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World’s Smallest Space Telescope: Canada Helps Push The Boundaries Of Astronomy With The Next Wave Of Smaller Satellites

February 28, 2013 Leave a comment

The smallest astronomical satellite ever built will launch shortly after 07:20 a.m. EST on Monday, 25 February 2013 as part of a mission to prove that even a very small telescope can push the boundaries of astronomy.

The satellite was designed and assembled at the Space Flight Laboratory (SFL) of the University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies (UTIAS). It will be launched from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, India, along with its twin, also designed in Canada, but assembled in Austria.

Each nano-satellite in the BRIght Target Explorer (BRITE) mission is a cube 20 centimetres per side, and weighing less than 7 kilograms. The BRITE satellites are part of the new wave of nano-satellites that can be designed, assembled and deployed fast and relatively cheaply.

“SFL has demonstrated that nano-satellites can be developed quickly, by a small team and at a cost that is within reach of many universities, small companies and other organizations,” says Cordell Grant, Manager of Satellite Systems for the Space Flight Laboratory at UTIAS. “A nano-satellite can take anywhere from six months to a few years to develop and test, but we typically aim for two years or less.”

Full Story, Videos and Photos: http://universe.utoronto.ca/BRITE

NASA Deciphering The Mysterious Math Of The Solar Wind

February 28, 2013 Leave a comment

Many areas of scientific research — Earth’s weather, ocean currents, the outpouring of magnetic energy from the sun — require mapping out the large scale features of a complex system and its intricate details simultaneously.

Describing such systems accurately, relies on numerous kinds of input, beginning with observations of the system, incorporating mathematical equations to approximate those observations, running computer simulations to attempt to replicate observations, and cycling back through all the steps to refine and improve the models until they jibe with what’s seen. Ultimately, the models successfully help scientists describe, and even predict, how the system works.

Understanding the sun and how the material and energy it sends out affects the solar system is crucial, since it creates a dynamic space weather system that can disrupt human technology in space such as communications and global positioning system (GPS) satellites.

However, the sun and its prodigious stream of solar particles, called the solar wind, can be particularly tricky to model since as the material streams to the outer reaches of the solar system it carries along its own magnetic fields. The magnetic forces add an extra set of laws to incorporate when trying to determine what’s governing the movement. Indeed, until now, equations for certain aspects of the solar wind have never been successfully devised to correlate to the observations seen by instruments in space. Now, for the first time, a scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., has created a set of the necessary equations, published in Physical Review Letters on Dec. 4, 2012.

Full Story: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/sunearth/news/math-solarwind.html

Journey To The Limits Of Spacetime

February 28, 2013 Leave a comment

Voracious absences at the center of galaxies, black holes shape the growth and death of the stars around them through their powerful gravitational pull and explosive ejections of energy.

“Over its lifetime, a black hole can release more energy than all the stars in a galaxy combined,” said Roger Blandford, director of the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology and a member of the U.S. National Academy of Science. “Black holes have a major impact on the formation of galaxies and the environmental growth and evolution of those galaxies.”

Gravitational forces grow so strong close to a black hole that even light cannot escape from within, hence the difficulty in observing them directly. Scientists infer facts about black holes by their influence on the astronomical objects around them: the orbit of stars and clumps of detectable energy. With this information in hand, scientists create computer models to understand the data and to make predictions about the physics of distant regions of space. However, models are only as good as their assumptions.

“All tests of general relativity in the weak gravity field limit, like in our solar system, fall directly along the lines of what Einstein predicted,” explained Jonathan McKinney, an assistant professor of physics at the University of Maryland at College Park. “But there is another regime—which has yet to be tested, and which is the hardest to test—that represents the strong gravitational field limit. And according to Einstein, gravity is strongest near black holes.”

Full Story and Video: http://www.tacc.utexas.edu/news/feature-stories/2012/journey-to-the-limits-of-spacetime