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Archive for November 11, 2011

Cassini Significant Events 11/02/11 – 11/08/11

November 11, 2011 Leave a comment

The most recent spacecraft telemetry was acquired on November 8 from the Deep Space Network tracking complex at Canberra, Australia. The Cassini spacecraft is in an excellent state of health and with the exception of the CAPS instrument being powered off, all subsystems are operating normally. Information on the present position and speed of the Cassini spacecraft may be found on the “Present Position” page at: http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/mission/presentposition/.

Full Story: http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/news/significantevents/significantevents20111110/

NASA’s Swift Observatory Catches Asteroid Flyby

November 11, 2011 Leave a comment

As asteroid 2005 YU55 swept past Earth in the early morning hours of Wednesday, Nov. 9, telescopes aboard NASA’s Swift satellite joined professional and amateur astronomers around the globe in monitoring the fast-moving space rock. The unique ultraviolet data will aid scientists in understanding the asteroid’s surface composition.

“Swift’s ultraviolet and X-ray capability gives scientists a unique perspective on comets and asteroids, expanding the spectral window beyond the radio, infrared and optical observations so well handled by big ground-based facilities,” said Sergio Campana, a Swift team member at Brera Observatory in Merate, Italy. Campana requested that the spacecraft train its telescopes on the asteroid as a target of opportunity.

Although Swift is better known for its study of high-energy outbursts and cosmic explosions, the versatile satellite has made valuable observations of passing comets and asteroids as well. All told, the spacecraft has observed ten asteroids, including Vesta — now being studied close-up by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft — and Scheila, which brightened unexpectedly in late 2010 after colliding with a much smaller asteroid.

Full Story: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/swift/bursts/asteroid-yu55.html

Killer Solar Flares Are a Physical Impossibility

November 11, 2011 Leave a comment

Given a legitimate need to protect Earth from the most intense forms of space weather – great bursts of electromagnetic energy and particles that can sometimes stream from the sun – some people worry that a gigantic “killer solar flare” could hurl enough energy to destroy Earth. Citing the accurate fact that solar activity is currently ramping up in its standard 11-year cycle, there are those who believe that 2012 could be coincident with such a flare.

But this same solar cycle has occurred over millennia. Anyone over the age of 11 has already lived through such a solar maximum with no harm. In addition, the next solar maximum is predicted to occur in late 2013 or early 2014, not 2012.

Most importantly, however, there simply isn’t enough energy in the sun to send a killer fireball 93 million miles to destroy Earth.

Full Story: http://www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/features/2012-superFlares.html

New Study Shows Very First Stars Not Monstrous

November 11, 2011 Leave a comment

The very first stars in our universe were not the behemoths scientists had once thought, according to new simulations performed at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

Astronomers “grew” stars in their computers, mimicking the conditions of our primordial universe. The simulations took weeks. When the scientists’ concoctions were finally done, they were shocked by the results — the full-grown stars were much smaller than expected.

Until now, it was widely believed that the first stars were the biggest of all, with masses hundreds of times that of our sun. The new research shows they are only tens of times the mass of sun; for example, the simulations produced one star that was as little as 43 solar masses.

“The first stars were definitely massive, but not to the extreme we thought before,” said Takashi Hosokawa, an astronomer at JPL and lead author of the new study, appearing online Friday, Nov. 11 in the journal Science. “Our simulations reveal that the growth of these stars is stunted earlier than expected, resulting in smaller final sizes.”

Full Story: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.cfm?release=2011-348

NASA Ready For November Launch Of Car-Size Mars Rover

November 11, 2011 Leave a comment

NASA’s most advanced mobile robotic laboratory, which will examine one of the most intriguing areas on Mars, is in final preparations for a launch from Florida’s Space Coast at 10:25 a.m. EST (7:25 a.m. PST) on Nov. 25.

The Mars Science Laboratory mission will carry Curiosity, a rover with more scientific capability than any ever sent to another planet. The rover is now sitting atop an Atlas V rocket awaiting liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

“Preparations are on track for launching at our first opportunity,” said Pete Theisinger, Mars Science Laboratory project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “If weather or other factors prevent launching then, we have more opportunities through Dec. 18.”

Scheduled to land on the Red Planet in August 2012, the one-ton rover will examine Gale Crater during a nearly two-year prime mission. Curiosity will land near the base of a layered mountain 3 miles (5 kilometers) high inside the crater. The rover will investigate whether environmental conditions ever have been favorable for development of microbial life and preserved evidence of those conditions.

Full Story: http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/news/whatsnew/index.cfm?FuseAction=ShowNews&NewsID=1179

Giant Planet Ejected from the Solar System

November 11, 2011 Leave a comment

Image courtesy of Southwest Research Institute

Image courtesy of Southwest Research Institute

Just as an expert chess player sacrifices a piece to protect the queen, the solar system may have given up a giant planet and spared the Earth, according to an article recently published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

“We have all sorts of clues about the early evolution of the solar system,” says author Dr. David Nesvorny of the Southwest Research Institute. “They come from the analysis of the trans-Neptunian population of small bodies known as the Kuiper Belt, and from the lunar cratering record.”

These clues suggest that the orbits of giant planets were affected by a dynamical instability when the solar system was only about 600 million years old. As a result, the giant planets and smaller bodies scattered away from each other.

Full Story: http://swri.org/9what/releases/2011/giant-planet.htm