Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Suzaku Finds "Fossil" Fireballs from Supernovae

In the supernova remnant W49B, Suzaku found another fossil fireball. It detected X-rays produced when heavily ionized iron atoms recapture an electron. This view combines infrared images from the ground (red, green) with X-ray data from NASA's Chandra X-Ray Observatory.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Cassini Spacecraft to Monitor North Pole on Titan

Though there are no plans to investigate whether Saturn's moon Titan has a Santa Claus, NASA's Cassini will zoom close to Titan's north pole this weekend.

The flyby, which brings Cassini to within about 960 kilometers (600 miles) of the Titan surface at 82 degrees north latitude, will take place the evening of Dec. 27 Pacific time, or shortly after midnight Universal Time on Dec. 28.

The encounter will enable scientists to gather more detail on how the lake-dotted north polar region of Titan changes with the seasons. Scientists will be using high-resolution radar to scan the large and numerous lakes in the north polar region for shape-shifting in size and depth. The ion and neutral mass spectrometer team will take baseline measurements of the atmosphere to compare with the moon's south polar region when Cassini flies by that area on Jan. 12. Cassini will also be collecting images for a mosaic of a bright region called Adiri, where the Huygens probe landed nearly five years ago.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Right-Front and Right-Rear Wheels Sit Out Latest Drive

Spirit's drive on Sol 2120 included commands for using all six wheels. However, the right-front wheel rotated less than 2 degrees and the right-rear wheel did not rotate at all. The other four wheels completed enough rotations to drive about 10 meters (33 feet), but produced no measurable forward motion by the rover.

The rover team plans to command further driving this week while continuing to assess the possibility of getting more motion from the right-front wheel.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Mayon Volcano, The Phillipines

Tens of thousands of people living within the danger zone of Mayon Volcano in the Philippines were forced to evacuate to emergency shelters in mid-December 2009 as small earthquakes, incandescent lava at the summit and minor ash falls suggested a major eruption was on the way. On the evening of Dec. 14, the local volcano observatory raised the alert level to Level 3, which means "magma is close to the crater and hazardous explosive eruption is imminent."

This natural-color image of Mayon was captured on Dec. 15, 2009, by the Advanced Land Imager on NASA's Earth Observing-1 (EO-1) satellite. A small plume of ash and steam is blowing west from the summit. Dark-colored lava or debris flows from previous eruptions streak the flanks of the mountain. A ravine on the southeast slope is occupied by a particularly prominent lava or debris flow.

The Phillipine Star said on Dec. 22 that "ashfall blanketed at least three towns in Albay, raising new health fears for thousands already bracing for an eruption that could come at any time ... Health officials warned the tiny particles could cause respiratory problems or skin diseases, and could affect the thousands of people crammed into evacuation centers.

Also on Dec. 22, CNN reported that "tens of thousands of people have already fled their homes. More than 9,000 families -- a total of 44,394 people -- are being housed in evacuation camps after authorities raised the alert status of the country's most active volcano" as "fountains of red-hot lava shot up from the intensifying Mayon volcano."

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Terra Turns Ten: Snow, Clouds and Sunlight

NASA flies three large, multi-sensor satellites that monitor Earth’s land, atmosphere, oceans and energy balance. Because the instruments on each satellite take measurements at the same time from the same vantage point, scientists are able to compare observations and tease out connections between different parts of the Earth system. The first of the three satellites, Terra, launched ten years ago on Dec. 18, 1999. In the decade since Terra launched, scientists have gained insight into the intricate connections that shape our planet's climate. The relationship between snow, clouds, and sunlight is a good example.

In November, the chill and snow of a Northern Hemisphere winter is on the horizon. Snow covers the far north and high elevations, as shown in the map of percent snow cover in November 2009. White areas show where snow covers the ground completely, while blue points to areas with partial snow cover. At the peak of the northern winter, more than 40 percent of the Earth’s land will be covered in snow.

In addition to being an important, life-sustaining source of water, the snow also reflects sunlight, limiting the amount of heat the Earth absorbs from the sun.

Monday, December 21, 2009

AcrimSat Celebrates 10 Years of Measuring the Sun's Energy

Launched Dec. 20, 1999, the Active Cavity Radiometer Irradiance Monitor Satellite (AcrimSat) monitors the total amount of the sun's energy reaching Earth. It is this energy, called total solar irradiance, that creates the winds, heats the land and drives ocean currents.

Some scientists theorize a significant fraction of Earth's warming may be solar in origin due to small increases in the sun's total energy output since the last century. By measuring incoming solar radiation, climatologists are using AcrimSat to improve their predictions of climate change and global warming over the next century.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

New Cool Stars

Astronomers think there are roughly as many brown dwarfs as regular stars like our sun, but brown dwarfs are often too cool to find using visible light. These tiny orbs are similar to stars but they are cooler and less massive. They lack the mass to fuse atoms at their cores and shine with starlight. Using infrared light, NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE), will find many dozens of brown dwarfs within 25 light years of the sun.

These two pictures show simulated data before and after the WISE mission (stars are not real). The simulated picture on the left shows known stars (white and yellow) and brown dwarfs (red) in our solar neighborhood. The picture on the right shows additional brown dwarfs WISE is expected to find. One of these newfound brown dwarfs could even be closer to us than our closest known star, Proxima Centauri, which is four light-years away.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Reflection of Sunlight off Titan Lake

This image shows the first flash of sunlight reflected off a lake on Saturn's moon Titan. The glint off a mirror-like surface is known as a specular reflection. This kind of glint was detected by the visual and infrared mapping spectrometer (VIMS) on NASA's Cassini spacecraft on July 8, 2009. It confirmed the presence of liquid in the moon's northern hemisphere, where lakes are more numerous and larger than those in the southern hemisphere. Scientists using VIMS had confirmed the presence of liquid in Ontario Lacus, the largest lake in the southern hemisphere, in 2008.

The northern hemisphere was shrouded in darkness for nearly 15 years, but the sun began to illuminate the area again as it approached its spring equinox in August 2009. VIMS was able to detect the glint as the viewing geometry changed. Titan's hazy atmosphere also scatters and absorbs many wavelengths of light, including most of the visible light spectrum. But the VIMS instrument enabled scientists to look for the glint in infrared wavelengths that were able to penetrate through the moon's atmosphere. This image was created using wavelengths of light in the 5 micron range.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Quiet Sun Means Cooling of Earth's Upper Atmosphere

Data from the TIMED (Thermosphere Ionosphere Mesosphere Energetics and Dynamics) mission are being used to understand the climate of the upper atmosphere

New measurements from a NASA satellite show a dramatic cooling in the upper atmosphere that correlates with the declining phase of the current solar cycle. For the first time, researchers can show a timely link between the Sun and the climate of Earth’s thermosphere, the region above 100 km, an essential step in making accurate predictions of climate change in the high atmosphere.

Scientists from NASA's Langley Research Center and Hampton University in Hampton, Va., and the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., presented these results at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco from Dec. 14 to 18.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Hubble's Festive View of a Grand Star-Forming Region

Just in time for the holidays: a Hubble Space Telescope picture postcard of hundreds of brilliant blue stars wreathed by warm, glowing clouds. The festive portrait is the most detailed view of the largest stellar nursery in our local galactic neighborhood.

The massive, young stellar grouping, called R136, is only a few million years old and resides in the 30 Doradus Nebula, a turbulent star-birth region in the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), a satellite galaxy of our Milky Way. There is no known star-forming region in our galaxy as large or as prolific as 30 Doradus.

Many of the diamond-like icy blue stars are among the most massive stars known. Several of them are over 100 times more massive than our Sun. These hefty stars are destined to pop off, like a string of firecrackers, as supernovas in a few million years.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Lifting Off to Study the Sky

NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, launched aboard a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket at 9:09 a.m. EST from Space Launch Complex-2...

Friday, December 11, 2009

Magnetic Dance of Titan and Saturn To Be Main Attraction during Flyby

Artist's concept of Cassini's Dec. 11, 2009, flyby of Saturn's largest moon, Titan.

When it flies by Saturn's largest moon, Titan, this weekend, NASA's Cassini spacecraft will study the interactions between the magnetic field of Saturn and Titan. The flyby will take place the evening of Dec. 11 California time, or shortly after midnight Universal Time on Dec. 12.

As Titan plows through the magnetic bubble, or magnetosphere around Saturn, it creates a wake in the magnetic field lines coming away from the planet. This flyby will allow Cassini's fields and particles instruments to study that wake about 5,200 kilometers (3,200 miles) away from the moon, a relatively unexamined region. Other instruments will also be taking a closer look at Titan's clouds.

At closest approach to Titan, Cassini will swing to within about 4,900 kilometers (3,000 miles) of the surface of the moon.

Cassini last zoomed by Titan two months ago. Although this latest flyby is dubbed "T63," planning changes early in the orbital tour have made this the sixty-fourth targeted flyby of Titan.

Titan is a kind of "sister world" to Earth because it has a surface covered with organic material and an atmosphere whose chemical composition hearkens back to an early Earth.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Fermi Sees Brightest-Ever Blazar Flare

A galaxy located billions of light-years away is commanding the attention of NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope and astronomers around the globe. Thanks to a series of flares that began September 15, the galaxy is now the brightest source in the gamma-ray sky -- more than ten times brighter than it was in the summer.

Astronomers identify the object as 3C 454.3, an active galaxy located 7.2 billion light-years away in the constellation Pegasus. But even among active galaxies, it's exceptional.

"We're looking right down the barrel of a particle jet powered by the galaxy's supermassive black hole," said Gino Tosti at the National Institute of Nuclear Physics in Perugia, Italy. "Some change within that jet -- we don't know what -- is likely responsible for these flares."

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Space Station Laboratory Racks Interactive

The International Space Station hosts astronauts, gear and science from around the world. Three laboratories from Europe, Japan and the United States bring them all together for the most advanced research and development. More than 150 experiments involving researchers from around the world are active at any given time.

While the space station is the most advanced spacecraft ever built, its coordinate system is labeled like any sea-faring vessel on Earth using traditional nautical terms. Understanding this coordinate system will help you use this interactive and understand the relative positions of the onboard experiment facilities.

The orbiting laboratory’s left and right sides are designated as port and starboard respectively. The rear of the station is the aft section where the Russian Zvezda service module is located. The front of the station, where the U.S. Harmony module is located, is labeled the forward section. The side of the station facing the Earth is the deck and the opposite side is the overhead

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Universe Unveils Never-Before-Seen Galaxies

NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has made the deepest image of the universe ever taken in near-infrared light. The faintest and reddest objects in the image are galaxies that formed 600 million years after the Big Bang. No galaxies have been seen before at such early times. The new deep view also provides insights into how galaxies grew in their formative years early in the universe's history.

The image was taken in the same region as the Hubble Ultra Deep Field (HUDF), which was taken in 2004 and is the deepest visible-light image of the universe. Hubble's newly installed Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) collects light from near-infrared wavelengths and therefore looks even deeper into the universe, because the light from very distant galaxies is stretched out of the ultraviolet and visible regions of the spectrum into near-infrared wavelengths by the expansion of the universe.

This image was taken by the HUDF09 team, that was awarded the time for the observation and made it available for research by astronomers worldwide. In just three months, 12 scientific papers have already been submitted on these new data.

The photo was taken with the new WFC3/IR camera on Hubble in late August 2009 during a total of four days of pointing for 173,000 seconds of total exposure time. Infrared light is invisible and therefore does not have colors that can be perceived by the human eye. The colors in the image are assigned comparatively short, medium, and long, near-IR wavelengths (blue, 1.05 microns; green, 1.25 microns; red, 1.6 microns). The representation is "natural" in that blue objects look blue and red objects look red. The faintest objects are about one billionth as bright as can be seen with the naked eye.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Hitch A Ride On The Glory Satellite

Want to hitch a ride on NASA's next climate monitoring satellite? Join the Glory mission, which will launch no earlier than Oct. 1, by surfing over to the Send Your Name Around the Earth web page. Names will be recorded on a microchip built into the satellite, and you will get a printable certificate from NASA acknowledging your participation. There are already 225,155 names on the chip, but there's plenty more room.

Glory carries two scientific sensors dedicated to understanding the effects of aerosols and the sun's variability on Earth's climate. The Aerosol Polarimetry Sensor will collect information about tiny liquid and solid particles suspended in the atmosphere that absorb or reflect sunlight. The Total Irradiance Monitor will measure the intensity of incoming sunlight which can vary over time.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Suzaku Spies Treasure Trove of Intergalactic Metal

Most of the ingredients are hydrogen and helium. These cosmic lightweights fill the first two spots on the famous periodic table of the elements.

The Perseus galaxy cluster contains 190 galaxies and lies about 225 million light-years away.

This Hubble Space Telescope image shows NGC 1275, a galaxy located in the center of the Perseus cluster. The red threadlike filaments are composed of cool gas suspended by a magnetic field
This image from the Japanese Advanced Satellite for Cosmology and Astrophysics shows the X-ray glow of the 100-million-degree Fahrenheit gas that fills the Perseus cluster. The white box indicates the area explored by the Suzaku X-ray telescope to detect chromium and manganese. The image is about two degrees wide, or four times the apparent width of a full moon.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Another Stall of Right-Rear Wheel Ends Drive

Spirit's right-rear wheel stalled again on Sol 2099 (Nov. 28, 2009) during the first step of a two-step extrication maneuver. This stall is different in some characteristics from the stall on Sol 2092 (Nov. 21). The Sol 2099 stall occurred more quickly and the inferred rotor resistance was elevated at the end of the stall.

Investigation of past stall events along with these characteristics suggest that this stall might not be result of the terrain, but might be internal to the right-rear wheel actuator. Rover project engineers are developing a series of diagnostics to explore the actuator health and to isolate potential terrain interactions. These diagnostics are not likely to be ready before Wednesday. Plans for future driving will depend on the results of the diagnostic tests.

Before the Sol 2099 drive ended, Spirit completed 1.4 meters of wheel spin and the rover's center moved 0.5 millimeters (0.02 inch) forward, 0.25 millimeters (0.01 inch) to the left and 0.5 millimeters (0.02 inch) downward. Since Spirit began extrication on Sol 2088, the rover has performed 9.5 meters (31 feet) of wheel spin and the rover's center, in total, has moved 16 millimeters (0.63 inch) forward, 10 millimeters (0.39 inch) to the left and 5 millimeters (0.20 inch) downward.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

one-half of the nose cone

WISE is shown inside one-half of the nose cone, or fairing, that will protect it during launch. The spacecraft is clamped to the top of the rocket above the white conical fitting. The fairing will split open like a clamshell about five minutes after launch.

NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer has been wrapped in the outer nose cone, or "fairing," that will protect it during its scheduled Dec. 9 launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.

The fairing will split open like a clamshell about five minutes after launch. The spacecraft will circle Earth over the poles, scanning the entire sky one-and-a-half times in nine months. The mission will uncover hidden cosmic objects, including the coolest stars, dark asteroids and the most luminous galaxies.

Monday, November 30, 2009

ISRO to launch 8 foreign satellites

India’s space agency has in its pipeline eight foreign satellites for launch and is scouting to acquire such spacecraft from abroad to expand capacity in the field of communication transponder back home.

“Today, we have eight (foreign) satellites to be launched. This will be launched over the next two-three years”, Managing Director of Antrix Corporation, marketing arm of Bangalore headquartered Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), K R Sridhara Murthi, told PTI.

These are a mix of small and bigger satellites, he said but declined to elaborate, noting that the space agency is yet to formally ink some of these contracts.

But one foreign satellite that is being readied for launch is a 150-kg one from Algeria, which is slated to be launched by home-grown Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle as a piggyback payload likely in April next year.

Mr. Sridhara Murthi said ISRO is looking for opportunities to acquire foreign satellites. In fact, it, along with its global partners, recently unsuccessfully bid to acquire a satellite, which was put up for auctioning by a company facing bankruptcy, in the United States.

Intelsat won the bid with a price of $210 million. ISRO was ready to shell out $100 million for part of the capacity that it intended to use, Mr. Sridhara Murthi said. ISRO’s bold move is a sign of its growing confidence, he said.

ISRO has also started integrating Hylas spacecraft, a contract it jointly bagged with EADS—Astrium, and it would be delivered to the customer, UK—based Avanti Screenmedia, in June.

Under the contract, EADS—Astrium is the prime contractor in charge of overall programme management and would build the communications payload, while Antrix/ISRO would build the satellite with a lift—off mass of around 2.5 tonnes and power of 3.2 KW.

“This year we are producing a very sophisticated high definition television satellite (Hylas) for the first time in the world”, he said.

ISRO is looking to further scale up the participation of industries in space projects and even mulling to outsource some research and development tasks to them.

“Nearly 400 industries take part in space programme today”, he said, noting for example that industries now undertake 70 per cent of work on developing launch vehicles (rockets).

Friday, November 27, 2009

Shuttle Atlantis glides home after station visit

The shuttle Atlantis dropped out of a crystal clear Florida sky and glided to a "picture-perfect" landing at the Kennedy Space Center Friday to close out a successful 11-day space station mission, bringing astronaut Nicole Stott back to Earth after 91 days in space.

Justify Full
"We really had truly an amazing mission," Hobaugh said on the runway. "It was not us, it was not any single group, but it was just an incredible team from all around the nation.

"We were lucky, I mean, part of it's luck and part of it's just pure, great skill, workmanship in processing Atlantis, getting it ready for us. We had no hitches, we went off on time, we landed on time. ... Nicole came back with us, she's doing great, she's headed back to see her family."

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Saturn's moon Prometheus

Saturn's moon Prometheus, orbiting near the streamer-channels it has created in the thin F ring, casts a shadow on the A ring in this image taken a little more than a week after the planet's August 2009 equinox.

The ability of the potato-shaped Prometheus to pull material out of the F ring was first theorized in the late 1990s and finally imaged by Cassini in 2004. But because these so-called "streamer-channels" have constantly shifted as Prometheus and the F ring have moved, the F ring has never looked the same twice. The gravitational pull of other moons on other rings has created waves in the edges, but nothing quite as extreme as the streamer-channels of Prometheus.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Mission Status

The team operating NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter plans to uplink protective files to the spacecraft next week as one step toward resuming the orbiter's research and relay activities.

Since the orbiter spontaneously rebooted its computer on Aug. 26, flight team engineers have been examining possible root causes and repercussions of that incident and three similar events this year on Feb. 23, June 3 and Aug. 6. Meanwhile, the team has kept the spacecraft in a precautionary, minimally active status called "safe mode."

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

NASA considering mission to send astronauts to asteroid

That's the rough target date NASA and space industry folks are eying for a mission to send astronauts to a Near Earth Object, aka an asteroid. Such a trip could be a stepping stone to Mars and extended stays on the moon, and guide plans to head off dangerous space rocks on a collision course with Earth, according to

Lockheed Martin, builder of the next-generation Orion spacecraft, the U.S. space program's successor to the shuttle, has drawn up a “Plymouth Rock” plan for NASA touting the voyage as a way to gain a foothold outside low-Earth orbit. Powerful telescopes and beaming energy to Earth from space could be the eventual payoff.

The merits of a human mission to a Near Earth Object were detailed last week during a Boulder, Colo., meeting of the Small Bodies Assessment Group, established by NASA in 2008 to study asteroids, comets, interplanetary dust, small satellites and far-flung orbiters known as Trans-Neptunian Objects.

The plans are to be weighed by NASA and the White House, Paul Abell, a research scientist at the Planetary Science Institute assigned to the Johnson Space Center in Houston, told the Web site. "It's going to take a bit of time. I don't think there's going to be a quick decision."

Monday, November 23, 2009

Astronaut on space shuttle Atlantis becomes a father

A US astronaut on board the space shuttle Atlantis is literally walking on air, with the news of the birth of a daughter back on Earth. Randolph Bresnik, who is on his first space flight, became a father for a second time when baby Abigail was born back home in Houston, Texas.

The event makes Bresnik the second astronaut to become a father in space - the first was Mike Fincke in 2004. Mr Bresnik is due to return to Earth on Friday after an 11-day mission.

The 42-year-old Marine and his crewmates were awoken on Sunday by the song Butterfly Kisses, especially chosen by his wife, Rebecca. Among the lyrics are the lines: "There's two things I know for sure, she was sent here from heaven and she's daddy's little girl."

The couple have a three-year-old son, who they adopted from Ukraine.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Astronauts get extra moving time at space station

The astronauts aboard the shuttle-station complex are getting some extra moving time.

Space shuttle Atlantis has been declared free of any worrisome launch damage. That means the crewmen won't need to conduct another detailed inspection of their ship until after they leave the International Space Station. They will fill the extra time Friday by moving more supplies over to the outpost.

The first of three spacewalks planned for the mission was carried out successfully Thursday. The spacewalkers even got extra work accomplished. Two of the crew will venture back outside Saturday.

Atlantis will remain at the space station until the day before Thanksgiving. The shuttle delivered tons of spare parts and experiments.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Astronauts Inspect Space Shuttle

Space shuttle Atlantis' astronauts scoured their ship Tuesday for any signs of launch damage while pursuing the International Space Station.The early word was that the shuttle appeared to be in good shape. "No issues so far," said LeRoy Cain, chairman of the mission management team.

Atlantis and its crew of six will hook up with the space station Wednesday.

The shuttle gradually was gaining on the station, and the two craft were on opposite sides of Earth at midday Tuesday, not quite 24 hours into the chase. "You've got 8,000 miles of rock between you and it," Mission Control informed shuttle commander Charles Hobaugh.

"I'm seeing somebody out in front, must not be them," Hobaugh joked.

"Can you get the license plate number for us?" Mission Control asked. "Looks like one of those personalized license plates,"

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Solar Dynamics Observatory Investigates the Sun's Cycle of Highs and Lows

This illustration shows convoluted magnetic field lines extending out all over the sun

How intense will the next solar cycle be? Can we predict when a violent solar storm will blast Earth with energetic particles? Could a prolonged period of inactivity on the sun plunge Earth into a prolonged winter? These are a few of the questions that scientists anticipate the new Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) will help to answer.

“The sun is a magnetic variable star that fluctuates on time scales ranging from a fraction of a second to billions of years,” says Madhulika Guhathakurta, lead program scientist for Living With a Star at NASA Headquarters, Washington, DC. “SDO will show us how variable the sun really is and will reveal the underlying physics of solar variability.”

Where Do Magnetic Fields Come From?

The sun's magnetic field powers all solar activity. Flows of hot, ionized gases in the sun's convection zone—the region inside the sun where hot gas parcels rise and transport energy toward the surface—act as electrical currents to generate the sun′s powerful magnetic fields.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

NASA and Microsoft Allow Earthlings to Become Martians

NASA and Microsoft Corp. of Redmond, Wash., have collaborated to create a Web site where Internet users can have fun while advancing their knowledge of Mars.

Drawing on observations from NASA’s Mars missions, the "Be a Martian" Web site will enable the public to participate as citizen scientists to improve Martian maps, take part in research tasks, and assist Mars science teams studying data about the Red Planet.

"We're at a point in history where everyone can be an explorer," said Doug McCuistion, director of the Mars Exploration Program at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "With so much data coming back from Mars missions that are accessible by all, exploring Mars has become a shared human endeavor. People worldwide can expand the specialized efforts of a few hundred Mars mission team members and make authentic contributions of their own."

Participants will be able to explore details of the solar system's grandest canyon, which resides on Mars. Users can call up images in the Valles Marineris canyon before moving on to chart the entire Red Planet. The collaboration of thousands of participants could assist scientists in producing far better maps, enabling smoother zoom-in views and easier interpretation of Martian surface changes.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Awaiting the Mission

Space shuttle Atlantis is seen on Launch Pad 39a of the NASA Kennedy Space Center shortly after the rotating service structure was rolled back, Sunday, Nov. 15, 2009, Cape Canaveral, FL. Atlantis is scheduled to launch at 2:28p.m. EST on the STS-129 mission to the International Space Station on Monday, Nov. 16, 2009.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Space Shuttle countdown status

Today's launch countdown status briefing held at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, managers reported space shuttle Atlantis, its payload and crew are ready for launch at 2:28 p.m. EST on Monday.

NASA Test Director Charlie Blackwell-Thompson reported everything is progressing on schedule for Atlantis' 31st flight to deliver the crew, two Express Logistic Carriers and other necessary parts to the International Space Station.

"Our teams here at Kennedy Space Center, as well as all the NASA centers around the country, have worked very hard preparing this hardware for flight," said Blackwell-Thompson. "We're all looking forward to the mission that lies ahead."

Scott Higginbotham, the STS-129 payload manager, said the processing of the payload for this mission has been a difficult and challenging race for his team. "But we're smiling today," Higginbotham said. "Because we crossed the finish line and we survived." Final inspections were completed and the payload bay doors were closed for flight this morning.

Shuttle Weather Officer Kathy Winters reported weather is looking very good for launch day and for the loading of propellants into Atlantis' external fuel tank. At this time there's only a 10 percent chance of weather hindering a successful launch on Monday.

Water discovery fuels hope to colonize moon

A new chapter in space exploration has been opened up after Nasa confirmed that their mission to bomb the Moon had found "significant quantities" of frozen water.

Scientists said the "exciting" findings had gone "beyond expectations" as fully formed ice was found in a crater on the planet. They said that the ice – thought to be in granules mixed with grains of Moon dust – heralded a major leap forward in space exploration and boosted hopes of a permanent lunar base.

The water was found in one mile high plume of debris that was kicked up by the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) last month when it crashed into the Cabeus crater near the Moon's south pole.

"We are ecstatic," said Anthony Colaprete, project scientist and principal investigator for the £49 million space mission. "Indeed, yes, we found water. And we didn't find just a little bit, we found a significant amount."

He said in a "eureka moment" analysis of the plume of debris sprayed up by a 30 ft crater showed the equivalent of "a dozen two-gallon buckets" of water was thrown up by the impact.

"This is a great day for science and exploration," said Doug Cooke, associate administrator of LCROSS. "The remarkable results have gone beyond our expectations. It is incredibly exciting."

The identification of water-ice in the impact plume is important for purely scientific reasons, but also because a supply of water on the Moon would be a vital resource for future human exploration.

The findings, which completely contradict previous beliefs that the Moon was a dry arid place, justify the controversial mission. It also reignites mankind's dreams of colonising Earth's only satellite. "We're unlocking the mysteries of our nearest neighbour and, by extension, the Solar System," said Michael Wargo, chief lunar scientist at Nasa's headquarters in Washington DC.

The mission took place on 9th October and was watched by millions across the globe live on the internet.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Intel accused of ‘coercion and bribery’ in lawsuit

Intel’s antitrust legal battles escalated sharply yesterday when New York’s attorney-general accused the company of using “illegal threats and collusion” to dominate the market for computer microprocessors.

In an 87-page complaint, Andrew Cuomo said that Intel had engaged in a “systematic worldwide campaign of illegal, exclusionary conduct to maintain its monopoly power” in the market for computer chips that began in 2001.

It follows similar claims made in an action by the European Commission that resulted in a record $1.45 billion (£873 million) fine for Intel earlier this year. Mr Cuomo’s move is the first time that such allegations have led to formal regulatory action in America.

The complaint accuses Intel, the world’s biggest computer chip maker, of trying to prevent the sale of competitors’ products by paying billions of dollars in bribes, or “rebates”, to computer manufacturers. Mr Cuomo also said that Intel had retaliated against companies that did too much business with its rivals.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Swift XMM-Newton Satellites Tune Into a Middleweight Black Hole

While astronomers have studied lightweight and heavyweight black holes for decades, the evidence for black holes with intermediate masses has been much harder to come by. Now, astronomers at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., find that an X-ray source in galaxy NGC 5408 represents one of the best cases for a middleweight black hole to date.

"Intermediate-mass black holes contain between 100 and 10,000 times the sun's mass," explained Tod Strohmayer, an astrophysicist at Goddard. "We observe the heavyweight black holes in the centers of galaxies and the lightweight ones orbiting stars in our own galaxy. But finding the 'tweeners' remains a challenge."

Several nearby galaxies contain brilliant objects known as ultraluminous X-ray sources (ULXs). They appear to emit more energy than any known process powered by stars but less energy than the centers of active galaxies, which are known to contain million-solar-mass black holes.

"ULXs are good candidates for intermediate-mass black holes, and the one in galaxy NGC 5408 is especially interesting," said Richard Mushotzky, an astrophysicist at the University of Maryland, College Park. The galaxy lies 15.8 million light-years away in the constellation Centaurus.

This archival image taken by the Hubble Space Telescope shows the location of NGC 5408's unusually luminous Xray source.

This archival image taken by the Hubble Space Telescope shows the location of NGC 5408's unusually luminous X-ray source (circled). The irregular-type galaxy lies 15.8 million light-years away in the constellation Centaurus. Credit: NASA/ESA/C. Lang, P. Kaaret, A. Mercer (Univ. of Iowa), and S. Corbel (Univ. of Paris) Using the European Space Agency's orbiting XMM-Newton observatory, Strohmayer and Mushotzky studied the source -- known as NGC 5408 X-1 -- in 2006 and 2008.

XMM-Newton detected what the astronomers call "quasi-periodic oscillations," a nearly regular "flickering" caused by the pile-up of hot gas deep within the accretion disk that forms around a massive object. The rate of this flickering was about 100 times slower than that seen from stellar-mass black holes. Yet, in X-rays, NGC 5408 X-1 outshines these systems by about the same factor.

Based on the timing of the oscillations and other characteristics of the emission, Strohmayer and Mushotzky conclude that NGC 5408 X-1 contains between 1,000 and 9,000 solar masses. This study appears in the October 1 issue of The Astrophysical Journal.

"For this mass range, a black hole's event horizon -- the part beyond which we cannot see -- is between 3,800 and 34,000 miles across, or less than half of Earth's diameter to about four times its size," said Strohmayer.

If NGC 5408 X-1 is indeed actively gobbling gas to fuel its prodigious X-ray emission, the material likely flows to the black hole from an orbiting star. This is typical for stellar-mass black holes in our galaxy.

Strohmayer next enlisted the help of NASA's Swift satellite to search for subtle variations of X-rays that would signal the orbit of NGC 5408 X-1's donor star. "Swift uniquely provides both the X-ray imaging sensitivity and the scheduling flexibility to enable a search like this," he added. Beginning in April 2008, Swift began turning its X-Ray Telescope toward NGC 5408 X-1 a couple of times a week as part of an on-going campaign.

Swift detects a slight rise and fall of X-rays every 115.5 days. "If this is indeed the orbital period of a stellar companion," Strohmayer said, "then it's likely a giant or supergiant star between three and five times the sun's mass." This study has been accepted for publication in a future issue of The Astrophysical Journal.

The Swift observations cover only about four orbital cycles, so continued observation is needed to confirm the orbital nature of the X-ray modulation.

"Astronomers have been studying NGC 5408 X-1 for a long time because it is one of the best candidates for an intermediate-mass black hole," adds Philip Kaaret at the University of Iowa, who has studied the object at radio wavelengths but is unaffiliated with either study. "These new results probe what is happening close to the black hole and add strong evidence that it is unusually massive."

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Atlantis and Crew Move Closer to Launch Day

The STS-129 mission will be commanded by Charles O. Hobaugh and piloted by Barry E. Wilmore. Mission Specialists are Robert L. Satcher Jr., Mike Foreman, Randy Bresnik and Leland Melvin. Wilmore, Satcher and Bresnik will be making their first trips to space.

Atlantis and its crew will deliver two control moment gyroscopes, equipment and EXPRESS Logistics Carrier 1 and 2 to the International Space Station. The mission will feature three spacewalks.

Atlantis also will return station crew member Nicole Stott to Earth and is slated to be the final space shuttle crew rotation flight.

Technicians on Launch Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida continue final checks of systems in the aft section on space shuttle Atlantis.

Installation work also continues for the shuttle's engine acoustic environment testing equipment. The equipment will record the sound pressure and vibration at liftoff -- which recently were determined to be stronger than originally thought.

Testing of the main engine acoustic environment equipment using microphones and sensors is scheduled to wrap up tomorrow.

The STS-129 mission's six astronauts are now in quarantine in a germ-free environment at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston until they fly to Kennedy on Thursday morning. They will practice final integrated ascent techniques in the motion base simulator and review camera equipment in crew quarters today.

Liftoff of Atlantis' flight to the International Space Station is set for 2:28 p.m. EST Nov. 16. The countdown to launch begins 1 p.m. Friday.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Greetings From Palmer Station, Antarctica

Residents of Palmer Station, Antarctica, used their bright red United States Antarctic Program parkas to send ground-to-air greeting to scientists and flight crew aboard NASA's DC-8 flying science laboratory as it flew over the station during Operation Ice Bridge.

Operation Ice Bridge is a study of Antarctic ice sheets, sea ice and glacial recession. One of three U.S. environmental research stations on the continent, Palmer Station is located on Anvers Island halfway down the Antarctic Peninsula.

Friday, November 06, 2009

More to KSC Runway Than Shuttle Ops

NASA's Shuttle Landing Facility, or SLF, was built for the space shuttle, but it also has hosted an international assortment of gigantic transport aircraft, fighter jets, race cars and even off-course skydivers. Someone watching from the control tower might in one day see astronauts diving at the runway in a Shuttle Training Aircraft, NASA security helicopters sweeping the area, or a mosquito aircraft spraying near the launch pad perimeter. They also can find themselves making room on the runway for the occasional stray private pilot.

Such is life as an air traffic controller at one of the world's longest runways. "You never know what's going to happen next," said Ron Feile, who oversees the air traffic control and operations at the SLF for EG&G. Built a few miles west of the shuttle launch pads at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the landing strip was built for such a unique mission that it may be hard to think of it as an airport. But that's what it is, just ask the folks who man the control tower 100 feet above the 3-mile-long, concrete runway."You're always vigilant, you're always on your toes," said Ken Hooks, who has been working as an air traffic controller since 1968. The control tower at the SLF is relatively new and offers some of the best views around of the spaceport. Standing inside the glass enclosure at the top of the tower, controllers have the same gear that other airports use to monitor and regulate aircraft moving around the area. The space is split between a NASA-focused controller for the runway, and one who works for the Air Force’s Eastern Range.

The controllers oversee rectangles of airspace running far north of Kennedy down to Port Canaveral. If something is flying inside any of the areas, the controllers want to know what it is. "You'll have all these small little aircraft that are in here and have official business, but you need to know who they are, where they are and what they're doing," Hooks said.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Spitzer Observes a Chaotic Planetary System

Before our planets found their way to the stable orbits they circle in today, they wiggled and jostled about like unsettled children. Now, NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has found a young star with evidence for the same kind of orbital hyperactivity. Young planets circling the star are thought to be disturbing smaller comet-like bodies, causing them to collide and kick up a huge halo of dust.

The star, called HR 8799, was in the news last November 2008, for being one of the first of two stars with imaged planets. Ground-based telescopes at the W.M. Keck Observatory and the Gemini Observatory, both in Hawaii, took images of three planets orbiting in the far reaches of the system, all three being roughly 10 times the mass of Jupiter. Another imaged planet was also announced at the same time around the star Fomalhaut, as seen by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. Both HR 8799 and Fomalhaut are younger and more massive than our sun.

Astronomers had previously used both Spitzer and Hubble to image a rotating disk of planetary debris around Fomalhaut, which is 25 light-years from Earth. HR 8799 is about five times farther away, so scientists weren't sure if Spitzer would be able to capture a picture of its disk. To their amazement and delight, Spitzer succeeded.

The Spitzer team, led by Kate Su of the University of Arizona, Tucson, says the giant cloud of fine dust around the disk is very unusual. They say this dust must be coming from collisions among small bodies similar to the comets or icy bodies that make up today's Kuiper Belt objects in our solar system. The gravity of the three large planets is throwing the smaller bodies off course, causing them to migrate around and collide with each other. Astronomers think the three planets might have yet to reach their final stable orbits, so more violence could be in store.

"The system is very chaotic and collisions are spraying up a huge cloud of fine dust," said Su. "What's exciting is that we have a direct link between a planetary disk and imaged planets. We've been studying disks for a long time, but this star and Fomalhaut are the only two examples of systems where we can study the relationships between the locations of planets and the disks."

When our solar system was young, it went through similar planet migrations. Jupiter and Saturn moved around quite a bit, throwing comets around, sometimes into Earth. Some say the most extreme part of this phase, called the late heavy bombardment, explains how our planet got water. Wet, snowball-like comets are thought to have crashed into Earth, delivering life's favorite liquid.

The Spitzer results were published in the Nov. 1 issue of Astrophysical Journal. The observations were made before Spitzer began its "warm" mission and used up its liquid coolant.

Hubble image showcases star birth in M83

The spectacular new camera installed on NASA's Hubble Space Telescope during Servicing Mission 4 in May has delivered the most detailed view of star birth in the graceful, curving arms of the nearby spiral galaxy M83.

Nicknamed the Southern Pinwheel, M83 is undergoing more rapid star formation than our own Milky Way galaxy, especially in its nucleus. The sharp "eye" of the Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) has captured hundreds of young star clusters, ancient swarms of globular star clusters, and hundreds of thousands of individual stars, mostly blue supergiants and red supergiants.

The image at right is Hubble's close-up view of the myriad stars near the galaxy's core, the bright whitish region at far right. An image of the entire galaxy, taken by the European Southern Observatory's Wide Field Imager on the ESO/MPG 2.2-meter telescope at La Silla, Chile, is shown at left. The white box outlines Hubble's view.

WFC3's broad wavelength range, from ultraviolet to near-infrared, reveals stars at different stages of evolution, allowing astronomers to dissect the galaxy's star-formation history.

The image reveals in unprecedented detail the current rapid rate of star birth in this famous "grand design" spiral galaxy. The newest generations of stars are forming largely in clusters on the edges of the dark dust lanes, the backbone of the spiral arms. These fledgling stars, only a few million years old, are bursting out of their dusty cocoons and producing bubbles of reddish glowing hydrogen gas.

The excavated regions give a colorful "Swiss cheese" appearance to the spiral arm. Gradually, the young stars' fierce winds (streams of charged particles) blow away the gas, revealing bright blue star clusters. These stars are about 1 million to 10 million years old. The older populations of stars are not as blue.

A bar of stars, gas, and dust slicing across the core of the galaxy may be instigating most of the star birth in the galaxy's core. The bar funnels material to the galaxy's center, where the most active star formation is taking place. The brightest star clusters reside along an arc near the core.

The remains of about 60 supernova blasts, the deaths of massive stars, can be seen in the image, five times more than known previously in this region. WFC3 identified the remnants of exploded stars. By studying these remnants, astronomers can better understand the nature of the progenitor stars, which are responsible for the creation and dispersal of most of the galaxy's heavy elements.

M83, located in the Southern Hemisphere, is often compared to M51, dubbed the Whirlpool galaxy, in the Northern Hemisphere. Located 15 million light-years away in the constellation Hydra, M83 is two times closer to Earth than M51.

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency. Goddard manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute conducts Hubble science operations. The institute is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc. in Washington, and is an International Year of Astronomy 2009 program partner.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Space shuttle Atlantis' payload bay

Launch Pad 39A technicians at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida will install the cargo for the STS-129 mission into space shuttle Atlantis' payload bay today.

The payload consists of Express Logistics Carrier 1 and 2, holding about 28,000 pounds of supplies and spare parts for the International Space Station.

Workers also will attach the orbiter midbody umbilical unit from the pad's rotating service structure to the shuttle today. The unit provides access to and permits servicing of Atlantis' mid-fuselage area. Liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen for the fuel cells and gases, such as nitrogen and helium, are provided through the unit.

The six Atlantis astronauts returned to NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston yesterday after completing the Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test, or TCDT, training. They'll conduct final launch preparations at Johnson before flying back to Kennedy for the anticipated launch to the space station at 2:28 p.m. EST on Nov. 16.

On Launch Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the STS-129 crew, appear ready for liftoff following the completion of their Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test

Atlantis and Crew Prepare for Flight
The STS-129 mission will be commanded by Charles O. Hobaugh and piloted by Barry E. Wilmore. Mission Specialists are Robert L. Satcher Jr., Mike Foreman, Randy Bresnik and Leland Melvin. Wilmore, Satcher and Bresnik will be making their first trips to space.

Atlantis and its crew will deliver two control moment gyroscopes, equipment and EXPRESS Logistics Carrier 1 and 2 to the International Space Station. The mission will feature three spacewalks.

Atlantis also will return station crew member Nicole Stott to Earth and is slated to be the final space shuttle crew rotation flight.