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Asteroids – The New ‘It Mission’ for Space Exploration

February 1, 2012 Leave a comment

The Japanese are heading back into space on a second attempt to collect samples from a nearby asteroid.

The asteroid selected, 1999 JU3 is a perfect specimen, said Humberto Campins, a University of Central Florida professor and international expert on asteroids and comets.

“Based on our analysis, it should be rich in primitive materials, specifically organic molecules and hydrated minerals from the early days of our solar system,” Campins said. “If successful it could give us clues about the birth of water and life in our world.”

Full Story: http://today.ucf.edu/asteroids-the-new-it-mission-for-space-exploration/

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A Pocket of Star Formation

February 1, 2012 Leave a comment

Credit: ESO

Credit: ESO

This new view shows a stellar nursery called NGC 3324. It was taken using the Wide Field Imager on the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at the La Silla Observatory in Chile. The intense ultraviolet radiation from several of NGC 3324’s hot young stars causes the gas cloud to glow with rich colours and has carved out a cavity in the surrounding gas and dust.

NGC 3324 is located in the southern constellation of Carina (The Keel, part of Jason’s ship the Argo) roughly 7500 light-years from Earth. It is on the northern outskirts of the chaotic environment of the Carina Nebula, which has been sculpted by many other pockets of star formation. A rich deposit of gas and dust in the NGC 3324 region fuelled a burst of starbirth there several millions of years ago and led to the creation of several hefty and very hot stars that are prominent in the new picture.

Stellar winds and intense radiation from these young stars have blown open a hollow in the surrounding gas and dust. This is most in evidence as the wall of material seen to the centre right of this image. The ultraviolet radiation from the hot young stars knocks electrons out of hydrogen atoms, which are then recaptured, leading to a characteristic crimson-coloured glow as the electrons cascade through the energy levels, showing the extent of the local diffuse gas. Other colours come from other elements, with the characteristic glow from doubly ionised oxygen making the central parts appear greenish-yellow.

Full Story: http://www.eso.org/public/news/eso1207/

Legendary Astronaut Shannon Lucid Retires From NASA

February 1, 2012 Leave a comment

Shannon Lucid, a member of NASA’s first astronaut class to include women, has retired after more than three decades of service to the agency.

A veteran of five spaceflights, Lucid logged more than 223 days in space, and from August 1991 to June 2007, held the record for the most days in orbit by any woman in the world. Lucid is the only American woman to serve aboard the Russian Mir space station. She lived and worked there for more than 188 days, the longest stay of any American on that vehicle. Her time on Mir also set the single flight endurance record by a woman until Suni Williams broke it in 2006.

“Shannon is an extraordinary woman and scientist. She paved the way for so many of us,” said Peggy Whitson, chief of NASA’s Astronaut Office at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. “She was a model astronaut for long-duration missions, and whether she was flying hundreds of miles up in space or serving as Capcom [capsule communicator] during the overnight hours for our space shuttle and space station crews, she always brought a smile to our faces. Like so many others, I always will look up to her.”

Full Story: http://www.nasa.gov/home/hqnews/2012/jan/HQ_12-038_Lucid_Retires.html

Io’s Volcanism Influences Jupiter’s Magnetosphere

February 1, 2012 Leave a comment

Volcanic emissions from Jupiter’s moon Io supply plasma to the planet’s magnetosphere and lead to its main auroral emissions. New observations show that the main auroral oval expanded and outer emissions brightened in spring 2007. Some studies have suggested that magnetospheric changes such as this could be caused by changes in the incoming solar wind. Bonfond et al. present several lines of evidence—including images from the Hubble Space Telescope and observations of a volcanic plume on Io from the New Horizons probe, along with measurements of increased emissions from Jupiter’s sodium cloud—that indicate that Io’s volcanism controls changes in Jupiter’s magnetosphere.

Full Story: http://www.agu.org/news/press/jhighlight_archives/2012/2012-01-31.shtml#six

IBEX Measures ‘Alien’ Particles from Outside Solar System

February 1, 2012 1 comment

Using data from NASA’s Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) spacecraft, an international team of researchers has measured neutral “alien” particles entering our solar system from interstellar space. A suite of studies published in theAstrophysical Journal provide a first look at the constituents of the interstellar medium, the matter between star systems, and how they interact with our heliosphere.

The heliosphere, the “bubble” in which our Sun and planets reside, is formed by the interaction between the solar wind, flowing outward from the Sun, and the interstellar medium, which presses up against it. Electrically charged, or ionized, particles cannot penetrate the boundary between these two bodies. However, neutral particles, which make up about half the material outside the heliosphere, flow freely in through the boundary.

The only other spacecraft to directly detect these inflowing neutral particles was Ulysses, which more than a decade ago measured interstellar neutral helium. Although IBEX is designed primarily to map the interactions between the solar wind and ionized interstellar material, its low-energy energetic neutral atom camera has now also measured interstellar neutral particles not detected by Ulysses. From its location within Earth’s orbit, IBEX has sampled interstellar hydrogen, oxygen, and neon in addition to neutral helium.

Full Story: http://swri.org/9what/releases/2012/ibex-spacecraft.htm