Thursday, December 31, 2015

Mysterious Radio Signals from Space Are Much Better Test of Einstein's General Relativity

This illustration shows how two photons, one at a high frequency (nu_h) and another at a low frequency (nu_l), travel in curved space-time from their origin in a distant Fast Radio Burst (FRB) source until reaching the Earth. A lower-limit estimate of the gravitational pull that the photons experience along their way is given by the mass in the center of the Milky Way Galaxy. Credit: Purple Mountain Observatory, Chinese Academy of Sciences

A new way to test one of the basic principles underlying Einstein's theory of General Relativity using brief blasts of rare radio signals from space called Fast Radio Bursts is ten times, to one-hundred times better than previous testing methods that used gamma-ray bursts, according to a paper just published in the journal Physical Review Letters. The paper received additional highlighting as an "Editor's Suggestion" due to "its particular importance, innovation, and broad appeal," according to the journal's editors.

Sea Launch Project May Resume Operation in 2016


The international consortium Sea Launch that uses the Zenit carrier rockets for launches from a floating platform in the Pacific Ocean may return to the market of launch services in the coming months, the company’s CEO Sergei Gugkayev told TASS on Wednesday. "We plan to be actively involved in the struggle for new orders in the first quarter of 2016 on the basis of deal structuring with the investor," he said.

Russia Concludes Upgraded Soyuz-2 Rocket Flight Tests


Russia's flight test commission has decided to complete testing Soyuz-2.1a and Soyuz-2.1b rockets and to hand the launch vehicles over for operation by the Defense Ministry and Russian state corporation Roscosmos, the defense ministry said in a press release on Wednesday.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Russia Dissolves Its Federal Space Agency, What Now?

Igor Komarov, head of Roscosmos. Credit: TASS

Russian president Vladimir Putin officially put an end to the country’s Federal Space Agency Roscosmos on Monday, Dec. 28, by signing a decree dissolving the agency. The decree comes into force on Jan. 1, 2016, when the space agency will be replaced by Roscosmos State Corporation, which was established earlier this year. So, what does that actually mean for the space industry?

South Korea to Push Moon Exploration Through 2020


South Korea's science ministry said Wednesday it plans to launch a lunar exploration project next year, eventually seeking to send a landing vessel by 2020. Under the first stage of the project that will run from 2016 to 2018, the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning will allocate 197.8 billion won (US$169 million) to conduct research and send an orbiter.

Postal Service Honors NASA Planetary Discoveries with 2016 Stamps

Pluto Explored! In 2006, NASA placed a 29-cent 1991 ‘Pluto: Not Yet Explored’ stamp in the New Horizons spacecraft. In 2015 the spacecraft carried the stamp on its history-making mission to Pluto and beyond. With this stamp, the Postal Service recognizes the first reconnaissance of Pluto in 2015 by NASA’s New Horizon mission. The souvenir sheet of four stamps contains two new stamps appearing twice. The first stamp shows an artists’ rendering of the New Horizons spacecraft and the second shows the spacecraft’s enhanced color image of Pluto taken near closest approach. Credits: USPS/Antonio Alcalá © 2016 USPS

The U.S. Postal Service has previewed the New Year’s series of stamps highlighting NASA’s Planetary Science program, including a do-over of a famous Pluto stamp commemorating the NASA New Horizons’ historic 2015 flyby. The Postal Service on Wednesday released a preview of its new 2016 stamps, which include an image of Pluto and the New Horizons spacecraft, eight new colorful Forever stamps of NASA images of solar system planets, a Global Forever stamp dedicated to Earth’s moon as well as another postal treat for space fans: a tribute to 50 years of Star Trek.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Big Sunspot Erupts, Hurls CME Toward Earth

This NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory observation shows a composite view of our sun in extreme-ultraviolet light. On Dec. 28, the sunspot cluster AR2473 erupted with a M1.9 flare, sending a coronal mass ejection at Earth. Credit: NASA/SDO

After several days of pent-up quiet, big sunspot AR2473 erupted on Dec. 28 (12:49 UT), producing a slow but powerful M1.9-class solar flare. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory recorded the blast's extreme ultraviolet glow. For more than an hour, UV radiation from the flare bathed the top of Earth's atmosphere, ionizing atoms and molecules. This, in turn, disrupted the normal propagation of shortwave radio signals on the dayside of our planet.

Russia Postpones Plans on Extensive Moon Exploration Until 2025


The Russian space agency Roscosmos will give up on manned flights to the Moon and related activities at least until 2025, the Russian Izvestia newspaper reported Tuesday, citing the updated version of the Federal Space Program (FSP). According to the FSP for years 2016-2025, the Russian space industry will refrain from creating a lunar landing complex, a lunar orbital station, a lunar space suit and the system of robotic software for Moon flights.

ISRO to Build Reusable Launch Vehicles

PSLV, one of ISRO's launch vehicles being transported to the launch pad. Credit: ISRO

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) will reach yet another milestone in space technology by building its own reusable satellite launch vehicles, the design of which is expected to be complete by next year. Addressing a gathering after delivering a lecture on ‘Space Technology and Societal Applications’, ISRO Chairman A S Kiran Kumar, said on Monday that ISRO is working on designing reusable satellite launch vehicles in an effort to cut down costs. 

Monday, December 28, 2015

Chinese Long March 3B Rocket Successfully Launches Gaofen-4 Earth Observation Satellite

A Long March 3B rocket launches Gaofen-4 satellite on Dec. 28, 2015. Photo Credit: 81.cn/Weibo via 9ifly.cn

China has closed out the year with the launch its most sophisticated Earth observation satellite, Gaofen-4. A Chinese Long March 3B rocket was used to deliver the spacecraft into orbit. The booster blasted off at 12:04 p.m. EDT (16:04 GMT) on Monday, Dec. 28 from the Launch Area 2 at the Xichang Satellite Launch Center, located in the southwestern Sichuan province.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Waiting for Scientific Breakthroughs: An Interview with JWST Project Scientist Pierre Ferruit

NASA engineer Ernie Wright looks on as the first six flight ready James Webb Space Telescope's primary mirror segments are prepped to begin final cryogenic testing at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center. Credit: NASA/MSFC/David Higginbotham

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), scheduled to be launched in October 2018, is expected to yield important scientific breakthroughs in our quest to understand the universe and our origins. JWST, often touted as a successor to the Hubble Space Telescope (HST), will be a large infrared telescope with a 6.5-meter primary mirror, serving thousands of astronomers worldwide. In an interview with Astrowatch.net, JWST Project Scientist Pierre Ferruit of the European Space Agency (ESA), talks the telescope’s key role in future astronomy observations, describes the latest updates and explains how Europe contributes to the project.

Discovering a Previously Unknown Mechanism That Halts Solar Eruptions Before They Blast into Space

This solar flare occurred at the peak of the solar cycle in October 2014 with no observed eruptions. PPPL researchers say this is a promising candidate for studying the effect of guide magnetic fields. Credit: NASA

Among the most feared events in space physics are solar eruptions, massive explosions that hurl millions of tons of plasma gas and radiation into space. These outbursts can be deadly: if the first moon-landing mission had encountered one, the intense radiation could have been fatal to the astronauts. And when eruptions reach the magnetic field that surrounds the Earth, the contact can create geomagnetic storms that disrupt cell phone service, damage satellites and knock out power grids.

Proton-M Rocket Successfully Orbits Express-AMU1 Communications Satellite

Proton-M rocket launches Express-AMU1 satellite on Dec. 25, 2015. Credit: ILS

Express-AMU1, Russia’s new heavy communications and broadcasting satellite, has been inserted in the geo-transfer orbit. On Dec. 25, 2015 at 00:31 Moscow time, the satellite was launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on board a Proton-M / Briz-M launch vehicle. The spacecraft separated from the Briz-M upper stage at 09:43 Moscow time. Following the satellite translation to the geostationary orbit and completion of appropriate tests, the satellite will be controlled using RSCC’s ground-based control facilities.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

First Progress MS Spacecraft Automatically Docks With Space Station

Progress MS-1 spacecraft approaching ISS. Credit: NASA TV

The first Russian Progress MS-1 cargo vessel has docked automatically with the International Space Station, a commentator at the Mission Control Center said Wednesday. “We have contact! We have mechanical docking!” the commentator announced. Manufactured by the Energia rocket and space corporation, the Progress MS-1 docked with the station's Pirs docking compartment at 5:27 a.m. EST, using its upgraded automated system.

Japan to Extend ISS Mission Until 2024

U.S. Ambassador Caroline Kennedy, space policy minister Aiko Shimajiri, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Minister Hiroshi Hase, right to left, shake hands after signing the agreement. Credit: The Yomiuri Shimbun

Japan decided Tuesday to extend its participation in the International Space Station program by four years until 2024. The Japanese and U.S. governments signed an agreement on the matter the same day. At a signing ceremony, U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy stressed Japan’s participation is indispensable to the ISS program. According to the agreement, Tokyo and Washington will develop a collaboration program for ISS operations at least through 2024.

China Receives Message from Dark Matter Probe

Artist's impression of the DAMPE spacecraft. Credit: dpnc.unige.ch

Ground stations in China have received data sent by "Wukong" -- the country's first dark matter probe satellite, scientists announced Monday. A station in Kashgar in northwest China's Xinjiang successfully tracked and received data from the Dark Matter Particle Explorer (DAMPE) Satellite at 8:45 a.m. on Sunday. It took about seven minutes to receive and record the information, and the data was transferred to the National Space Science Center, according to a Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) statement.

NASA's InSight Mars Mission Grounded on Earth


After thorough examination, NASA managers have decided to suspend the planned March 2016 launch of the Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) mission. The decision follows unsuccessful attempts to repair a leak in a section of the prime instrument in the science payload.

Giant Comets Could Pose Danger to Life on Earth

The outer solar system as we now recognise it. At the centre of the map is the Sun, and close to it the tiny orbits of the terrestrial planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars). Moving outwards and shown in bright blue are the near-circular paths of the giant planets: Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. The orbit of Pluto is shown in white. Staying perpetually beyond Neptune are the trans-Neptunian objects (TNOs), in yellow: seventeen TNO orbits are shown here, with the total discovered population at present being over 1,500. Shown in red are the orbits of 22 Centaurs (out of about 400 known objects), and these are essentially giant comets (most are 50-100 km in size, but some are several hundred km in diameter). Because the Centaurs cross the paths of the major planets, their orbits are unstable: some will eventually be ejected from the solar system, but others will be thrown onto trajectories bringing them inwards, therefore posing a danger to civilisation and life on Earth. Credit: Duncan Steel.

A team of astronomers from Armagh Observatory and the University of Buckingham report that the discovery of hundreds of giant comets in the outer planetary system over the last two decades means that these objects pose a much greater hazard to life than asteroids. The team, made up of Professors Bill Napier and Duncan Steel of the University of Buckingham, Professor Mark Bailey of Armagh Observatory, and Dr David Asher, also at Armagh, publish their review of recent research in the December issue of Astronomy & Geophysics (A&G), the journal of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Chinese Rover Analyzes Moon Rocks: First New ‘Ground Truth’ in 40 Years

The Chinese lunar rover, Yutu, photographed by its lander Chang’e-3, after the lander touched down in Mare Imbrium, a giant impact basin that had been filled by successive lava flows. Credit: CNAS/CLEP

In 2013, Chang’e-3, an unmanned lunar mission, touched down on the northern part of the Imbrium basin, one of the most prominent of the lava-filled impact basins visible from Earth. It was a beautiful landing site, said Bradley L. Jolliff, PhD, the Scott Rudolph Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, who is a participant in an educational collaboration that helped analyze Chang’e-3 mission data. The lander touched down on a smooth flood basalt plain next to a relatively fresh impact crater (now officially named the Zi Wei crater) that had conveniently excavated bedrock from below the regolith for the Yutu rover to study.

Oak Ridge National Laboratory Achieves Milestone with Plutonium-238 Sample

By producing 50 grams of plutonium-238, Oak Ridge National Laboratory researchers have demonstrated the nation’s ability to provide a valuable energy source for deep space missions. Credit: ORNL

With the production of 50 grams of plutonium-238, researchers at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory have restored a U.S. capability dormant for nearly 30 years and set the course to provide power for NASA and other missions. Plutonium-238 produces heat as it decays and can be used in systems that power spacecraft instruments. The new sample, which is in the same oxide powder form used to manufacture heat sources for power systems, represents the first end-to-end demonstration of a plutonium-238 production capability in the United States since the Savannah River Plant in South Carolina ceased production of the material in the late 1980s.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

NASA Releases Images of Ceres from Dawn's Closest Orbit

This image of Ceres was taken in Dawn's low-altitude mapping orbit around a crater chain called Gerber Catena. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

NASA's Dawn spacecraft, cruising in its lowest and final orbit at dwarf planet Ceres, has delivered the first images from its best-ever viewpoint. The new images showcase details of the cratered and fractured surface. 3-D versions of two of these views are also available. Dawn took these images of the southern hemisphere of Ceres on Dec. 10, at an approximate altitude of 240 miles (385 kilometers), which is its lowest-ever orbital altitude. Dawn will remain at this altitude for the rest of its mission, and indefinitely afterward. The resolution of the new images is about 120 feet (35 meters) per pixel.

Gap in Dusty Disk is Likely Embryonic Sub-Jupiter Mass Planet

Left: GPI J band (top) and K1 band (bottom) polarized intensity (Qr) images of the TW Hya disk. Right: Qr(i; j) scaled by r2(i; j), where r(i; j) is the distance (in pixels) of pixel position (i; j) from the central star, corrected for projection effects. All images are shown on a linear scale. The coronagraph is represented by the black  filled circles and images are oriented with north up and east to the left. Credit: gemini.edu

TW Hydrae (TW Hya) is one of the best-studied young stars in the galaxy. At just 180 light years from Earth and a ripe young age of roughly 8 million years, this nearly solar-mass star and its orbiting, circumstellar disk of dust and gas are prime targets to better understand the processes involved in star and planet formation.

The Falcon Has Landed: SpaceX Launches and Lands Its Rocket Successfully

Falcon 9 first stage approaching Landing Zone 1. Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX sent a Falcon 9 rocket soaring toward orbit Monday night with 11 OG2 small communications satellites for the ORBCOMM company, its first mission since an accident last summer. Then in an even more astounding feat, it landed the 15-story leftover booster back on Earth safely. It was the first time an unmanned rocket returned to land vertically at Cape Canaveral, Florida, and represented a tremendous success for SpaceX. The company led by billionaire Elon Musk is striving for reusability to drive launch costs down and open up space to more people. "Welcome back, baby!" Musk tweeted after touchdown.

Astronauts Fix Space Station's Stuck Rail Car During Spacewalk

Expedition 46 Flight Engineer Tim Kopra on a Dec. 21, 2015 spacewalk, in which Kopra and Expedition 46 Commander Scott Kelly successfully moved the International Space Station's mobile transporter rail car ahead of Wednesday's docking of a Russian cargo supply spacecraft. Credit: NASA

Two U.S. astronauts floated outside the International Space Station on Monday in a hastily planned spacewalk to move a stuck rail car before a Russian cargo ship reaches the outpost on Wednesday, NASA said. Station commander Scott Kelly and newly arrived flight engineer Timothy Kopra were due to spend about 3.5 hours on an abbreviated spacewalk to latch the stalled car into a parking spot along the station's exterior truss.

Upgraded Progress Spacecraft Blasts Off to International Space Station

A Soyuz-2.1a launch with the Progress MS-1 spacecraft. Photo credit: RKK Energia

Carrying more than 2.8 tons of food, fuel, and supplies for the International Space Station crew, the unpiloted ISS Progress MS (or Progress 62 by NASA) cargo craft launched at 3:44 a.m. EDT (2:44 p.m. local time in Baikonur) on Monday from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Less than 10 minutes after launch, the resupply ship reached preliminary orbit and deployed its solar arrays and navigational antennas as planned. The Russian cargo craft will make 34 orbits of Earth during the next two days before docking to the orbiting laboratory at 5:31 a.m. Wednesday, Dec. 23.

Gullies on Mars Sculpted by Dry Ice Rather than Liquid Water

The study looked at gullies like these in Russell Crater, shown with winter CO2 frost accumulating. Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

Mars' gullies may be formed by dry ice processes rather than flowing liquid water, as previously thought. This is the conclusion of a study conducted by two French scientists published online on December 21st in Nature Geoscience. They show that, during late winter and spring, underneath the seasonal CO2 ice layer heated by the sun, intense gas fluxes can destabilize the regolith material and induce gas-lubricated debris flows which look like water-sculpted gullies on Earth.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Twisted Magnetic Fields Give New Insights on Star Formation

Magnetic field lines (purple) are twisted as they are dragged inward toward a swirling, dusty disk surrounding a young star in this artist's conception. CREDIT: Bill Saxton, NRAO/AUI/NSF.

Using new images that show unprecedented detail, scientists have found that material rotating around a very young protostar probably has dragged in and twisted magnetic fields from the larger area surrounding the star. The discovery, made with the National Science Foundation's Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) radio telescope, has important implications for how dusty disks -- the raw material for planet formation -- grow around young stars.

Chandra Finds Remarkable Galactic Ribbon Unfurled

A gigantic tail of X-ray emission has been found behind a galaxy plowing through the galaxy cluster Zwicky 8338. Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/University of Bonn/G. Schellenberger et al; Optical: INT

An extraordinary ribbon of hot gas trailing behind a galaxy like a tail has been discovered using data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory. This ribbon, or X-ray tail, is likely due to gas stripped from the galaxy as it moves through a vast cloud of hot intergalactic gas. With a length of at least 250,000 light years, it is likely the largest of such a tail ever detected. The tail is located in the galaxy cluster Zwicky 8338, which is almost 700 million light years from Earth. The length of the tail is more than twice the diameter of the entire Milky Way galaxy. The tail contains gas at temperatures of about ten million degrees, about twenty million degrees cooler than the intergalactic gas, but still hot enough to glow brightly in X-rays that Chandra can detect.

Auroral Mystery Solved: Sudden Bursts Caused by Swirling Charged Particles

On the left is and aurora oval before the auroral breakup occurs On the right is a supercomputer simulation reveals how auroral breakups develop Hot charged particles, or plasmas, gather in near-Earth space -- just above the upper atmosphere of the polar region -- when magnetic field lines reconnect in space. This makes the plasma rotate, creating a sudden electrical current above the polar regions. Furthermore, an electric current overflows near the bright aurora in the upper atmosphere, making the plasma rotate and discharge the extra electricity. This gives rise to the 'surge', the very bright sparks of light that characterize substorms. Credit: Kyoto University

Auroras are dimly present throughout the night in polar regions, but sometimes these lights explode in brightness. Now Japanese scientists have unlocked the mystery behind this spectacle, known as auroral breakup. For years, scientists have contemplated what triggers the formation of auroral substorms and the sudden bursts of brightness. Appearing in the Journal of Geophysical Research, the current study overthrows existing theories about the mechanism behind this phenomenon.

Cassini Spacecraft Completes Final Close Enceladus Flyby

NASA's Cassini spacecraft paused during its final close flyby of Enceladus to focus on the icy moon's craggy, dimly lit limb, with the planet Saturn beyond. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

NASA's Cassini spacecraft has begun transmitting data and images from the mission's final close flyby of Saturn's active moon Enceladus. Cassini passed Enceladus at a distance of 3,106 miles (4,999 kilometers) on Saturday, Dec. 19, at 9:49 a.m. PST (12:49 p.m. EST). "This final Enceladus flyby elicits feelings of both sadness and triumph," said Earl Maize, Cassini project manager at JPL. "While we're sad to have the close flybys behind us, we've placed the capstone on an incredible decade of investigating one of the most intriguing bodies in the solar system."

Sparkling Stephan’s Quintet

Sparkling Stephan’s Quintet. Credit: ESA/XMM-Newton (X-rays); ESA/Herschel/PACS, SPIRE (infrared); SDSS (optical)

The Stephan’s Quintet of galaxies was discovered by astronomer Édouard Stephan in 1877. At the time, however, he reported the discovery of ‘new nebulae’, as the concept of other galaxies beyond our Milky Way was only formalized in the 1920s. This image combines observations performed at three different wavelengths, with ESA’s Herschel and XMM-Newton space observatories as well as with ground-based telescopes, to reveal the different components of the five galaxies.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Russia Ready to Launch its Progress-MS Spacecraft for the First Time

A Soyuz 2.1a rocket with the Progress MS-1 spacecraft being transported to the launch site. Photo Credit: RKK Energia

Russia Progress-MS cargo spacecraft, an improved version of the Progress-M vehicle is all set to conduct its debut flight on Monday, Dec. 21. Launch will take place at 3:44 a.m. EDT (8:44 GMT) from Site 31/6 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The spacecraft will start a two-day trip to deliver supplies to the International Space Station (ISS).

NASA Orders Second Boeing Crew Mission to International Space Station

This artist's concept shows Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft, currently under development for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, docking to the International Space Station. Credits: NASA

NASA took an important step Friday to establish regular crew missions that will launch from the United States to the International Space Station with the order of its second post-certification mission from Boeing Space Exploration of Houston. "Once certified by NASA, the Boeing CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX Crew Dragon each will be capable of two crew launches to the station per year," said Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. "Placing orders for those missions now really sets us up for a sustainable future aboard the International Space Station."

Black Holes Could Grow as Large as 50 Billion Suns Before Their Food Crumbles into Stars

Artist's impression of a black hole. Credit: NASA/JPL/Caltech

Black holes at the heart of galaxies could swell to 50 billion times the mass of the sun before losing the discs of gas they rely on to sustain themselves, according to research at the University of Leicester. In a study titled ‘How Big Can a Black Hole Grow?’ published in the journal Monthly Notices Letters of the Royal Astronomical Society, Professor Andrew King from the University of Leicester’s Department of Physics and Astronomy explores supermassive black holes at the center of galaxies, around which are regions of space where gas settles into an orbiting disc.

New High-Resolution Earthrise Image Reselased

The Earth straddling the limb of the Moon, as seen from above Compton crater. Center of the Earth in this view is 4.04°N, 12.44°W, just off the coast of Liberia. The large tan area in the upper right is the Sahara desert, and just beyond is Saudia Arabia. The Atlantic and Pacific coasts of South America are visible to the left. WAC E1199291151C (Earth only), NAC M1199291564LR (Earth and Moon); sequence start time 12 October 2015 12:18:17.384 UTC [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].

NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) recently captured a unique view of Earth from the spacecraft's vantage point in orbit around the moon. "The image is simply stunning," said Noah Petro, Deputy Project Scientist for LRO at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. "The image of the Earth evokes the famous 'Blue Marble' image taken by Astronaut Harrison Schmitt during Apollo 17, 43 years ago, which also showed Africa prominently in the picture."

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Much Higher Concentrations of Silica on Mars Indicate 'Considerable Water Activity'

View from Marias Pass in Gale crater, Mars, where scientists found high concentrations of silica in the light toned bedrock seen in the lower half of the image. The Buckskin drill hole where the mineral tridymite was detected is visible in the lower left part of the image. Mount Sharp (Aolis Mons), the mountain in the center of Gale Crater is seen in the background, and the right front wheel of the Curiosity rover is seen to the right in the image. The image is made up of a number of smaller images by Curiosity’s arm-mounted camera. (Photo credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

New findings by NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover are the focus of a press conference this morning at the American Geophysical Union (AGU) meeting in San Francisco, Calif. A group of scientists, including one from Los Alamos National Laboratory, revealed that the Curiosity rover found much higher concentrations of silica at some sites the rover has investigated in the past seven months than anywhere else it has visited since landing on Mars 40 months ago. Silica makes up nine-tenths of the composition of some of the rocks.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Asteroid 1998 WT24 Looks Even Better Second Time Around

On the left is a radar image of asteroid 1998 WT24 taken in December 2001 by scientists using NASA's the 230-foot (70-meter) DSS-14 antenna at Goldstone, California. Image credit:NASA/JPL-Caltech/GSSR/NRAO/AUI/NSF

Asteroid 1998 WT24 safely flew past Earth on Dec. 11 at a distance of about 2.6 million miles (4.2 million kilometers, 11 lunar distances). During its flyby, NASA scientists used the 230-foot (70-meter) DSS-14 antenna at Goldstone, California, to probe it with microwave transmissions. Using this technique, they created the highest-resolution radar images of the asteroid.

Aerojet Rocketdyne Successfully Completes Major Design Milestone for AR1 Engine

AR1 rocket engine model. Credit: Aerojet Rocketdyne

Aerojet Rocketdyne announced it completed a key design milestone for its AR1 rocket engine this week. AR1 is an American-made engine that is being developed as a direct replacement for the Russian-made RD-180 engines that currently power launches of the majority of national security satellites to orbit for the U.S. government.

Soyuz ST-B Booster Sends Two More Galileo Navigation Satellites to Orbit

Liftoff of Galileo satellites 11 and 12 aboard Soyuz VS13 took place at 11:51 GMT (6:51 a.m. EST; 08:51 local time) on Thursday, Dec 17, 2015. Photo Credit: ESA / CNES / ARIANESPACE / Optique Video du CSG, S. Martin

European Launch Service Provider Arianespace launched two more Galileo navigational satellites (known as “Andriana” and “Liene”) Thursday, Dec. 17, 2015. The firm used a Soyuz ST-B booster to lift the FM08 and FM09 satellites off the launch pad located at the Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, at 6:51 a.m. EST (11:51 GMT). When all is said and done, there will be some 30 Galileo satellites on orbit and will provide Europe with a system comparable to the U.S.’ Global Positioning System.

“Space Matters”: UK publishes its first National Space Policy

UK ESA astronaut Tim Peake. Credit: UK Space Agency

The UK government has published a document outlining the country’s role in the future space programs and envisioning Britain’s growing role in the space industry. The document, entitled “National Space Policy” was released by the UK Space Agency on Dec. 13, 2015 and is the first nationwide policy combining existing civil and military space policies. It was issued just two days before Tim Peake was launched to the International Space Station (ISS), becoming the first UK ESA astronaut in space.

Creation of Jupiter Interior, a Step Towards Room Temperature Superconductivity

Laser-heat diamond-anvil cell (A), and anvil in the cell (B) We can create the pressure-temperature condition of the earth core by laser-heating the compressed sample in the cell. Credit: Kenji Ohta

Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe, and a major component of stars such as the Sun, as well as gas-giant planets such as Jupiter and Saturn. In recent years, hydrogen's behavior at high temperature and high pressure has been in the realm of interest not only for planetary science, but also for fields such as materials science for the purpose of achieving a hydrogen energy society.

NuSTAR Finds Cosmic Clumpy Doughnut Around Black Hole

Galaxy NGC 1068 can be seen in close-up in this view from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. NuSTAR's high-energy X-rays eyes were able to obtain the best view yet into the hidden lair of the galaxy's central, supermassive black hole. This active black hole -- shown as an illustration in the zoomed-in inset -- is one of the most obscured known, meaning that it is surrounded by extremely thick clouds of gas and dust. Credit: NASA/ESA/JPL-Caltech

The most massive black holes in the universe are often encircled by thick, doughnut-shaped disks of gas and dust. This deep-space doughnut material ultimately feeds and nourishes the growing black holes tucked inside. Until recently, telescopes weren't able to penetrate some of these doughnuts, also known as tori. "Originally, we thought that some black holes were hidden behind walls or screens of material that could not be seen through," said Andrea Marinucci of the Roma Tre University in Italy, lead author of a new Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society study describing results from NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, and the European Space Agency's XMM-Newton space observatory.

Canadian-built Laser Mapping System Takes Aim at an Asteroid

The OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter (OLA), contributed by the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), will create 3-D maps of asteroid Bennu to help the mission team select a sample collection site. NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will travel to the near-Earth asteroid Bennu and bring at least a 60-gram (2.1-ounce) sample back to Earth for study. Credit: NASA/Goddard/Debbie McCallum

The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) has delivered its contribution to NASA'sOSIRIS-REx mission: the Canadian-built OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter (OLA). OSIRIS-REx will study Bennu, an asteroid that has the potential to impact the Earth in the late 2100s. It is Canada's first international mission to return a sample from an asteroid to Earth. OLA is a sophisticated laser-based mapping system built for the CSA by MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. and their partner, Optech. It will create unprecedented 3D maps of Bennu to help the mission team select a site from which to collect a sample.

The Awakened Force of a Star

The two lightsabre-like streams crossing the image are jets of energised gas, ejected from the poles of a young star. If the jets collide with the surrounding gas and dust they can clear vast spaces, and create curved shock waves, seen as knotted clumps called Herbig-Haro objects.  Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, D. Padgett (GSFC), T. Megeath (University of Toledo), and B. Reipurth (University of Hawaii)

Perfectly timed for the release of "Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens", the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has imaged a cosmic double-bladed lightsabre. In the center of the image, partially obscured by a dark Jedi-like cloak of dust, an adolescent star shoots twin jets out into space, demonstrating the fearsome forces of the Universe.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Ancient Egyptians Described Algol's Eclipses

One page of the Cairo Calendar. Inside the superimposed rectangle is the hieratic writing for the word "Horus'". Credit: Lauri Jetsu

The Ancient Egyptian papyrus Cairo 86637 calendar is the oldest preserved historical document of naked eye observations of a variable star, the eclipsing binary Algol - a manifestation of Horus, a god and a king. This calendar contains lucky or unlucky prognoses for each day of one year. Lauri Jetsu and Sebastian Porceddu from the University of Helsinki, Finland, have performed a statistical analysis of the Cairo Calendar mythological texts. Their analysis revealed that the periods of Algol (2.85 days) and the Moon (29.6 days) strongly regulate the actions of deities in this calendar.

China Successfully Launches Its Dark Matter Hunter into Space

A Long March 2-D rocket carrying the Dark Matter Particle Explorer Satellite blasts off at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Jiuquan, northwest China's Gansu Province, Dec. 17, 2015. The satellite, nicknamed "Wukong" after the Monkey King with penetrating eyes in the Chinese classical fiction "Pilgrimage to the West", is the country's first space telescope in a fresh search for smoking-gun signals of dark matter, invisible material that scientists say makes up most of the universe's mass. (Xinhua/Jin Liwang)

China has successfully launched the country’s first ever dark matter probe on Thursday, Dec. 17. The satellite, named DAMPE (DArk Matter Particle Explorer) blasted off atop a Chinese Long March 2D rocket at 0:12 GMT (8:12 p.m. EDT, Dec. 16). Launch took place from the Launch Area 4 at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, located in northwest China's Gansu Province.

In a Galaxy not So Far Away, a Star Hosts a Potentially Habitable Planet

The sky area in the constellation of Ophiucus near the red dwarf star Wolf 1061 which includes the impressive, but unrelated, star cluster Messier 104. Wolf 1061 is 14 light years away. Credit: UNSW/The "Aladin sky atlas" developed at CDS, Strasbourg Observatory, France

University of New South Wales (Australia) astronomers have discovered the closest potentially habitable planet found outside our solar system so far, orbiting a star just 14 light years away. The planet, more than four times the mass of the Earth, is one of three that the team detected around a red dwarf star called Wolf 1061. “It is a particularly exciting find because all three planets are of low enough mass to be potentially rocky and have a solid surface, and the middle planet, Wolf 1061c, sits within the ‘Goldilocks’ zone where it might be possible for liquid water – and maybe even life — to exist,” says lead study author UNSW’s Dr Duncan Wright.

Monster Planet Is 'Dancing with the Stars'

Credit: carnegiescience.edu

A team made up almost entirely of current and former Carnegie scientists has discovered a highly unusual planetary system comprised of a Sun-like star, a dwarf star, and an enormous planet sandwiched in between. The planet, first discovered in 2011 orbiting a star called HD 7449, is about eight times the mass of Jupiter and has one of the most eccentric orbits ever found. An eccentric orbit is one that deviates from being perfectly circular. The further from a circle it is, the more eccentric it is. A large eccentricity can also indicate that a planet is being affected by other objects nearby. For the planet around HD 7449, the large eccentricity was a clue that something else—something bigger than the known planet—also resided in the system.

Hubble Telescope Captures First-ever Predicted Exploding Star

This image composite shows the search for the supernova, nicknamed Refsdal, using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.  The image to the left shows a part of the the deep field observation of the galaxy cluster MACS J1149.5+2223 from the Frontier Fields programme. The circle indicates the predicted position of the newest appearance of the supernova. To the lower right the Einstein cross event from late 2014 is visible.  The image on the top right shows observations by Hubble from October 2015, taken at the beginning of observation programme to detect the newest appearance of the supernova.  The image on the lower right shows the discovery of the Refsdal Supernova on 11 December 2015, as predicted by several different models.  Credit: NASA & ESA and P. Kelly (University of California, Berkeley)

The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has captured the image of the first-ever predicted supernova explosion. The reappearance of the Refsdal supernova was calculated from different models of the galaxy cluster whose immense gravity is warping the supernova’s light. Many stars end their lives with a with a bang, but only a few of these stellar explosions have been caught in the act. When they are, spotting them successfully has been down to pure luck — until now. On 11 December 2015 astronomers not only imaged a supernova in action, but saw it when and where they had predicted it would be.

Cassini Spacecraft Closes in on Enceladus, One Last Time

An exciting chapter of space exploration history will come to a close as NASA's Cassini spacecraft makes its final close flyby of Saturn's active, ocean-bearing moon Enceladus. Credit:NASA/JPL-CalTech

A thrilling chapter in the exploration of the solar system will soon conclude, as NASA's Saturn-orbiting Cassini spacecraft makes its final close flyby of the ocean-bearing moon Enceladus. Cassini is scheduled to fly past Enceladus at a distance of 3,106 miles (4,999 kilometers) on Saturday, Dec. 19, at 9:49 a.m. PST (12:49 p.m. EST). Although the spacecraft will continue to observe Enceladus during the remainder of its mission (through September 2017), it will be from much greater distances -- at closest, more than four times farther away than the Dec. 19 encounter.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

New Evidence for Young Planets in Discs Around Young Stars

This ALMA image combines a view of the dust around the young star HD 135344B (orange) with a view of the gaseous material (blue). The smaller hole in the inner gas is a telltale sign of the presence of a young planet clearing the disc. Credit: ALMA (ESO/NOAJ/NRAO)

Astronomers using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) have found the clearest indications yet that planets with masses several times that of Jupiter have recently formed in the discs of gas and dust around four young stars. Measurements of the gas around the stars also provide additional clues about the properties of those planets. Planets are found around nearly every star, but astronomers still do not fully understand how — and under what conditions — they form. To answer such questions, they study the rotating discs of gas and dust present around young stars from which planets are built. But these discs are small and far from Earth, and the power of ALMA was needed for them to reveal their secrets.

Thales Alenia Space to Build Sentinel-1 Satellites

In the back, Roberto Battiston, President of  the Italian Space Agency (ASI) on the left, Mauro Facchini, Head of the Copernicus Services Unit of the European Commission (right), Donato Amoroso, CEO of Thales Alenia Italy and Volker Liebig, ESA's Director of Earth Observation Programmes at the signing ceremony for the new contract of Sentinel-1C & -1D units. Credit: M. Iacobucci

Thales Alenia Space announced Tuesday that it has signed a contract with the European Space Agency (ESA) to build the Copernicus Sentinel-1C and 1D environmental monitoring satellites, as part of Europe's Copernicus program. Thales Alenia Space Italy was once again named prime contractor for these new satellites, as for Sentinel-1A and 1B. It is responsible for the design, development and integration of Copernicus the Sentinel-1C and 1D satellites, which will feature a C-band synthetic aperture radar (SAR), as well as advanced data management and transmission systems and onboard computer.

New Spin on Star-forming Galaxies

Regular spiral galaxies, such as the 'whirlpool galaxy' on the left, form far fewer stars than the clumpy galaxy on the right. The blue regions have the least star-forming gas and red-yellow regions have the most. Credit: Dr Danail Obreschkow, ICRAR. Image uses data from the Hubble Space Telescope.

Australian researchers have discovered why some galaxies are “clumpy” rather than spiral in shape—and it appears low spin is to blame. The finding challenges an earlier theory that high levels of gas cause clumpy galaxies and sheds light on the conditions that brought about the birth of most of the stars in the Universe.

XXL Hunt for Galaxy Clusters

This image shows XXL-South Field (or XXL-S), one of the two fields observed by the XXL survey. Credit: ESA/XMM-Newton/XXL survey consortium/(S. Snowden, L. Faccioli, F. Pacaud)

ESO telescopes have provided an international team of astronomers with the gift of the third dimension in a plus-sized hunt for the largest gravitationally bound structures in the Universe — galaxy clusters. Observations by the VLT and the NTT complement those from other observatories across the globe and in space as part of the XXL survey — one of the largest ever such quests for clusters.

India’s PSLV Launch Vehicle Successfully Puts Six Singapore Satellites into Orbit

The launch of the PSLV-C29 mission on Dec. 16, 2015

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has successfully launched its flagship PSLV booster, putting six satellites for Singapore into orbit. The liftoff occurred at 7:30 a.m. EST (12:30 GMT) on Wednesday, Dec. 16, from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre (SDSC) in Sriharikota. The mission, designated PSLV-C29, was carried out flawlessly and the satellites reached their targeted orbit.

Final Results of NameExoWorlds Public Vote Released

Infographic displaying a breakdown of the votes per person and country/region in the IAU NameExoWorlds vote to name alien worlds. As announced on 15 December 2015, names for 31 exoplanets and 14 host stars, voted for by the public, were accepted and are to be officially sanctioned by the IAU. The winning names are to be used freely in parallel with the existing scientific nomenclature, with due credit to the clubs or organisations that proposed them.  Credit:  IAU

The votes are in — the names of 19 ExoWorlds (14 stars and 31 exoplanets orbiting them) have been chosen by public vote in the NameExoWorlds contest, and accepted by the IAU. Reflecting the truly international interest in astronomy, over half a million votes from 182 countries and territories contributed to the new official designations of the alien worlds.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

New Crew Arrives at International Space Station

The six-member expedition 46 crew gathers for a ceremony in the Zvezda service module as friends and family congratulate the new arrivals. From left are Flight Engineers Tim Kopra, Sergey Volkov, Yuri Malenchenko, Mikhail Kornienko and Tim Peake with Commander Scott Kelly. Credit: NASA TV

Hatches between the International Space Station and an arriving Soyuz spacecraft opened at 2:58 p.m. EST Tuesday, signaling the arrival of three new crew members, including NASA astronaut Tim Kopra. They will join other residents on the station to continue important research that advances NASA's journey to Mars, while making discoveries that can benefit all of humanity. Kopra, Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko and ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Tim Peake launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan aboard the Soyuz TMA-19M spacecraft at 6:03 a.m. (5:03 p.m. in Baikonur) and, after orbiting Earth four times, manually docked to the station at 12:33 p.m.

Gamma Rays from Distant Galaxy Tell Story of an Escape

Black-hole-powered galaxies called blazars are the most common sources detected by NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope. As matter falls toward the supermassive black hole at the galaxy's center, some of it is accelerated outward at nearly the speed of light along jets pointed in opposite directions. When one of the jets happens to be aimed in the direction of Earth, as illustrated here, the galaxy appears especially bright and is classified as a blazar. Credits: M. Weiss/CfA

A flare of very high-energy gamma rays emitted from a galaxy halfway across the universe has put new bounds on the amount of background light in the universe and given astrophysicists clues to how and where such gamma rays are produced. The galaxy, known as PKS 1441+25, is a rare type of galaxy called a blazar, a tremendously bright beacon powered by a supermassive black hole at the heart of the galaxy. Blazars are intrinsically unsteady light sources and can sometimes emit flares ten to a hundred times brighter than their baseline emissions. A flare from PKS 1441+25 was detected in April 2015 and observed by a range of telescopes sensitive to different wavelengths, including the Very Energetic Radiation Imaging Telescope Array System (VERITAS) in Arizona.

Satellite’s Last Days Improve Orbital Decay Predictions

The U.S. Air Force Communication/Navigation Outage Forecasting System re-entered Earth's atmosphere on Nov. 28, 2015, after a more than seven-year mission. Observations during its last year will help scientists better predict orbital decay. Credits: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

Scientists are learning more about how the upper atmosphere and ionosphere affect space satellites as well as communications and navigation here on Earth, thanks to new data from a U.S. Air Force satellite that recently completed a more than seven-year mission. The Communication/Navigation Outage Forecasting System (C/NOFS) satellite burned up in Earth’s atmosphere during a planned reentry on Nov. 28, leaving behind a treasure trove of data about a part of the space environment that’s difficult to study. The unique set of sustained observations from C/NOFS will greatly improve models currently used to predict satellite trajectories, orbital drag and uncontrolled re-entry.

Japanese Hayabusa 2 Asteroid Spacecraft Enters Target Orbit

Artist's rendering of the Hayabusa 2 asteroid probe. Credit: Akihiro Ikeshita

A Japanese space probe successfully entered "target orbit" and is on its way to rendezvousing with a far away asteroid, in a quest to study the origin of the solar system, authorities said Monday. Earlier this month, the Hayabusa 2 spacecraft passed by Earth to harness the planet's gravitational pull in a bid to switch its orbital path to continue toward tiny Ryugu asteroid. "The Hayabusa 2... entered the target orbit to travel to the asteroid," Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) said in a statement.

NASA Accepting Applications for Future Astronauts

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly is seen while working outside of the International Space Station during a spacewalk on Nov. 6, 2015. Credit: NASA

NASA opened its astronaut-application website Monday. It's accepting applications through Feb. 18. The agency expects to announce final candidate selections in mid-2017. Those chosen may fly on any of four different U.S. spacecraft during their careers: the International Space Station, two commercial crew spacecraft currently in development by U.S. companies, and NASA’s Orion deep-space exploration vehicle.

XCOR Engineers Announce Major Breakthrough in Engine Technology

Credit: XCOR

XCOR Director of Engineering and acting CTO Michael Valant announced Monday that his team has reached an important milestone in the development of the reusable 5K18 Lynx main propulsion rocket engine. His engineers were able to 'close the loop' of the thermodynamic system under test conditions, a key technology for the Lynx sub-orbital vehicle.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Study Finds Evidence for More Recent Clay Formation on Mars

Clay minerals in Martian impact craters have often been assumed to have been formed the planet's earliest epoch, then uncovered by the impact. New research finds numerous clay deposits that appear to have formed after an impact event, suggesting that clay formation on Mars was not confined to the planet's most ancient period. Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona/Brown University

Recent orbital and rover missions to Mars have turned up ample evidence of clays and other hydrated minerals formed when rocks are altered by the presence of water. Most of that alteration is thought to have happened during the earliest part of Martian history, more than 3.7 billion years ago. But a new study shows that later alteration — within the last 2 billion years or so — may be more common than many scientists had thought. The research, by Brown University geologists Ralph Milliken and Vivian Sun, is in press in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets.

Mystery of Missing Exoplanet Water Solved

This image shows an artist's impression of the 10 hot Jupiter exoplanets studied by astronomer David Sing and his colleagues using the Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes. From top left to lower left, these planets are WASP-12b, WASP-6b, WASP-31b, WASP-39b, HD 189733b, HAT-P-12b, WASP-17b, WASP-19b, HAT-P-1b and HD 209458b. Credit: NASA/ESA

A survey of 10 hot, Jupiter-sized exoplanets conducted with NASA's Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes has led a team to solve a long-standing mystery — why some of these worlds seem to have less water than expected. The findings offer new insights into the wide range of planetary atmospheres in our galaxy and how planets are assembled. Of the nearly 2,000 planets confirmed to be orbiting other stars, a subset are gaseous planets with characteristics similar to those of Jupiter but that orbit very close to their stars, making them blistering hot.