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Liftoff For Europe’s Billion-Star Surveyor

December 19, 2013 1 comment

Copyright ESA–S. Corvaja, 2013

Copyright ESA–S. Corvaja, 2013

19 December 2013 ESA PR 44-2013: ESA’s Gaia mission blasted off this morning on a Soyuz rocket from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, on its exciting mission to study a billion suns.

Gaia is destined to create the most accurate map yet of the Milky Way. By making accurate measurements of the positions and motions of 1% of the total population of roughly 100 billion stars, it will answer questions about the origin and evolution of our home Galaxy.

The Soyuz launcher, operated by Arianespace, lifted off at 09:12 GMT (10:12 CET). About ten minutes later, after separation of the first three stages, the Fregat upper stage ignited, delivering Gaia into a temporary parking orbit at an altitude of 175 km.

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Beatles Legend, Antiwar Author Among Those Honored By Newly Named Mercury Craters

December 19, 2013 Leave a comment

The International Astronomical Union (IAU) — the arbiter of planetary and satellite nomenclature since its inception in 1919 — recently approved a proposal from the MESSENGER Science Team to assign names to 10 impact craters on Mercury. In keeping with the established naming theme for craters on Mercury, all of the newly designated features are named after “deceased artists, musicians, painters, and authors who have made outstanding or fundamental contributions to their field and have been recognized as art historically significant figures for more than 50 years.”

Ten newly named craters join 114 other craters named since the MESSENGER spacecraft’s first Mercury flyby in January 2008. More information about the names of features on Mercury and the other objects in the Solar System can be found at the U.S. Geological Survey’s planetary nomenclature web site.

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NASA’s Asteroid Hunter Spacecraft Returns First Images After Reactivation

December 19, 2013 Leave a comment

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE), a spacecraft that made the most comprehensive survey to date of asteroids and comets, has returned its first set of test images in preparation for a renewed mission.

NEOWISE discovered more than 34,000 asteroids and characterized 158,000 throughout the solar system during its prime mission in 2010 and early 2011. It was reactivated in September following 31 months in hibernation, to assist NASA’s efforts to identify the population of potentially hazardous near-Earth objects (NEOs). NEOWISE also can assist in characterizing previously detected asteroids that could be considered potential targets for future exploration missions.

“NEOWISE not only gives us a better understanding of the asteroids and comets we study directly, but it will help us refine our concepts and mission operation plans for future, space-based near-Earth object cataloging missions,” said Amy Mainzer, principal investigator for NEOWISE at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “The spacecraft is in excellent health, and the new images look just as good as they were before hibernation. Over the next weeks and months we will be gearing up our ground-based data processing and expect to get back into the asteroid hunting business, and acquire our first previously undiscovered space rock, in the next few months.”

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