Archive for August 8, 2012

Perseid Meteors In Their Prime

The Perseid meteors should put on the peak of their yearly display late this Saturday night and early Sunday morning (August 11-12, 2012). “December’s Geminids often outperform them by a bit,” says Alan MacRobert, a senior editor of Sky & Telescope magazine, “but the Perseids are probably the most-watched meteor shower, because they come in the warm vacation season.

Like all meteor showers, the Perseids are named for the constellation from which they appear to radiate. Perseus will hang low in the northeast early on the night of the 11th. The shower will really get underway after 11 or midnight local time, predicts Sky & Telescope, when from a dark site you may spot one or perhaps two Perseids a minute on average. The rate should increase as Perseus gains altitude in the early hours of the 12th. A thick waning crescent Moon will rise around 1 or 2 a.m., “but its glare at this phase will be no big problem,” says MacRobert.

Full Story:

ChemCam Sends Digital ‘Thumbs Up’

Members of the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover ChemCam team got a digital thumbs up about the operational readiness of their instrument just hours after the rover landed on Martian soil late Sunday evening.

“Following the fantastic landing of Curiosity on Mars, ChemCam proceeded with an aliveness test within an hour of landing,” Wiens announced. “This was essentially the same routine as performed five months earlier in the middle of its cruise (to Mars). We are giving the all-clear from our perspective to raise the (rover) mast on Sol 2. All systems are go!”

The aliveness check means that, as far as the international team of scientists is concerned, ChemCam can begin its next task of transmitting photographic images of the rover as a system check.

Full Story:

First 360-Degree Panorama From NASA’s Curiosity Mars Rover

Remarkable image sets from NASA’s Curiosity rover and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter are continuing to develop the story of Curiosity’s landing and first days on Mars.

The images from Curiosity’s just-activated navigation cameras, or Navcams, include the rover’s first self-portrait, looking down at its deck from above. Another Navcam image set, in lower-resolution thumbnails, is the first 360-degree view of Curiosity’s new home in Gale Crater. Also downlinked were two, higher-resolution Navcams providing the most detailed depiction to date of the surface adjacent to the rover.

“These Navcam images indicate that our powered descent stage did more than give us a great ride, it gave our science team an amazing freebie,” said John Grotzinger, project scientist for the mission from the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. “The thrust from the rockets actually dug a one-and-a-half-foot-long [0.5-meter] trench in the surface. It appears we can see Martian bedrock on the bottom. Its depth below the surface is valuable data we can use going forward.”

Full Story:

Choose What the VLT Observes & Tweet Your Way to the VLT

August 8, 2012 Leave a comment

The first of our two anniversary competitions is called Choose What the VLT Observes.

Usually, astronomers have to prepare a detailed plan long in advance, describing why they want to use the VLT, and only a small fraction of them are given the chance. But for you, it’s going to be rather easier.
ESO has already pre-selected some interesting celestial objects that are visible in the sky on the 50th anniversary of ESO — 5 October 2012 — and fit in VLT’s field of view [1]. All you need to do is cast your vote for the object you like most. The one that gets the most votes will be observed using the VLT on the 50th anniversary day.

We will draw a winner and ten runners up from among those who voted (you do not have to have voted for the winning object). The winner will receive one of the latest iPads and the runners up will receive ESO products including books, DVDs and other goodies.

Next, what about visiting the VLT to help make the observations of the winning object yourself?

For a chance to do this, enter our second competition, called Tweet Your Way to the VLT! We invite you to tweet (in any official language of an ESO Member State) the reason why you would like to visit the VLT at ESO’s Paranal Observatory. A panel of judges will pick the lucky winner, who will be offered a trip to Chile, including travel and accommodation. The winner will have the opportunity to visit the VLT in time for ESO’s 50th anniversary on 5 October 2012, and be the one who observes the selected object from the Choose What the VLT Observes competition. As part of our anniversary celebrations, the observations will also be streamed live to viewers around the world.

Full Story:

Astronomers Release the Largest Ever Three-Dimensional Map of the Sky

August 8, 2012 Leave a comment

The Sloan Digital Sky Survey III(SDSS-III) has released the largest three-dimensional map of massive galaxies and distant black holes ever created. The new map pinpoints the locations and distances of over a million galaxies. It covers a total volume equivalent to that of a cube four billion light-years on a side.

“We want to map the largest volume of the universe yet, and to use that map to understand how the expansion of the universe is accelerating,” said Daniel Eisenstein (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics), the director of SDSS-III.

The map is the centerpiece of Data Release 9 (DR9), which publicly releases the data from the first two years of a six-year survey project. The release includes images of 200 million galaxies and spectra of 1.35 million galaxies. (Spectra take more time to collect than photographs, but provide the crucial third dimension by letting astronomers measure galaxy distances.)

“Our goal is to create a catalog that will be used long after we are done,” said Michael Blanton of New York University, who led the team that prepared Data Release 9.

The release includes new data from the ongoing SDSS-III Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey (BOSS), which will measure the positions of massive galaxies up to six billion light-years away, as well as quasars – giant black holes actively feeding on stars and gas – up to 12 billion light-years from Earth.

Full Story:

1st Media Announcement For European Planetary Science Congress (EPSC) 2012

August 8, 2012 Leave a comment

The European Planetary Science Congress (EPSC) 2012 will take place at the IFEMA-Feria de Madrid, Spain, from Sunday 23 September to Friday 28 September 2012.

The EPSC is the major European meeting on planetary science and attracts scientists from Europe and around the World. The 2012 programme includes more than 50 sessions and workshops.  Presentations will include new results from Mars Science Laboratory, Dawn and MESSENGER missions, science from the 2012 transit of Venus, as well as results from field campaigns to Mars analogue sites in Antarctica, Spain, the USA and Portugal. More than 900 abstracts for oral presentations and posters have been submitted.

Full Story:

New 3-D Map of Massive Galaxies and Distant Black Holes Offers Clues to Dark Matter and Dark Energy

August 8, 2012 Leave a comment

The Sloan Digital Sky Survey III (SDSS-III) has released the largest-ever  three-dimensional map of massive galaxies and distant black holes, which will help  astronomers explain the mysterious “dark matter” and “dark energy” that scientists know  makes up 96 percent of the Universe.

Early last year, the SDSS-III released the largest-ever image of the sky. With the  new release of data, SDSS-III has begun to expand this image into a full  three-dimensional map. Data Release 9(DR9), posted online last  week, makes available the first third of the galaxy map that this six-year  project will create.”What really makes me proud of this survey is our commitment to creating a legacy for the future,” said Michael Blanton, a professor at New York University who led the team that prepared DR9.  “Our goal is to create a map of the Universe that will be used long after we are done, by future generations of astronomers, physicists and the general public.”

Data Release 9 is the latest in a series of data releases stretching  back to 2001. This release includes new data from the ongoing SDSS-III Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey (BOSS),  which will eventually measure the positions of 1.5 million massive  galaxies over the past six billion years of cosmic time, as well as  160,000 quasars — giant black holes actively feeding on stars and  gas — from as long ago as 12 billion years in the past.

With such a map, scientists can retrace the history of the Universe over the  last six billion years. With that history, they can get better estimates for  how much of the Universe is made up of dark matter – matter that we can’t  directly see because it doesn’t emit or absorb light – and dark energy, the  even more mysterious force that drives the accelerating expansion of the Universe.

Full Story:

Engineering Team Develops Chip for Mars Rover

August 8, 2012 Leave a comment

NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory Rover Curiosity would have a hard time completing its mission if it were not for a successful partnership between the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and a professor-student team at UT. Ben Blalock, professor of electrical engineering and computer science, and two graduate students—Stephen Terry, now an alumnus, and Robert Greenwell—designed a tiny microchip that weighs close to a paper clip and helps control the motors on the rover. There are about eighty of these Quad Operational Amplifier (op amp) microchips powering the rover’s forty motors. Without them, the rover would not be able to traverse the Martian surface, collect samples with its robotic arm, or maneuver the cameras for sending back pictures of the Red Planet—all central to the mission of finding clues of Mars being able to sustain microbial life.

Full Story:

Orbiter Images NASA’s Martian Landscape Additions

August 8, 2012 Leave a comment

Late Monday night, an image from the  High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera aboard NASA’s Mars  Reconnaissance Orbiter captured the Curiosity rover and the components that  helped it survive its seven-minute ordeal from space to its present location in  Mars’ Gale Crater.

“This  latest image is another demonstration of the invaluable assistance the Mars  Reconnaissance Orbiter team, and its sister team with the Mars Odyssey orbiter,  have provided the Curiosity rover during our early days on the Red  Planet,” said Mike Watkins, mission manager for the Mars Science  Laboratory mission at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.  “The image not only satisfies our curiosity, it can provide important  information on how these vital components performed during entry, descent and  landing, and exactly locate the rover’s touchdown site within Gale  Crater.”

Full Story:

The First Public Data Release from BOSS, the Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey

August 8, 2012 Leave a comment

The Third Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS-III) has issued Data Release 9 (DR9), the first public release of data from the Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey (BOSS). In this release BOSS, the largest of SDSS-III’s four surveys, provides spectra for 535,995 newly observed galaxies, 102,100 quasars, and 116,474 stars, plus new information about objects in previous Sloan surveys (SDSS-I and II).

“This is just the first of three data releases from BOSS,” says David Schlegel of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), an astrophysicist in the Lab’s Physics Division and BOSS’s principal investigator. “By the time BOSS is complete, we will have surveyed more of the sky, out to a distance twice as deep, for a volume more than five times greater than SDSS has surveyed before – a larger volume of the universe than all previous spectroscopic surveys combined.”

Full Story: