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Archive for June 1, 2012

Arizona State University Astronomers Discover Faintest Distant Galaxy


Astronomers at Arizona State University have found an exceptionally distant galaxy, ranked among the top 10 most distant objects currently known in space. Light from the recently detected galaxy left the object about 800 million years after the beginning of the universe, when the universe was in its infancy.

A team of astronomers, led by James Rhoads, Sangeeta Malhotra, and Pascale Hibon of the School of Earth and Space Exploration at ASU, identified the remote galaxy after scanning a moon-sized patch of sky with the IMACS instrument on the Magellan Telescopes at the Carnegie Institution’s Las Campanas Observatory in Chile.

Full Story: https://asunews.asu.edu/20120601_LAEJ

Last Chance For A Century To Witness The Transit Of Venus


For the last time until the year 2117, people around the world will have a chance to witness the transit of Venus as the planet passes directly between Earth and the Sun on Tuesday 5th June and Wednesday 6th June. The event will appear as a tiny black disk creeping across the Sun’s face. Events are taking place for people to safely view this event and telescopes and space satellites will have the best seats to get close up details.

NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, in orbit around the Earth, is scheduled to provide the best possible views of the event, producing the highest resolution, most detailed images ever taken of the Sun during a transit. RAL Space (based at STFC’s Rutherford Appleton Laboratory) not only provided electronics systems for the satellite’s cutting-edge cameras but is also a co-investigator on the mission.

A key aim of scientists’ observations will be to help develop and refine techniques for discovering and characterising planets beyond our solar system by observing them as they pass across the faces of their parent stars.

Full Story: http://www.stfc.ac.uk/News+and+Events/39127.aspx

Students Nationwide To Exhibit NASA Spacecraft Lunar Images


Media representatives are invited to see middle-school students and their teachers demonstrate science lessons and highlight selected images provided by twin NASA spacecraft studying the moon from crust to core. The event will take place from 10 a.m. to noon, Friday, June 1, 2012, at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center located at 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW in Washington.

The event showcases an education and public outreach project called MoonKAM (Moon Knowledge Acquired by Middle school students). MoonKAM provides students around the world an opportunity to identify and choose images of the moon’s surface using small cameras aboard NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission. To date, thousands of images of lunar targets have been selected by fifth- to eighth-grade students.

Full Story: http://www.nasa.gov/home/hqnews/2012/may/HQ_M12-99_MoonKAM.html

SpaceX Dragon Capsule Returns To Earth After First Commercial Flight To Space Station


SpaceX’s Dragon capsule splashed down in the Pacific Ocean at 11:42 a.m. EDT a few hundred miles west of Baja California, Mexico, marking a successful end to the first mission by a commercial company to resupply the International Space Station.

“Congratulations to the teams at SpaceX and NASA who worked hard to make this first commercial mission to the International Space Station an overwhelming success,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. “This successful splashdown and the many other achievements of this mission herald a new era in U.S. commercial spaceflight. American innovation and inspiration have once again shown their great strength in the design and operation of a new generation of vehicles to carry cargo to our laboratory in space. Now more than ever we’re counting on the inventiveness of American companies and American workers to make the International Space Station and other low Earth orbit destinations accessible to any and all who have dreams of space travel.”

Full Story: http://www.nasa.gov/home/hqnews/2012/may/HQ_12-179_SpaceX_Splashdown.html

NASA’S Commercial Crew Partner Sierra Nevada Corporation Completes Dream Chaser Flight Test Milestone


Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) Space Systems successfully completed a “captive carry test” of its full-scale Dream Chaser orbital crew vehicle Tuesday, marking a new milestone in the company’s effort to develop transportation for astronauts to low Earth orbit and the International Space Station.

During the test, the Dream Chaser flight vehicle was carried under an Erickson Air-Crane helicopter to assess the vehicle’s aerodynamic flight performance, which will allow additional flight tests in the future. The helicopter flew for approximately an hour near the Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport in Jefferson County, Colo.

Full Story: http://www.nasa.gov/home/hqnews/2012/may/HQ_12-180_SNC_Dream_Chaser.html

Venus, A Planetary Portrait Of Inner Beauty


A Venus transit across the face of the sun is a relatively rare event — occurring in pairs with more than a century separating each pair. There have been all of 53 transits of Venus across the sun between 2000 B.C. and the last one in 2004. On Wednesday, June 6 (Tuesday, June 5 from the Western Hemisphere), Earth gets another shot at it – and the last for a good long while. But beyond this uniquely celestial oddity, why has Venus been an object worthy of ogling for hundreds of centuries?

“Venus is a fascinating yet horrendously extreme place all at once,” said Sue Smrekar, a scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “Although the surface is hot enough to melt lead due to its runaway greenhouse atmosphere, in many respects it is Earth’s twin [size, gravity and bulk composition].”

Full Story: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.cfm?release=2012-150

NASA Astrobiologists Find Iron’s Role In Life On Early Earth


When life began on Earth, iron may have done the job of magnesium, making life possible.

On the periodic table of the elements, iron and magnesium are far apart. But new evidence discovered by the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI) team at the Georgia Institute of Technology suggests that three billion years ago, iron did the job magnesium does today in helping Ribonucleic acid (RNA), a molecule essential for life, assume the molecular shapes necessary for biology.

Full Story: http://www.nasa.gov/centers/ames/news/releases/2012/12-44AR.html
Additional Story: http://astrobiology.nasa.gov/articles/finding-iron-s-role-in-life-on-early-earth/

Astronomers Without Borders To Webcast Transit Of Venus From Mount Wilson Observatory


As Venus crosses the face of the Sun on 5/6 June for the last time in this century, Astronomers Without Borders will stream the event live to a worldwide audience from historic Mount Wilson Observatory in Southern California. With experts, authors, and astronomers on hand, and vintage telescopes alongside modern ones, there will be plenty to see and learn about this very rare event and its importance to historical efforts to understand our solar system.

Only six transits of Venus have been observed since the invention of the telescope more than 400 years ago. There were no transits of Venus from 1882 to 2004, and the next one won’t take place until 2117.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, scientific expeditions sailed around the world to observe transits of Venus from widely separated locations in an attempt to measure the distance from Earth to the Sun. This basic unit of measure for distance in the solar system is now known with great precision. But transits of Venus provide 21st century astronomers with ways to test their methods for discovering and exploring planets circling distant stars. These unseen planets sometimes cross in front of their stars, slightly dimming the star’s light, in an event known as an “exoplanet transit.”

Full Story: http://www.astronomerswithoutborders.org/projects/transit-of-venus/live-webcast.html

Astronomers Without Borders And Partners Bring Phone And Online Technology To The Transit Of Venus


Astronomers Without Borders has partnered with the Venus Transit Project and Esri, a leading geographic information systems company, to create unique smartphone and web apps for the transit of Venus.

Owners of mobile devices using the Apple and Android operating systems can now take part in the largest such effort ever thanks to a new free app developed by Steven van Roode of the Transit of Venus Project. Anyone can emulate the expeditions of old without leaving home or making lengthy measurements of their location or local time.

Just a few clicks on a smartphone is enough, and many thousands are expected to join in. The technology used was not available even for the Venus transit in 2004 — the only other transit to occur since the 19th century — ensuring that this project will see unprecedented participation.

For Apps: http://www.astronomerswithoutborders.org/news/newsletters/latest-newsletter.html

X-ray ‘Echoes’ Map A Supermassive Black Hole’s Environs


An international team of astronomers using data from the European Space Agency’s (ESA) XMM-Newton satellite has identified a long-sought X-ray “echo” that promises a new way to probe supersized black holes in distant galaxies.

Most big galaxies host a big central black hole containing millions of times the sun’s mass. When matter streams toward one of these supermassive black holes, the galaxy’s center lights up, emitting billions of times more energy than the sun. For years, astronomers have been monitoring such “active galactic nuclei” (AGN) to better understand what happens on the brink of a monster black hole.

Full Story: http://www.nasa.gov/topics/universe/features/xray-echo.html