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Archive for July, 2012

Cassini Flies High To View Saturn’s Rings Again


It’s been nearly two years since NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has had views like those it is now enjoying of Saturn’s glorious rings. These views are possible again because Cassini has changed the angle at which it orbits Saturn and now regularly passes above and below Saturn’s equatorial plane. Steeply inclined orbits around the Saturn system also allow scientists to get better views of the poles and atmosphere of Saturn and its moons.

Cassini’s recent return of ring images has started to pay off. A group of scientists has restarted the imaging team’s studies of the famous propeller features. These features are actually small, longitudinally limited, orbiting gaps in the rings that are cleared out by objects smaller than known moons but larger than typical ring particles.

“We’re entering a new episode in Cassini’s exploratory voyage through the Saturn system,” said Carolyn Porco, imaging team lead, based at the Space Science Institute, Boulder, Colo. “These new ring results are an early harbinger of great things to come. So watch this space!”

Full Story: http://www.ciclops.org/view.php?id=7234&js=1

Also: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.cfm?release=2012-199

Dark Matter Scaffolding Of Universe Detected For The First Time


Scientists have, for the first time, directly detected part of the invisible dark matter skeleton of the universe, where more than half of all matter is believed to reside.

The discovery, led by a University of Michigan physics researcher, confirms a key prediction in the prevailing theory of how the universe’s current web-like structure evolved.

The map of the known universe shows that most galaxies are organized into clusters, but some galaxies are situated along filaments that connect the clusters. Cosmologists have theorized that dark matter undergirds those filaments, which serve as highways of sorts, guiding galaxies toward the gravitational pull of the massive clusters. Dark matter’s contribution had been predicted with computer simulations, and its shape had been roughed out based on the distribution of the galaxies. But no one had directly detected it until now.

Full Story: http://www.ns.umich.edu/new/releases/20623-dark-matter-scaffolding-of-universe-detected-for-the-first-time

Flying Along The Vela Ridge


A beautiful blue butterfly flutters towards a nest of warm dust and gas, above an intricate network of cool filaments in this image of the Vela C region by ESA’s Herschel space observatory.

Vela C is the most massive of the four parts of the Vela complex, a massive star nursery just 2300 light-years from the Sun. It is an ideal natural laboratory for us to study the birth of stars.

Herschel’s far-infrared detectors can spot regions where young high- and low-mass stars have heated dense clumps of gas and dust, where new generations of stars may be born.

Full Story: http://www.esa.int/export/esaSC/SEM0XIJXB4H_index_0.html

Coverage Set For Next International Space Station Crew Launch


NASA Television will provide extensive coverage of prelaunch, launch and docking activities of the next trio of crew members who will fly to the International Space Station.

NASA TV coverage of the Soyuz TMA-05M launch begins at 8:30 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 14. NASA Flight Engineer Sunita Williams, veteran Soyuz Commander Yuri Malenchenko of the Russian Federal Space Agency and Flight Engineer Akihiko Hoshide of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency will launch to the station at 9:40 p.m. (8:40 a.m., July 15 Baikonur time) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Full Story: http://www.nasa.gov/home/hqnews/2012/jul/HQ_M12-127_Expedition_32-33_TV_Coverage.html

HI-C Sounding Rocket Mission Has Finest Mirrors Ever Made


On July 11, NASA scientists will launch into space the highest resolution solar telescope ever to observe the solar corona, the million degree outer solar atmosphere. The instrument, called HI-C for High Resolution Coronal Imager, will fly aboard a Black Brant sounding rocket to be launched from the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. The mission will have just 620 seconds for its flight, spending about half of that time high enough that Earth’s atmosphere will not block ultraviolet rays from the sun. By looking at a specific range of UV light, HI-C scientists hope to observe fundamental structures on the sun, as narrow as 100 miles across.

The spatial resolution on HI-C is some five times more detailed than the Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA) instrument on the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), that can resolve structures down to 600 miles and currently sends back some of our most stunning and scientifically useful images of the sun. Of course, AIA can see the entire sun at this resolution, while HI-C will focus on an area just one-sixth the width of the sun or 135,000 miles across. Also, AIA observes the sun in ten different wavelengths, while HI-C will observe just one: 193 Angstroms. This wavelength of UV light corresponds to material in the sun at temperatures of 1.5 million Kelvin and that wavelength is typically used to observe material in the corona.

Full Story: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/sunearth/news/HI-C.html

New Instrument Sifts Through Starlight To Reveal New Worlds


An advanced telescope imaging system that started taking data last month is the first of its kind capable of spotting planets orbiting suns outside of our solar system. The collaborative set of high-tech instrumentation and software, called Project 1640, is now operating on the Hale telescope at the Palomar Observatory in California after more than six years of development.

Although hundreds of planets are known from indirect detection methods to orbit other stars, it’s extremely difficult to see them directly in an image. This is largely because the light that stars emit is tens of millions to billions of times brighter than the light given off by planets.

“We are blinded by this starlight,” Oppenheimer said. “Once we can actually see these exoplanets, we can determine the colors they emit, the chemical compositions of their atmospheres, and even the physical characteristics of their surfaces. Ultimately, direct measurements, when conducted from space, can be used to better understand the origin of Earth and to look for signs of life in other worlds.”

Full Story: http://www.amnh.org/science/papers/starlight.php

Belching Black Hole Proves A Biggie


Outbursts of super-hot gas observed with a CSIRO radio telescope have clinched the identity of the first known “middleweight” black hole, Science Express reports online today.

Before it was found, astronomers had good evidence for only supermassive black holes — ones a million to a billion times the mass of the Sun — and “stellar mass” ones, three to thirty times the mass of the Sun.

CSIRO’s Dr Ron Ekers, who studies supermassive black holes in the centres of galaxies, said “We don’t know for sure how supermassive black holes form, but they might come from medium-size ones merging. So finding evidence of these intermediate-mass black holes is exciting.”

Full Story: http://www.csiro.au/en/Portals/Media/Belching-black-hole-proves-a-biggie.aspx

Life’s Molecules Could Lie Within Reach Of Mars Curiosity Rover


Stick a shovel in the ground and scoop. That’s about how deep scientists need to go in order to find evidence for ancient life on Mars, if there is any to be found, a new study suggests. That’s within reach of Curiosity, the Mars Science Laboratory rover expected to land on the Red Planet next month.

The new findings, which suggest optimal depths and locations to probe for organic molecules like those that compose living organisms as we know them, could help the newest Mars rover scout for evidence of life beneath the surface and within rocks. The results suggest that, should Mars harbor simple organic molecules, NASA’s prospects for discovering them during Curiosity’s explorations are better than previously thought, said Alexander Pavlov of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, lead author of the study.

Full Story: http://www.agu.org/news/press/pr_archives/2012/2012-32.shtml

UK Infrared Discovers ‘Impossible’ Binary Stars

July 6, 2012 3 comments

A team of astronomers have used the United Kingdom Infrared Telescope (UKIRT) on Hawaii to discover four pairs of stars that orbit each other in less than 4 hours. Until now it was thought that such close-in binary stars could not exist. The new discoveries come from the telescope’s Wide Field Camera (WFCAM) Transit Survey, and appear in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

About half of the stars in our Milky Way galaxy are, unlike our Sun, part of a binary system in which two stars orbit each other. Most likely, the stars in these systems were formed close together and have been in orbit around each other from birth onwards. It was always thought that if binary stars form too close to each other, they would quickly merge into one single, bigger star. This was in line with many observations taken over the last three decades showing the abundant population of stellar binaries, but none with orbital periods shorter than 5 hours.

Full Story:  http://www.ras.org.uk/news-and-press/219-news-2012/2143-ukirt-discovers-impossible-binary-stars

Melas Dorsa Reveals A Complex Geological History On Mars


ESA’s Mars Express has imaged an area to the south of the famed Valles Marineris canyon on the Red Planet, showing a wide range of tectonic and impact features.

On 17 April, the orbiter pointed its high-resolution stereo camera at the Melas Dorsa region of Mars. This area sits in the volcanic highlands of Mars between Sinai and Thaumasia Plana, 250 km south of Melas Chasma. Melas Chasma itself is part of the Valles Marineris rift system.

The image captures wrinkle ridges, some unusual intersecting faults and an elliptical crater surrounded by ejecta in the shape of a butterfly and with a strange ‘fluid-like’ appearance.

Full Story: http://www.esa.int/esaSC/SEM26D2VW3H_index_0.html