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Archive for November, 2011

Puzzle Piece for Confirming Dark Matter Seems Unlikely Fit

November 29, 2011 Leave a comment

In 2008, the European-Russian satellite PAMELA scanned the cosmic ray spectrum and picked up something curious — an excess of antimatter positrons. It was a startling discovery, in part because it could have been a sign of the existence of dark matter, long pursued by the worldwide physics community.
Now, in a paper submitted to Physical Review Letters, and originally published on the Internet physics archive, researchers with the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology (KIPAC) at Stanford University are confirming the previous detection, and that the excess seems to grow at higher energies in the spectrum, which is consistent with many theories about how dark matter might produce positrons.

Full Story: http://www.kavlifoundation.org/kavli-news/KIPAC-earth-magnetic-dark-matter

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Fermi Reveals a Cosmic-Ray Cocoon in Cygnus

November 29, 2011 Leave a comment

Credit: NASA/DOE/Fermi LAT Collaboration/I. A. Grenier and L. Tibaldo

Credit: NASA/DOE/Fermi LAT Collaboration/I. A. Grenier and L. Tibaldo

The constellation Cygnus, now visible in the western sky as twilight deepens after sunset, hosts one of our galaxy’s richest-known stellar construction zones. Astronomers viewing the region at visible wavelengths see only hints of this spectacular activity thanks to a veil of nearby dust clouds forming the Great Rift, a dark lane that splits the Milky Way, a faint band of light marking our galaxy’s central plane.

Located in the vicinity of the second-magnitude star Gamma Cygni, the star-forming region was named Cygnus X when it was discovered as a diffuse radio source by surveys in the 1950s. Now, a study using data from NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope finds that the tumult of star birth and death in Cygnus X has managed to corral fast-moving particles called cosmic rays.

Cosmic rays are subatomic particles — mainly protons — that move through space at nearly the speed of light. In their journey across the galaxy, the particles are deflected by magnetic fields, which scramble their paths and make it impossible to backtrack the particles to their sources.

Full Story: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/GLAST/news/cygnus-cocoon.html

Instrument to Shine Light on Mars Habitability

November 28, 2011 Leave a comment

New Mexico, November 28, 2011—With the successful launch of the Mars Science Laboratory on Saturday, Los Alamos National Laboratory researchers and scientists from the French space institute IRAP are poised to begin focusing the energy of a million light bulbs on the surface of the Red Planet to help determine whether Mars was or is habitable.

The international team of space explorers that launched the Mars Science Laboratory last week is relying in part on an instrument originally developed at Los Alamos called ChemCam, which will use blasts of laser energy to remotely probe Mars’s surface. The robust ChemCam system is one of 10 instruments mounted on the mission’s rover vehicle, named Curiosity.

Full Story: http://www.lanl.gov/news/releases/los_alamos_instrument_to_shine_light_on_mars_habitability.html

NASA Launches Most Capable and Robust Rover to Mars

November 26, 2011 Leave a comment

Photo credit: NASA/Bill White

Photo credit: NASA/Bill White

NASA began a historic voyage to Mars with the Nov. 26 launch of the Mars Science Laboratory, which carries a car-sized rover named Curiosity. Liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station aboard an Atlas V rocket occurred at 10:02 a.m. EST (7:02 a.m. PST).

“We are very excited about sending the world’s most advanced scientific laboratory to Mars,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. “MSL will tell us critical things we need to know about Mars, and while it advances science, we’ll be working on the capabilities for a human mission to the Red Planet and to other destinations where we’ve never been.”

The mission will pioneer precision landing technology and a sky-crane touchdown to place Curiosity near the foot of a mountain inside Gale Crater on Aug. 6, 2012. During a nearly two-year prime mission after landing, the rover will investigate whether the region has ever offered conditions favorable for microbial life, including the chemical ingredients for life.

Full Story: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.cfm?release=2011-362

10 Years of Adaptive Optics at Europe’s VLT

November 25, 2011 Leave a comment

Credit: ESO, A. Prieto (MPIA, IAC)

Credit: ESO, A. Prieto (MPIA, IAC)

For non-astronomers, the twinkling of the stars can be quite romantic. For astronomers, it is the outward sign of a fundamental problem: As light passes through turbulent areas of the Earth’s atmosphere, it is deflected in uneven and ever-changing ways. What should be a sharp image of, say, a star in a telescope instead becomes a diffuse disk as the star’s image dances to and fro, or splits into several partial images. That is why, before adaptive optics, astronomers were forced to use space telescopes or else to wait for exceptionally good atmospheric conditions – which happen only a few times, if at all, in any given year – to obtain sharp images of celestial objects.

At least for images in the near-infrared, at slightly longer wavelengths that those of visible light, astronomers can also address the problem directly, using Adaptive Optics (AO): The ever-changing image is analyzed by a fast computer which, in real time, controls a deformable mirror. As the image dances and splits, the mirror twists warps and to compensate, restoring sharpness.

The NACO instrument was the first Adaptive Optics system at the VLT, the flagship facility for European ground-based astronomy. Installed on one of the VLT’s four 8,2 metre telescopes in 2001, it commenced scientific operations (“first light” in astronomical parlance) on November 25, 2001.

Full Story: http://www.mpia.de/Public/menu_q2e.php?Aktuelles/PR/2011/PR111125/PR_111125_en.html

Cassini Significant Events 11/16/11 – 11/22/11

November 25, 2011 Leave a comment

The most recent spacecraft telemetry was acquired on November 22 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/significantevents20111123/

Mars Science Laboratory Launch Milestones

November 25, 2011 Leave a comment

NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory is tucked inside its Atlas V rocket, ready for launch on Saturday, Nov. 26, 2011 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The Nov. 26 launch window extends from 7:02 a.m. to 8:45 a.m. PST (10:02 a.m. to 11:45 a.m. EST). The launch period for the mission extends through Dec. 18.

The spacecraft, which will arrive at Mars in August 2012, is equipped with the most advanced rover ever to land on another planet. Named Curiosity, the rover will investigate whether the landing region has had environmental conditions favorable for supporting microbial life, and favorable for preserving clues about whether life existed.

On Nov. 26, NASA Television coverage of the launch will begin at 4:30 a.m. PST (7:30 a.m. EST). Live launch coverage will be carried on all NASA Television channels. For NASA Television downlink information, schedule information and streaming video, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/ntv . The launch coverage will also be streamed live on Ustream at http://www.ustream.tv/nasajpl .

Full Story: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.cfm?release=2011-361