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Archive for December 13, 2011

Microsoft Co-Founder Paul Allen Unveils Space-Rocket Plan

December 13, 2011 2 comments

The co-founder of Microsoft has announced plans to build a new spaceship that could launch unmanned rockets and carry cargo into space.

Paul Allen, 58, plans to develop a giant aircraft that could put spaceships into orbit, rather than lifting them off from a launch pad.

Earlier this year Nasa closed its space shuttle programme after 30 years.

Virgin Galactica is working on a commercial space venture which aims to fly passengers into sub-orbit by 2013.

Aerospace pioneer Burt Rutan is a partner on Mr Allen’s project, which is to be called Stratolaunch Systems.

Full Story: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-16171482

NASA Astronaut Available Via Internet To Discuss Recruiting

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As NASA looks to new, deep space destinations and an ambitious commercial transportation system to the International Space Station, the agency is recruiting the next generation of explorers to make these momentous journeys.

To discuss this opportunity and application procedures, veteran astronaut Rex Walheim will be available for interviews live via internet teleconferencing from 8:30 to 10 a.m. CST on Friday, Dec. 16.

NASA is accepting applications for the agency’s next class in the Astronaut Candidate Program through Jan. 27, 2012. After applicant interviews and evaluations, the agency expects to announce the final selections in 2013. Those selected will go on to become an integral part in the planning and execution of NASA’s future missions.

Full Story: http://www.nasa.gov/home/hqnews/2011/dec/HQ_M11-249_Astro_Training.html

NASA Developing Comet Harpoon for Sample Return

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The best way to grab a sample of a rotating comet that is racing through the inner solar system at up to 150,000 miles per hour while spewing chunks of ice, rock and dust may be to avoid the risky business of landing on it. Instead, researchers want to send a spacecraft to rendezvous with a comet, then fire a harpoon to rapidly acquire samples from specific locations with surgical precision while hovering above the target. Using this “standoff” technique would allow samples to be collected even from areas that are much too rugged or dangerous to permit the landing and safe operation of a spacecraft.

Scientists at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. are in the early stages of working out the best design for a sample-collecting comet harpoon. In a lab the size of a large closet stands a metal ballista (large crossbow) nearly six feet tall, with a bow made from a pair of truck leaf springs and a bow string made of steel cable 1/2 inch thick. The ballista is positioned to fire vertically downward into a bucket of target material. For safety, it’s pointed at the floor, because it could potentially launch test harpoon tips about a mile if it was angled upwards. An electric winch mechanically pulls the bow string back to generate a precise level of force, up to 1,000 pounds, firing projectiles to velocities upwards of 100 feet per second.

Full Story: http://www.nasa.gov/topics/solarsystem/features/comet-harpoon.html

Using Many Instruments to Track a Comet

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In 16 years of data observations, the Solar Heliophysics Observatory (SOHO) — a joint European Space Agency and NASA mission –- made an unexpected claim for fame: the sighting of new comets at an alarming rate. SOHO has spotted over 2100 comets, most of which are from what’s known as the Kreutz family, which graze the solar atmosphere where they usually evaporate completely.

But on December 2, 2011, the discovery of a new Kreutz-family comet was announced. This comet was found the old-fashioned way: from the ground. Australian astronomer Terry Lovejoy spotted the comet, making this the first time a Kreutz comet has been found through a ground-based telescope since the 1970’s. The comet has been designated C/2011 W3 (Lovejoy).

Discovering a comet before it moves into view of space-based telescopes, gives scientists the opportunity to prepare the telescopes for the best possible observations. Indeed, since comet Lovejoy was visible from the ground, scientists have high hopes that this might be an exceptionally bright comet, making it all the easier to view and study. (Some Kreutz comets –- such as Ikeya-Seki in 1965 — are so bright they can be seen with the naked eye in the daytime, though this is extremely rare.)

Full Story: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/sunearth/news/track-comet.html

NASA’s Fermi Shows That Tycho’s Star Shines in Gamma Rays

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Credit: Gamma ray, NASA/DOE/Fermi LAT Collaboration; X-ray, NASA/CXC/SAO; Infrared, NASA/JPL-Caltech; Optical, MPIA, Calar Alto, O. Krause et al. and DSS

Credit: Gamma ray, NASA/DOE/Fermi LAT Collaboration; X-ray, NASA/CXC/SAO; Infrared, NASA/JPL-Caltech; Optical, MPIA, Calar Alto, O. Krause et al. and DSS

In early November 1572, observers on Earth witnessed the appearance of a “new star” in the constellation Cassiopeia, an event now recognized as the brightest naked-eye supernova in more than 400 years. It’s often called “Tycho’s supernova” after the great Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe, who gained renown for his extensive study of the object. Now, years of data collected by NASA’s Fermi Gamma-Ray Space Telescope reveal that the shattered star’s remains shine in high-energy gamma rays.

The detection gives astronomers another clue in understanding the origin of cosmic rays, subatomic particles — mainly protons — that move through space at nearly the speed of light. Exactly where and how these particles attain such incredible energies has been a long-standing mystery because charged particles speeding through the galaxy are easily deflected by interstellar magnetic fields. This makes it impossible to track cosmic rays back to their sources.

Full Story: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/GLAST/news/tycho-star.html

NASA Mars-Bound Rover Begins Research in Space

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NASA’s car-sized Curiosity rover has begun monitoring space radiation during its 8-month trip from Earth to Mars. The research will aid in planning for future human missions to the Red Planet.

Curiosity launched on Nov. 26 from Cape Canaveral, Fla., aboard the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL). The rover carries an instrument called the Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD) that monitors high-energy atomic and subatomic particles from the sun, distant supernovas and other sources.

These particles constitute radiation that could be harmful to any microbes or astronauts in space or on Mars. The rover also will monitor radiation on the surface of Mars after its August 2012 landing.

“RAD is serving as a proxy for an astronaut inside a spacecraft on the way to Mars,” said Don Hassler, RAD’s principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo.”The instrument is deep inside the spacecraft, the way an astronaut would be. Understanding the effects of the spacecraft on the radiation field will be valuable in designing craft for astronauts to travel to Mars.”

Full Story: http://www.nasa.gov/home/hqnews/2011/dec/HQ_11-414_Mars_Research.html

A Galaxy Cluster Gets Sloshed

December 13, 2011 Leave a comment

Image Credit:  X-ray: NASA/CXC/BU/E.Blanton; Optical: ESO/VLT

Image Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/BU/E.Blanton; Optical: ESO/VLT

Like wine in a glass, vast clouds of hot gas are sloshing back and forth in Abell 2052, a galaxy cluster located about 480 million light years from Earth.

X-ray data (blue) from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory shows the hot gas in this dynamic system, and optical data (gold) from the Very Large Telescope shows the galaxies. The hot, X-ray bright gas has an average temperature of about 30 million degrees.

A huge spiral structure in the hot gas – spanning almost a million light years – is seen around the outside of the image, surrounding a giant elliptical galaxy at the center. This spiral was created when a small cluster of galaxies smashed into a larger one that surrounds the central elliptical galaxy.

As the smaller cluster approached, the dense hot gas of the central cluster was attracted to it by gravity. After the smaller cluster passed the cluster core, the direction of motion of the cluster gas reversed and it traveled back towards the cluster center. The cluster gas moved through the center again and “sloshed” back and forth, similar to wine sloshing in a glass that was jerked sideways. The sides of the glass push the wine back to the center, whereas in the cluster the gravitational force of the matter in the clusters pulls it back. The sloshing gas ended up in a spiral pattern because the collision between the two clusters was off-center.

Full Story: http://www.chandra.harvard.edu/photo/2011/a2052/