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Archive for May, 2012

Get Ready for the Transit of Venus!

May 24, 2012 Leave a comment

Scientists and amateur astronomers around the world are preparing to observe the rare occurrence of Venus crossing the face of the Sun on 5-6 June, an event that will not be seen again for over a hundred years. The occasion also celebrates the first transit while there is a spacecraft orbiting the planet – ESA’s Venus Express.

ESA will be reporting live from the Arctic island of Spitsbergen, where the Venus Express science team will be discussing the latest scientific results from the mission while enjoying a unique view of the 2012 transit under the ’midnight Sun’.

A transit of Venus occurs only when Venus passes directly between the Sun and Earth. Since the orbital plane of Venus is not exactly aligned with that of Earth, transits occur very rarely, in pairs eight years apart but separated by more than a century. The last transit was enjoyed in June 2004 but the next will not be seen until 2117. Venus transits are of great historical significance because they gave astronomers a way to measure the size of the Solar System.

Full Story: http://www.esa.int/export/esaSC/SEMLSGZWD2H_index_0.html

NamibRand Nature Reserve Becomes Africa’s First International Dark Sky Reserve

May 24, 2012 Leave a comment

24 May, 2012. TUCSON, AZ & WINDHOEK, NAMIBIA – Namibiaʼs NamibRand Nature Reserve,
one of Africaʼs largest private nature reserves, has expanded its conservation role to include preserving the star-filled nighttime skies that shine above its dunes and mountains. These efforts in night sky conservation have earned the reserve high honors as the International Dark-Sky Association has just announced that NamibRand Nature Reserve is the worldʼs newest International Dark Sky Reserve.

The International Dark-Sky Associationʼs night sky conservation efforts include working with groups to form International Dark Sky Reserves (IDSR) and other dark sky places. International Dark-Sky Associationʼs Executive Director Bob Parks explains, “The night sky over the NamibRand Nature Reserve is exceptional, as are the efforts the reserve has taken in modifying its lighting for the sake of its wildlife and visitors.”

Full Story: http://docs.darksky.org/PR/NamibRandNR_PR_Final.pdf

New Resources For The Transit Of Venus By The University Of Barcelona


A transit is the crossing of a planet or any star in front of the Sun. Mercury and Venus are the only planets of the solar system that can make transits, because they are closer to the Sun than the Earth. On 5-6 June the transit of the planet Venus across the Sun will take place. Researchers from the Department of Astronomy and Meteorology (DAM) of the University of Barcelona (Spain) will live broadcast the phenomenon from the Svalbard Islands, in the Arctic, through the website Serviastro.

On this occasion, the UB has developed the web page Venus 2012 where specific information on this transit will be accessible, together with a series of activities on astronomical distances which have been made available to school centers, and a comic on the history of the transits of Venus by Josep Manel Carrasco can also be found there (only in Spanish and Catalan).

Venus 2012: http://serviastro.am.ub.edu/twiki/bin/view/ServiAstro/TransitVenus050612

Organic Carbon from Mars, but not Biological

May 24, 2012 Leave a comment

Molecules containing large chains of carbon and hydrogen–the building blocks of all life on Earth–have been the targets of missions to Mars from Viking to the present day. While these molecules have previously been found in meteorites from Mars, scientists have disagreed about how this organic carbon was formed and whether or not it came from Mars. A new paper provides strong evidence that this carbon did originate on Mars, although it is not biological. These findings give researchers insight into the chemical processes taking place on Mars and will help aid future quests for evidence of ancient or modern Martian life.

Full Story: http://carnegiescience.edu/news/organic_carbon_mars_not_biological

Categories: Mars, Solar System Tags: , ,

NASA Hosts Global Viewing Events for Rare Astronomical ReunionN

May 24, 2012 Leave a comment

NASA Television will air a live program starting at 5:30 p.m. EDT Tuesday, June 5, showcasing the celestial phenomenon of the planet Venus trekking across the face of the sun. The rare event, known as the Venus Transit, will not occur again until 2117.
The transit occurs when Venus passes directly between Earth and the sun. Viewers will see Venus as a small dot gliding slowly across our nearest star. Historically, viewed by luminaries like Galileo Galilei, Captain James Cook and even Benjamin Franklin, this rare alignment is how we measured the size of our solar system.
There have been 53 transits since 2000 B.C. The last time the event occurred was on June 8, 2004, watched by millions worldwide. This year, observers on seven continents and a small portion of Antarctica will be in position to see it.

Full Story: http://www.nasa.gov/home/hqnews/2012/may/HQ_M12-095_Venus_Transit.html

Updated Coverage for NASA/SpaceX Mission to Station

May 24, 2012 Leave a comment

The SpaceX second demonstration mission for NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program is under way, and NASA is updating its coverage of the Dragon spacecraft’s flight to the International Space Station.
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon lifted off at 3:44 a.m. EDT Tuesday from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. During the flight, the Dragon capsule will conduct a series of checkout procedures to test and prove its systems, including the capability to rendezvous and berth with the space station.
One of the primary objectives for the flight is 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.
The spacecraft also will demonstrate the ability to abort the rendezvous. Once Dragon successfully proves these capabilities, it will be cleared to berth with the space station.

Full Story: http://www.nasa.gov/home/hqnews/2012/may/HQ_M12-094_Updated_SpaceX_Coverage.html

Colliding Galaxy Cluster Unravelled

May 24, 2012 Leave a comment

An international team of astronomers has used the International LOFAR Telescope from ASTRON, the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy, to study the formation of the galaxy cluster Abell 2256. Abell 2256 is a cluster containing hundreds of galaxies at a distance of 800 million lightyears. ‘The structure we see in the radio images made with LOFAR provides us with information about the origin of this cluster, explains lead author dr. Reinout van Weeren (Leiden University and ASTRON). The study will be published in the scientific journal Astronomy & Astrophysics. The research involved a large team of scientists from 26 different universities and research institutes.

LOFAR has made the first images of Abell 2256 in the frequency range of 20 to 60 MHz. What came as a surprise to scientists was that the cluster of galaxies was brighter and more complex than expected. Dr. van Weeren: ‘We think that galaxy clusters form by mergers and collisions of smaller clusters’. Abell 2256 is a prime example of a cluster that is currently undergoing a collision. The radio emission is produced by tiny elementary particles that move nearly at the speed of light. With LOFAR it is possible to study how these particles get accelerated to such speeds. ‘In particular, we will learn how this acceleration takes place in regions measuring more than 10 million light years across’, says Dr. Gianfranco Brunetti from IRA-INAF in Bologna, Italy, who together with Prof. Marcus Brüggen from the Jacobs University in Bremen, coordinates the LOFAR work on galaxy clusters.

Full Story: http://www.astron.nl/about-astron/press-public/news/colliding-galaxy-cluster-unravelled/colliding-galaxy-cluster-unravell

The Older We Get, The Less We Know (Cosmologically)

May 24, 2012 Leave a comment

The universe is a marvelously complex place, filled with galaxies and larger-scale structures that have evolved over its 13.7-billion-year history. Those began as small perturbations of matter that grew over time, like ripples in a pond, as the universe expanded. By observing the large-scale cosmic wrinkles now, we can learn about the initial conditions of the universe. But is now really the best time to look, or would we get better information billions of years into the future – or the past?

New calculations by Harvard theorist Avi Loeb show that the ideal time to study the cosmos was more than 13 billion years ago, just about 500 million years after the Big Bang. The farther into the future you go from that time, the more information you lose about the early universe.

“I’m glad to be a cosmologist at a cosmic time when we can still recover some of the clues about how the universe started,” Loeb said.

Two competing processes define the best time to observe the cosmos. In the young universe the cosmic horizon is closer to you, so you see less. As the universe ages, you can see more of it because there’s been time for light from more distant regions to travel to you. However, in the older and more evolved universe, matter has collapsed to make gravitationally bound objects. This “muddies the waters” of the cosmic pond, because you lose memory of initial conditions on small scales. The two effects counter each other – the first grows better as the second grows worse.

Full Story: http://www.cfa.harvard.edu/news/2012/pr201215.html

NASA Hosts Global Viewing Events For Rare Astronomical Reunion


WASHINGTON — NASA Television will air a live program starting at 5:30 p.m. EDT Tuesday, June 5, showcasing the celestial phenomenon of the planet Venus trekking across the face of the sun. The rare event, known as the Venus Transit, will not occur again until 2117.

The transit occurs when Venus passes directly between Earth and the sun. Viewers will see Venus as a small dot gliding slowly across our nearest star. Historically, viewed by luminaries like Galileo Galilei, Captain James Cook and even Benjamin Franklin, this rare alignment is how we measured the size of our solar system.

Full Story: http://www.nasa.gov/home/hqnews/2012/may/HQ_M12-095_Venus_Transit.html

Updated Coverage For NASA/SpaceX Mission To Station


Thursday, May 24 (Flight Day 3): Live NASA Television coverage from NASA’s Johnson Space Center mission control in Houston as the Dragon spacecraft performs its flyby of the International Space Station to test its systems begins at 2:30 a.m. EDT and will continue until the Dragon passes the vicinity of the station. A news briefing will be held at 10 a.m. following the activities.

Friday, May 25 (Flight Day 4): Live coverage of the rendezvous and berthing of the Dragon spacecraft to the station begins at 2 a.m. and will continue through the capture and berthing of the Dragon to the station’s Harmony node. A news briefing will be held at 1 p.m. after Dragon is secured to the station.

Saturday, May 26 (Flight Day 5): Live coverage of the hatch opening and entry of the Dragon spacecraft begins at 5:30 a.m. and will include a crew news conference at 11:25 a.m.

Full Story: http://www.nasa.gov/home/hqnews/2012/may/HQ_M12-094_Updated_SpaceX_Coverage.html