New Horizons Team Sticking to Original Flight Plan at Pluto
Unless significant new hazards are found, expect NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft to stay on its original course past Pluto and its moons, after mission managers concluded that the danger posed by dust and debris in the Pluto system is less than they once feared. The New Horizons team recently completed an 18-month study of potential impact hazards – mostly dust created by objects hitting Pluto’s small satellites – the spacecraft would face as it speeds some 30,000 miles per hour (more than 48,000 kilometers per hour) past Pluto in July 2015.
“We found that loss of the New Horizons mission by dust impacting the spacecraft is very unlikely, and we expect to follow the nominal, or baseline, mission timeline that we’ve been refining over the past few years,” says New Horizons Project Scientist Hal Weaver, of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. “Still, we’ll be ready with two alternative timelines, in the event that the impact risk turns out to be greater than we think.”
Those alternate plans (called SHBOTs, short for Safe Haven by Other Trajectories) are being developed should new information – gathered from New Horizons camera observations during the approach to Pluto, for example, or new dust-dynamics analyses – indicate less-than-smooth sailing for New Horizons.
One plan, the Generic Inner SHBOT, is essentially the same as baseline trajectory, but with the spacecraft turned so that its 7-foot dish antenna faces the incoming dust particles; this “Antenna-to-Ram” (or ATR) configuration would protect the spacecraft underneath. The Deep Inner SHBOT also employs ATR protection, but would additionally dip the trajectory to within just 3,000 kilometers (nearly 1,900 miles) of Pluto’s surface, where atmospheric drag tends to sweep out lingering dust.
New Horizons managers recently presented their impact-hazard outlook and if-necessary mitigation plans to an independent NASA review panel and to the NASA Science Mission Directorate Program Management Council &ndash receiving endorsements from both.
New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute, says the mission team is now finalizing plans for the Pluto encounter. In early July, the team will rehearse the most critical nine-day segment of the baseline encounter plan, putting itself and the spacecraft through the paces of the flight toward and just past Pluto and its moons.
Stern adds that the spacecraft remains on target for a close approach to Pluto in 2015, all subsystems are performing nominally, and “the anticipated science observations will revolutionize our understanding of dwarf planets and the Kuiper belt, and excite a whole new generation of the public to the first reconnaissance of a planet on the very frontier of our solar system.” Credit: pluto.jhuapl.edu
Arecibo Radar Sees Asteroid 1998 QE2 and Moon
Arecibo Observatory catches the most detailed radar images ever of asteroid 1998 QE2 and its newly discovered moon as they safely pass our planet. Arecibo Observatory continues to take radar images of asteroid 1998 QE2 and its moon as the space rock sails safely passed earth this week. The images show a dark cratered asteroid 3 kilometers across (1.9 miles) with a companion moon 750 meters (2,500 feet) in size.
Texas tourism may go suborbital
Only about 500 people have traveled to space, and few have traveled to space commercially. You can expect that to change — and Texas could be involved in a big way. The last decade has seen the first leisure travelers go to space. Since 2001, seven individuals have purchased eight orbital flights — one passenger flew twice — for up to $35 million per flight. Austin software and gaming mogul Richard Garriott was one of them.
Europe’s largest spaceship reaches its orbital port
ESA’s fourth Automated Transfer Vehicle, Albert Einstein, completed a flawless rendezvous with the International Space Station on 15 June when it docked smoothly with orbital outpost at 14:07 GMT (16:07 CEST). The Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) is now connected to the Space Station. “Bravo Europe, bravo ESA, bravo ATV.
Thank you Member States, thank you industry, thank you CNES, thank you Russian partner,” commented Jean-Jacques Dordain, Director General of ESA. “With the fourth ATV now ready to support and supply the Space Station with essential supplies and scientific experiments, ESA again proves itself to be a reliable partner in the international station upon which the future can be developed.”
Former army boss Walt Natynczyk tapped to lead Canadian Space Agency
Chinese astronauts warm-up work in space module
Chinese astronauts installed new floor boards in the orbiting Tiangong-1 space module on Friday morning, according to the Beijing Aerospace Control Center. The maneuver was a warm-up task for the three-person crew that is expected to carry out scientific experiments and technical tests during the remainder of their 15-day journey. Video clips show the three astronauts, including China’s second female astronaut in space, wearing blue jumpsuits while installing the floor boards after receiving instructions from the ground control centre.
Russia to Unveil New Piloted Spacecraft at MAKS Airshow
A mock-up of Russia’s new piloted spacecraft will be showcased in August at the MAKS airshow near Moscow, Russia’s space chief said Friday. The new craft, being developed by the Russian spaceship manufacturer RKK Energia, is expected to make its maiden flight in 2018. “At the MAKS airshow, we will soon see the mock-up of the spaceship, which will fly in 2018,” space chief Vladimir Popovkin said at a meeting with President Vladimir Putin and Russian cosmonauts.
Testing times for SpaceX’s new Falcon 9 v.1.1
Engineers at SpaceX’s Rocket Development and Test Facility in McGregor, Texas are continuing to conduct a series of firings of the company’s upgraded Falcon 9 v.1.1 launch vehicle – which is scheduled to debut this summer. Testing on the core stage – with its new Merlin 1D engines – has proven to be challenging, due to a number of aborted firings. SpaceX have successfully flown the Falcon 9 v1.0 – powered by nine SpaceX Merlin 1C engines arranged in a “tic-tac-toe” pattern – via the first five F9 launches, including four launches of the Dragon spacecraft – three of which resulted in a successful mission to the International Space Station (ISS).
Mars Rover Opportunity Trekking Toward More Layers
Approaching its 10th anniversary of leaving Earth, NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity is on the move again, trekking to a new study area still many weeks away. The destination, called “Solander Point,” offers Opportunity access to a much taller stack of geological layering than the area where the rover has worked for the past 20 months, called “Cape York.” Both areas are raised segments of the western rim of Endeavour Crater, which is about 14 miles (22 kilometers) in diameter.
”Getting to Solander Point will be like walking up to a road cut where you see a cross section of the rock layers,” said Ray Arvidson of Washington University, St. Louis, deputy principal investigator for the mission.
Marks on Martian Dunes May Be Tracks of Dry-Ice Sleds
“I have always dreamed of going to Mars,” said Serina Diniega, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., and lead author of a report published online by the journal Icarus. “Now I dream of snowboarding down a Martian sand dune on a block of dry ice.”
The hillside grooves on Mars, called linear gullies, show relatively constant width — up to a few yards, or meters, across — with raised banks or levees along the sides. Unlike gullies caused by water flows on Earth and possibly on Mars, they do not have aprons of debris at the downhill end of the gully. Instead, many have pits at the downhill end.
“In debris flows, you have water carrying sediment downhill, and the material eroded from the top is carried to the bottom and deposited as a fan-shaped apron,” said Diniega. “In the linear gullies, you’re not transporting material. You’re carving out a groove, pushing material to the sides.”
Images from MRO’s High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera show sand dunes with linear gullies covered by carbon-dioxide frost during the Martian winter. The location of the linear gullies is on dunes that spend the Martian winter covered by carbon-dioxide frost. By comparing before-and-after images from different seasons, researchers determined that the grooves are formed during early spring. Some images have even caught bright objects in the gullies.
Scientists theorize the bright objects are pieces of dry ice that have broken away from points higher on the slope. According to the new hypothesis, the pits could result from the blocks of dry ice completely sublimating away into carbon-dioxide gas after they have stopped traveling.
Astronomers Gear Up to Discover Earth-Like Planets
If one looks only for the shiniest pennies in the fountain, chances are one misses most of the coins because they shimmer less brightly. This, in a nutshell, is the conundrum astronomers face when searching for Earth-like planets outside our solar system. Astronomers at the University of Arizona are part of an international team of exoplanets hunters developing new technology that would dramatically improve the odds of discovering planets with conditions suitable for life – such as having liquid water on the surface. The team presented its results at a scientific conference sponsored by the International Astronomical Union in Victoria, British Columbia.
Terrestrial planets orbiting nearby stars often are concealed by vast clouds of dust enveloping the star and its system of planets. Our solar system, too, has a dust cloud, which consists mostly of debris left behind by clashing asteroids and exhaust spewing out of comets when they pass by the sun. “Current technology allows us to detect only the brightest clouds, those that are a few thousand times brighter than the one in our solar system,” said Denis Defrère, a postdoctoral fellow in the UA’s department of astronomy and instrument scientist of the Large Binocular Telescope Interferometer, or LBTI.
MOON RADIATION FINDINGS MAY REDUCE HEALTH RISKS TO ASTRONAUTS
Space scientists from the University of New Hampshire (UNH) and the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) report that data gathered by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) show lighter materials like plastics provide effective shielding against the radiation hazards faced by astronauts during extended space travel. The finding could help reduce health risks to humans on future missions into deep space.
Aluminum has always been the primary material in spacecraft construction, but it provides relatively little protection against high-energy cosmic rays and can add so much mass to spacecraft that they become cost-prohibitive to launch.
The scientists have published their findings online in the American Geophysical Union journal Space Weather. Titled “Measurements of Galactic Cosmic Ray Shielding with the CRaTER Instrument,” the work is based on observations made by the Cosmic Ray Telescope for the Effects of Radiation (CRaTER) on board the LRO spacecraft. Lead author of the paper is Cary Zeitlin of the SwRI Earth, Oceans, and Space Department at UNH. Co-author Nathan Schwadron of the UNH Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space is the principal investigator for CRaTER.
Says Zeitlin, “This is the first study using observations from space to confirm what has been thought for some time — that plastics and other lightweight materials are pound-for-pound more effective for shielding against cosmic radiation than aluminum. Shielding can’t entirely solve the radiation exposure problem in deep space, but there are clear differences in effectiveness of different materials.”
The plastic-aluminum comparison was made in earlier ground-based tests using beams of heavy particles to simulate cosmic rays. “The shielding effectiveness of the plastic in space is very much in line with what we discovered from the beam experiments, so we’ve gained a lot of confidence in the conclusions we drew from that work,” says Zeitlin. “Anything with high hydrogen content, including water, would work well.”
The space-based results were a product of CRaTER’s ability to accurately gauge the radiation dose of cosmic rays after passing through a material known as “tissue-equivalent plastic,” which simulates human muscle tissue. Prior to CRaTER and recent measurements by the Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD) on the Mars rover Curiosity, the effects of thick shielding on cosmic rays had only been simulated in computer models and in particle accelerators, with little observational data from deep space.
The CRaTER observations have validated the models and the ground-based measurements, meaning that lightweight shielding materials could safely be used for long missions, provided their structural properties can be made adequate to withstand the rigors of spaceflight.
Since LRO’s launch in 2009, the CRaTER instrument has been measuring energetic charged particles — particles that can travel at nearly the speed of light and may cause detrimental health effects — from galactic cosmic rays and solar particle events. Fortunately, Earth’s thick atmosphere and strong magnetic field provide adequate shielding against these dangerous high-energy particles.
ZOË ROBOT RETURNS TO CHILE’S ATACAMA DESERT TO SEARCH FOR SUBSURFACE LIFE
The autonomous, solar-powered Zoë, which became the first robot to map microbial life during a 2005 field expedition in Chile’s Atacama Desert, is heading back to the world’s driest desert this month on a NASA astrobiology mission led by Carnegie Mellon University and the SETI Institute. This time, Zoë is equipped with a one-meter drill to search for subsurface life.
As before, Zoë will be testing technologies and techniques that will be necessary for exploring life on Mars. NASA’s Curiosity rover is finding life-friendly areas on the Red Planet, and the space agency now is deciding how best to equip a rover set to follow in Curiosity’s tracks in 2020.
“Direct evidence of life, if it exists, is more likely underground, beyond the current reach of rovers,” said David Wettergreen, research professor in Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Institute and the principal investigator for the Life in the Atacama project. So Zoë has been fitted with a drill made by Honeybee Robotics than can bore deep into the ground. “Chances improve with greater depth but we are first developing one-meter capability and integrating with a mobile robot,” Wettergreen added.
The robot’s auger will dredge up soil samples that can be analyzed with several on-board instruments. One of these is the Mars Microbeam Raman Spectrometer, an early candidate for the 2020 Mars mission, which can analyze mineral and elemental composition of soil.
“We are measuring the subsurface habitats in which life survives, determining what factors are important, and learning about one of the Earth’s harshest climates,” said planetary geologist Nathalie Cabrol, senior research scientist at the Carl Sagan Center of the SETI Institute, who is the science lead for the Life in the Atacama project.
In addition to Honeybee, the project includes collaborators at Universidad Catolica del Norte in Chile, the University of Tennessee, Washington University and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The project is supported by a $3 million grant from NASA.
Last year, in the first year of the three-year project, Cabrol, Wettergreen and other team members went to the Atacama without Zoë, visiting a variety of sites. They used a neutron detection instrument that measures hydrogen abundance to quantify moisture, several spectrometers to measure mineral and elemental composition of soils, and other instruments. They bored holes with hand-held drilling equipment and manually operated the instruments.
The findings from the first-year experiments will provide a comparison to what the robot can do automatically during field experiments this year and next.
The expedition confirmed that microorganisms are present in the Atacama soils, though extremely scarce. It also discovered a problem with the neutron detection instrument, called the Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN). The radioactive tritium in its neutron generator had decayed to the point that it could no longer function. Wettergreen said NASA had planned to use an identical DAN instrument aboard Curiosity later in its mission, but changed tempo once the Atacama discovery showed that the instrument would not survive as long as planned.
Zoë will undergo engineering tests in Chile this week in preparation for two weeks of scientific field experiments. The scientific trek will begin June 17 and will cover a 30-50 kilometer traverse in the hyper-arid core of the desert. One or two drilling operations are anticipated each day. The scientists plan to post updates during the trek on the project website: http://www.frc.ri.cmu.edu/projects/atacama/
Though previous expeditions with Zoë have emphasized technology for autonomous operation of the robot, Wettergreen said the focus this time will be on gathering scientific data. “Now, we think of the robot as a tool to collect specific data from specific locations, rather than as a machine that drives around,” he said.
One technical goal is to have multiple days of completely autonomous operation executing the scientists’ plans regarding where they want the robot to go and how much data to collect at each point, then hibernating for the night and automatically resuming its plan when the Sun returns.
Zoë is a four-wheeled robot, about 9 feet long and 6 feet wide. A solar array measuring three square meters lies flat atop its body, generating power with high-efficiency gallium arsenide solar cells. Because it is totally solar-powered, the robot operates primarily during the day, though it may do some processing of scientific samples overnight.
SHINING A LIGHT ON COOL POOLS OF GAS IN THE GALAXY
Newly formed stars shine brightly, practically crying out, “Hey, look at me!” But not everything in our Milky Way galaxy is easy to see. The bulk of material between the stars in the galaxy — the cool hydrogen gas from which stars spring — is nearly impossible to find.
A new study from the Hershel Space Observatory, a European Space Agency mission with important NASA participation, is shining a light on these hidden pools of gas, revealing their whereabouts and quantities. In the same way that dyes are used to visualize swirling motions of transparent fluids, the Herschel team has used a new tracer to map the invisible hydrogen gas.
The discovery reveals that the reservoir of raw material for making stars had been underestimated before — almost by one third — and extends farther out from our galaxy’s center than known before.
“There is an enormous additional reservoir of material available to form new stars that we couldn’t identify before,” said Jorge Pineda of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., lead author of a new paper on the findings published in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics.
“We had to go to space to solve this mystery because our atmosphere absorbs the specific radiation we wanted to detect,” said William Langer of JPL, principal investigator of the Herschel project to map the gas. “We also needed to see far-infrared light to pinpoint the location of the gas. For both these reasons, Herschel was the only telescope for the job.”
Stars are created from clouds of gas, made of hydrogen molecules. The first step in making a star is to squeeze gas together enough that atoms fuse into molecules. The gas starts out sparse but, through the pull of gravity and sometimes other constricting forces, it collects and becomes denser. When the hydrogen gets dense enough, nuclear fusion takes place and a star is born, shining with starlight.
Astronomers studying stars want to follow this journey, from a star’s humble beginnings as a cloud of molecules to a full-blown blazing orb. To do so requires mapping the distribution of the stellar hydrogen fuel across the galaxy. Unfortunately, most hydrogen molecules in space are too cold to give off any visible light. They lurk unseen by most telescopes.
For decades, researchers have turned to a tracer molecule called carbon monoxide, which goes hand-in-hand with the hydrogen molecules, revealing their location. But this method has limitations. In regions where the gas is just beginning to pool — the earliest stage of cloud formation — there is no carbon monoxide.
“Ultraviolet light destroys the carbon monoxide,” said Langer. “In the space between stars, where the gas is very thin, there is not enough dust to shield molecules from destruction by ultraviolet light.”
A different tracer — ionized carbon — does, however, linger in these large but relatively empty spaces, and can be used to pin down the hydrogen molecules. Researchers have observed ionized carbon from space before, but Herschel has, for the first time, provided a dramatically improved geographic map of its location and abundance in the galaxy.
“Thanks to Herschel’s incredible sensitivity, we can separate material moving at different speeds,” said Paul Goldsmith, a co-author and the NASA Herschel Project Scientist at JPL. “We finally can get the whole picture of what’s available to make future generations of stars.”
STACKING UP A CLEARER PICTURE OF THE UNIVERSE
Researchers from the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) have proven a new technique that will provide a clearer picture of the universe’s history and be used with the next generation of radio telescopes such as the Square Kilometre Array (SKA).
In research published today in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society [preprint: http://arxiv.org/abs/1305.1968], ICRAR PhD Candidate Jacinta Delhaize has studied distant galaxies en masse to determine one of their important properties — how much hydrogen they contain — by ‘stacking’ their signals.
As astronomers use telescopes to peer into space, they get a glimpse at what the universe was like in the past, often billions of years ago. This allows them to compare the present state of the universe to its history and map how it’s changed over time, giving clues to its origins and future.
“Distant, younger, galaxies look very different to nearby galaxies, which means that they’ve changed, or evolved, over time,” said Delhaize. “The challenge is to try and figure out what physical properties within the galaxy have changed, and how and why this has happened.”
Delhaize said that one of the pieces of the puzzle is hydrogen gas and how much of it galaxies contained through the history of the universe.
“Hydrogen is the building block of the universe, it’s what stars form from and what keeps a galaxy ‘alive’,” said Delhaize.
“Galaxies in the past formed stars at a much faster rate than galaxies now. We think that past galaxies had more hydrogen, and that might be why their star formation rate is higher.
Delhaize and her supervisors set out to observe how much hydrogen was in far away galaxies, but the faint radio signals of this distant hydrogen gas are almost impossible to detect directly. This is where the new stacking technique comes in.
To gather enough data for her research, Delhaize combined weak signals from thousands of individual galaxies, stacking them to produce a strong averaged signal that is easier to study.
“What we are trying to achieve with stacking is sort of like detecting a faint whisper in a room full of people shouting,” said Delhaize. “When you combine together thousands of whispers, you get a shout that you can hear above a noisy room, just like combining the radio light from thousands of galaxies to detect them above the background.”
The research used CSIRO’s Parkes radio telescope to survey a large section of the sky for 87 hours, collecting signals from hydrogen over an unmatched volume of space and up to two billion years back in time.
“The Parkes telescope views a big section of the sky at once, so it was quick to survey the large field we chose for our study,” said ICRAR Deputy Director and Jacinta’s supervisor, Professor Lister Staveley-Smith.
Delhaize said observing such a large volume of space meant that she could accurately calculate the average amount of hydrogen in galaxies at a certain distance from Earth, corresponding to a particular period in the universe’s history. This provides information that can be used in simulations of the universe’s evolution and clues to how galaxies formed and changed over time.
Next generation telescopes like the international Square Kilometre Array (SKA) and CSIRO’s Australian SKA Pathfinder (ASKAP) will be able to observe even larger volumes of the universe with higher resolution.
“That makes them fast, accurate and perfect for studying the distant universe. We can use the stacking technique to get every last piece of valuable information out of their observations,” said Delhaize. “Bring on ASKAP and the SKA!”
BLACK HOLE NAPS AMIDST STELLAR CHAOS
Nearly a decade ago, NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory caught signs of what appeared to be a black hole snacking on gas at the middle of the nearby Sculptor galaxy. Now, NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR), which sees higher-energy X-ray light, has taken a peek and found the black hole asleep.
“Our results imply that the black hole went dormant in the past 10 years,” said Bret Lehmer of the Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. “Periodic observations with both Chandra and NuSTAR should tell us unambiguously if the black hole wakes up again. If this happens in the next few years, we hope to be watching.” Lehmer is lead author of a new study detailing the findings to appear in the Astrophysical Journal.
The slumbering black hole is about 5 million times the mass of our Sun. It lies at the center of the Sculptor galaxy, also known as NGC 253, a so-called starburst galaxy actively giving birth to new stars. At 13 million light-years away, this is one of the closest starbursts to our own galaxy, the Milky Way.
The Milky Way is all around more quiet than the Sculptor galaxy. It makes far fewer new stars, and its behemoth black hole, about 4 million times the mass of our Sun, is also snoozing.
“Black holes feed off surrounding accretion disks of material. When they run out of this fuel, they go dormant,” said co-author Ann Hornschemeier of Goddard. “NGC 253 is somewhat unusual because the giant black hole is asleep in the midst of tremendous star-forming activity all around it.”
The findings are teaching astronomers how galaxies grow over time. Nearly all galaxies are suspected to harbor supermassive black holes at their hearts. In the most massive of these, the black holes are thought to grow at the same rate that new stars form, until blasting radiation from the black holes ultimately shuts down star formation. In the case of the Sculptor galaxy, astronomers do not know if star formation is winding down or ramping up.
“Black hole growth and star formation often go hand-in-hand in distant galaxies,” said Daniel Stern, a co-author and NuSTAR project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. “It’s a bit surprising as to what’s going on here, but we’ve got two powerful complementary X-ray telescopes on the case.”
Chandra first observed signs of what appeared to be a feeding supermassive black hole at the heart of the Sculptor galaxy in 2003. As material spirals into a black hole, it heats up to tens of millions of degrees and glows in X-ray light that telescopes like Chandra and NuSTAR can see.
Then, in September and November of 2012, Chandra and NuSTAR observed the same region simultaneously. The NuSTAR observations — the first-ever to detect focused, high-energy X-ray light from the region — allowed the researchers to say conclusively that the black hole is not accreting material. NuSTAR launched into space in June of 2012.
In other words, the black hole seems to have fallen asleep. Another possibility is that the black hole was not actually awake 10 years ago, and Chandra observed a different source of X-rays. Future observations with both telescopes may solve the puzzle.
“The combination of coordinated Chandra and NuSTAR observations is extremely powerful for answering questions like this,” said Lou Kaluzienski, NuSTAR Program Scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Now, we can get all sides of the story.”
The observations also revealed a smaller, flaring object that the researchers were able to identify as an “ultraluminous X-ray source,” or ULX. ULXs are black holes feeding off material from a partner star. They shine more brightly than typical stellar-mass black holes generated from dying stars, but are fainter and more randomly distributed than the supermassive black holes at the centers of massive galaxies. Astronomers are still working to understand the size, origins and physics of ULXs.
“These stellar-mass black holes are bumping along near the center of this galaxy,” said Hornschemeier. “They tend to be more numerous in areas where there is more star-formation activity.”
If and when the Sculptor’s slumbering giant does wake up in the next few years amidst all the commotion, NuSTAR and Chandra will monitor the situation. The team plans to check back on the system periodically.
A VIDEO MAP OF MOTIONS IN THE NEARBY UNIVERSE
An international team of researchers, including University of Hawaii at Manoa astronomer Brent Tully, has mapped the motions of structures of the nearby universe in greater detail than ever before. The maps are presented as a video, which provides a dynamic three-dimensional representation of the universe through the use of rotation, panning, and zooming. The video was announced last week at the conference “Cosmic Flows: Observations and Simulations” in Marseille, France, that honored the career and 70th birthday of Tully.
The Cosmic Flows project has mapped visible and dark matter densities around our Milky Way galaxy up to a distance of 300 million light-years.
The team includes Helene Courtois, associate professor at the University of Lyon, France, and associate researcher at the Institute for Astronomy (IfA), University of Hawaii (UH) at Manoa, USA; Daniel Pomarede, Institute of Research on Fundamental Laws of the universe, CEA/Saclay, France; Brent Tully, IfA, UH Manoa; and Yehuda Hoffman, Racah Institute of Physics, University of Jerusalem, Israel.
The large-scale structure of the universe is a complex web of clusters, filaments, and voids. Large voids — relatively empty spaces — are bounded by filaments that form superclusters of galaxies, the largest structures in the universe. Our Milky Way galaxy lies in a supercluster of 100,000 galaxies.
Just as the movement of tectonic plates reveals the properties of Earth’s interior, the movements of the galaxies reveal information about the main constituents of the universe: dark energy and dark matter. Dark matter is unseen matter whose presence can be deduced only by its effect on the motions of galaxies and stars because it does not give off or reflect light. Dark energy is the mysterious force that is causing the expansion of the universe to accelerate.
The video captures with precision not only the distribution of visible matter concentrated in galaxies, but also the invisible components, the voids and the dark matter. Dark matter constitutes 80 percent of the total matter of our universe and is the main cause of the motions of galaxies with respect to each other. This precision 3-D cartography of all matter (luminous and dark) is a substantial advance.
The correspondence between wells of dark matter and the positions of galaxies (luminous matter) is clearly established, providing a confirmation of the standard cosmological model. Through zooms and displacements of the viewing position, this video follows structures in three dimensions and helps the viewer grasp relations between features on different scales, while retaining a sense of orientation.
The scientific community now has a better representation of the moving distribution of galaxies around us and a valuable tool for future research.
NASA’S HUBBLE UNCOVERS EVIDENCE OF FARTHEST PLANET FORMING FROM ITS STAR
Astronomers using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope have found compelling evidence of a planet forming 7.5 billion miles away from its star, a finding that may challenge current theories about planet formation.
Of the almost 900 planets outside our solar system that have been confirmed to date, this is the first to be found at such a great distance from its star. The suspected planet is orbiting the diminutive red dwarf TW Hydrae, a popular astronomy target located 176 light-years away from Earth in the constellation Hydra the Sea Serpent.
Hubble’s keen vision detected a mysterious gap in a vast protoplanetary disk of gas and dust swirling around TW Hydrae. The gap is 1.9 billion miles wide, and the disk is 41 billion miles wide. The gap’s presence likely was caused by a growing, unseen planet that is gravitationally sweeping up material and carving out a lane in the disk, like a snow plow.
The planet is estimated to be relatively small, at 6 to 28 times more massive than Earth. Its wide orbit means it is moving slowly around its host star. If the suspected planet were orbiting in our solar system, it would be roughly twice Pluto’s distance from the Sun.
Planets are thought to form over tens of millions of years. The buildup is slow, but persistent as a budding planet picks up dust, rocks, and gas from the protoplanetary disk. A planet 7.5 billion miles from its star should take more than 200 times longer to form than Jupiter did at its distance from the Sun because of its much slower orbital speed and the deficiency of material in the disk. Jupiter is 500 million miles from the Sun and it formed in about 10 million years.
TW Hydrae is only 8 million years old, making it an unlikely star to host a planet, according to this theory. There has not been enough time for a planet to grow through the slow accumulation of smaller debris. Complicating the story further is that TW Hydrae is only 55 percent as massive as our Sun.
“It’s so intriguing to see a system like this,” said John Debes of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Md. Debes leads a research team that identified the gap. “This is the lowest-mass star for which we’ve observed a gap so far out.”
An alternative planet-formation theory suggests that a piece of the disk becomes gravitationally unstable and collapses on itself. In this scenario, a planet could form more quickly, in just a few thousand years.
“If we can actually confirm that there’s a planet there, we can connect its characteristics to measurements of the gap properties,” Debes said. “That might add to planet formation theories as to how you can actually form a planet very far out.”
The TW Hydrae disk also lacks large dust grains in its outer regions. Observations from the Atacama Large Millimeter Array in Chile show dust grains roughly the size of a grain of sand are not present beyond about 5.5 billion miles from the star, just short of the gap.
“Typically, you need pebbles before you can have a planet. So, if there is a planet and there is no dust larger than a grain of sand farther out, that would be a huge challenge to traditional planet formation models,” Debes said.
The team used Hubble’s Near Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer (NICMOS) to observe the star in near-infrared light. The researchers then compared the NICMOS images with archival Hubble data and optical and spectroscopic observations from Hubble’s Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS). Debes said researchers see the gap at all wavelengths, which indicates it is a structural feature and not an illusion caused by the instruments or scattered light.
RADIO ASTRONOMERS USE PRECISION PULSAR POSITIONS TO BREAK DISTANCE RECORD
An international team of scientists led by astronomer Adam Deller (ASTRON) have used the Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA) to set a new distance accuracy record, pegging a pulsar called PSR J2222-0137 at 871.4 light-years from Earth. They did this by observing the object over a two-year period to detect its parallax, the slight shift in apparent position against background objects when viewed from opposite ends of Earth’s orbit around the Sun. With an uncertainty less than four light-years, this distance measurement is 30 percent more accurate than that of the previous-best pulsar distance.
The VLBA observations were even able to discern the orbital motion of the pulsar around its as-yet undetected companion object, despite this motion being no larger than a small coin observed at a tenth of the distance to the Moon. The results of the research have been published in The Astrophysical Journal
By showing that PSR J2222-0137 is 15% closer than previous estimates, this impressive achievement can advance our understanding of the system. With the distance to the pulsar pinned down, proposed highly sensitive visible-light observations should determine the nature of the undetected companion. If no source can be found, the companion must be a neutron star, while a white-dwarf companion will show up as a faint optical source.
The accuracy of the new measurement promises to help in the quest to detect the elusive gravitational waves predicted by general relativity. By monitoring an array of pulsars across the Milky Way galaxy, scientists hope to measure the distortions of space-time caused by the passage of gravitational waves. Knowing the distances to these pulsars extremely precisely can improve the sensitivity of the technique to detect individual sources of gravitational waves. The VLBA is operated by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO).
NASA’S CHANDRA TURNS UP BLACK HOLE BONANZA IN GALAXY NEXT DOOR
Using data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, astronomers have discovered an unprecedented bonanza of black holes in the Andromeda Galaxy, one of the nearest galaxies to the Milky Way.
Using more than 150 Chandra observations, spread over 13 years, researchers identified 26 black hole candidates, the largest number to date, in a galaxy outside our own. Many consider Andromeda to be a sister galaxy to the Milky Way. The two ultimately will collide, several billion years from now.
“While we are excited to find so many black holes in Andromeda, we think it’s just the tip of the iceberg,” said Robin Barnard of Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) in Cambridge, Mass., and lead author of a new paper describing these results. “Most black holes won’t have close companions and will be invisible to us.”
The black hole candidates belong to the stellar mass category, meaning they formed in the death throes of very massive stars and typically have masses five to 10 times that of our Sun. Astronomers can detect these otherwise invisible objects as material is pulled from a companion star and heated up to produce radiation before it disappears into the black hole.
The first step in identifying these black holes was to make sure they were stellar mass systems in the Andromeda Galaxy itself, rather than supermassive black holes at the hearts of more distant galaxies. To do this, the researchers used a new technique that draws on information about the brightness and variability of the X-ray sources in the Chandra data. In short, the stellar mass systems change much more quickly than the supermassive black holes.
To classify those Andromeda systems as black holes, astronomers observed that these X-ray sources had special characteristics: that is, they were brighter than a certain high level of X-rays and also had a particular X-ray color. Sources containing neutron stars, the dense cores of dead stars that would be the alternate explanation for these observations, do not show both of these features simultaneously. But sources containing black holes do.
The European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton X-ray observatory added crucial support for this work by providing X-ray spectra, the distribution of X-rays with energy, for some of the black hole candidates. The spectra are important information that helps determine the nature of these objects.
“By observing in snapshots covering more than a dozen years, we are able to build up a uniquely useful view of M31,” said co-author Michael Garcia, also of CfA. “The resulting very long exposure allows us to test if individual sources are black holes or neutron stars.”
The research group previously identified nine black hole candidates within the region covered by the Chandra data, and the present results increase the total to 35. Eight of these are associated with globular clusters, the ancient concentrations of stars distributed in a spherical pattern about the center of the galaxy. This also differentiates Andromeda from the Milky Way as astronomers have yet to find a similar black hole in one of the Milky Way’s globular clusters.
Seven of these black hole candidates are within 1,000 light-years of the Andromeda Galaxy’s center. That is more than the number of black hole candidates with similar properties located near the center of our own galaxy. This is not a surprise to astronomers because the bulge of stars in the middle of Andromeda is bigger, allowing more black holes to form.
“When it comes to finding black holes in the central region of a galaxy, it is indeed the case where bigger is better,” said co-author Stephen Murray of Johns Hopkins University and CfA. “In the case of Andromeda we have a bigger bulge and a bigger supermassive black hole than in the Milky Way, so we expect more smaller black holes are made there as well.”
This new work confirms predictions made earlier in the Chandra mission about the properties of X-ray sources near the center of M31. Earlier research by Rasmus Voss and Marat Gilfanov of the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics in Garching, Germany, used Chandra to show there was an unusually large number of X-ray sources near the center of M31. They predicted most of these extra X-ray sources would contain black holes that had encountered and captured low mass stars. This new detection of seven black hole candidates close to the center of M31 gives strong support to these claims.
“We are particularly excited to see so many black hole candidates this close to the center, because we expected to see them and have been searching for years,” said Barnard.
THE FLARE STAR WX UMA BECOMES 15 TIMES BRIGHTER IN LESS THAN 3 MINUTES
Astrophysicists at the University of Santiago de Compostela (Spain) and the Byurakan Observatory (Armenia) have detected a star of low luminosity which within a matter of moments gave off a flare so strong that it became almost 15 times brighter. The star in question is the flare star WX UMa.
“We recorded a strong flare of the star WX UMa, which became almost 15 times brighter in a matter of 160 seconds,” explains to SINC the astrophysicist Vakhtang Tamazian, professor at the University of Santiago de Compostela. The finding has been published in the ‘Astrophysics’ journal.
This star is in the Ursa Major constellation, around 15.6 light-years from the Earth, and it forms part of a binary system. Its companion shines almost 100 times brighter, except at times such as that observed, in which the WX UMa gives off its flares. This can happen several times a year, but not as strongly as that which was recorded in this instance.
Dr. Tamazian and other researchers detected this exceptional brightness from the Byurakan Observatory in Armenia. “Furthermore, during this period of less than three minutes the star underwent an abrupt change from spectral type M to B; in other words, it went from a temperature of 2,800 kelvin (K) to six or seven times more than that.”
Based on their spectral absorption lines, stars are classified using letters. Type M stars have a surface temperature of between 2,000 and 3,700 K; type B between 10,000 and 33,000 K.
WX UMa belongs to the limited group of “flare stars,” a class of variable stars which exhibit increases in brightness of up to 100 factors or more within a matter of seconds or minutes. These increases are sudden and irregular, practically random, in fact. They then return to their normal state within tens of minutes.
Scientists do not know how this flaring arises, but they know how it develops: “For some reason a small focus of instability arises within the plasma of the star, which causes turbulence in its magnetic field,” explains Tamazian. “A magnetic reconnection then occurs, a conversion of energy from the magnetic field into kinetic energy, in order to recover the stability of the flow, much like what happens in an electric discharge.”
Next, kinetic energy in the plasma transforms into thermal energy in the upper layers of the atmosphere and the star’s corona. This significant rise in the temperature and brightness of the star enables astronomers to detect changes in the radiation spectrum.
“Photometric and spectroscopic monitoring of this kind of flare stars is very relevant because it provides us with information about the changing states and physical processes, which are in turn key to studying the formation and evolution of stars,” Tamazian explains.
Additionally, in cases of binary systems such as that which unites WX UMa with its companion, “observation of flares acquires a special importance, because we can investigate whether there is any relation between the frequency of flares and the position of the pair of stars on their orbit, a question which remains open.”
To carry out this study, in which flares in other binary systems (HU Del, CM Dra and VW Com) have also been analyzed, the SCORPIO camera of the Byurakan Astrophysical Observatory was used. This camera enables both the spectrum and the brightness of these objects to be detected.
Flare stars are intrinsically weak, and can therefore only be observed at relatively short distances in astronomic terms, specifically in the vicinity of the Sun, up to a distance of a few tens of light-years.
NanoRacks Gains Venture Funding (Source: Xconomy)
NanoRacks, the Houston space-science startup located a stone’s throw away from NASA, announced today it has raised $2.6 million. Emerge, a Brussels-based venture capital firm focused on early-stage startups in telecom and e-commerce, is the lead investor to the tune of $1.5 million in the Series A round for NanoRacks. Chris Cummins, NanoRacks’ CFO, says the remainder of the investment is largely from individuals from Texas and California.
He added that the money will be used to fund development of the company’s external platform—a test bed for advanced electronics and materials experiments—that is mounted outside onto the International Space Station. It would be located on the “back porch” of the station’s Japanese module. Being outside in space “gives you an entirely different environment for radiation; there’s a vacuum,” says Jeffrey Manber, NanoRacks’ CEO and founder. NanoRacks next plans to return to space in April 2014. (6/14)
FCC Probes ‘Warehousing’ of Satellite Orbital Locations (Source: TV Technology)
In the fixed satellite service (FSS) two companies– Intelsat and SES Americom–dominate the listings for fixed satellite service, while EchoStar and DirecTV dominate the DBS listing. Satellite operators with a large fleets have advantages when a satellite fails–witness how Intelsat handled the Galaxy 15 “zombie satellite” with little interruption to either its customers or those using the SES Americom satellites that Galaxy 15 passed on its trip east.
Such a concentration of licenses and orbital locations–particularly in the FSS–has lead to allegations that certain FSS operators are “warehousing” sat orbital locations and frequencies, and are keeping competitors from purchasing slots on their birds. That assertion comes from a Notice of Inquiry (FCC 13-79) released late last week.
The FCC’s Notice of Inquiry states: “The questions we ask in this Notice are intended to solicit comment about the effects of this consolidation. In particular, we seek information about whether FSS providers that have vertically integrated are engaging in vertical foreclosure or other conduct that has harmed consumers of satellite communication services; or whether satellite operators are engaging in conduct that has resulted in efficiencies and lower costs that benefit consumers. (6/13)
GenCorp Completes Acquisition of Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne (Source: Parabolic Arc)
GenCorp announced today that it has completed the acquisition of substantially all operations of the Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne business from United Technologies Corp. GenCorp will combine Rocketdyne with Aerojet, a wholly-owned subsidiary of GenCorp, and the combined businesses will operate as Aerojet Rocketdyne, Inc., headquartered in Sacramento, California.
As part of the Rocketdyne transaction, GenCorp will acquire UTC’s 50% interest in the RD Amross joint venture following receipt of Russian regulatory approvals. “The addition of Rocketdyne almost doubles the size of our company and provides additional growth opportunities as we build upon the complementary capabilities of each legacy company, including their talented people and innovative technologies.” (6/14)
Florida Space Tourism: Major Star Wars Expansion Planned at Disney World (Source: Theme Park Insider)
It looks as though Walt Disney World has gotten the green light for a project to remake the Disney’s Hollywood Studios park. Multiple sources have told me the long-awaited dream of theme park geeks everywhere is actually happening. Disney’s moving ahead with both Cars Land and Star Wars Land at the Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Walt Disney World. This appears to be a five-year project, putting completion in 2018, though Disney could choose to throw money at it and accelerate it by a year. (6/13)
Collins & Lampson: Space Exploration Is Imperative to Innovation and Inspiration (Source: Huffington Post)
Space exploration is remarkably compelling for most Americans, a challenging pursuit that distinguishes the United States as a global leader, while ensuring a steady stream of innovative technologies that strengthen the economy and, just as importantly, inspiring our youth to dream big.
Starting with our individual careers as a NASA astronaut and a member of Congress, we’ve regularly witnessed the enthusiasm and pride that accompany our space exploration endeavors. Those observations have not changed with our more recent professional activities, which often place us before audiences of all ages. Whether it’s a gathering of community leaders, business and professional groups or school children, those we encounter are awed by American accomplishments in space. They are full of questions about what we intend to do next and what it means for them.
As a nation, we must put politics aside to ensure that expanding the space frontier occupies a prominent place on our national agenda. We need strategic, adequately funded and aggressively paced programs to keep America at the summits of technical innovation and exploration. Click here. (6/13)
NASA’s Asteroid Retrieval Mission May Lack a Viable Target (Source: Innerspace.net)
A Future in Space Operations presentation earlier this week by Dan Adamo, which can be found here, highlights a potential serious problem with NASA’s proposed asteroid capture mission. The presentation focuses on a “V” plot which shows a range of Near Earth Asteroids grouped into three different classes by their orbital characteristics. Some NEAs falling within in the V meet the basic guidelines as outlined in the NEO HSF Accessible Targets Study (HNATS) for a crewed mission.
The guidelines call for the asteroid to be in a certain size range, be accessible with a certain minimal velocity change to get there and back, as well as fall within the a few degrees of Earth’s own orbital plane. Finally, the asteroid’s orbits must place them within reach of Earth’s within the time frame of the proposal, by 2030. There are a number of known NEAs which might otherwise be ideal, but which are on long orbits which carry them too far from Earth for consideration.
As it turns out, even though the Asteroid Retrieval Mission (ARM) relieves NASA of the difficulties of an extended duration manned mission to travel to an asteroid and study it, the new criteria imposed; a close Earth approach, diameter of 7 – 10 meters, and a mass of around 500 metric tons, appears to reduce the number of possible targets to zero. Meaning that as of this moment, NASA does not have a target that aligns with the plan to capture and return to it Cis-Lunar orbit in time to neatly coincide with an early mission for the Orion spacecraft. Oops. (6/14)
Draft NASA Authorization Bill Nixes Asteroid Retrieval Mission (Source: Space News)
The House Science, Space and Technology Committee has begun drafting a NASA authorization bill that would hold the agency to a top line of about $16.87 billion, bar funding for a planned asteroid rendezvous mission, and divert money for Earth observation into robotic missions to other parts of the solar system, according to an official summary of the bill.
The bill also would authorize NASA to spend $700 million annually on the Commercial Crew Program – up from the $500 million Congress authorized in 2010 – and require the agency to report every 90 days on the effort. Click here. The House Science space subcommittee has scheduled a June 19 hearing on the NASA Authorization Act of 2013. NASA Advisory Council Chairman Steven Squyres and former Martin Marietta chief executive A. Thomas Young have been called to testify. Click here. (6/14)
Senate Committee Approves $625B Pentagon Budget for 2014 (Source: The Hill)
The Senate Armed Services Committee voted to approve a $625 billion budget for the Pentagon in fiscal 2014. Committee members voted 23-3 in favor of the spending bill. The budget will now head to the full Senate for a vote. (6/13)
IMF Says Sequester Hurting U.S. Economy, Delaying Recovery (Source: Huffington Post)
As much as half of U.S. economic growth this year has been slashed due to tax increases and indiscriminate federal spending cuts known as sequestration, according to a sobering new forecast by the International Monetary Fund, which urged lawmakers to repeal the cuts.
Risks to U.S. growth are “modestly tilted to the downside,” the IMF said in its annual report on the nation’s economy, as a reduction of $85 billion in government expenditures this year due to sequestration has dampened demand and investment, just as tax hikes have taken a big bite out of U.S. paychecks and reduced household spending. (6/14)
Merritt Island High students Prepare Satellite for Trek (Source: Florida Today)
Nine Merritt Island High students and recent graduates are preparing their small satellite for a test flight in the Mojave Desert this weekend. The StangSat, as they named the satellite — after the school’s mascot, the Mustang — is scheduled to make a high-altitude flight on a Garvey Spacecraft Corp. Prospector 18 rocket.
NASA mentors guided the students in building the prototype, which is not much larger than the palm of your hand. Thanks to $10,000 in community donations, students and two chaperones traveled to California to prepare the satellite and witness the Saturday morning launch.
Students integrated the “cubesat,” a name that references the satellite’s shape, with a partner satellite built by students at California Polytechnic State University. On Wednesday, both teams presented a launch readiness review to NASA and university personnel, gaining approval for the launch. The Garvey rocket is scheduled to be erected, with all satellites installed, by 5 tonight. (6/14)
Commercial Partners Working to Launch U.S. Astronauts from Space Coast (Source: NASA)
The three commercial space companies working with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP) may have very different spacecraft and rocket designs, but they all agreed on the need for the United States to have its own domestic capability to launch astronauts.
“Today, there are nine humans on orbit,” said Ed Mango, CCP’s program manager, at a National Space Club meeting June 11 in Cape Canaveral, Florida “All of those folks got there on a vehicle that did not have a U.S. flag on it. We, and the people in this room, and the people at this table, need to fix that.”
Mango was joined by partner representatives from Boeing, Sierra Nevada and SpaceX to discuss the future of commercial space. Since the dawn of space exploration, Florida’s Space Coast has been the iconic site of launching men and women aboard American rockets. During the meeting, all three partner representatives said they plan to bring the work associated with commercial space activities back to the area. (6/14)
$15 Million Secured to Lure SpaceX to South Texas (Source: Rio Grande Guardian)
State Sen. Eddie Lucio says one of his top accomplishments of the 83rd legislative session came right at the end with little fanfare. The Brownsville Democrat is a member of the Senate Finance Committee. He said he was able to put a rider in the state budget that provides a sweetener to lure SpaceX to Texas.
“One of the things I am particularly proud of is the $15 million I put in the budget as a rider that will set us up for SpaceX. It was done at the very end and I worked with Senate Finance Committee Chairman Tommy Williams on it,” Lucio said. “The rider tells SpaceX that the money is waiting for you but you can’t touch any of it until you commit to set up your program here. We are in competition with Florida for the program and we need to do what we can to help them make the right decision.” (6/13)
Metal Snow On Venus? Metallic Frost On Planet’s Peaks Falls From Atmosphere (Source: Huffington Post)
Bothered by the pelting rain this hurricane season? Be thankful you don’t live on Venus, where it seems to snow heavy metal! Scientists have never actually seen snow fall on Venus, but they have observed metallic frost capping the planet’s mountains. The frost — believed to be composed of the minerals galena (lead sulfide) and bismuthinite (bismuth sulfide) — was first observed as mysterious bright patches in radar imaging maps produced by NASA’s Magellan Mission to Venus in 1989. (6/14)
Buzz Aldrin Says ‘Tang Sucks’ (Source: Huffington Post)
Among groups known for their gossip, astronauts have been a pretty low-ranking bunch. Yet two words uttered by Buzz Aldrin at a June 8 awards ceremony have tongues wagging. The words? “Tang sucks.” Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon, made the comment at Spike TV’s “Guys Choice Awards” while presenting an award to edge-of-space skydiver Felix Baumgartner. (6/14)
Canada Gets New Space Agency Chief (Source: CSA)
Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced that General (Retired) Walter John Natynczyk, former Chief of the Defence Staff, will serve as President of the Canadian Space Agency, effective August 6, 2013. (6/14)
Celebrities in Space: What Could Go Wrong? (Source: Grantland)
Who is rumored to be boarding the Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo? Ashton Kutcher (he bought the 500th ticket), Tom Hanks, Angelina Jolie, Stephen Hawking, Katy Perry, and Justin Bieber (accompanied by Scooter Braun — hey, I’d want to bring a buddy too). Tickets cost $200,000, and there’s enough space for six passengers plus two pilots per voyage. These intimate flights will start taking place at the end of this year or in 2014 — Richard Branson and his family will go first, which is reassuringly confident of them.
Six people having extreme psychological experiences while unstrapped from their seats and sub-orbiting around all of humankind’s crib has millions of potential bugs in it. There is an entire genre devoted to the crappy things that happen in space: the battles, the exploding abdomens, the sadistic renegade computer GPS devices, the malfunctioning oxygen supplies. It’s amazing that we’ve created such a dark projection and still want to see it for ourselves — that must be our earthly hopefulness showing its face. (6/14)
Russia to Unveil New Piloted Spacecraft at MAKS Airshow (Source: RIA Novosti)
A mock-up of Russia’s new piloted spacecraft will be showcased in August at the MAKS airshow near Moscow, Russia’s space chief said. The new craft, being developed by the Russian spaceship manufacturer RKK Energia, is expected to make its maiden flight in 2018.
Energia won a tender to design and develop the piloted spacecraft in April 2009. It is expected that several modifications of the ship will be made. One will be designed for Earth and lunar orbits, another to repair spacecraft, while a third will remove outdated spacecraft from orbit.
Popovkin said Friday that the Russian Federal Space Agency, also known as Roscosmos, received sufficient state funding to implement a comprehensive space exploration program but lacked “bright ideas” to use the funds efficiently. He added that about 40 percent of Roscosmos’ $4 billion budget was allocated for research into manned spaceflight and the development of piloted spacecraft. (6/14)
House Panel OKs DOD Spending Bill Over Objections (Source: The Hill)
Despite objections by Democrats, the House Appropriations Committee has approved a Pentagon spending bill that bypasses spending caps put in place by sequestration. The $512.5 billion spending plan, which now heads to the House floor, is $28 billion higher than sequester limits allow. (6/12)
Canada Working on Rover for the Moon and Mars (Source: Space.com)
The Canadian Space Agency is experimenting with a rover it hopes to one day use to explore Mars and possibly the moon. The Juno rover is one of the robotics efforts the agency is exploring for when its International Space Station commitment expires in 2020. (6/12)
Lockheed Martin Wins JSC Contractor Award (Source: Lockheed Martin)
Lockheed Martin has been named the Large Business Prime Contractor of the Year by NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC). The award recognizes sustained excellence in meeting or exceeding small business requirements during the nine years the company has held a contract to prepare and process cargo for the International Space Station (ISS). In the last year the contract has exceeded five of seven small business utilization goals by 20 percent or more. (6/13)
Atlas V’s Upper Stage Passes Milestone Toward Flying Astronauts (Source: America Space)
United Launch Alliance (ULA) has successfully completed a Preliminary Design Review (PDR) to prepare the Colorado-based company’s Atlas V rocket for use to send astronauts to orbit in commercially developed and built spacecraft. This review dealt with the initial development testing of the Dual Engine Centaur (DEC) upper stage that is being developed as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew integrated Capability or CCiCap. The announcement that the PDR had been completed was posted on ULA’s website on Wednesday, June 12. (6/14)
Distantly Orbiting Alien World May Challenge Planet-Formation Theories (Source: Space.com)
Astronomers have found evidence of an alien planet forming surprisingly far from its host star, a discovery that could challenge the prevailing wisdom about how planets take shape. Researchers using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope spotted a large gap in the planet-forming debris disk surrounding the red dwarf star TW Hydrae, which lies about 176 light-years from Earth in the constellation Hydra (The Sea Serpent).
This gap, which was likely carved out by an unseen newborn exoplanet six to 28 times as massive as Earth, sits 7.5 billion miles (12 billion kilometers) from TW Hydrae — about twice the distance from our own sun to Pluto. The gap’s farflung location poses problems for the leading planet-formation theory, which holds that worlds grow slowly over tens of millions of years by sweeping up gas, dust and rocks from the protoplanetary disk. (6/13)
Death of Yuri Gagarin Demystified 40 Years On (Source: Russia Today)
After over 40 years of secrecy, the real cause of death of Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, the first human in space, has been made public. Prominent Russian cosmonaut Aleksey Leonov reveals the truth behind the events of that tragic day. For over 20 years Aleksey Leonov, the first man to conduct a spacewalk in 1965, has been struggling to gain permission to disclose details of what happened to the legendary Yuri Gagarin in March 1968.
Back then a State Commission established to investigate the accident (which Leonov was a part of), concluded that a crew of MiG-15UTI, Yuri Gagarin and experienced instructor Vladimir Seryogin, tried to avoid a foreign object – like geese or a hot air balloon – by carrying out a maneuver that had led to a tailspin and, finally, collision with the ground. Both pilots died in that test flight.
“That conclusion is believable to a civilian – not to a professional,” Leonov said. He has always had a firm stance against the secrecy surrounding Gagarin’s death, and wanted at least his family to know the truth. “In fact, everything went down differently,” he says. According to a declassified report, there is a human factor behind the tragic incident – an unauthorized SU-15 fighter jet was flying dangerously close to Gagarin’s aircraft. Click here. (6/14)
Toxic Mars: Astronauts Must Deal with Perchlorate on the Red Planet (Source: Space.com)
The pervading carpet of perchlorate chemicals found on Mars may boost the chances that microbial life exists on the Red Planet — but perchlorates are also perilous to the health of future crews destined to explore that way-off world. Perchlorates are reactive chemicals first detected in arctic Martian soil by NASA’s Phoenix lander that plopped down on Mars over five years ago in May 2008. (6/13)
Drumming Up Support for a Commercial Spaceport (Source: Florida Trend)
Space Florida, the state’s aerospace economic development agency, continues to work for a commercial launch site just north of the Kennedy Space Center. The agency, together with the state, has proposed that NASA carve out 150 acres at the Brevard-Volusia border as a site for a commercial spaceport. The location, called Shiloh, would allow Space Florida and partners to operate separately from KSC and Cape Canaveral, offering more flexibility for launches by private space firms and entrepreneurs.
During a public meeting in Volusia County in April, Space Florida CEO Frank DiBello outlined the proposal and got a generally favorable reaction from local elected officials. Some insist the project is necessary for the Space Coast to compete with other states looking to lure private aerospace firms, such as SpaceX. Others urge caution, raising questions about the potential impact to the adjacent Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. Click here. (6/14)
Embry-Riddle Prepares for Space Degree Kickoff (Source: SPACErePORT)
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Daytona Beach campus is preparing to kick off its new Commercial Space Operations bachelor’s degree program with courses beginning later this year. The university is planning a series of Wednesday lecture seminars for students and faculty during coming months to cover various space-related topics. A new advisory panel has also been assembled to help steer the new degree program’s development. (6/14)
Proposed ITAR Changes a Mixed Bag for U.S. Satellite Industry (Source: Space News)
The U.S. State Department’s proposed reform of rules controlling the export of satellites and space components removes many of the glaringly perverse effects on space commerce but does nothing to make it easier for industry to work with the U.S. Defense Department on hosted payloads, according to industry officials reviewing the proposals.
There also appears to be no material change to restrictions imposed on U.S. satellite owners launching their spacecraft — U.S.-built or not — from the world’s principal commercial spaceports, which are all outside the U.S., officials said. The State Department issued the proposed changes to the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) on May 24.
The modifications are generally intended to remove the armaments label from nonessential space components that, since 1999, have been lumped together in Category 15 of the U.S. Munitions List. One industry official said: “The overall changes are so positive that industry should consider it a win, and we’ll have to keep working” on areas of concern. (6/14)
Lockheed Martin Tests Orion’s Fairings (Source: Parabolic Arc)
NASA is carrying out a series of tests to ensure the agency’s Orion spacecraft can successfully jettison its protective fairings, or covers, during its ride to space. During the first of these tests, two of the three fairing panels separated as planned, but a third didn’t. The fairings are panels that will protect Orion’s service module from the environment around it, whether it’s heat, wind or acoustics.
The testing is designed to demonstrate the fairing system’s separation sequence before Orion launches on its first mission, Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1), which remains on track for September 2014. During the flight test, Orion will travel 3,600 miles into space and return to Earth for a landing in the Pacific Ocean. It will allow engineers on the ground to evaluate Orion’s design before humans take their first flight on it. (6/14)
Space Storm Could Black Out US East Coast for Two Years
Severe space “weather” can knock out satellite communications and GPS systems, expose space tourists and astronauts to dangerous levels of radiation, and even cause massive blackouts on Earth that could last up to two years, scientists and NASA …
Stacking Galactic Signals Reveals A Clearer Universe
Very similar to stacking astronomy images to achieve a better picture, researchers from the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) are employing new methods which will give us a clearer look at the history of the Universe. Through …
‘Space oddity’ star, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfeld set to retire
Ottawa: Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield announced yesterday his retirement after a five-month mission to space that captivated the world with his Twitter microblog. “It has been an incredible adventure,” Hadfield, 53, said of his 35 years of service …
New Technique For Hunting Exoplanets In The Works
Sponsored by the International Astronomical Union (AIU), a team of astronomers is working on a technique capable of detecting faint dust clouds around other stars where Earth-like planets could be hiding. This new technology could dramatically improve …
Scientists size up universe’s most lightweight dwarf galaxy with Keck Observatory
This image shows a standard prediction for the dark matter distribution within about 1 million light years of the Milky Way galaxy, which is expected to be swarming with thousands of small dark matter clumps called `halos’. The scale of this image is …
Forensic Astronomy: The Gorgeous Corpse of a Dead Star
Slate Magazine (blog)
Astronomers have a lot in common with medical examiners. We study events after they have happened, looking for clues that tell us what occurred, when, and why. While MEs can examine a body in their autopsy rooms, astronomers are generally stuck …
NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope data shows Hot Jupiter Planets are not always …
NASA – National Aeronautics and Space Administration Pasadena, CA – Planets are pulled by the allure of their stars. Some planets, call Hot Jupiters, are gas giants that form farther from their stars before migrating inward and heating up. Now, a new …
Galaxies fed by funnels of fuel
Created with the help of supercomputers, this still from a simulation shows the formation of a massive galaxy during the first 2 billion years of the universe. Hydrogen gas is gray, young stars appear blue, and older stars are red. The simulation …
Astronomers team up with the public to solve decade old puzzle
An extremely precise measurement of the distance to a star system as finally allowed astronomers to solve a decade-old puzzle, confirming understanding of the way exotic objects like black holes interact with nearby stars. Published in prestigious …
Mercury, Venus, Jupiter visible together in evening sky
Advertisement. The planets Venus and Jupiter are in conjunction, which occurs when two astronomical objects have either the same right ascension or ecliptic longitude as seen from Earth. The next conjunction between the two planets will occur in July 2015.
Space Debris – One Solution
The topic of “space debris” is hot, and getting hotter! Spacefaring nations and the space community are concerned about this growing impediment to future space flight. NASA, DoD, FAA, ESA and the UN are all aware of the issues. There are international …
Cash-Strapped Space Tourists May Find Friend in PayPal
Wall Street Journal
The payments company is set announce a payment program for space tourists later this month, known as PayPal Galactic. PayPal has been working with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the Space Tourism Society and the SETI Institute, …