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Nearby Star Cluster, Long Forgotten, Now Discovered to Be Useful in Studies of Sun and Search for Planets Like Earth

June 22, 2012 Leave a comment

A loose group of stars, known for over 180 years but never before studied in detail, has been revealed to be an important new tool in the quest to understand the evolution of stars like the Sun, and in the search for planets like Earth. “We have discovered that a previously unappreciated open star cluster, which is a little younger than our Sun, holds great promise for use as a standard gauge in fundamental stellar astrophysics,” said Jason T. Wright, an assistant professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Penn State University, who conceived and initiated the research.

When searching for planets with an Earth-like mass and an orbit that allows liquid water to exist on the surface, astronomers often search around stars the mass of the Sun and smaller. “The Ruprecht 147 cluster is very unusual and very important astrophysically because it is close to Earth and its stars are closer to the Sun’s age than those in all the other nearby clusters,” Wright said. “For the first time, we now have a useful laboratory in which to search for and study bright stars that are of similar mass and also of similar age as the Sun. When we discover planets around Sun-like and lower-mass stars, we will be able to interpret how old those stars are by comparing them to the stars in this cluster.”

Full Story: http://science.psu.edu/news-and-events/2012-news/Wright6-2012

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The Astronomical Society of the Pacific Announces 2012 Award Recipients in Astronomy Research and Education

June 22, 2012 Leave a comment

The Astronomical Society of the Pacific (ASP) today announced the recipients of its 2012 awards for excellence in astronomy research and education.

The Maria and Eric Muhlmann Award for important research results based upon development of groundbreaking instruments and techniques is given to the Kepler Science Team, led by William Borucki and David Koch, which has revolutionized the fields of observational discovery of exoplanets (planets circling other stars than our Sun) and planetary systems as well as the field of asteroseismology. Through continuous monitoring of some 150,000 stars and innovations in precision photometry from space, more than two thousand candidate exoplanets have been detected and subsequently confirmed by ground-based observations. Kepler’s achievements include the detection of “super-Earths” (planets with masses larger than Earth’s but significantly less than those of the Sun’s smaller gas giants), at least one of them residing in the habitable zone of its parent star. Hundreds of Kepler candidates are in multiple-planet extrasolar systems. The same precision photometry that enables the detection of exoplanets also allows the detection of subtle, periodic variations in stellar brightness for use in studying the interior structure of stars and the determination of stellar masses and radii. As Principal Investigator of the Kepler Mission, William Borucki assembled a team of scientists and engineers to design, construct, launch, and utilize the results from this NASA Discovery mission, along with David Koch, deputy Principle Investigator, since 1992.  The legacy of the mission is remarkable because follow-up observations of the candidates can be performed from small as well as large telescopes around the world.

Full Story: http://www.astrosociety.org/membership/awards/12winnerspr.html

Bok Awards for Astronomy Presented to High-School Students at Intel Science Fair

June 22, 2012 Leave a comment

Two high school students from Texas and Louisiana are the winners of the 2012 Priscilla and Bart Bok Awards for their astronomy projects presented at the Intel Science and Engineering Fair in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in May. The awards were presented on May 18 by the Astronomical Society of the Pacific (ASP) in partnership with the American Astronomical Society (AAS), supported by funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The first prize of $1,000 went to Piper Michelle Reid of Dripping Springs High School, Dripping Springs, Texas, for her project, “Photometric and Spectroscopic Analysis for the Determination of Physical Parameters of an Eclipsing Binary Star System.” The project explores how, with careful use of consumer grade astronomical equipment, it is possible for an amateur astronomer to determine an array of physical characteristics of a distant binary star system from a suburban setting. She used a CCD camera, home-built spectroscope, tracking mount, and telescope to carefully collect photometric and spectroscopic data, then analyzed the data and calculated physical properties for the binary star systems BB Pegasi and 57 Cygni.

The second prize of $500 went to Henry Wanjune Lin of Caddo Parish Magnet High School, Shreveport, Louisiana, for his project, “A Generalized Holographic Model of Cosmic Accelerated Expansion,” which explores how holographic models naturally account for the observed cosmic accelerated expansion. Astronomers are attempting to understand the acceleration of the universe, which is attributed to dark energy: the discovery of the phenomenon of dark energy was awarded the Nobel Prize in physics in 2011. Henry’s project is an attempt to model the possible ways that dark energy can be represented to explain the observed expansion.

Full Story: http://aas.org/press/pr2012Jun22

NASA Offers Web, Mobile Links to Follow Space Station and Mission Control

June 22, 2012 Leave a comment

NASA is using the Internet and smartphones to provide the public with a new inside look at what happens aboard the International Space Station (ISS) and in the Mission Control Center at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. Log onto the agency’s Space Station Live! web page or download the companion ISSLive! mobile application to get up-to-the-minute information.
Groundbreaking research and technology development work is going on every day in the microgravity environment of space, and Space Station Live! allows users to see what the expedition astronauts do minute by minute. Streaming data from the space station lets the public see the latest information on temperatures, communications and power generation. Students and teachers can use the data to solve classroom problems in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or to tour the space station and mission control operator consoles through virtual 3-D view models.
Space Station Live! includes a web experience and free mobile ISSLive! app for smart phones and tablet computers accessible on NASA’s website. The app also is available through the Google Play and iTunes app stores.

Full Story: http://www.nasa.gov/home/hqnews/2012/jun/HQ_12-210_ISS_Live_Web_and_App.html

New Infrared Sensor to Revolutionize Infrared Astronomical Imaging

June 22, 2012 Leave a comment

The University of Hawaii today released the first image obtained using its new 16-megapixel HAWAII 4RG-15 (H4RG-15) image sensor on the UH 2.2-meter (88-inch) telescope on Mauna Kea. This represents a significant step forward in astronomical infrared technology because it is the first time a sensor with anywhere near this many infrared pixels has been trained on the sky.

The image shows the Whirlpool Galaxy, a spiral galaxy 23 million light-years away. “The detail captured all across this extended infrared image really whets our appetite for getting these sensors into cameras at newer, much larger telescopes,” said Dr. Donald N. B. Hall of the UH Institute for Astronomy (IfA), who is principal investigator for the project. “The level of detail revealed by digitally zooming in anywhere in the 16-megapixel image is truly incredible.”

This sensor boasts 16 times the pixel count of an earlier sensor developed by the same team and installed on the Hubble Space Telescope during the astronauts’ last refurbishment mission. It also has four times the pixel count of the largest infrared sensors now in use at telescopes around the world.

Full Story: http://www.ifa.hawaii.edu/info/press-releases/H4RG-15/

ALMA Reveals Constituent of a Galaxy at 12.4 Billion Light-Years Away

June 22, 2012 Leave a comment

An international research team, led by Associate Professor Tohru Nagao from Kyoto University, and including researchers from Japan and Europe, has observed a “submillimeter galaxy” located about 12.4 billion light-years away using ALMA (Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array), and has successfully detected an emission line from nitrogen contained in that galaxy. Comparisons between the data obtained by ALMA and numerical models revealed that the elemental composition of this galaxy in the early universe, at only 1.3 billion years after the Big Bang, was already close to the elemental composition of the present universe.

This result suggests that intense star formation activities had occurred in the early universe. A submillimeter galaxy is a type of galaxy which has intense star formation activity and is covered by large amounts of dust which block visible light.

Full Story: http://alma.mtk.nao.ac.jp/e/news/pressrelease/20120621124.html

NASA Space Launch System Core Stage Moves From Concept to Design

June 22, 2012 Leave a comment

The nation’s space exploration program is taking a critical step forward with a successful major technical review of the core stage of the Space Launch System (SLS), the rocket that will take astronauts farther into space than ever before.
The core stage is the heart of the heavy-lift launch vehicle. It will stand more than 200 feet (61 meters) tall with a diameter of 27.5 feet (8.4 meters).
NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., hosted a comprehensive review. Engineers from NASA and The Boeing Co. of Huntsville presented a full set of system requirements, design concepts and production approaches to technical reviewers and the independent review board.
“This meeting validates our design requirements for the core stage of the nation’s heavy-lift rocket and is the first major checkpoint for our team,” said Tony Lavoie, manager of the SLS Stages Element at Marshall. “Getting to this point took a lot of hard work, and I’m proud of the collaboration between NASA and our partners at Boeing. Now that we have completed this review, we go from requirements to real blueprints. We are right on track to deliver the core stage for the SLS program.”
The core stage will store liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen to feed the rocket’s four RS-25 engines, all of which will be former space shuttle main engines for the first few flights. The SLS Program has an inventory of 16 RS-25 flight engines that successfully operated for the life of the Space Shuttle Program. Like the space shuttle, SLS also will be powered initially by two solid rocket boosters on the sides of the launch vehicle.

Full Story: http://www.nasa.gov/home/hqnews/2012/jun/HQ_12-211_SLS_Core_Stage.html