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Archive for May 17, 2012

Herschel Sees Intergalactic Bridge Aglow With Stars


The Herschel Space Observatory has discovered a giant, galaxy-packed filament ablaze with billions of new stars. The filament connects two clusters of galaxies that, along with a third cluster, will smash together and give rise to one of the largest galaxy superclusters in the universe.

Herschel is a European Space Agency mission with important NASA contributions.

The filament is the first structure of its kind spied in a critical era of cosmic buildup when colossal collections of galaxies called superclusters began to take shape. The glowing galactic bridge offers astronomers a unique opportunity to explore how galaxies evolve and merge to form superclusters.

Full Story: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.cfm?release=2012-139

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Updated Coverage for NASA/SpaceX Launch and Mission to Station


CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — The second SpaceX demonstration launch for NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) is scheduled for liftoff on Saturday, May 19. The launch of the Falcon 9 rocket carrying a Dragon capsule will occur from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. There is a single instantaneous launch opportunity at 4:55 a.m. EDT.

NASA Television launch commentary from Cape Canaveral begins at 3:30 a.m.

During the flight, SpaceX’s Dragon capsule will conduct a series of check-out procedures to test and prove its systems, including the capability to rendezvous and berth with the International Space Station. The primary objectives for the flight include a flyby of the space station at a distance of approximately 1.5 miles to validate the operation of sensors and flight systems necessary for a safe rendezvous and approach.

Full Story: http://www.nasa.gov/home/hqnews/2012/may/HQ_M12-087_Updated_SpaceX_Launch_Coverage.html

NASA’s Deputy Administrator to Discuss Future of Commercial Spaceflight with Industry Representatives


WASHINGTON — NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver will participate in a teleconference on Thursday, May 17, at 2 p.m. EDT with representatives of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation to brief journalists on the future of human commercial spaceflight.

Full Story: http://www.nasa.gov/home/hqnews/2012/may/HQ_M12-085_Garver_Comm_Spaceflight_Telecon.html

NASA Survey Counts Potentially Hazardous Asteroids


PASADENA, Calif. — Observations from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) have led to the best assessment yet of our solar system’s population of potentially hazardous asteroids. The results reveal new information about their total numbers, origins and the possible dangers they may pose.

Potentially hazardous asteroids, or PHAs, are a subset of the larger group of near-Earth asteroids. The PHAs have the closest orbits to Earth’s, coming within five million miles (about eight million kilometers), and they are big enough to survive passing through Earth’s atmosphere and cause damage on a regional, or greater, scale.

The new results come from the asteroid-hunting portion of the WISE mission, called NEOWISE. The project sampled 107 PHAs to make predictions about the entire population as a whole. Findings indicate there are roughly 4,700 PHAs, plus or minus 1,500, with diameters larger than 330 feet (about 100 meters). So far, an estimated 20 to 30 percent of these objects have been found.

Full Story: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.cfm?release=2012-138

Celestial Tapestry is Born of Uncertain Parentage


A new Legacy Image from the Gemini Observatory reveals the remarkable complexity of the planetary nebula Sharpless 2-71 (Sh 2-71). Embroiled in a bit of controversy over its “birth parents” the nebula likely resulted from interactions between a pair of two old and dying stars. Legacy images like this one share the stunning beauty of the universe as revealed by the twin 8-meter Gemini telescopes in Hawai‘i and Chile.

Take this new Gemini Legacy Image of the elaborate planetary nebula Sharpless 2-71. For most of its recorded history, astronomers assumed that it formed from the death throes of an obvious bright star (a known binary system) near its center. Arguments against that claim, however, have turned this case into a classic mystery of uncertain parentage.

The Gemini Legacy Image shows the long-assumed central star shining as the brightest object very close to the center of the nebula’s beautiful gas shell. But new observations have shown that the nature of a dimmer, bluer star – just to the right, and a bit lower than the obvious central star – might provide a better fit for the nebula’s “birth parent.”

Full Story: http://www.gemini.edu/node/11815

Three-Telescope Interferometry Allows Astrophysicists to Observe How Black Holes are Fueled


By combining the light of three powerful infrared telescopes, an international research team has observed the active accretion phase of a supermassive black hole in the center of a galaxy tens of millions of light years away, a method that has yielded an unprecedented amount of data for such observations. The resolution at which they were able to observe this highly luminescent active galactic nucleus (AGN) has given them direct confirmation of how mass accretes onto black holes in centers of galaxies.

“This three-telescope interferometry is a major milestone toward directly imaging the growth phase of supermassive black holes,” said Sebastian Hoenig, a postdoctoral researcher at the UC Santa Barbara Department of Physics, and one of the astrophysicists who utilized this technique to observe the AGN at the center of galaxy NGC 3783. The observation was led by Gerd Weigelt, a director of the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany.

Full Story: http://www.ia.ucsb.edu/pa/display.aspx?pkey=2730

NASA Lends Ultraviolet Space Telescope to Caltech


Caltech has taken over operation from NASA of the Galaxy Evolution Explorer (GALEX), a space telescope that for the last nine years has been surveying the cosmos in ultraviolet light. In this first agreement of its kind, NASA is lending the telescope to Caltech, which has led the mission and will continue operating and managing it through the support of private funders.

Launched in April 2003, GALEX was designed to study how galaxies change and evolve over time. Because young, high-mass stars are especially hot, they radiate a lot of ultraviolet light, meaning that the brighter the ultraviolet light from a galaxy, the faster its stars are forming. By observing in ultraviolet wavelengths, GALEX has been able to measure the formation rates of stars in millions of galaxies. The telescope has helped astronomers determine how the rates of star formation in other galaxies have changed over the last eight billion years and how that process leads to the evolution of those galaxies.

Now, GALEX is embarking on a new phase in its mission.

Full Story: http://features.caltech.edu/features/372