Thursday, June 29, 2017

House-Sized Near-Earth Object to Swoosh Past Earth on Asteroid Day


A newly discovered near-Earth object (NEO), designated 2017 MC1, is slated to whiz by our planet coincidentally during the International Asteroid Day that will take place on June 30. The space rock will fly by Earth at 21:25 UTC with a relative velocity of 11.6 km/s.

Raytheon Continues Support for Astronaut Training at NBL

NASA tests crew exit strategy for Orion spacecraft in October 2015. Photo Credit: NASA / Radislav Sinyak

NASA has awarded Raytheon Company a new contract to continue mission support at the agency’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL) in Houston, Texas. The new $154-million contract allows the company to provide technical and engineering support at the facility for the next seven years.

Stanford Engineers Design a Robotic Gripper for Cleaning Up Space Debris

Close up of the robotic gripper made by the Cutkosky lab at Stanford University. The gripper is designed to grab objects in zero gravity using their gecko-inspired adhesive. Credit: Kurt Hickman/Stanford News Service

Right now, about 500,000 pieces of human-made debris are whizzing around space, orbiting our planet at speeds up to 17,500 miles per hour. This debris poses a threat to satellites, space vehicles and astronauts aboard those vehicles. What makes tidying up especially challenging is that the debris exists in space.

MIT Space Hotel Wins NASA Graduate Design Competition

The Managed, Reconfigurable, In-space Nodal Assembly (MARINA), developed by MIT graduate students, recently took first place at NASA's Revolutionary Aerospace Systems Concepts-Academic Linkage Design Competition Forum. MARINA is designed as a habitable commercially owned module for use in low Earth orbit that would be extensible for future use as a Mars transit vehicle.  Image courtesy of the MARINA team.

An interdisciplinary team of MIT graduate students representing five departments across the Institute was recently honored at NASA's Revolutionary Aerospace Systems Concepts-Academic Linkage Design Competition Forum. The challenge involved designing a commercially enabled habitable module for use in low Earth orbit that would be extensible for future use as a Mars transit vehicle. The team’s design won first place in the competition’s graduate division.

Arianespace Closes the First Half of 2017 with Launch of Flight VA238

Launch of an Ariane 5, Flight VA238, with the Hellas Sat 3 / Inmarsat S EAN and GSAT-17 satellites aboard on June 28, 2017. Photo Credit: ESA / CNES / Arianespace

After a minor technical glitch interrupted the countdown for five minutes, Arianespace’s Ariane 5 rocket left the pad at the Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, at 5:15 p.m. EDT (21:15 GMT) on June 28, 2017. Flight VA238, as the mission was named by Arianespace, deployed two satellites – Hellas Sat 3 / Inmarsat S EAN and GSAT-17 – into a geostationary transfer orbit (GTO) 39 minutes after lifting off, completing the fourth Ariane 5 launch of the year.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Students Create a Fully-Functional Manned Mission to Mars

ASTE 421 STUDENTS DREW UP A 9 STEP OUTLINE OF THE RUBEUS MISSION. COURTESY OF LISA HILL

Humankind has been reaching for the stars ever since Yuri Gagarin became the first person in history to reach outer space on April 12, 1961. There have been a lot of other “firsts” in the 50 years of human spaceflight. But the golden ticket of missions in our current era, the one that organizations like NASA, SpaceX, and Novawurks are all aiming for, is the grand manned-mission to Mars. The Internet and news media are replete with theories on how to do it, down to ship models and plans drawn up by engineers and science fanatics alike.

The Bee-Zed Asteroid Orbits in the Opposite Direction to Planets

Co-orbital bodies that orbit the Sun in the same direction as a planet can follow trajectories (blue curves with arrows) that, from the perspective of the planet, look like tadpoles, horseshoes or 'quasi-satellites'. Credit: Helena Morais & Fathi Namouni

In our solar system, an asteroid orbits the Sun in the opposite direction to the planets. Asteroid 2015 BZ509, also known as Bee-Zed, takes 12 years to make one complete orbit around the Sun. This is the same orbital period as that of Jupiter, which shares its orbit but moves in the opposite direction to the planet's motion.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Space Sector Stable but Still Dwarfed by the Aviation Sector: AIA Vice President

Front page of the “2017 Facts & Figures” report. Image Credit: AIA

The Aerospace Industries Association (AIA), a trade association representing leading aerospace and defense (A&D) companies in the U.S., has recently published its report entitled “2017 Facts & Figures”, which reveals key numbers about A&D industry’s economic impact. Among other things, the summary shows the condition of space systems sector as part of the A&D industry.

Astronomers Detect Orbital Motion in Pair of Supermassive Black Holes

Artist's conception of the pair of supermassive black holes at the center of the galaxy 0402+379, 750 million light-years from Earth. Credit: Josh Valenzuela/University of New Mexico

Using the supersharp radio “vision” of the National Science Foundation’s Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA), astronomers have made the first detection of orbital motion in a pair of supermassive black holes in a galaxy some 750 million light-years from Earth. The two black holes, with a combined mass 15 billion times that of the Sun, are likely separated by only about 24 light-years, extremely close for such a system.

Artificial Brain Helps Gaia Satellite Catch Speeding Stars

Artist’s impression of two stars speeding from the center of our Galaxy, the Milky Way, to its outskirts. Credit: ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

With the help of software that mimics a human brain, ESA’s Gaia satellite spotted six stars zipping at high speed from the center of our Galaxy to its outskirts. This could provide key information about some of the most obscure regions of the Milky Way.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Newly Discovered Truck-Sized Asteroid to Fly By Earth on Tuesday


A near-Earth asteroid the size of a truck is slated to fly past Earth on Tuesday, June 27 at a safe distance of about 3.2 lunar distances (LD), or 1.23 million kilometers. The space rock, designated 2017 MA3, will swoosh by our planet at 7:37 UTC with a relative velocity of approximately 9.28 km/s.

Topsy-Turvy Motion Creates Light Switch Effect at Uranus

This is a composite image of Uranus by Voyager 2 and two different observations made by the Hubble Space Telescope — one for the ring and one for the auroras (Photo credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, L. Lamy/Observatoire de Paris).

More than 30 years after Voyager 2 sped past Uranus, Georgia Institute of Technology researchers are using the spacecraft’s data to learn more about the icy planet. Their new study suggests that Uranus’ magnetosphere, the region defined by the planet’s magnetic field and the material trapped inside it, gets flipped on and off like a light switch every day as it rotates along with the planet. It’s “open” in one orientation, allowing solar wind to flow into the magnetosphere; it later closes, forming a shield against the solar wind and deflecting it away from the planet.

Arp 299: Galactic Goulash

This new composite image of Arp 299 contains X-ray data from Chandra (pink), higher-energy X-ray data from NuSTAR (purple), and optical data from the Hubble Space Telescope (white and faint brown). Arp 299 also emits copious amounts of infrared light that has been detected by observatories such as NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, but those data are not included in this composite. Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/Univ of Crete/K. Anastasopoulou et al, NASA/NuSTAR/GSFC/A. Ptak et al; Optical: NASA/STScI

What would happen if you took two galaxies and mixed them together over millions of years? A new image including data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory reveals the cosmic culinary outcome. Arp 299 is a system located about 140 million light years from Earth. It contains two galaxies that are merging, creating a partially blended mix of stars from each galaxy in the process.

Two Launches, Two Landings, Two Days: Falcon 9 Sends Iridium-2 Satellites into Space

Archive photo of the Iridium-1 launch in January 2017. The Iridium-2 launch took place at 1:25 p.m. PDT (4:25 EDT / 20:25 GMT) on June 25, 2017. Photo Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX launched, and landed, its second Falcon 9 in as many days when it sent 10 Iridium NEXT satellites into space. The mission, designated Iridium-2, launched at 1:25 p.m. PDT (4:25 p.m. EDT / 20:25 GMT) on June 25, 2017, from Space Launch Complex 4E (east). Showing it can keep up a rapid launch cadence, just 49 hours before, SpaceX had sent a “flight-proven” booster into space from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A in Florida.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Dutch Astronomers Discover Recipe to Make Cosmic Glycerol

Dutch astronomers from Leiden University created the biologically important molecule of glycerol at minus 250 degrees Celsius out of only carbon monoxide and hydrogen. The photo shows a close up of the ice cold vacuum chamber containing an artist impression of glycerol and the star forming area IRAS 16293-2422. (c) Harold Linnartz

A team of laboratory astrophysicists from Leiden University (the Netherlands) managed to make glycerol under conditions comparable to those in dark interstellar clouds. They allowed carbon monoxide ice to react with hydrogen atoms at minus 250 degrees Celsius. The researchers publish their findings in the Astrophysical Journal.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Impact Threat from Asteroid Apophis Cannot Be Ruled Out


The famous near-Earth asteroid Apophis caused quite a stir in 2004 when it was announced that it could hit our planet. Although the possibility of the impact during its close approach in 2029 was excluded, the asteroid’s collision with Earth in more distant future cannot be completely ruled out.

Launch of Bulgariasat-1 Kicks Off Busy Weekend for SpaceX

SpaceX launched the Bulgariasat-1 satellite at 3:10 p.m. EDT (19:10 GMT) on June 23, 2017. SpaceX also is planning on launching the Iridium Next Satellite 2 on June 25 – from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Photo Credit: Mike Howard / SpaceFlight Insider

Perhaps the best word to use to describe the launch tempo for Hawthorne, California-based Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) would be: relentless. With a mission launching about every two or three weeks from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A, the flight of the Bulgariasat-1 mission on Friday, June 23, only served to underscore that theme.

Does Dark Matter Annihilate Quicker in the Milky Way?

Image adapted from http://svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/11342

Researchers at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in Mumbai have proposed a theory that predicts how dark matter may be annihilating much more rapidly in the Milky Way, than in smaller or larger galaxies and the early Universe.

ISRO's PSLV-C38 Successfully Launches 31 Satellites in a Single Flight

PSLV-C38 launch on June 23. Credit: ISRO

ISRO’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle PSLV-C38 successfully launched the 712 kg Cartosat-2 Series Satellite along with 30 co-passenger satellites Friday (June 23, 2017) from Satish Dhawan Space Centre SHAR, Sriharikota. This is the thirty ninth consecutively successful mission of PSLV.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Magnetic Memories of a Metal World

Artist's concept of the Psyche spacecraft, which will conduct a direct exploration of an asteroid thought to be a stripped planetary core. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Research deciphering the hidden magnetic messages encoded in a rare group of meteorites has helped secure nearly half a billion dollars of NASA funding for a journey to their parent asteroid – the only known place in the solar system where scientists can examine directly what is probably a metallic core.

Radioactive Elements in Cassiopeia A Suggest a Neutrino-Driven Explosion

Observed distribution of 44Ti (blue) and iron (white, red) in Cassiopeia A. Copyright: Macmillan Publishers Ltd: Nature; from Grefenstette et al., Nature 506, 339 (2014); Fe distribution courtesy of U.~Hwang.

Stars exploding as supernovae are the main sources of heavy chemical elements in the Universe. In particular, radioactive atomic nuclei are synthesized in the hot, innermost regions during the explosion and can thus serve as probes of the unobservable physical processes that initiate the blast.

Scientists Uncover Origins of the Sun’s Swirling Spicules

A new NASA-funded study has revealed the origins of spicules – lengthy jets of plasma on the sun’s surface. Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Joy Ng, producer

At any given moment, as many as 10 million wild jets of solar material burst from the sun’s surface. They erupt as fast as 60 miles per second, and can reach lengths of 6,000 miles before collapsing. These are spicules, and despite their grass-like abundance, scientists didn’t understand how they form. Now, for the first time, a computer simulation — so detailed it took a full year to run — shows how spicules form, helping scientists understand how spicules can break free of the sun’s surface and surge upward so quickly.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Unknown 'Planetary Mass Object' May Lurk Somewhere on the Edge of the Solar System

A planetary mass object the size of Mars would be sufficient to produce the observed perturbations in the distant Kuiper Belt. (Image: Heather Roper/LPL)

An unknown, unseen "planetary mass object" may lurk in the outer reaches of our solar system, according to new research on the orbits of minor planets to be published in the Astronomical Journal. This object would be different from — and much closer than — the so-called Planet Nine, a planet whose existence yet awaits confirmation.

Laser-targeting A.I. Yields More Mars Science

This is how AEGIS sees the Martian surface. All targets found by the A.I. program are outlined: blue targets are rejected, while red are retained. The top-ranked target is shaded green; if there's a second-ranked target, it's shaded orange. These NavCam images have been contrast-balanced. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Artificial intelligence is changing how we study Mars. A.I. software on NASA's Curiosity Mars rover has helped it zap dozens of laser targets on the Red Planet this past year, becoming a frequent science tool when the ground team was out of contact with the spacecraft. This same software has proven useful enough that it's already scheduled for NASA's upcoming mission, Mars 2020.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Could a Dedicated Mission to Enceladus Detect Microbial Life There?

This illustration taken from the Cassini Grand Finale movie shows Cassini's fly-through of the Enceladus plume in October 2015. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Saturn’s icy moon Enceladus is best known for its numerous geysers ejecting plumes of water and ice. These eruptive fountains are perplexing researchers searching for signs of microbial life beyond Earth. A dedicated spacecraft designated to study the plume-like features sprouting from Enceladus could definitely tell us whether or not they contain alien microorganisms.

Hubble Captures Massive Dead Disk Galaxy that Challenges Theories of Galaxy Evolution

Acting as a “natural telescope” in space, the gravity of the extremely massive foreground galaxy cluster MACS J2129-0741 magnifies, brightens, and distorts the far-distant background galaxy MACS2129-1, shown in the top box. The middle box is a blown-up view of the gravitationally lensed galaxy. In the bottom box is a reconstructed image, based on modeling that shows what the galaxy would look like if the galaxy cluster were not present. The galaxy appears red because it is so distant that its light is shifted into the red part of the spectrum. Credits: NASA, ESA, M. Postman (STScI), and the CLASH team

By combining the power of a "natural lens" in space with the capability of NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers made a surprising discovery—the first example of a compact yet massive, fast-spinning, disk-shaped galaxy that stopped making stars only a few billion years after the big bang. Finding such a galaxy early in the history of the universe challenges the current understanding of how massive galaxies form and evolve, say researchers.

M–ARGO: A Deep Space CubeSat

M–ARGO © ESA-Jacky Huart

ESA has designed its first stand-alone CubeSat mission for deep space – aimed at targeting a little- known class of asteroid: small in size and rapidly spinning. Studied in the Concurrent Design Facility, ESA’s highly networked facility for designing novel missions, the ‘Miniaturized – Asteroid Remote Geophysical Observer’, or M–ARGO, is a nano-spacecraft based on the CubeSat design employing standardized 10 cm cubic units within which electronic boards can be stacked and subsystems attached.

NASA Mars Orbiter Views Rover Climbing Mount Sharp

The feature that appears bright blue at the center of this scene is NASA's Curiosity Mars rover amid tan rocks and dark sand on Mount Sharp, as viewed by the HiRISE camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter on June 5, 2017. The rover is about 10 feet long and not really as blue as it looks here. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

Using the most powerful telescope ever sent to Mars, NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter caught a view of the Curiosity rover this month amid rocky mountainside terrain. The car-size rover, climbing up lower Mount Sharp toward its next destination, appears as a blue dab against a background of tan rocks and dark sand in the enhanced-color image from the orbiter's High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Star’s Birth May Have Triggered Another Star Birth, Astronomers Say

Protostar FIR 3 (HOPS 370) with outflow that may have triggered the formation of younger protostar FIR 4 (HOPS 108), in the Orion star-forming region. Pullouts are individual VLA images of each protostar. (au = astronomical unit, the distance from the Earth to the Sun, about 93 million miles.) Credit: Osorio et al., NRAO/AUI/NSF.

Astronomers using the National Science Foundation’s Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) have found new evidence suggesting that a jet of fast-moving material ejected from one young star may have triggered the formation of another, younger protostar. “The orientation of the jet, the speed of its material, and the distance all are right for this scenario,” said Mayra Osorio, of the Astrophysical Institute of Andalucia (IAA-CSIC) in Spain. Osorio is the lead author of a paper reporting the findings in the Astrophysical Journal.

Scientist Warns of Asteroid Danger

This is an asteroid impact near the Russian city of Chelyabinsk in February 2013. Credit: Alan Fitzsimmons

A leading astrophysicist from Queen's University Belfast has warned that an asteroid strike is just a matter of time. Professor Alan Fitzsimmons from the University's Astrophysics Research Centre has said it is a case of when an asteroid collision will happen, rather than if it will happen.

Making Waves with the Hot Electrons within Earth's Radiation Belts

This artist's rendering of the Van Allen Probes mission shows the path of its two spacecraft through the radiation belts that surround Earth, which are made visible in false color. Credit: NASA

Encircling the Earth, within its magnetosphere, are two concentric, doughnut-shaped radiation belts known as the Van Allen belts. The Van Allen belts swell and recede in response to incoming energy from the sun, sometimes billowing far enough to expose orbiting satellites and other spacecraft to damaging radiation that can disrupt electronic communications and navigation signals, as well as electric grids. These radiation belt electrons travel near the speed of light and emit and absorb waves that are used by scientists to understand space weather.

New Branch in Family Tree of Exoplanets Discovered

This sketch illustrates a family tree of exoplanets. Planets are born out of swirling disks of gas and dust called protoplanetary disks. The disks give rise to giant planets like Jupiter as well as smaller planets mostly between the sizes of Earth and Neptune. Researchers using data from the W. M. Keck Observatory and NASA's Kepler mission discovered that the smaller planets can be cleanly divided into two size groups: the rocky Earth-like planets and super-Earths, and the gaseous mini-Neptunes. Credit: NASA/Kepler/Caltech (T. Pyle)

Since the mid-1990s, when the first planet around another sun-like star was discovered, astronomers have been amassing what is now a large collection of exoplanets—nearly 3,500 have been confirmed so far. In a new Caltech-led study, researchers have classified these planets in much the same way that biologists identify new animal species and have learned that the majority of exoplanets found to date fall into two distinct size groups: rocky Earth-like planets and larger mini-Neptunes. The team used data from NASA's Kepler mission and the W. M. Keck Observatory.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Nearby Brown Dwarf Gets the Hubble Treatment

Hubble image of the Luhman 16AB system. Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, L. Bedin et al.

The Luhman 16 AB system wasn’t discovered until 2013, which is surprising given that the system is the third known closest system to our own star, the Sun. Since its discovery, Hubble has been keeping tabs on the system and recently revealed a stack of images that show the system comprising of 2 brown dwarfs, and not 3 as originally suspected. Sometimes in astronomy, it’s our closest neighbors that provide us with the biggest surprises.

Red Dots: The Live Search for Terrestrial Planets around Proxima Centauri Continues

The Red Dots campaign will use ESO’s exoplanet hunter to look for Earth-like planets around some of our nearest stellar neighbours: Proxima Centauri, Barnard's Star and Ross 154.  Credit: ESO/Red Dots

The team behind the Pale Red Dot campaign, who last year discovered a planet around the closest star to our Sun (eso1629), are resuming their search for Earth-like planets and launching another initiative today. The Red Dots campaign will follow the astronomers as they use ESO’s exoplanet-hunter to look for planets around some of our nearest stellar neighbors: Proxima Centauri, Barnard's Star and Ross 154. ESO is joining this Open Notebook Science experiment — real science presented in real time — that will give the public and the scientific community access to observational data from Proxima Centauri as the campaign unfolds.

NASA Releases Kepler Survey Catalog with Hundreds of New Planet Candidates

NASA’s Kepler space telescope team has identified 219 new planet candidates, 10 of which are near-Earth size and in the habitable zone of their star. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Kepler space telescope team has released a mission catalog of planet candidates that introduces 219 new planet candidates, 10 of which are near-Earth size and orbiting in their star's habitable zone, which is the range of distance from a star where liquid water could pool on the surface of a rocky planet.

China's Zhongxing-9A Satellite Fails to Enter Preset Orbit

Long March 3B launch with the Zhongxing-9A satellite – Photo via Chinaspaceflight.com

Communications satellite Zhongxing-9A, which was launched aboard the Long March-3B carrier rocket from southwest China's Xichang Satellite Launch Center at 12:11 a.m. local time on Monday, has failed to enter the preset orbit.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Cosmic Rays More Dangerous to Mars Astronauts than Previously Thought

Artist's concept of a manned mission to Mars. Credit: NASA

New study conducted by a radiation expert shows that cancer risk for future manned missions to Mars is twice as higher than previously thought. The research predicts a dramatic increase in the disease for astronauts exposed to cosmic rays during long-term missions beyond Earth’s magnetic field.

Astronomers See Mysterious Nitrogen Area in a Butterfly-Shaped Star Formation Disk

An international team of astronomers, led by Dutch scientists, has discovered a region in our Milky Way that contains many nitrogen compounds in the southeast of a butterfly-shaped star formation disk and very little in the north-west. This artistic impression shows the universe around the star formation area with, as an overlay, the scientists' observations. (c) Veronica Allen/Alexandra Elconin (http://alsewhere.weebly.com)

An international team of astronomers, led by Dutch scientists, has discovered a region in our Milky Way that contains many nitrogen compounds in the southeast of a butterfly-shaped star formation disk and very little in the north-west. The astronomers suspect that multiple stars-to-be share the same star formation disk, but the precise process is still a puzzle. The article with their findings has been accepted for publication in Astronomy & Astrophysics.

No Universe Without Big Bang

No "smooth beginning": almost paradoxically, a smooth beginning causes large quantum fluctuations to grow (right), and thus prevents the development of a large universe as we know it (left). © J.-L. Lehners (Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics)

According to Einstein’s theory of relativity, the curvature of spacetime was infinite at the big bang. In fact, at this point all mathematical tools fail, and the theory breaks down. However, there remained the notion that perhaps the beginning of the universe could be treated in a simpler manner, and that the infinities of the big bang might be avoided. This has indeed been the hope expressed since the 1980s by the well-known cosmologists James Hartle and Stephen Hawking with their “no-boundary proposal”, and by Alexander Vilenkin with his “tunnelling proposal”.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

China's Quantum Satellite Achieves 'Spooky Action' at Record Distance

Photo taken on Nov. 26, 2016 shows a quantum communication ground station in Xinglong, north China's Hebei Province. Chinese scientists on Thursday reported a major breakthrough in quantum communication: A pair of entangled photons over a distance of 1,200 km have been successfully transmitted from space to Earth. The previous record was about 100 km. (Xinhua/Jin Liwang)

A team of Chinese scientists have realized the satellite-based distribution of entangled photon pairs over 1,200 kilometers. The photon pairs were demonstrated to be still entangled after travelling long distances. The experiment shows quantum entanglement, described by Albert Einstein as a "spooky action", still exists at such a distance.

Orion Launch Abort Motor Successfully Tested

The abort motor for Orion’s launch abort system fired for five seconds in a test at the Promontory, Utah facility of manufacturer Orbital ATK. Credits: Orbital ATK

Orbital ATK along with NASA and Lockheed Martin, successfully performed June 15 a ground firing test of the abort motor for NASA’s Orion spacecraft Launch Abort System (LAS) at Orbital ATK’s facility in Promontory, Utah. The launch abort motor is a major part of the LAS, which provides a tremendous enhancement in spaceflight safety for astronauts.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Air Force Bids Farewell to Ageing Satellite

2nd Space Operations Squadron recently decommissioned SVN 32 after 24 years on orbit. The satellite was a GPS Block IIA like the artist rendering shown here. (Courtesy graphic)

The 2nd Space Operations Squadron began the disposal of Satellite Vehicle Number 32, Inter Range Operation Number 6809, June 5, and was fully disposed June 12. The process took several days, and each day focused on a different aspect of the disposal, such as putting the vehicle into a spin-stabilized configuration, firing thrusters to raise the orbit, depleting the vehicle of any remaining fuel and disconnecting the battery chargers and turning off the receivers.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Asteroid 2017 LX to Whiz by Earth on Friday


A newly discovered asteroid is slated to whiz by Earth on Friday, June 16. The space rock, designated 2017 LX, will safely miss our planet at 7:56 UTC at a distance of about 2.75 lunar distances (LD), or 1.05 million kilometers.

China Launches the Hard X-ray Modulation Telescope to Search for Black Holes, Pulsars

A Long March-4B rocket carrying X-ray space telescope to observe black holes, pulsars and gamma-ray bursts blasts off from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China's Gobi Desert, June 15, 2017. (Xinhua/Zhen Zhe)

China launched its first X-ray space telescope to observe black holes, pulsars and gamma-ray bursts, via a Long March-4B rocket from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China's Gobi Desert at 11 a.m. Thursday, June 15.

Radio Astronomers Peer Deep into the Stellar Nursery of the Orion Nebula

In this composite image combining GBT radio and WISE infrared observations, the filament of ammonia molecules appears red and Orion Nebula gas appears blue. Image: R. Friesen, Dunlap Institute; J. Pineda, MPE; GBO/AUI/NSF

Astronomers have released an image of a vast filament of star-forming gas, 1200 light-years away, in the stellar nursery of the Orion Nebula. The image shows ammonia molecules within a 50-light-year long filament detected through radio observations made with the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia. That image is combined with an image of the Orion Nebula—an object familiar to amateur and professional astronomers alike—taken with NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explore (WISE) telescope.

Cassini Sees Bright Methane Clouds on Titan

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

NASA's Cassini spacecraft sees bright methane clouds drifting in the summer skies of Saturn's moon Titan, along with dark hydrocarbon lakes and seas clustered around the north pole.

Chaotically Magnetized Cloud Is No Place to Build a Star, or Is It?

Artist impression of chaotic magnetic field lines very near a newly emerging protostar. Credit: NRAO/AUI/NSF; D. Berry

For decades, scientists thought that the magnetic field lines coursing around newly forming stars were both powerful and unyielding, working like jail bars to corral star-forming material. More recently, astronomers have found tantalizing evidence that large-scale turbulence far from a nascent star can drag magnetic fields around at will.

VLT Survey Telescope Captures Three-In-One

Two of the sky’s more famous residents share the stage with a lesser-known neighbour in this enormous three gigapixel image from ESO’s VLT Survey Telescope (VST). On the right lies the faint, glowing cloud of gas called Sharpless 2-54, the iconic Eagle Nebula (Messier 16) is in the centre, and the Omega Nebula (Messier 17) to the left. This cosmic trio makes up just a portion of a vast complex of gas and dust within which new stars are springing to life and illuminating their surroundings.  Credit: ESO

Two of the sky’s more famous residents share the stage with a lesser-known neighbor in this enormous new three gigapixel image from ESO’s VLT Survey Telescope (VST). On the right lies the faint, glowing cloud of gas called Sharpless 2-54, the iconic Eagle Nebula is in the center, and the Omega Nebula to the left. This cosmic trio makes up just a portion of a vast complex of gas and dust within which new stars are springing to life and illuminating their surroundings.

CTA Prototype Telescope, ASTRI, Achieves First Light


During the nights of 25 and 26 May, the camera of the ASTRI telescope prototype recorded its first ever Cherenkov light while undergoing testing at the astronomical site of Serra La Nave (Mount Etna) in Sicily managed by INAF-Catania. This comes not long after its optical validation was achieved in November 2016. This accomplishment was the first optical demonstration for astronomical telescopes using the novel Schwarzschild Couder dual-mirror design. The ASTRI telescope is a proposed Small-Sized Telescope design for the Cherenkov Telescope Array (CTA).

Progress MS-06 Freighter on Its Way to Space Station

A Soyuz 2.1a with the Progress MS-06 cargo spacecraft launches toward the International Space Station at 5:20 a.m. EDT (09:20 GMT) June 14, 2017. Photo Credit: RSC Energia

Taking to overcast skies at 5:20 a.m. EDT (09:20 GMT) June 14, 2017, from Site 31 at Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, a modernized Soyuz 2.1a rocket powered toward orbit. Three stages and nine minutes later, the Progress MS-06 freighter was deployed into its proper orbit to begin a two-day, 34-orbit journey to the International Space Station.

Scientists Make Waves with Black Hole Research

From left to right are: Dr. Silke Weinfurtner, Antonin Coutant, Theo Torres, and Sam Patrick. Credit: The University of Nottingham

Scientists at the University of Nottingham have made a significant leap forward in understanding the workings of one of the mysteries of the universe. They have successfully simulated the conditions around black holes using a specially designed water bath. Their findings shed new light on the physics of black holes with the first laboratory evidence of the phenomenon known as the superradiance, achieved using water and a generator to create waves.

New Evidence That All Stars Are Born in Pairs

Radio image of a very young binary star system, less than about 1 million years old, that formed within a dense core (oval outline) in the Perseus molecular cloud. All stars likely form as binaries within dense cores. (SCUBA-2 survey image by Sarah Sadavoy, CfA)

Did our sun have a twin when it was born 4.5 billion years ago? Almost certainly yes — though not an identical twin. And so did every other sunlike star in the universe, according to a new analysis by a theoretical physicist from UC Berkeley and a radio astronomer from the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory at Harvard University.

New Horizons Team Digs into New Data on Next Flyby Target

Paul Maley and Ted Blank, both of the International Occultation Timing Association, observe the occultation of Kuiper Belt object 2014 MU69 on the morning of June 3, 2017, from the Karoo desert near Vosburg, South Africa. Their target field — containing both Pluto and MU69 — is in the portion of the Milky Way seen here, in the constellation of Sagittarius. They positioned their telescope next to a small church, shielding it from winds that could arise during the cold winter night. NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft will fly past MU69 on Jan. 1, 2019. Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI/Henry Throop

It was the most technically-challenging and complex stellar occultation observation campaign ever attempted: At least 54 observing teams with dozens of telescopes dispatched across two continents, positioned to catch a rare, two-second glimpse of a small, distant Kuiper Belt object passing in front of a star. And it wasn't just any KBO — it was the next flyby target of NASA's pioneering New Horizons mission.

Researchers Advocate Statistical Approach to Search for Earth-Like Planets

This artist’s impression shows the super-Earth exoplanet GJ 1214b. Credit: ESO/L. Calçada

A team of astronomers at the University of Chicago and Grinnell College seeks to change the way scientists approach the search for Earth-like planets orbiting stars other than the sun. They favor taking a statistical comparative approach in seeking habitable planets and life beyond the solar system.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

VLA Gives New Insight Into Galaxy Cluster’s Spectacular 'Mini-Halo'

VLA image of radio-emitting mini-halo in the Perseus Cluster of galaxies. Radio emission in red; optical in white. Credit: Gendron-Marsolais et al.; NRAO/AUI/NSF; NASA; SDSS.

Astronomers using the National Science Foundation’s Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) have discovered new details that are helping them decipher the mystery of how giant radio-emitting structures are formed at the center of a cluster of galaxies.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Hot Rocks, Not Warm Atmosphere, Led to Relatively Recent Water-Carved Valleys on Mars

Lyot Crater, rendered here with elevations exaggerated, is home to relatively recent water-carved valleys (white streaks). New research suggests the water came from melting snow and ice present at the time of the crater-forming impact. David Weiss/NASA/Brown University

Present-day Mars is a frozen desert, colder and more arid than Antarctica, and scientists are fairly sure it’s been that way for at least the last 3 billion years. That makes a vast network of water-carved valleys on the flanks of an impact crater called Lyot — which formed somewhere between 1.5 billion and 3 billion years ago — something of a Martian mystery. It’s not clear where the water came from.

Galaxy Alignments Traced Back Ten Billion Years

MACS J0416.1-240 is a cluster of galaxies located four billion light years away. A new study based on observations with the Hubble Space Telescope has shown that the most massive galaxies in the universe, which are found in clusters like this, have been aligned with the distribution of neighboring galaxies for at least ten billion years.

A new study led by Michael West of Lowell Observatory and Roberto De Propris of the University of Turku reveals that the most massive galaxies in the universe have been aligned with their surroundings for at least ten billion years. This discovery shows that galaxies, like people, are influenced by their environment from a young age.

Astronomers Observe a Two Square Degree Patch of the Sky at Radio Wavelengths

Zoom-in images of the VLA-COSMOS 3 GHz Large Project mosaic containing large radio galaxies (top 3x3 panels), and also compact radio objects (bottom panel). Image published in Smolčić et al (2017a). Image constructed by Mladen Novak.

The VLA-COSMOS 3 GHz Large Project, led by researchers at the University of Zagreb, has used the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) telescope to observe a two square degree patch of sky called the COSMOS field, for a duration of 384 hours. The astronomers obtained one of the clearest (highest angular resolution) and deepest (most sensitive) radio images ever produced over such a large region of the sky. In the radio ''skymap'', the team detected nearly 11000 galaxies. The new radio data have been combined with optical, infrared, and X-ray observations from worldwide leading telescopes.

SOFIA Finds Cool Dust Around Energetic Active Black Holes

Artist illustration of the thick ring of dust that can obscure the energetic processes that occur near the supermassive black hole of an active galactic nuclei. The SOFIA studies suggest that the dust distribution is about 30 percent smaller than previously thought. Credits: NASA/SOFIA/Lynette Cook

Researchers at the University of Texas San Antonio using observations from NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, SOFIA, found that the dust surrounding active, ravenous black holes is much more compact than previously thought.

Orbital ATK Successfully Concludes Seventh Cargo Logistics Mission to ISS

The Cygnus cargo craft, with its prominent Ultra Flex solar arrays, is pictured moments after being released from the International Space Station. Credit: NASA TV

Orbital ATK announced that its “S.S. John Glenn” Cygnus spacecraft successfully completed its seventh cargo logistics mission to the International Space Station under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS-1) contract. The mission also marked the third time that Cygnus was used as a research platform for conducting in-space research with all mission objectives executed as planned.

Monday, June 12, 2017

ALMA Hears Birth Cry of a Massive Baby Star

Orion KL Source I observed with ALMA. The massive protostar is located in the center and surrounded by a gas disk (red). A bipolar gas outflow is ejected from the protostar (blue). Credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), Hirota et al.

An international research team led by a Japanese astronomer has determined how the enigmatic gas flow from a massive baby star is launched. The team used the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) to observe the baby star and obtained clear evidence of rotation in the outflow. The motion and the shape of the outflow indicate that the interplay of centrifugal and magnetic forces in a disk surrounding the star plays a crucial role in the star’s birth cry.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Asteroid Larger than a Football Stadium to Fly By Earth on June 24


An asteroid larger than a football stadium is expected to miss our planet on Saturday, June 24 at a safe distance of about 7.9 lunar distances (LD) - slightly more than three million kilometers. The space rock, designated 2010 NY65 (or 441987), will pass by Earth with a relative velocity of 12.7 km/s at 6:38 UTC.

The Largest Virtual Universe Ever Simulated

The Cosmic Web: A section of the virtual universe, a billion light years across, showing how dark matter is distributed in space, with dark matter halos the yellow clumps, interconnected by dark filaments. Cosmic void, shown as the white areas, are the lowest density regions in the Universe. (Image: Joachim Stadel, UZH)

Researchers from the University of Zurich have simulated the formation of our entire Universe with a large supercomputer. A gigantic catalogue of about 25 billion virtual galaxies has been generated from 2 trillion digital particles. This catalogue is being used to calibrate the experiments on board the Euclid satellite, that will be launched in 2020 with the objective of investigating the nature of dark matter and dark energy.

Space-Traveling Flatworms Help Scientists Enhance Understanding of Regenerative Health

An amputated flatworm fragment sent to space regenerated into a double-headed worm, a rare spontaneous occurrence of double-headedness. Credit: Junji Morokuma, Allen Discovery Center at Tufts University.

Flatworms that spent five weeks aboard the International Space Station are helping researchers led by Tufts University scientists to study how an absence of normal gravity and geomagnetic fields can have anatomical, behavioral, and bacteriological consequences, according to a paper to be published June 13 in Regeneration. The research has implications for human and animal space travelers and for regenerative and bioengineering science.

NASA Finds Evidence of Diverse Environments in Curiosity Samples

NASA's Curiosity Mars rover examined a mudstone outcrop area called "Pahrump Hills" on lower Mount Sharp, in 2014 and 2015. This view shows locations of some targets the rover studied there. The blue dots indicate where drilled samples of powdered rock were collected for analysis. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

NASA scientists have found a wide diversity of minerals in the initial samples of rocks collected by the Curiosity rover in the lowermost layers of Mount Sharp on Mars, suggesting that conditions changed in the water environments on the planet over time. Curiosity landed near Mount Sharp in Gale Crater in August 2012. It reached the base of the mountain in 2014. Layers of rocks at the base of Mount Sharp accumulated as sediment within ancient lakes around 3.5 billion years ago. Orbital infrared spectroscopy had shown that the mountain's lowermost layers have variations in minerals that suggest changes in the area have occurred.

The Future of the Orion Constellation

An all-sky view of the 2 057 050 stars from the Tycho-Gaia Astrometric Solution (TGAS), one of the products of the first data release from ESA's Gaia mission. The view also includes 24 320 bright stars from the Hipparcos Catalogue that are not included in Gaia's first data release.  The shape of the Orion constellation is highlighted towards the right edge of the frame, just below the Galactic Plane. Two stellar clusters can be seen towards the left edge of the frame: these are the alpha Persei (Per OB3) and Pleiades open clusters.  The stripes visible in the image reflect the way Gaia scans the sky and the preliminary nature of the first data release. Credit: ESA/Gaia/DPAC

A new video, based on measurements by ESA’s Gaia and Hipparcos satellites, shows how our view of the Orion constellation will evolve over the next 450 000 years. Stars are not motionless in the sky: their positions change continuously as they move through our Galaxy, the Milky Way. These motions, too slow to be appreciated with the naked eye over a human lifetime, can be captured by high-precision observations like those performed by ESA’s billion-star surveyor, Gaia.

Cosmic Inflation: Higgs Says Goodbye to His ‘Little Brother’

Inflatons, hypothetical particles beyond the Standard Model, were sought in mesons decays observed by the LHCb experiment at CERN. The image shows a typical, fully reconstructed LHCb event. (Source: LHCb Collaboration, CERN)

In the first moments after the Big Bang, the Universe was able to expand even billions of billions of billions of times faster than today. Such rapid expansion should be due to a primordial force field, acting with a new particle: inflaton. From the latest analysis of the decay of mesons, carried out in the LHCb experiment by physicists from Cracow and Zurich, it appears, however, that the most probable light inflaton, a particle with the characteristics of the famous Higgs boson but less massive, almost certainly does not exist.