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NASA To Seek Applicants For Next Astronaut Candidate Class

October 5, 2011 Leave a comment

In early November, NASA will seek applicants for its next class of astronaut candidates who will support long-duration missions to the International Space Station and future deep space exploration activities.

“For scientists, engineers and other professionals who have always dreamed of experiencing spaceflight, this is an exciting time to join the astronaut corps,” said Janet Kavandi, director of flight crew operations at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. “This next class will support missions to the station and will arrive via transportation systems now in development. They also will have the opportunity to participate in NASA’s continuing exploration programs that will include missions beyond low Earth orbit.”

Full Story: http://www.nasa.gov/home/hqnews/2011/oct/HQ_11-336_Astronaut_Candidate_Class.html

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NASA Invites Students to Name Moon-Bound Spacecraft

October 5, 2011 Leave a comment

NASA has a class assignment for U.S. students: help the agency give the twin spacecraft headed to orbit around the moon new names.

The naming contest is open to students in kindergarten through 12th grade at schools in the United States. Entries must be submitted by teachers using an online entry form. Length of submissions can range from a short paragraph to a 500-word essay. The entry deadline is Nov. 11.

NASA’s solar-powered Gravity Recovery And Interior Laboratory (GRAIL)-A and GRAIL-B spacecraft lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. on Sept. 10 to begin a three-and-a-half-month journey to the moon. GRAIL will create a gravity map of the moon using two spacecraft that orbit at very precise distances. The mission will enable scientists to learn about the moon’s internal structure and composition, and give scientists a better understanding of its origin. Accurate knowledge of the moon’s gravity also could be used to help choose future landing sites.

Full Story: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.cfm?release=2011-311

Enceladus Weather – Snow Flurries & Perfect Powder

October 5, 2011 Leave a comment

Global and high resolution mapping of Enceladus confirms that the weather forecast for Saturn’s unique icy moon is set for ongoing snow flurries.  The superfine ice crystals that coat Enceladus’s surface would make perfect powder for skiing, according to Dr Paul Schenk of the Lunar and Planetary Institute (Houston, Texas), who will present the results at the EPSC-DPS Joint Meeting 2011 in Nantes, France on Monday 3rd October.

Mapping of global colour patterns and measurements of surface layer thicknesses show that ice particles fall back onto the surface of Enceladus in a predictable pattern.  Mapping of these deposits indicate that the plumes and their heat source are relatively long-lived features lasting millennia and probably tens of million years or more, and have blanketed areas of the surface in a thick layer of tiny ice particles.

“The discovery by instruments aboard the Cassini orbiter that there’s a currently active plume of icy dust and vapour from Enceladus has revolutionized planetary science,” says Schenk.  “Earlier this year, we published work that showed material from Enceladus’s plumes coats the surfaces of Saturn’s icy moons. Now, we’ve uncovered two lines of evidence that point to thick deposits of plume material coating the surface of Enceladus itself.”

Full Story: http://www.europlanet-eu.org/outreach/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=351&Itemid=1

Latest Results from NASA’s Dawn at Vesta

October 5, 2011 Leave a comment

NASA’s Dawn mission, which has been orbiting Vesta since mid-July, has revealed that the asteroid’s southern hemisphere boasts one of the largest mountains in the Solar System. Other results show that Vesta’s surface, viewed at different wavelengths, has striking diversity in its composition particularly around craters.  The surface appears to be much rougher than most asteroids in the main asteroid belt.  Preliminary results from crater age dates indicate that areas in the southern hemisphere are as young as 1-2 billion years old, much younger than areas in the north. The findings are being presented today at the EPSC-DPS Joint Meeting 2011 in Nantes, France.

“We are learning many amazing things about Vesta, which we call the smallest terrestrial planet,” said Chris Russell, the Dawn Principal Investigator.   “Like Earth, Mars, Venus and Mercury, Vesta has ancient basaltic lava flows on the surface and a large iron core.  It has tectonic features, troughs, ridges, cliffs, hills and a giant mountain. The south polar mountain is larger than the big island of Hawaii, the largest mountain on Earth, as measured from the ocean floor. It is almost as high as the highest mountain in the solar system, the shield volcano Olympus Mons on Mars.”

Full Story: http://www.europlanet-eu.org/outreach/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=352&Itemid=41

First Images from ALMA

October 5, 2011 Leave a comment

CREDIT:NRAO/AUI/NSF; ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO); HST (NASA, ESA, and B. Whitmore (STScI)); J. Hibbard, (NRAO/AUI/NSF); NOAO/AURA/NSF.

CREDIT:NRAO/AUI/NSF; ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO); HST (NASA, ESA, and B. Whitmore (STScI)); J. Hibbard, (NRAO/AUI/NSF); NOAO/AURA/NSF.

Humanity’s most complex ground-based astronomy observatory, the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), has officially opened for astronomers. The first released image, from a telescope still under construction, reveals a view of the Universe that cannot be seen at all by visible-light and infrared telescopes. Thousands of scientists from around the world have competed to be among the first few researchers to explore some of the darkest, coldest, furthest, and most hidden secrets of the cosmos with this new astronomical tool.

At present, around a third of ALMA’s eventual 66 radio antennas, with separations up to only 125 metres rather than the maximum 16 kilometres, make up the growing array on the Chajnantor plateau in northern Chile, at an elevation of 5000 metres. And yet, even under construction, ALMA has become the best telescope of its kind — as reflected by the extraordinary number of astronomers who requested time to observe with ALMA.

“Even in this very early phase ALMA already outperforms all other submillimetre arrays. Reaching this milestone is a tribute to the impressive efforts of the many scientists and engineers in the ALMA partner regions around the world who made it possible,” said Tim de Zeeuw, Director General of ESO, the European partner in ALMA.

Full Story: http://www.nrao.edu/pr/2011/almafirstpics/index.shtml

Mercury Not Like Other Planets MESSENGER Finds

October 5, 2011 Leave a comment

Only six months into its Mercury orbit, the tiny MESSENGER spacecraft has shown scientists that Mercury doesn’t conform to theory. Its surface material composition differs in important ways from both those of the other terrestrial planets and expectations prior to the MESSENGER mission, calling into question current theories for Mercury’s formation. Its magnetic field is unlike any other in the Solar System, and there are huge expanses of volcanic plains surrounding the north polar region of the planet and cover more than 6% of Mercury’s surface. These findings and other surprises are revealed in seven papers in a special section of the September 30, 2011, issue of Science.

Surface Surprises

Two of the seven papers indicate that the surface material is more like that expected if Mercury formed from similar, but less oxidized, building blocks than those that formed its terrestrial cousins, perhaps reflecting a variable proportion of ice in the initial accretionary stages of the planets. Measurements of Mercury’s surface by MESSENGER’s X-Ray and Gamma-Ray Spectrometers also reveal substantially higher abundances of sulfur and potassium than previously predicted. Both elements vaporize at relatively low temperatures, and their abundances thus rule out several popular scenarios in which Mercury experienced extreme high-temperature events early in its history.

Full Story: http://carnegiescience.edu/news/mercury_not_other_planets_messenger_finds

Spinning Hourglass Object May Be The First Of Many To Be Discovered In The Kuiper Belt

October 5, 2011 Leave a comment

The bizarre, hourglass-shaped Kuiper Belt Object 2001QG298 spins round like a propeller as it orbits the Sun, according to an astronomer from Queens University Belfast.   The discovery that the spinning object is tilted at nearly 90 degrees to the ecliptic plane is surprising, and suggests that this type of object could be very common in the Kuiper Belt. The finding will be presented by Dr Pedro Lacerda at the Joint Meeting of the European Planetary Science Congress and the Division for Planetary Sciences (EPSC-DPS 2011) in Nantes, France, on 3 October 2011.

Kuiper Belt Objects (KBOs) orbit the Sun beyond Neptune and are the best preserved leftovers of the formation of the planets. 2001QG298 is a remarkable KBO made up from two components that orbit each other very closely, possibly touching.

“Imagine that you glue two eggs together tip to tip – that’s approximately the shape of 2001QG298.  It looks a bit like an hourglass,” says Lacerda.

Full Story: https://habu.pst.qub.ac.uk/groups/pedrolacerda/wiki/3cf95/Extreme_and_Extremely_Tilted_KBO.html