Archive for November 16, 2011

Scientists Find Evidence for Subsurface ‘Great Lake’ on Europa

November 16, 2011 Leave a comment

Image Credit: NASA/Ted Stryk

Image Credit: NASA/Ted Stryk

In a finding of significance in the search for life beyond Earth, scientists have discovered what appears to be a body of liquid water the volume of the North American Great Lakes locked inside the icy shell of Jupiter’s moon Europa—which could represent a new potential habitat for life.

Many more such lakes exist throughout the shallow regions of Europa’s shell, the researchers predict in an online article for the journal Nature. Further increasing the potential for life, many of these lakes are covered by floating ice shelves that seem to be collapsing, providing a mechanism for transferring nutrients and energy between the surface and a vast ocean already thought to exist below the thick ice shell.

“The potential for exchange of material between the surface and subsurface is a big key for astrobiology,” says Wes Patterson, a planetary scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., and a co-author of the study. “Europa’s subsurface harbors much of what we believe is necessary for life but chemical nutrients found at the surface are likely vital for driving biology.”

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NASA Invites 150 Lucky Twitter Followers To Launch Of Mars Rover

November 16, 2011 Leave a comment

NASA has invited 150 followers of the agency’s Twitter account to a two-day launch Tweetup on Nov. 23 and 25 at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The Tweetup is expected to culminate in the launch of the Mars Science Laboratory’s Curiosity rover aboard an Atlas V rocket from nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

The launch window is scheduled to open at 10:25 a.m. EST on Nov. 25. Curiosity’s arrival at Mars is anticipated in August 2012 near Gale Crater. During the nearly two-year prime mission, the rover will investigate whether a selected area of Mars offered environmental conditions favorable for microbial life and preserved that evidence, if it existed.

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NASA Administrator Bolden Lauds Apollo 11 Crew And John Glenn

November 16, 2011 Leave a comment

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden made these remarks today during a ceremony in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol, where leaders of Congress honored astronauts John Glenn, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins with congressional gold medals:

“As we embark upon the next great chapter of human space exploration, we stand on the shoulders of the extraordinary men we recognize today. Those of us who have had the privilege to fly in space followed the trail they forged.

America’s leadership in space and the confidence that we can go farther into the unknown and achieve great things as a people rests on the achievements of these brave men.

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AstroNews Is Looking For Story Contributors

November 16, 2011 Leave a comment

Want to write or submit stories for AstroNews?

I’m looking to increase the number and the range of stories published on AstroNews; I get press releases from NASA and the American Astronomical Society but I don’t always get time to publish everything and there are a lot of stories available online that I miss, for various reasons.

So I’m looking for one or two people to help me out.

Initially, you would be a contributor, which means that stories can be submitted and, once reviewed by me, will be available online at this site. I would also publish the story on the Facebook page ( and Twitter (!/AstroNewsUS)

I would also welcome original news pieces – for example, right now I don’t have the time to write amateur astronomy news stories about upcoming celestial events, so anything like that would be appreciated too.

Long term, I’d like to really broaden the scope and reach of the site and would love to bring together a team who can help me achieve this goal.

A couple of things:

  • This is completely voluntary – AstroNews doesn’t generate any revenue at all, so unfortunately there would be no recompense
  • Stories must, of course, be relevant to astronomy and/or spaceflight. Some Earth environment stories are also sometimes published.
  • You can submit stories as frequently or infrequently as you like. There are no expectations.

If  you’re interested, email me at

Thanks for your support,


New View of Star Formation in Carina

November 16, 2011 Leave a comment

Credit:  ESO/APEX/T. Preibisch et al. (Submillimetre); N. Smith, University of Minnesota/NOAO/AURA/NSF (Optical)

Credit: ESO/APEX/T. Preibisch et al. (Submillimetre); N. Smith, University of Minnesota/NOAO/AURA/NSF (Optical)

Observations made with the APEX telescope in submillimetre-wavelength light reveal the cold dusty clouds from which stars form in the Carina Nebula. This site of violent star formation, which plays host to some of the highest-mass stars in our galaxy, is an ideal arena in which to study the interactions between these young stars and their parent molecular clouds.

Using the LABOCA camera on the Atacama Pathfinder Experiment (APEX) telescope on the plateau of Chajnantor in the Chilean Andes, a team of astronomers led by Thomas Preibisch (Universitäts–Sternwarte München, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, Germany), in close cooperation with Karl Menten and Frederic Schuller (Max-Planck-Institut für Radioastronomie, Bonn, Germany), imaged the region in submillimetre light. At this wavelength, most of the light seen is the weak heat glow from cosmic dust grains. The image therefore reveals the clouds of dust and molecular gas — mostly hydrogen — from which stars may form. At -250ºC, the dust grains are very cold, and the faint glow emanating from them can only be seen at submillimetre wavelengths, significantly longer than those of visible light. Submillimetre light is, therefore, key to studying how stars form and how they interact with their parent clouds.

The APEX LABOCA observations are shown here in orange tones, combined with a visible light image from the Curtis Schmidt telescope at the Cerro Tololo Interamerican Observatory. The result is a dramatic, wide-field picture that provides a spectacular view of Carina’s star formation sites. The nebula contains stars with a total mass equivalent to over 25 000 Suns, while the mass of the gas and dust clouds is that of about 140 000 Suns.

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Winds Drive Dune Movement on Mars

November 16, 2011 Leave a comment

Sand dunes, a common feature on the surface of Mars, can provide a record of recent and past changes. Some dunes near Mars’ polar areas have been observed to move recently due to carbon dioxide ice sublimation, but it has not been confirmed whether dunes are still active all over Mars. Winds contribute to dune movement on Earth, but wind tunnel and atmospheric computer simulations have suggested that strong winds would be rare in the current Martian atmosphere.

In a new study, Silvestro et al. observe recent dune movement in Mars’ tropical regions, which are not affected by seasonal changes in carbon dioxide frost. Focusing on the Arabia Terra and Meridiani region on Mars, the researchers analyze images from the High Resolution Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera onboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter as well as other sources of data. They measure migration rates of two groups of ripples in the sand in a dune field in Meridiani Planum and find that dunes advanced about 0.4–1 meter (1.31-3.28 feet) in a Martian year. The study shows clear evidence that wind-driven dune activity occurs regularly on Mars today. This suggests that carbon dioxide ice sublimation is not necessary for Martian sand movement, as had previously been thought, and that wind tunnel measurements and computer simulations showing that strong winds are rare on Mars need to be reconsidered.

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NASA Kicks Off Application Process For New Astronauts

November 16, 2011 Leave a comment

News media representatives are invited to attend a public announcement of NASA’s process for selecting its next class of astronauts. The event starts at 1 p.m. EST on Tuesday, Nov. 15, in the Webb auditorium at NASA Headquarters in Washington. NASA Television and the agency’s website will broadcast the event live.

NASA Administrator Charles F. Bolden, Assistant Administrator for Human Capital Jeri Buchholz, Flight Crew Operations Director Janet Kavandi and five members of the recently graduated 2009 astronaut class will participate in the announcement. They are Serena Aunon, Kjell Lindgren, Kathleen Rubins, Scott Tingle and Mark Vande Hei.

NASA will recruit its next astronaut class through the federal government’s website.

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Ancient Stars Shed Light on Milky Way’s Prehistory

November 16, 2011 Leave a comment

Some of the oldest stars in the Milky Way – a kind of stellar fossils in the outer reaches of our galaxy, contain abnormally large amounts of heavy elements like gold, platinum and uranium. Where these large amounts came from has been a mystery for researchers, since they are usually seen in much later generations of stars. Researchers at the Niels Bohr Institute have been studying these ancient stars for several years with ESO’s giant telescopes in Chile in order to trace the origin of these heavy elements and with recent observations they have concluded how they could have been formed in the early history of the Milky Way. The results are published in the prestigious Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Shortly after the Big Bang the universe was dominated by the mysterious dark matter along with hydrogen and helium. As the dark matter and gasses clumped together under their own gravity, they formed the first stars.

In the scorching interior of these stars, hydrogen and helium melted together and formed the first heavier elements like carbon, nitrogen and oxygen, and after a ‘short’ while (a few hundred million years) all of the known elements were in place. However, these early stars only contained a thousandth of the heavy-elements seen in the Sun today.

Every time a massive star burns out and dies in a violent explosion known as a supernova, it releases clouds of gas and newly formed elements out into space, where the gas clouds contract again and finally collapse and form new stars. In this way, the new generations of stars become richer and richer in heavy elements.

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