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The Geminid Meteor Shower Rounds Off 2011

December 9, 2011 Leave a comment

2011 has been quite a year, both terrestrial and otherwise. This week sees the last of the big scheduled astronomical happenings of the year in the form of the Geminid meteor shower.

This shower is one of the yearly standbys along with the Perseids that are always sure to produce. The Geminids have a long peak centered on the morning of December 14th when an idealized Zenithal Hourly Rate (ZHR) of up to 120 meteors per hour may be seen.

Problems will arise, however, from an 82% illuminated waning gibbous Moon in the adjacent constellation of Cancer. Rising roughly around 10PM local on the night of the peak, this makes for the worst possible Moon phase as it’ll be high and bright in the early AM hours, just as the meteor shower is getting into high gear. But as always, I wouldn’t let that stop you from looking!

Full Story: http://www.meteorwatch.org/2011/12/07/the-geminid-meteor-shower-rounds-off-2011/

Extremely Large Telescope Moves Closer to Reality

December 9, 2011 Leave a comment

Credit: ESO/L. Calçada

Credit: ESO/L. Calçada

The governing body of the European Southern Observatory, the ESO Council, has approved ESO’s budget for 2012. This includes preparatory work on the road to the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) site at Cerro Armazones and the start of development of some very challenging optical components for the telescope. With several ESO Member States now having committed their part of the required additional funding, the final approval for the whole E-ELT programme is expected in mid-2012.

At its 124th meeting, at ESO’s headquarters, on 7–8 December 2011 the ESO Council approved the budget for 2012, which contains funding for some of the first elements of the E-ELT. These include the preparatory work on the access roads to the telescope site on Cerro Armazones and the start of work on the challenging adaptive optics mirror (M4 — i.e. the fourth mirror out of five in the telescope). Work will start in early 2012. Final approval of the whole E-ELT project by Council is expected in mid-2012.

Full Story: http://www.eso.org/public/news/eso1150/

Cassini Significant Events 11/30/11 – 12/06/11

December 9, 2011 Leave a comment

The most recent spacecraft telemetry was acquired on Dec. 6 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/significantevents20111208/

New iPhone App Helps Skywatchers Count Meteors

December 9, 2011 Leave a comment

A new NASA handheld device application for mobile devices enables skywatchers to better track, count and record data about sporadic meteors and meteor showers anywhere in the world.

The “Meteor Counter” app enables astronomers — laypersons and experienced meteor hunters alike — to easily capture meteor observations with the software’s innovative, piano-key interface. As the user taps the keys, the app records critical data for each meteor, including time and brightness. Once each observing session ends, that data is automatically uploaded, along with observer information, to NASA researchers for analysis.

The new app was developed by Dr. Bill Cooke, the head of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. and Dr. Tony Phillips of space weather.com. “We developed the iphone app to be fun, and informative, but also to encourage going outside to observe the sky,” said Cooke. “Our hope is the app will be useful for amateur and professional astronomers – we want to include their observations in NASA’s discoveries – and have them share in the excitement of building a knowledge base about meteor showers.”

Full Story: http://www.nasa.gov/centers/marshall/news/news/releases/2011/11-155.html

Revolutionary Navigation System for Future Mars Rovers

December 9, 2011 Leave a comment

An autonomous navigation system that will enable a future planetary rover vehicle to be in complete control of its own actions as it explores the surface of Mars is being designed by top-calibre scientists and engineers at STFC’s Rutherford Appleton Laboratory. The team from the UK, France and Canada are joining forces to design ‘Seeker’ as part of the European Space Agency’s (ESA’s) StarTiger initiative, which tackles specific space-related challenges through targeted projects with fixed timeframes.  Details of Seeker’s development were unveiled today (Thursday 8 December 2011) on the day STFC’s RAL Space is holding its 7th Appleton Space conference.

The high level conference organised by RAL (Rutherford Appleton Laboratory) Space, brings together leading figures from the global space industry to share the very latest developments in current and future space exploration; this year’s programme features a video address from the Rt Hon David Willetts MP, Minister of State for Universities and Science. The StarTiger-Seeker project, led by RAL Space, is a seven month project that will see the team work intensively day and night to design a navigation system that, unlike previous systems, will enable a rover to navigate around Mars totally independently, covering at least 1km a day. The Seeker navigation system will allow a rover to react better to its surroundings and undertake experiments in more locations, enabling our understanding of the Red Planet to take a major leap forward.

Full Story: http://www.stfc.ac.uk/News%20and%20Events/38108.aspx

Birth of a Telescope 30 Times Larger than Earth

December 9, 2011 Leave a comment

Credit: Lavochkin Association

Credit: Lavochkin Association

On 15 November 2011, the Effelsberg 100-meter radio telescope, together with three Russian and one Ukrainian telescope, took part in the first interferometric observations with the orbiting 10-meter antenna Spektr-R of the Russian RadioAstron project. The observations were made at a wavelength of 18 centimeters, targeting the distant, bright, and very compact quasar 0212+735. Interferometric signals have been successfully detected by the RadioAstron team between Spektr-R and the ground antennas, setting a new world record for the size of a radio interferometer and opening a new era in interferometric studies of cosmic radio emission.

The technique of very long baseline interferometry, which has already set a number of world records in astronomy, now enters an entirely new era signaled by a successful detection of interferometric signals (“fringes”) made in observations performed with the 10-meter space-borne antenna Spektr-R of the RadioAstron project, three 32-meter antennas of the Russian QUASAR Network, the Ukrainian 70-meter antenna in Evpatoria, and the German 100-meter radio telescope in Effelsberg. The detection was made on 15 November 2011, with observations performed at a wavelength of 18 centimeters and targeting bright and extremely compact radio emission from the distant quasar 0212+735.

Full Story: http://www.mpifr-bonn.mpg.de/public/pr/pr-radioastron2011-en.html