Archive for May, 2012

Your Complete Go-To Guide For June’s Transit Of Venus

On June 5th in North and Central America, and June 6th in Asia, Australia, and most of Europe, the planet Venus will cross in front of the Sun. This will be only the eighth such transit of Venus since the invention of the telescope, and the last one until December 10-11, 2117. Visit the URL above for a wide range of images and illustrations to help prepare your coverage of this historic sky event.

“This is it, folks,” says Robert Naeye, Editor in Chief of Sky & Telescope magazine. “Unless modern medicine comes up with a miracle to extend human lifespans, this transit of Venus will be your final opportunity to watch our sister planet cross the Sun’s fiery disk as seen from Earth.”

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Transit of Venus: Live Webcast June 5, 2012

On June 5, 2012, the Exploratorium presents a live webcast for the viewing of the transit of Venus, an astronomical phenomenon that will not occur again until the years 2117 and 2125.

An Exploratorium crew is webcasting this special 6.5-hour event live from the Mauna Loa Observatory on the big island of Hawaii. A telescope feed will be accompanied by audio commentary every 30 minutes. Visitors to the Exploratorium can view the phenomenon on large screens during museum hours and others worldwide can watch it via the Internet.

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NASA Scientist Figures Way To Weigh Space Rock

A scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., has accurately determined the mass of a nearby asteroid from millions of miles away. The celestial equivalent of “guess your weight” was achieved by Steve Chesley of JPL’s Near-Earth Object Program Office by utilizing data from three NASA assets – the Goldstone Solar System Radar in the California desert, the orbiting Spitzer Space telescope, and the NASA-sponsored Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico.

Incorporating extraordinarily precise observations collected by astronomer Michael Nolan at Arecibo Observatory in September 2011, Arecibo and Goldstone radar observations made in 1999 and 2005, and the gravitational effects of the sun, moon, planets and other asteroids, Chesley was able to calculate how far the asteroid deviated from its anticipated orbit. He found that 1999 RQ36 had deviated from the mathematical model by about 100 miles (160 kilometers)in the past 12 years. The only logical explanation for this orbital change was that the space rock itself was generating a minute propulsive force known in space rock circles as the Yarkovsky effect.

The Yarkovsky effect is named for the 19th-century Russian engineer who first proposed the idea that a small, rocky space object would, over long periods of time, be noticeably nudged in its orbit by the slight push created when it absorbs sunlight and then re-emits that energy as heat. The effect is hard to measure because it’s so infinitesimally small.

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OSIRIS-REx Scientists Measure Yarkovsky Effect

Scientists with the University of Arizona-led asteroid sample return mission OSIRIS-REx have measured the orbit of their destination asteroid, 1999 RQ36, with such accuracy they were able to directly determine the drift resulting from a subtle but important force called the Yarkovsky effect – the slight push created when the asteroid absorbs sunlight and re-emits that energy as heat.

The new orbit for the half-kilometer (one-third mile) diameter 1999 RQ36 is the most precise asteroid orbit ever obtained, OSIRIS-REx team member Steven Chesley of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory said. He presented the findings May 19 at the Asteroids, Comets and Meteors 2012 meeting in Niigata, Japan.

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Subaru Telescope Pioneers The Use Of Adaptive Optics For Optical Observations

A research team from the University of Tokyo/Kavli IPMU, Ehime University, and the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ) has succeeded in conducting the first, full-scale scientific observationswith an adaptive optics (AO) system at optical wavelengths. The team connected the Kyoto Tridimensional Spectrograph II with the Subaru Telescope’s Adaptive Optics system and improved the spatial resolution of images by a factor of 2.5 over images taken without AO. Observations using Kyoto3DII coupled with AO 188 are likely to reveal the detailed structures and the formation processes of galaxies.

Unlike space telescopes, ground-based telescopes must deal with observational distortions from atmospheric turbulence that degrades the spatial resolution of images. Adaptive optics systems (Note 2) correct for the distortion of light in real time and facilitate the production of high-resolution images. However, the AO systems of large, ground-based telescopes have only been used with infrared instruments. The turbulence of Earth’s atmosphere distorts optical light more rapidly and significantly than infrared light. Therefore, the technical challenge of an AO system operating in optical wavelengths is to make faster and finer corrections of light distortion to obtain higher resolution images. Given the huge light-gathering capacity of the Subaru Telescope’s 8.2 m primary mirror and the high performance of its AO 188 system in the infrared, the research team hypothesized that this system could also yield high-resolution images at optical wavelengths.

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SETI Institute’s Jill Tarter Takes Issue With Stephen Hawking, MIB3, Prometheus And Battleship

Mountain View, California –The creative minds who fill movies and TV shows with angry aliens will soon be defending their vision of these extraterrestrial antagonists at SETIcon, a public event sponsored by the SETI Institute. The Institute is known for its science-based search for radio signals that would betray the existence of intelligent beings on distant worlds. SETIcon will take place June 22 through 24 in the heart of the Silicon Valley, and will feature a celebrity banquet honoring Jill Tarter who, for the last 35 years, has led the search for extraterrestrial intelligence at the SETI Institute.

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NASA Commercial Crew Partner Boeing Meets Software Milestone

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — The Boeing Company has successfully completed a new milestone in the development of software that will operate its Crew Space Transportation (CST) spacecraft. The company is one of NASA’s partners developing commercial crew transportation capabilities to ferry U.S. astronauts to and from low Earth orbit and the International Space Station.

With the Preliminary Design Review (PDR) of its software on May 18, the company now has completed more than 40 milestones under partnerships supporting NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP).

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NASA Receives Widespread Concepts For Future Mars Missions

WASHINGTON — NASA’s call to scientists and engineers to help plan a new strategy to explore Mars has resulted in almost double the amount of expected submissions with unique and bold ideas.

About 400 concepts or abstracts were submitted to the Concepts and Approaches for Mars Exploration Workshop in Houston, which was organized to gather input for the reformulation of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program. Submissions came from individuals and teams that included professional researchers, undergraduate and graduate students, NASA centers, federal laboratories, industry, and international partner organizations.

NASA is reformulating the Mars Exploration Program to be responsive to high-priority science goals and President Obama’s challenge of sending humans to Mars orbit in the 2030s

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Lowell Observatory Launches New Pro/Am Research Initiative

May 24, 2012 Leave a comment

Lowell Observatory is proud to announce the Lowell Amateur Research Initiative (LARI). This program seeks to pair the ever-growing and technically sophisticated amateur astronomy community in exciting research projects with Lowell astronomers.

A passionate researcher, Percival Lowell always sought to communicate new ideas and the joy of astronomy research to the public. In that same spirit, LARI brings together professional and amateur astronomers in a way that affords interested amateurs an opportunity to participate in cutting-edge research and potentially make significant contributions to science. Amateurs can help Lowell astronomers in their work and help create dedicated research teams. LARI will expand Lowell Observatory’s education and public outreach missions, and promote greater awareness of astronomy and related sciences.

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NASA Offers Guidelines To Protect Historic Sites On The Moon

May 24, 2012 Leave a comment

NASA and the X Prize Foundation of Playa Vista, Calif., announced Thursday the Google Lunar X Prize is recognizing guidelines established by NASA to protect lunar historic sites and preserve ongoing and future science on the moon. The foundation will take the guidelines into account as it judges mobility plans submitted by 26 teams vying to be the first privately-funded entity to visit the moon.
NASA recognizes that many spacefaring nations and commercial entities are on the verge of landing spacecraft on the moon. The agency engaged in a cooperative dialogue with the X Prize Foundation and the Google Lunar X Prize teams to develop the recommendations. NASA and the next generation of lunar explorers share a common interest in preserving humanity’s first steps on another celestial body and protecting ongoing science from the potentially damaging effects of nearby landers.

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