/ and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA) - ESA/Hubble Collaboration

Light can come in many frequencies, only a small fraction of which can be seen by humans. Between the invisible low-frequency radio waves used by cell phones and the high frequencies associated with infrared light lies a fairly wide swath of the electromagnetic spectrum occupied by what are called terahertz, or sometimes submillimeter, waves. Exploitation of these waves could lead to many new applications in fields ranging from medical imaging to astronomy, but terahertz waves have proven tricky to produce and study in the laboratory. Now, Caltech chemists have created a device that generates and detects terahertz waves over a wide spectral range with extreme precision, allowing it to be used as an unparalleled tool for measuring terahertz waves.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Active Regions Across the Front of the Sun Spotted by SDO, Geomagnetic Storms, CME Expected

Bright spots and illuminated arcs of solar material hovering in the sun's atmosphere highlight what's known as active regions on the sun, in this image from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, captured on April 20, 2015. These are areas of intense and complex magnetic activity that can sometimes give rise to solar eruptions such as solar flares and coronal mass ejections. Credits: NASA/SDO

This solar image taken April 20, 2015, by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, or SDO, shows a complicated pattern of bright regions and soaring loops stretching across the front of the sun. These active regions have strong magnetic fields and appear as bright areas in extreme ultraviolet images. The twisted magnetic fields within the active region trap the hot, charged particles on the sun, called plasma -- making them hotter and often denser than surrounding areas. As the magnetic fields twist, they stretch and stress until they snap and reconnect into a simpler configuration. Sunspot AR2322 near the sun's western limb has unleashed four M-class solar flares in the past 12 hours alone, while a magnetic filament rose up on the sun's eastern limb, creating a magnificent prominence.Radio blackouts reaching the R1 levels were observed over the past 24 hours. The largest was at 11:57 UTC on Apr. 21. There is a slight chance for (R1-Minor) radio blackouts over the next three days as AR2322 rotates off the visible disk and the active region just beyond the East limb rotates on.

A Sharp View into Black Holes

The Atacama Pathfinder Experiment (APEX) telescope sits atop the plateau of Chajnantor in the Chilean Andes, more than 5,100 metres high. To the left of APEX is the central region of the Milky Way, where the supermassive black hole Sagittarius A* lurks. Credit: ESO/Babak Tafreshi

Astronomers building an Earth-sized virtual telescope capable of photographing the event horizon of the black hole at the centre of our Milky Way have extended their instrument to the bottom of the Earth – the South Pole – thanks to recent efforts by a team of astronomers with participation of the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy (MPIfR) in Bonn, Germany. Last December, an international team of astronomers flew to the Southern Hemisphere: German, Chilean and Korean scientists led by Alan Roy of the MPIfR, traveled to Chile, and American scientists led by Dan Marrone of the University of Arizona flew to the South Pole to arrange the telescopes into the largest virtual telescope ever built – the Event Horizon Telescope, or EHT. By combining telescopes across the Earth, the EHT will take the first detailed pictures of black holes.

NASA’s NExSS Coalition to Lead Search for Life on Distant Worlds

The search for life beyond our solar system requires unprecedented cooperation across scientific disciplines. NASA's NExSS collaboration includes those who study Earth as a life-bearing planet (lower right), those researching the diversity of solar system planets (left), and those on the new frontier, discovering worlds orbiting other stars in the galaxy (upper right). Credits: NASA

NASA is bringing together experts spanning a variety of scientific fields for an unprecedented initiative dedicated to the search for life on planets outside our solar system. The Nexus for Exoplanet System Science, or “NExSS”, hopes to better understand the various components of an exoplanet, as well as how the planet stars and neighbor planets interact to support life. “This interdisciplinary endeavor connects top research teams and provides a synthesized approach in the search for planets with the greatest potential for signs of life,” says Jim Green, NASA’s Director of Planetary Science. “The hunt for exoplanets is not only a priority for astronomers, it’s of keen interest to planetary and climate scientists as well.”

Pulsing Light May Indicate Supermassive Black Hole Merger

Two black holes are entwined in a gravitational tango in this artist's conception. Credit: NASA

As two galaxies enter the final stages of merging, scientists have theorized that the galaxies’ supermassive black holes will form a “binary,” or two black holes in such close orbit they are gravitationally bound to one another. In a new study, astronomers at the University of Maryland present direct evidence of a pulsing quasar, which may substantiate the existence of black hole binaries. “We believe we have observed two supermassive black holes in closer proximity than ever before,” said Suvi Gezari, assistant professor of astronomy at the University of Maryland and a co-author of the study. “This pair of black holes may be so close together that they are emitting gravitational waves, which were predicted by Einstein’s theory of general relativity.”

Monday, April 20, 2015

Black Hole Hunters Tackle a Cosmic Conundrum

A Hubble Space Telescope image shows the Henize 2-10 galaxy, with a hidden supermassive black hole at its center. Credit: NASA

Dartmouth College astrophysicists and their colleagues have not only proven that a supermassive black hole exists in a place where it isn't supposed to be, but in doing so have opened a new door to what things were like in the early universe. Henize 2-10 is a small irregular galaxy that is not too far away in astronomical terms -- 30 million light-years. "This is a dwarf starburst galaxy -- a small galaxy with regions of very rapid star formation -- about 10 percent of the size of our own Milky Way," says co-author Ryan Hickox, an assistant professor in Dartmouth's Department of Physics and Astronomy. "If you look at it, it's a blob, but it surprisingly harbors a central black hole."

A Cold Cosmic Mystery Solved

The Cold Spot area resides in the constellation Eridanus in the southern galactic hemisphere. The insets show the environment of this anomalous patch of the sky as mapped by Szapudi’s team using PS1 and WISE data and as observed in the cosmic microwave background temperature data taken by the Planck satellite. The angular diameter of the vast supervoid aligned with the Cold Spot, which exceeds 30 degrees, is marked by the white circles. Graphics by Gergő Kránicz. Image credit: ESA Planck Collaboration.

In 2004, astronomers examining a map of the radiation leftover from the Big Bang (the cosmic microwave background, or CMB) discovered the Cold Spot, a larger-than-expected unusually cold area of the sky. The physics surrounding the Big Bang theory predicts warmer and cooler spots of various sizes in the infant universe, but a spot this large and this cold was unexpected. Now, a team of astronomers led by Dr. István Szapudi of the Institute for Astronomy at the University of Hawaii at Manoa may have found an explanation for the existence of the Cold Spot, which Szapudi says may be “the largest individual structure ever identified by humanity.”

Ceres' Bright Spots Come Back Into View

This image shows the northern terrain on the sunlit side of dwarf planet Ceres as seen by NASA's Dawn spacecraft on April 14 and 15, 2015. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

The two brightest spots on dwarf planet Ceres, which have fascinated scientists for months, are back in view in the newest images from NASA's Dawn spacecraft. Dawn took these images on April 14 and 15 from a vantage point 14,000 miles (22,000 kilometers) above Ceres’ north pole. The images show the brightest spot and its companion clearly standing out against their darker surroundings, but their composition and sources are still unknown. Scientists also see other interesting features, including heavy cratering. As Dawn gets closer to Ceres, surface features will continue to emerge at increasingly better resolution.

Astronomers Probe Inner Region of Young Star and Its Planets

The planetary system of HR 8799. Most of the light of the star has been erased by the processing of the images and the four planets, identified from b to e in the order of their discovery, are easily detected. Credit: A.-L. Maire / LBTO

Astronomers have probed deeper than before into a planetary system 130 light-years from Earth. The observations mark the first results of a new exoplanet survey called LEECH (LBT Exozodi Exoplanet Common Hunt), and are published today in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics. The planetary system of HR8799, a young star only 30 million years old, was the first to be directly imaged, with three planets found in in 2008 and a fourth one in 2010. "This star was therefore a target of choice for the LEECH survey, offering the opportunity to acquire new images and better define the dynamical properties of the exoplanets orbiting," said Christian Veillet, director of the Large Binocular Telescope Observatory (LBTO).

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Italy’s Presence in Space: An Interview with Italian Space Agency President Roberto Battiston

Roberto Battiston. Credit: Agenzia Giornalistica Italia

Italy, one of the key players of the European Space Agency (ESA), is continuously building up its important role in human spaceflight and in international space cooperation. The country of seven astronauts is shaping the future of Europe’s next generation launch vehicles and is actively taking part in ESA’s space exploration projects. In an interview with astrowatch.net, Italian Space Agency (ASI) President Roberto Battiston, talks his presidency and Italy’s contribution to spaceflight.

Russia to Launch Persona-3 Reconnaissance Satellite NET June 5

Persona satellite. Credit: vninform.ru

Russian Aerospace Defence Forces plan to launch the newest Persona electro-optical reconnaissance satellite, also known as Kvarts (Quartz), onboard a Soyuz-2.1b carrier rocket, not earlier than (NET) June 5, from site 43/4 at the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia. The rocket will fly in the Soyuz 2-1b configuration with a modernized digital flight control system and upgraded third stage engine. Persona-3, built by Progress State Research and Production Space Centre (TsSKB-Progress), derives from the Resurs DK commercial Earth observation satellite. It will carry a laser data-transmission system, BA MLSPI, which enables to send information to the ground via a special relay satellite located in a geostationary orbit. The launch of Persona-3 was initially scheduled for April 30.

Japan Plans First Moon Shot in 2018


The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) is planning to attempt Japan’s first lunar landing in fiscal 2018, sources close to the project said Sunday. JAXA has said it will use unmanned probes to study the possible use of materials on the moon as well as its environment, which could pave the way for future manned missions. JAXA is expected to brief a government panel on the project with the aim of securing funding for mission preparations from the budget for fiscal 2016, which begins next April, the sources said.

United Arab Emirates Establishes Space Centre To Assist Mars Probe


The UAE’s VP, PM and ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, has issued a decree to establish a space centre to assist the country’s mission to Mars, state news agency WAM reported. The new Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre will conduct outer space research and support the UAE’s drive to advance in the sector, a statement said. It will also help build the country’s capabilities in outer space exploration. The centre will oversee all preparations for the UAE’s Mars probe, which the country plans to carry out by 2021. It will also work on other technologically advanced projects assigned by the authorities.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Scientists Identify Missing Wave near Jupiter’s Equator

(Left) This pattern of light and dark stripes in Jupiter's atmosphere likely extended all the way around the planet. NASA scientists think it indicated the first Kelvin wave to be spotted on that planet. (Right) The pattern may be high enough to cast shadows on other clouds. Credits: NASA/JHU-APL/SWRI

In the clouds of Jupiter, scientists have found evidence of a type of atmospheric wave that had long been proposed but had not been identified in images before now. Researchers consider this kind of wave, called a Kelvin wave, a fundamental part of a planetary atmosphere, so the absence of one on Jupiter has long been a mystery. In Earth’s atmosphere, Kelvin waves are involved in a tropical wind pattern whose influence can reach as far as the polar vortex. “Scientists had looked for this type of wave in images of Jupiter from other missions, without luck,” said Amy Simon, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “Sometimes, we found a different type of wave. Other times, we couldn’t be sure we had a wave at all.”

A Blueprint for Clearing the Skies of Space Debris

EUSO telescope. Credit: iasf-palermo.inaf.it

An international team of scientists have put forward a blueprint for a purely space-based system to solve the growing problem of space debris. The proposal, published in Acta Astronautica, combines a super-wide field-of-view telescope, developed by RIKEN's EUSO team, which will be used to detect objects, and a recently developed high-efficiency laser system, the CAN laser that was presented in Nature Photonics in 2013, that will be used to track space debris and remove it from orbit. Space debris, which is continuously accumulating as a result of human space activities, consists of artificial objects orbiting the earth. The number of objects nearly doubled from 2000 to 2014 and they have become a major obstacle to space development. The total mass of space debris is calculated to be about 3,000 tons. It consists of derelict satellites, rocket bodies and parts, and small fragments produced by collisions between debris.

Mars One Chief Considers United Arab Emirates for Extraterrestrial Training Site

Mars One human colony Mars. Credit: Mars One

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) could play host to a mission simulation for Mars One colony candidates early next year, according to the chief executive and founder of the project. Bas Lansdorp said Dubai’s dry weather and its place at the crossroads of the world makes it a potential host city for the prestigious project. “We want to bring together all the remaining candidates in the beginning of next year in a built copy of our Mars outpost here on Earth,” Lansdorp said during a visit to the UAE this week.

SpaceX's Dragon Spacecraft Arrives at Space Station

Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti, operating the space station’s robot arm, captured a SpaceX Dragon cargo ship early Friday after a three-day rendezvous. Among the 2 tons of supplies and equipment on board: an espresso maker, supplied by Italy. In a post-capture tweet, Cristoforetti, a science fiction fan, channeled Captain Janeway of the "Star Trek: Voyager" TV series, saying "there’s coffee in that nebula.” (Credit: NASA TV)

A SpaceX Dragon cargo ship loaded with more than two tons of equipment and supplies rendezvoused with the International Space Station early Friday and was captured at 6:55 a.m. EDT by Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti, with the assistance of Expedition 43 Commander Terry Virts of NASA, using the lab's robot arm, to wrap up a smooth three-day rendezvous. A few minutes later, after putting on a "Star Trek: Voyager" tunic, Cristoforetti channeled the TV show's Captain Janeway, tweeting "There’s coffee in that nebula … ehm, I mean… in that #Dragon." Packed inside the supply capsule, along with nearly 4,400 pounds of equipment, research gear and supplies, was an Italian-built espresso machine, a welcome addition to the crew's kitchen.

Curiosity Rover Making Tracks and Observations

NASA's Curiosity Mars rover used its Navigation Camera (Navcam) to capture this scene toward the west just after completing a drive that took the mission's total driving distance on Mars past 10 kilometers (6.214 miles). Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA's Curiosity Mars rover is continuing science observations while on the move this month. On April 16, the mission passed 10 kilometers (6.214 miles) of total driving since its 2012 landing, including about a fifth of a mile (310 meters) so far this month. The rover is trekking through a series of shallow valleys between the "Pahrump Hills" outcrop, which it investigated for six months, and the next science destination, "Logan Pass," which is still about 200 yards, or meters, ahead toward the southwest. "We've not only been making tracks, but also making important observations to characterize rocks we're passing, and some farther to the south at selected viewpoints," said John Grant of the National Air and Space Museum, Washington. Grant is a Curiosity science team member who has been the team's long-term planner in recent days.

Russia to Launch National Orbital Station by 2023


Russia plans to build an orbital station by 2023, Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a televised Q&A session Thursday. Russia's plan to build a new space outpost was confirmed December 2014, by Oleg Ostapenko, head of Roscosmos space agency at the time. He said the new space station would also serve as a base for Russia's lunar program. "By 2023 we are going to create our own national orbital station in orbit… We will definitely bring this project to fruition, and, no doubt, it will be under our control," Putin said.

Sierra Nevada Corporation and DLR announce New Dream Chaser Cooperation

Mark Sirangelo, SNC VP and Prof. Jan Woerner, DLR sign agreement. Credit: DLR

Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC’s) Space Systems and the German Aerospace Center (DLR) announced the signing of a new Dream Chaser program cooperation during the U.S. German Aerospace Roundtable (UGART) at the 31st annual Space Symposium hosted by the Space Foundation in Colorado Springs, Colorado. “We highly value our partnership with the German Aerospace Center,” said Mark N. Sirangelo, corporate vice president, SNC’s Space Systems. “This relationship is a great example of the best-in-industry and government agency partnerships, both domestic and international, that we have sought. Our Dream Team will continue the advancement of the Dream Chaser, which is a true global program. We look forward to the next phase of our cooperation with DLR as we enter this new agreement.”

Friday, April 17, 2015

Debris From the Moon-forming Impact Blasted Main Belt Asteroids Long Ago

Exterior of a meteorite produced when a small asteroid broke up in the atmosphere near Novato, California, on Oct. 17, 2012. It shows extensive dark impact melt. Classified as an ordinary chondrite, the Novato meteorite came from a different asteroid than the Chelyabinsk bolide, but both experienced major impacts at about the same time as the moon-forming giant impact. (Photo: Peter Jenniskens, SETI Institute)

A NASA-funded research team led by Dr. Bill Bottke of Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) independently estimated the Moon’s age as slightly less than 4.5 billion years by analyzing impact-heated shock signatures found in stony meteorites originating from the Main Asteroid Belt. Their work will appear in the April 2015 issue of the journal Science. “This research is helping to refine our time scales for ‘what happened when’ on other worlds in the solar system,” said Bottke, of the Institute for the Science of Exploration Targets (ISET). ISET is a founding member of NASA’s Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute (SSERVI) and is based in SwRI’s Boulder, Colo. office.