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Archive for September 6, 2012

NASA Mars Rover Curiosity Begins Arm-Work Phase

September 6, 2012 Leave a comment

Camera on Curiosity’s Arm as Seen by Camera on Mast Image credit: NASA /JPL /Caltech /MSSS

After driving more than a football field’s length since landing, NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity is spending several days preparing for full use of the tools on its arm.

Curiosity extended its robotic arm Wednesday in the first of six to10 consecutive days of planned activities to test the 7-foot (2.1-meter) arm and the tools it manipulates.

“We will be putting the arm through a range of motions and placing it at important ‘teach points’ that were established during Earth testing, such as the positions for putting sample material into the inlet ports for analytical instruments,” said Daniel Limonadi of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., lead systems engineer for Curiosity’s surface sampling and science system. “These activities are important to get a better understanding for how the arm functions after the long cruise to Mars and in the different temperature and gravity of Mars, compared to earlier testing on Earth.”

Full Story: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.php?release=2012-279

Mars’s Dramatic Climate Variations Are driven By The Sun

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Image Credit: NASA/JPL/UA

The ice caps on Mars’s poles are kilometres thick and composed of ice and dust. There are layers in the ice caps, which can be seen in cliffs and valley slopes and we have known about these layers for decades, since the first satellite images came back from Mars. The layers are believed to reflect past climate on Mars, in the same way that the Earth’s climate history can be read by analysing ice cores from the ice caps on Greenland and Antarctica.

Solar insolation on Mars has varied dramatically over time, mainly due to large variations in the tilt of Mars’s rotational axis (obliquity) and this led to dramatic climate variations on Mars. For years people have tried to link the solar insolation and layer formation by looking for signs of periodic sequences in the visible layers, which can be seen in the upper 500 meters. Periodic signals might be traceable back to known variations in the solar insolation on Mars, but so far it has been unclear whether one could find a correlation between variations in insolation and the layers.

“Here we have gone in a completely different direction. We have developed a model for how the layers are built up based on fundamental physical processes and it demonstrates a correlation between ice and dust accumulation and solar insolation, explains Christine Hvidberg, a researcher in ice physics at the Centre for Ice and Climate at the Niels Bohr Institute at the University of Copenhagen.

Full Story: http://www.nbi.ku.dk/english/news/news12/marss-dramatic-climate-variations-are-driven-by-the-sun/

Dawn Has Departed The Giant Asteroid Vesta

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Image credit: NASA/JPL Caltech/UCLA/MP /DLR/IDA

Mission controllers received confirmation today that NASA’s Dawn spacecraft has escaped from the gentle gravitational grip of the giant asteroid Vesta. Dawn is now officially on its way to its second destination, the dwarf planet Ceres.

Dawn departed from Vesta at about 11:26 p.m. PDT on Sept. 4 (2:26 a.m. EDT on Sept. 5). Communications from the spacecraft via NASA’s Deep Space Network confirmed the departure and that the spacecraft is now traveling toward Ceres.

“As we respectfully say goodbye to Vesta and reflect on the amazing discoveries over the past year, we eagerly look forward to the next phase of our adventure at Ceres, where even more exciting discoveries await,” said Robert Mase, Dawn project manager, based at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

Full Story: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.php?release=2012-277

Atsa Team Successfully Fits Observatory Camera In XCOR Spacecraft

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Planetary Science Institute scientists and undergraduate students from The Citadel and other South Carolina colleges visited XCOR Aerospace in Mojave, Calif., to fit the Atsa Suborbital Observatory Mark I camera in an engineering model of the Lynx Mark I spacecraft.

The Atsa project will use a reusable suborbital spacecraft equipped with a specially designed telescope to provide low-cost space-based observations above the limiting atmosphere of Earth, while avoiding some operational constraints of satellite telescope systems such as the inability to observe objects close to the sun.

“The visit to XCOR was to do a first fit test of the Atsa Armrest Camera, which is the engineering test bed for the Atsa Suborbital Observatory. The AAC is a small, hand-guided camera that is designed to demonstrate target acquisition and tracking for human-tended suborbital astronomy, and will acquire multispectral images of targets such as Venus and Mercury in the visible to near-infrared spectral range — out to about 900 nanometers,” Vilas said. “The test was very successful: the AAC will indeed fit into the Lynx cockpit and be useable.”

Full Story: http://www.psi.edu/news/press-releases#atsaxcor

Seeing The Birth Of The Universe In An Atom Of Hydrogen

September 6, 2012 Leave a comment

Windows to the past, stars can unveil the history of our universe, currently estimated to be 14 billion years old. The farther away the star, the older it is — and the oldest stars are the most difficult to detect. Current telescopes can only see galaxies about 700 million years old, and only when the galaxy is unusually large or as the result of a big event like a stellar explosion.

Now, an international team of scientists led by researchers at Tel Aviv University have developed a method for detecting galaxies of stars that formed when the universe was in its infancy, during the first 180 million years of its existence. The method is able to observe stars that were previously believed too old to find, says Prof. Rennan Barkana of TAU’s School of Physics and Astronomy.

Published in the journal Nature, the researchers’ method uses radio telescopes to seek out radio waves emitted by hydrogen atoms, which were abundant in the early days of the universe. Emitting waves measuring about eight inches (21 centimeters) long, the atoms reflect the radiation of the stars, making their emission detectable by radio telescopes, explains Prof. Barkana. This development opens the way to learning more about the universe’s oldest galaxies.

Full Story: http://www.aftau.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=17151

Winners Of The First European Astronomy Journalism Prize Announced

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The winner of the first European Astronomy Journalism Prize, designed to help inspire the next generation of researchers has been announced today (5 September 2012) at a reception in the House of Commons. Katia Moskvitch from the BBC was announced as the winner and awarded a trip to Chile, by a panel of judges representing the European Southern Observatory (ESO) and the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) who ran the competition, together with the Royal Astronomical Society and the Association of British Science Writers.

The aim of the prize was to increase media coverage of astronomy, a means to promoting the wonders of astronomy – a subject regularly cited as a key reason for students opting to take up careers in science. The judges chose Katia as the winner, for her remarkable series on ESO’s Very Large Telescope located in Paranal Observatory, Chile.

Full Story: http://www.stfc.ac.uk/News%20and%20Events/39730.aspx

Student Asteroid Naming Contest Announced

September 6, 2012 Leave a comment

Students around the world have the opportunity to suggest names for an asteroid that will be visited by NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft later this decade.

Scheduled for launch in 2016, the OSIRIS-REx mission will return the first samples ever taken from a special type of asteroid holding clues to the origin of the solar system and likely organic molecules that may have seeded life on Earth.

“Our mission will be focused on 1999 RQ36 for more than a decade, and we look forward to having a name that is easier to say than (101955) 1999 RQ36,” said OSIRIS REx principal investigator Dante Lauretta.

Full Story: http://www.planetary.org/press-room/releases/2012/0904-student-asteroid-naming.html