2013년 6월 29일 토요일

Comet ISON: Will Potential 'Comet of the Century' Get Brighter?

Scientists around the world have been tracking the promising Comet ISON because of its potential to star in a spectacular celestial show later this year, but from now through Aug. 8 the comet is on a "summer sabbatical." 
Comet ISON — which some have hailed as the next "comet of the century" — is currently located too near the sun to be seen from Earth. Since June 22, the comet has been less than 18 degrees from the sun and therefore cannot be seen against a dark sky. Your closed fist held at arm's length covers about 10 degrees of the sky.
Currently located against the stars of the zodiacal constellation of Gemini, or the twins, the comet is progressing slowly eastward and will cross over into the boundaries of Cancer, the crab, on Aug. 1. A week later, on Aug. 8, the comet will have moved out as far as 18 degrees from the sun and once again will be evident against a dark sky.

Comet ISON has brightened little, if at all, since the start of 2013, and when last seen was hovering at magnitude 15.5, making it nearly 4,000 times too dim to be seen with the unaided eye.
To readily observe the dim, fuzzy blob of ISON prior to June 22, you would have needed a very dark sky and a telescope with at least 20 inches (50.8 centimeters) of aperture, if not more. Comet ISON is too close to the bright twilight, but that will change after the first week of August as ISON — then a morning object — begins a slow emergence into the morning sky.
Both amateur and professional astronomers will have their fingers crossed that by early August ISON will have shown significant brightening since it was last seen in late June.
Mercury will be passing 4 degrees south of the comet on Aug. 8 and might be used to steer an observer toward ISON. But, by then, the comet will still be rather faint — probably about magnitude 13, although it might reach to magnitude 11 or even 10 by the end of August. Astronomers use a number-based magnitude scale to determine the brightness of objects in the night sky. The lower the magnitude number, the brighter the object. 
With Comet ISON's brightness apparently stalled as it disappeared into the glare of the sun, it's anybody's guess just how bright the object will shine when it reappears in early August.
The unpredictability of how bright a new comet may appear or how bright it ultimately gets is no surprise to those who constantly study these enigmatic objects. There are many variables that go into determining what ultimately will be seen: the comet's orbit; the relative positions of the sun, Earth and comet; and, of course, the size and composition of the icy chunk of material that forms the comet's nucleus.
One reason it's so hard to predict a comet's brightness is that the material expelled from the object's nucleus usually comes in distinct, albeit non-uniform jets or emissions. From more than a century's worth of observations, astronomers have developed general formulas and models for comet brightness based on the observed behavior of literally hundreds of comets. 
But some comets, like people, have their individual quirks.
It is hypothesized that ISON appeared abnormally bright during its discovery by amateur astronomers in September 2012 because it possessed a thin "frosting" of volatile material that vaporized at a great distance from the heat of the sun. This may have initially given a false impression that the object was dynamically large and active. After the frosting evaporated, the comet stopped brightening. 
As to what happens next, observers now must wait until the comet gets close enough to the sun for any frozen water locked within its 3-mile-wide nucleus to begin to sublimate (go from a solid to a gaseous state). This, in turn, could "kick start" ISON back on a brightening trend.
ISON will need to come to within 230 million to 280 million miles (370 million to 450 million kilometers) of the sun for this to happen, but the comet won't arrive within this distance range until July 8 to Aug. 12. 
By the latter date, ISON will have emerged into a dark sky and will again be assessable to observers, low in the east-northeast sky, just before the break of dawn. 
Will it have brightened or will it still be "stuck?" Observers will just have to wait and see.

Source of Article: Space.com

2013년 6월 28일 금요일

NASA's Voyager 1 Probe Enters New Realm Near Interstellar Space

NASA's venerable Voyager 1 probe has encountered a strange new region at the outer reaches of the solar system, suggesting the spacecraft is poised to pop free into interstellar space, scientists say.
Voyager 1, which has been zooming through space for more than 35 years, observed a dramatic drop in solar particles and a simultaneous big jump in high-energy galactic cosmic rays last August, the scientists announced in three new studies published today (June 27) in the journal Science.
The probe did not measure a shift in the direction of the ambient magnetic field, indicating that Voyager 1 is still within the sun's sphere of influence, researchers said. But mission scientists think the spacecraft will likely leave Earth's solar system relatively soon.
"I think it's probably several more years — 2015 is reasonable," said Voyager project scientist Ed Stone of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, lead author of one of the new studies and co-author of another.
"But it's speculation, because none of the models we have, have this particular region in them," Stone told SPACE.com. "So none of the models can be directly and accurately compared to what we're observing. What we're observing is really quite new."
A new region of space
Voyager 1 and its twin, Voyager 2, launched a few weeks apart in 1977 to study Saturn, Jupiter, Uranus and Neptune. The probes completed this unprecedented "grand tour" and then kept right on flying toward interstellar space.
Voyager 1 should get there first. At 11.5 billion miles (18.5 billion kilometers) from Earth, the spacecraft is the farthest man-made object in space. Voyager 2, for its part, is now 9.4 billion miles (15.1 billion km) from home.
Both probes are currently plying the outer layers of the heliosphere, the enormous bubble of charged particles and magnetic fields surrounding the sun. But things are really getting interesting for Voyager 1, the new studies report.

On Aug. 25, 2012, the probe recorded a 1,000-fold drop in the number of charged solar particles while also measuring a 9 percent increase in fast-moving particles of galactic origin called cosmic rays.
Those are two of the three phenomena that Voyager scientists expect to see when the spacecraft crosses over into interstellar space. But Voyager 1 still hasn't observed the third one — a shift in magnetic-field orientation, from east-west within the solar system to roughly north-south outside of it.
The magnetic field "did not change direction. All it did was get compressed, so it's stronger now than it was," Stone said. "That's what one would expect if, in fact, the energetic particles, which were providing the pressure, suddenly left."
Overall, researchers said, Voyager 1's new data suggest that the spacecraft remains within the solar system, though it appears to be in a sort of interface region connecting the heliosphere and interstellar space.
Keep on trucking
Mission scientists will keep an eye on the magnetic-field readings over the coming months and years, Stone said.
"If there's a dramatic change, like there was last Aug. 25, that will be very exciting," he said. "If it's a gradual change, well, it'll just take us longer to realize what's happening."
Stone and his colleagues hope that Voyager 1 leaves the solar system before 2020. The probe's declining power supply will force engineers to shut off the first instrument that year, and all of them will probably stop working by 2025.
There's no reason to think anything will go wrong before 2020, since the spacecraft remains in good health despite its advanced age. But the mission team knows there are no guarantees.
"Something could break. That's what you can't predict — the random failure," Stone said. "So far, we've been lucky. There haven't been any catastrophic random failures."

Source of Article: Space.com

2013년 6월 25일 화요일

Power Outage Delays Launch of NASA Solar Observatory

A power outage in California over the weekend has delayed launch preparations for NASA's newest sun-studying spacecraft by 24 hours, pushing the new solar observatory's blastoff to no earlier than Thursday (June 27), space agency officials said.
The Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph satellite, or IRIS, was originally slated to lift off Wednesday (June 26) from California's Vandenberg Air Force Base. But the power went out for several hours at Vandenberg and other locations throughout the state's central coast Sunday night (June 23), affecting the base's key tracking and telemetry systems.
"Due to this issue, we will delay our first launch attempt Wednesday evening to Thursday evening," IRIS launch director Tim Dunn, of NASA's Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida, told reporters today (June 25). Launch is targeted for 10:27 p.m. EDT Thursday (7:27 p.m. local time at Vandenberg; 0227 GMT Friday).
As power was restored at Vandenberg, a fire broke out in an electrical switching box that feeds about five transformers at the base, officials said. The fire damaged an important part that now needs to be replaced before the tracking systems can come back online.
"Once that piece is installed and we've tested it — and we've brought up all the range equipment, so we've gone through all the extensive testing and rehearsing that we need to do — we feel confident that we'll be able to support a Thursday evening launch," said Lt. Col. Burton Catledge, commander of the 2nd Range Operations Squadron at Vandenberg.
IRIS will launch aboard a Pegasus XL rocket, which is built by the Virginia-based aerospace firm Orbital Sciences. A carrier aircraft will drop the Pegasus into the skies above Vandenberg, at which point the rocket's engines will kick on and send the spacecraft into Earth orbit.
Once up there, IRIS will peer at a mysterious sliver of the sun between the solar surface and the corona, or outer atmosphere. Scientists are keen to understand this interface region, which is just 3,000 to 6,000 miles (4,800 to 9,600 kilometers) wide, because the immense energy flowing through it helps drive many aspects of space weather.
IRIS is "going to look in closely, and it's going to look at that specific region to see how the changes in matter and energy occur in this region," Jim Hall, IRIS mission manager for the Launch Services Program at KSC, said in a statement. "It's going to collectively bring us a more complete view of the sun."
Weather on Thursday is expected to be good; Air Force officials estimate just a 20 percent chance of a weather-related scrub.

Source of Article: Space.com

The Road to Mars Is Paved in Lunar Rock (Op-Ed)

In examining the plans NASA devises for human missions beyond low Earth orbit, in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) experiments or demonstrations are sometimes included — but never incorporated into — the imperative of the mission sequence, or what engineers call "the critical path." ISRU simply means that you make stuff you need in space from resources available in space.
At current levels of development, such stuff would largely consist of high-mass, low-information materials, such as propellant and shielding. By reducing the amount of mass launched from the Earth through the use of ISRU techniques, the United States would save many billions of dollars of its limited space budget . So why isn't the public hearing more about this?
Certainly nothing in the chemistry or physics of ISRU indicates that it is impossible or unduly futuristic — most processes date back to antiquity (such as melting ice into water) or, at latest, to 18th- and 19th-century industrial chemistry (e.g., carbothermal reduction). But no one has actually attempted ISRU with extraterrestrial materials and real hardware in space. In other words, aerospace engineers haven't done it; to them, the concept is more from the realm of science fiction. ("Set the replicators on beef stew tonight, Mr. Sulu!"). They reactively imagine potential disasters resulting from the effort, rather than appreciate its possible benefits.
Engineers tend to be cautious when undertaking new designs that incorporate untried techniques, and in the case of human spaceflight, they should be. However, when caution keeps you locked in a comfort zone, initiative and programs will atrophy and cripple the U.S.' space progress.
Carrying the load
Several years ago, Bob Zubrin, my friend and sometime public debate opponent, had a key insight. When you bring everything you need with you from Earth in order to get to Mars, the mass you send to orbit can be prohibitive (consequences from the rocket equation multiply the gross departure weight by a large amount); it costs thousands of dollars per pound for delivery to low-Earth orbit (LEO). If you don't bring the fuel for the return trip home, your departure mass is much lower. For the trip home, Zubrin's Mars Direct architecture utilizes rocket propellant made on the Martian surface. In one fell swoop, he reduced by more than 50 percent the amount of mass needed in LEO to go to Mars — a significant finding.
The current NASA Mars Design Reference Mission utilizes eight launches of a superheavy-lift vehicle (150 tons, or 136 metric tons, to LEO) to construct the 500-ton (454 metric tons) Mars craft in Earth orbit. (Another analysis projects 10 to 12 launches.) More than 80 percent of this mass is propellant. If the heavy-lift vehicles end up costing a couple of billion dollars each, the cost of a human Mars mission is not only unaffordable, but so much so that it will never be undertaken.
And don't think the hallowed New Space "cheap access" to LEO will save you, either: Those vehicles are too small (their payload is much smaller than 150 tons) and will need to use storable propellant because the liquid oxygen-liquid hydrogen (LOX-H2) cryogens will boil away into space between their individual launches. Storable propellants have much less energythan LOX-H2 and, thus, besides the complexity of logistical assembly from a greater number of flights, the total required mass in LEO multiplies frighteningly.
Engineers are reluctant to mandate ISRU as part of the Mars architecture because it's never been done (risky) and it's never been done because it's too risky — the classic catch-22. How can space missions move beyond this impasse? Reduce the size of the risk roadblock by demonstrating ISRU on the moon.
Engineers can design an ISRU strategy for moon missions that not only retires risk for future ISRU use on Mars, but can also provision the Mars trip from lunar materials, further reducing the amount of mass launched from Earth. But why use the moon to document the value of ISRU, rather than a near-Earth asteroid? Simply put, the moon has the right materials and properties for performing this risk-reduction activity.
The moon's critical resources
The results of the LCROSS impact experiment, in which a Centaur upper stage was crashed into a dark area near the moon's south pole, demonstrated that not only is water present in quantity on the moon, but there are other volatiles there as well, including methane, ammonia, carbon dioxide and some simple organic compounds. On the basis of their observed abundance, all of these substances are probably derived from comets that, over geological time, have hit the moon and are preserved in the permanently shadowed, cold areas near the poles. Asteroids typically do not contain those exotic, volatile substances; if water is present in asteroids, it is chemically bound in mineral structures and requires considerable energy and processing to be extracted and used.
Lunar ISRU can harvest not only water (and thus, oxygen) but also methane from the moon's polar deposits. Methane is the propellant Zubrin's Mars Direct architecture uses for Earth return. (However, because the martian crust is water-rich, LOX-LH2 could also be used on Mars, making the lunar polar deposits doubly relevant.) From the Earth-moon L-1 point, either landing on or taking off from the poles of the moon requires about a 1.6 miles per second (2.6 kilometers per second) change in velocity, whereas transfer from the surface of Mars to Mars orbit for rendezvous and return to Earth requires a change in velocity of 2 mps (3.2 km/sec). Thus, the transfer energies for the two missions are comparable. This means that we can test the methane ISRU systems not only in principle — but the actual Mars equipment, in practice, three days away on the moon and in cislunar space (the area between the Earth and the moon). Moreover, if crews get into trouble during a mission, better for it to happen on the moon, where rescue might be possible.
In effect, these lunar properties mean that a complete, end-to-end systems test of all the pieces of a Mars Direct-style architecture could be performed in cislunar space, overcoming the most critical obstacle: the "risk" of requiring ISRU in the critical path.
In my opinion, ISRU is the most important and game-changing technology for future spaceflight. I will go so far as to say that a human Mars mission is inconceivable without incorporating ISRU in some form, most likely as a source of propellant but also for other potential uses (e.g., shielding, oxygen and water). And, such ISRU will not occur until it is proven in space, most easily and usefully on the moon.
A Mars mission conducted in the Apollo mode (everything launched from Earth) is not fiscally or politically possible. A national security imperative during Apollo allowed the United States to bludgeon technical problems to death with money. We no longer live in that world. Space programs must be affordable, which means that we cannot opt for the easiest or most familiar way to do something — we must be clever, frugal and use what is available.
Moving forward
During a recent hearing on the proposed new NASA Authorization bill, the two witnesses — Steve Squyres of Cornell University and Tom Young of Lockheed Martin Corporation— both opined that lunar return was not a prerequisite for human Mars missions. They are both wrong. The critical path to Mars goes through the Moon, although not in the way most engineers have been looking at it. They've viewed a lunar mission as a fancy dress rehearsal for the Mars mission, with people landing on the moon to conduct a complex and carefully choreographed EVA, to practice how they plan to explore Mars and then leave the moon as soon as possible. In their view, the main object of the lunar mission is to get it over with.
For a manned mission to Mars to be successful, a sustained lunar return is much more valuable than a touch-and-go, flyby or hover-over mission. Only on the moon can we learn for the first time how to extract and use off-planet resources. We permanently retire ISRU risk and open up space by using lunar resources. We practice the entire Mars surface mission sequence with Mars hardware flying in space — from landing, to refueling and ascent. To go to Mars without ISRU requires too much mass in LEO, and will necessitate multiple launches of expensive, disposable vehicles. As a result, a manned Mars mission would be unaffordable and, thus, unlikely to ever happen. Such expense cannot be justified under virtually any conceivable political circumstance, save for those associated with some national emergency — certainly an eventuality not to be hoped for.
And yes, for those following the breadcrumbs, by using the ISRU process, we'll develop a system that can routinely access all of cislunar space, including the lunar surface.

Source of Article: Space.com

Amazing Fireballs Light Up Night Sky in Stargazer Photos

The Milky Way and bright June fireballs star in these dazzling new photos from a veteran space photographer. 
Night sky photographer Mike Taylor captured two spectacular images from Maine. The first image captured was taken June 10 from Branch Pond, Maine, and features bright stars of our Milky Way galaxy in the sky and the faint purple glow of the northern lights.
The image also shows a brilliant fireball streaking across the sky. Magenta, purple and green colors can be seen in the tail of the meteor and an orange glow from nearby buildings can be seen on the horizon. He captured this image using a Nikon D7000 camera, Tokina 11-16 mm lens at 11 mm, f/2.8, 30 seconds and ISO 800. 
"I had seen some green airglow earlier in the night but it was not this striking," Taylor wrote SPACE.com in an email. "This is the first frame of a 45 minute time lapse—lucky!"

Taylor took the second image the same day as the colorful fireball over Branch Pond. This image shows a meteor streaking through the sky next to the stars of the Milky Way. From Taylor's vantage point in the middle of a road, the meteor appeared to streak above what locals call Mo's Mountain. He used a Nikon D7000 camera, Tokina 11-16 mm lens at 11 mm, f/2.8, 25 seconds, and ISO 2000.
"Although I don't suggest setting up your photography equipment in the middle of a road for any length of time, this spot was a great vantage point and allowed me to shoot for 45 minutes without a vehicle driving by," Taylor said.

Source of Article: Space.com

Final Frontier? 'Star Trek' Tech Becoming Reality (Op-Ed)

Beyond all the eye-popping special effects and all the top secret special revelations, the latest incarnation of "Star Trek" from director J.J. Abrams left this moviegoer with several vivid impressions still buzzing through his brain long after having left the theater.
About halfway through the film, as Lieutenant Commander Montgomery Scott's fusion-powered shuttlecraft closed in on the orbit of Jupiter, that relatively short interplanetary milk run brought to mind several recently published articles on the subject of advanced deep-space propulsion.
The promise of Mars in 30 days, or Mars in just a few weeks, was the common theme running through most of the articles. Exotic new engine technologies designed to produce constant acceleration would also generate a degree of artificial gravity while propelling those spacecraft toward their Red Planet rendezvous.
Mars in 30 days. Not quite as speedy as Scotty's little jaunt out to the fifth planet, but a significant improvement in the transit times typically considered when speculating on future scenarios for such voyages.
Getting to Mars
Using more conventional means of propulsion, Inspiration Mars is planning on a Martian round-trip of 501 days. Mars One proposes to send its colonists on a one-way trip that will take from six to eight months. Even the ambitious plans of Elon Musk are based at present on the relatively slow speeds of chemically propelled rockets, although perhaps his rumored Mars Colonial Transport will eventually evolve into a much more innovative approach.
My personal dreams of Mars began at a very young age, during the days of Gemini and Apollo. Back then there was talk of The NERVA Nuclear Rocket Program that would develop nuclear propulsion to take astronauts to the Red Planet and beyond. Another victim of more "urgent" Earth-based priorities, Project NERVA was canceled in 1972. Apollo ended in 1975, and along with it so did many young dreams as a nation fitfully retreated from hard-won lunar beachheads and slowly lost focus on The Final Frontier. It would be another six years before another American even came anywhere close to outer space.
In all those dreams of one day traveling to the Red Planet, I will honestly admit that I was never in such a hurry to finally get there that I wanted the trip to take forever. Thirty days, on the other hand, is a period of time that I believe the average spacefarer of tomorrow could easily endure. And when the competing commercial giants of the near future finally develop the advanced technology necessary to make that time frame possible, humankind will have crossed a threshold in its long history as significant as any other that has ever been laid before its path.
The long voyage out to the orbit of Jupiter would now take months instead of years. Commercial exploitation of the asteroid belt between Jupiter and Mars would be greatly facilitated by this significant decrease in travel time. And many of those who also dreamed of Mars in their youth, as I once did, will find opportunities unfolding in their futures that their wildest dreams would never have been able to anticipate.
What other world-changing breakthroughs in space technology lie ahead of us on the horizon of The Final Frontier?
Interstellar exploration
Beyond this solar system lies the rest of the galaxy, utterly unreachable at present by any means other than exploration by telescope. Yet, there are those who have already dedicated themselves to one day bridging the vast expanse that lies between each star. The 100 Year Starship Foundation was formed in 2012 with the less than modest goal of achieving the reality of interstellar travel in the next 100 years. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and NASA provided the organization with its initial funding, which is at present working to advance and build upon the theories of a growing number of scientists who believe that faster-than-light travel can one day be achieved.
Travel through space poses significant medical risk to the human body. Prolonged periods of weightlessness always lead to a certain degree of loss with respect to bone mass, as well as unavoidable exposure to cosmic radiation. Nuclear engines operating under constant acceleration may generate enough simulated gravity to help alleviate the loss of bone mass to a certain extent. The centripetal force generated by revolving large circular habitation rings about the longitudinal axis of a spacecraft is another possible solution.
Thick inflatable walls filled with water or other liquids can effectively shield against deadly cosmic radiation. In the "Star Trek" universe, the Enterprise addresses this problem through the employment of impenetrable energy shields that surround the ship within a veritable cocoon. Such a solution may one day be available to 21st century space travelers as well. Researchers at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Oxfordshire, England, are developing a "miniature magnetosphere" to see if a "deflector shield can be used to protect humans living on spacecraft and in bases on the Moon or Mars."

Engineering the Enterprise
Vessels as large as the Enterprise will one day be assembled in orbit or beyond Earth orbit through advances in robotics and 3D printing. Using the raw materials of asteroids, automated machinery requiring limited interaction from human beings will assemble immense structures such as solar power satellites, space stations and interstellar starships far from the surface of the Earth. Large 3D printers will build our future moon bases and allow for the construction of massive structures on the surface of other planets and deep in outer space.
We're all familiar with the many classic examples of "Star Trek" technology that eventually evolved into real-life products and transformative industries. The primitive surface-to-starship communicator turns into the sophisticated present-day smartphone. The Starfleet Issue computer in Captain Kirk's quarters first turns into a desktop and then a laptop and now an iPad.
In the fourth installment of the "Star Trek" film franchise, the Enterprise officers are thrown back in time to the bygone days of 1986. In order to find their way back to their own time line, Commander Scott elects to reveal the formula for transparent aluminum to the scientists of that era in exchange for materials vital to the completion of his mission. Thus in an apparent paradox of time travel, a new wonder alloy is prematurely introduced to the denizens of the 20th century. But, what many viewers at the time did not realize, was a similar high-tech material — ALON® Optical Ceramic — was already in existence and in 2009, a team of scientists led by researchers at Oxford University created actual transparent aluminum. ALON® serves many uses today, from optical ceramic windows to lightweight tactical armor.
The five-year mission of the Enterprise was to "explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before." The "M-Class" planet was the primary target of investigation: an Earth-like world where similar forms of life were expected to evolve. Today, planetary scientists comb through mounds of data collected by Kepler and other planet-hunting satellites and telescopes in search of this "holy grail" of exoscience. So far, Kepler alone has unearthed over 3,000 exoplanet candidates and some 132 confirmed exoplanets, but the so-called "Earth-like" planet itself still remains elusive.
Finally locating one will not be just a matter of wish fulfillment. With the development of interstellar travel, Earth-like planets will be some of the first places we visit in the search for alien life — and for the purposes of potential human settlement. So far the jury is still out, but most exoscientists believe that finding such a planet is only a matter of time.
And time will eventually reveal how many of the revolutionary new technologies from "Star Trek" actually come to pass. A hundred years ago, how many people could honestly imagine that in less than 60 years human beings would one day stand upon the moon? The technological advancements of the next 100 years will be no less astounding.
More than a hundred years ago, around 1903 to be exact, not too many people would have given the Wright Brothers much of a chance. But, in retrospect, that all turned out pretty well.\

Source of Article: Space.com

Found! 3 Super-Earth Planets That Could Support Alien Life

The habitable zone of a nearby star is filled to the brim with planets that could support alien life, scientists announced today (June 25).
An international team of scientists found a record-breaking three potentially habitable planets around the star Gliese 667C, a star 22 light-years from Earth that is orbited by at least six planets, and possibly as many as seven, researchers said. The three planet contenders for alien life are in the star's "habitable zone" — the temperature region around the star where liquid water could exist. Gliese 667C is part of a three-star system, so the planets could see three suns in their daytime skies.
The three potentially rocky planets in Gliese 667C's habitable zone are known as super-Earths — exoplanets that are less massive than Neptune but more massive than Earth. Their orbits make them possible candidates for hosting life, officials from the European Southern Observatory said in a statement.
"We knew that the star had three planets from previous studies, so we wanted to see whether there were any more," co-leader of the study Mikko Tuomi of the University of Hertfordshire, U.K. said in a statement. "By adding some new observations and revisiting existing data we were able to confirm these three and confidently reveal several more. Finding three low-mass planets in the star's habitable zone is very exciting!"
This is the first time three low-mass planets have been spotted in the habitable zone of the same star system, and it's unlikely that astronomers will find any more around Gliese 667C. The star's habitable zone is packed full, making it impossible for another planet to orbit stably within the zone, the researchers said.
"The number of potentially habitable planets in our galaxy is much greater if we can expect to find several of them around each low-mass star — instead of looking at 10 stars to look for a single potentially habitable planet, we now know we can look at just one star and find several of them," team member Rory Barnes of the University of Washington said in a statement.
Gliese 667C is the faintest star in the three-star system. From the surface of the planets in orbit around Gliese 667C, the two brighter stars would be as bright as the full moon by night and shine visibly during the day, ESO scientists said.  
Gliese 667C is cooler and dimmer than the sun, making it possible for planets that have very close-in orbits to remain habitable. This star's habitable zone lies within an orbit the size of Mercury's around the sun, ESO officials said.

Source of Article: Space.com

2013년 6월 21일 금요일

7 Space Technology Experiments to Launch on Rocket Ride Today (June 21, 2013)

Seven space-technology experiments are slated to blast off Friday (June 21) on a NASA-funded suborbital research flight.
A SpaceLoft sounding rocket, built by Denver-based UP Aerospace Inc., is scheduled to launch from New Mexico's Spaceport America between 9 a.m. and noon EDT (1300 to 1600 GMT) on Friday.
The 15-minute flight is expected to reach a maximum altitude of 74 miles (119 kilometers) and provide up to four minutes of weightlessness for the onboard experiments. Landing is targeted for the U.S. Army's White Sands Missile Range, about 320 miles (515 km) from Spaceport America, NASA officials said.
Among the seven payloads aboard the 20-foot-long (6 meters) rocket is the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration's Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B), a tracking device being developed for use in air traffic control systems. Current plans call for all aircraft operating in U.S. airspace to be equipped with ADS-B by 2020.
Two high school science experiments are also riding along on Friday's flight, as is Diapason, an instrument developed by DTM Technologies in Italy to study the movement of very tiny particles in Earth's atmosphere. Diapason could help identify and monitor atmospheric pollution and contaminants, NASA officials said.
UP Aerospace isn't the only company with a NASA contract to make technology-testing suborbital research flights. The space agency has also signed deals with Virgin Galactic, Masten Space Systems, Near Space Corporation, XCOR Aerospace, Whittinghill Aerospace and Armadillo Aerospace.
NASA manages such launches via its Flight Opportunities Program, which matches payloads with flights and pays launch costs (though no funds are provided for development of the payloads). The program should help the burgeoning American private spaceflight industry get off the ground, agency officials say.
"The Flight Opportunities Program fosters the development of the commercial reusable suborbital transportation industry, an important step in the longer-term path that envisions suborbital reusable launch vehicles evolving to provide the nation with much lower-cost, more frequent, and more reliable access to orbital space," NASA's Flight Opportunities Program website states.

Source of Article: Space.com

Galaxy Crash Spawns Space Penguin in Hubble Telescope Photo

A cosmic penguin shines 326 million light-years from Earth in a stunning new photo from the Hubble Space Telescope. 
While the celestial bird, which lies in the constellation Hydra, looks tranquil enough, the photo actually shows two galaxies colliding into each other, scientists say.
Blue wisps that create the body of the penguin are the warped guts of the spiral galaxy NGC 2936. A bright blob at the bottom left that looks like the penguin's egg is actually a second, elliptical galaxy, NGC 2937, responsible for tearing its companion asunder. Together, the pair is known as Arp 142.

"The eye of the penguin is all that remains of NGC 2936, once a spiral galaxy like our Milky Way," Joe Liske, a European Space Agency astronomer, said in a video explaining the Arp 142 galaxy crash. "Its disrupted arms streak down through this image, shaping the cosmic bird's body as a cascade of blue and red."
The Hubble Space Telescope photo holds other surprises as well.
Two bright stars shine at the top of the photo. The star on the right appears to have a streaking blue tail emanating from its core. The tail is actually another galaxy, but experts think that it is too far away to interact with Arp 142.
Distant blue and red galaxies also dot the image, surrounding the two merging galaxies.

"When two galaxies collide, they can be rendered unrecognizable as vast clouds of gas and dust race towards each other, crashing forcefully and sparking bursts of star formation," Liske said. "Hubble has been able to capture some of these mergers, providing us with beautiful astronomical images and an insight into these turbulent events."
Hubble is a joint operation between NASA and ESA. The telescope was launched in 1990 and since that time has photographed many distant features of the universe. NASA hopes to keep Hubble operational until at least 2018, when the James Webb Space Telescope, its successor, is set for launch.

Source of Article: Space.com

Supermoon Rises in Weekend Night Sky Sunday

The largest full moon of 2013, a so-called "supermoon," will light up the night sky this weekend, but there's more to this lunar delight than meets the eye.
On Sunday, June 23, at 7 a.m. EDT (1100 GMT), the moon will arrive at perigee — the point in its orbit its orbit bringing it closest to Earth), a distance of 221,824 miles (356,991 kilometers). Now the moon typically reaches perigee once each month (and on some occasions twice), with their respective distances to Earth varying by 3 percent.
But Sunday's lunar perigee will be the moon's closest to Earth of 2013. And 32 minutes later, the moon will officially turn full. The close timing of the moon's perigee and its full phase are what will bring about the biggest full moon of the year, a celestial event popularly defined by some as a "supermoon."
You can watch a free webcast of 2013 supermoon full moon on SPACE.com on Sunday at 9 p.m. EDT (0100 June 24), courtesy of the skywatching website Slooh Space Camera.
While the exact time of the full moon theoretically lasts just a moment, that moment is imperceptible to casual observers. The moon will appear full a couple of days before and after the actual full moo most will speak of seeing the nearly full moon as "full":  the shaded strip is so narrow, and changing in apparent width so slowly, that it is hard for the naked eye to tell in a casual glance whether it’s present or on which side it is. 
During Sunday's supermoon, the moon will appear about 12.2 percent larger than it will look on Jan. 16, 2014, when it will be farthest from the Earth during its apogee.
Supermoon's big tides
In addition, the near coincidence of Sunday's full moon with perigee will result in a dramatically large range of high and low ocean tides. The highest tides will not, however, coincide with the perigee moon but will actually lag by up to a couple of days depending on the specific coastal location.
For example, for New York City, high water (6.3 feet or 1.9 meters) at The Battery comes at 8:58 p.m. EDT on Sunday, or more than 12 hours after perigee. From Cape Fear, N.C., the highest tide (6.5 feet or 1.9 m) will be attained at 9:06 p.m. EDT on Monday, while at Boston Harbor a peak tide height of 12.3 feet (3.7 m) comes at 12:48 a.m. EDT on Tuesday, almost 2 days after the time of perigee.
Any coastal storm at sea around this time will almost certainly aggravate coastal flooding problems. Such an extreme tide is known as a perigean spring tide, the word spring being derived from the Germanspringen, meaningto "spring up," and is not — as is often mistaken — a reference to the spring season. 
Spring tides occur when the moon is either at full or new phase. At these times the moon and sun form a line with the Earth, so their tidal effects add together (the sun exerts a little less than half the tidal force of the moon.)  "Neap tides," on the other hand, occur when the moon is at first and last quarter and works at cross-purposes with the sun. At these times tides are week.
Tidal force varies as the inverse cube of an object's distance. We have already noted that this month the moon is 12.2 percent closer at perigee than at apogee. Therefore it will exert 42 percent more tidal force at this full moon compared to the spring tides for the full moon that will coincide with apogee next January. 
Huge moon at moonrise
Usually the variation of the moon's distance is not readily apparent to observers viewing the moon directly. 
Or is it?
When the perigee moon lies close to the horizon it can appear absolutely enormous. That is when the famous "moon illusion" combines with reality to produce a truly stunning view. For reasons not fully understood by astronomers or psychologists, a low-hanging moon looks incredibly large when hovering near to trees, buildings and other foreground objects. The fact that the moon will be much closer than usual this weekend will only serve to amplify this strange effect.
So a perigee moon, either rising in the east at sunset or dropping down in the west at sunrise might seem to make the moon appear so close that it almost appears that you could touch it. You can check out this out for yourself by first noting the times for moonrise and moonset for your area by going to this website of moonrise times by the U.S. Navy Oceanography Portal

Source of Article: Space.com

2013년 6월 19일 수요일

Congress Considers Nixing NASA Asteroid Mission

A draft authorization bill from the House Science space subcommittee would cap NASA spending at about $16.87 billion for the next two years, prohibit a proposed asteroid retrieval mission, overhaul the agency’s management structure and raise the spending cap for Commercial Crew activities while increasing congressional oversight of the program.
The bill, as Republican lawmakers have been hinting during House Science, Space and Technology Committee hearings all year, also aims to steer the nation’s human spaceflight program back to the moon and provide more money for robotic exploration of the solar system at the expense of NASA’s Earth observation program.
These and other changes were detailed in a copy of the bill, the NASA Authorization Act of 2013, obtained by SpaceNews on June 14. The bill holds NASA to spending levels established by the Budget Control Act of 2011, rather than assuming that Congress and the White House will eliminate sequestration’s across-the-board spending cuts any time soon.
The House Science space subcommittee will discuss the bill in a hearing on Wednesday (June 19). The Senate Commerce Committee, meanwhile, is “not too far behind” its House counterpart in finishing its own version of the next NASA Authorization bill, Ann Zulkowsky, a senior aide in the Democrat-controlled Senate, said June 14 at the Aerospace 2013 conference in Arlington, Va., organized by Women in Aerospace.
Industry sources said the Senate version of the bill does not hold NASA to the sequestered spending limits. One of these sources said the Senate was expected to unveil its authorization bill, which sets policy and spending guidelines for five years rather than two, this week.
Moon versus asteroid 
The House Science space subcommittee’s bill includes many prescriptions for NASA’s human spaceflight program and would codify that Mars, by way of the lunar surface, is a priority destination for human explorers. 
"It is the policy of the United States that the development of capabilities and technologies necessary for human missions to lunar orbit, the surface of the moon, the surface of Mars and beyond shall be the goals of the Administration’s human spaceflight program," the bill states.
An asteroid retrieval mission, proposed by NASA in April as part of the White House’s 2014 budget request, has no place in that framework, according to the draft bill. 
"The Administrator shall not fund the development of an asteroid retrieval mission to send a robotic spacecraft to a near-Earth asteroid for rendezvous, retrieval and redirection of that asteroid to lunar orbit for exploration by astronauts," the bill states.
There has been a notable lack of enthusiasm for the asteroid mission among some of the Republicans who hold key NASA oversight roles in the House — including House Science Committee Chairman Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) — since the mission was proposed.
The mission would require development of a robotic spacecraft with solar-electric propulsion, and the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle and Space Launch System (SLS) heavy-lift rocket NASA is developing.
There is no funding authorized for a crewed planetary lander or deep-space astronaut habitat in the bill.
Another provision of the draft authorization bill that originated with House Republicans is an overhaul of NASA’s leadership structure. The proposed changes would give Congress greater influence over the selection of the NASA administrator, and give the administrator a six-year term. The NASA administrator is currently a political appointee who serves at the president’s pleasure. 
House Republicans led by Rep. John Culberson (R-Texas) included these changes in their Space Leadership Preservation Act (H.R. 823), which was introduced in February and has lingered in committee ever since. That bill was itself a rehash of a similar proposal introduced back in September 2012. 
Funding for private spaceships
Also on the human spaceflight front, the draft authorization act the House Science Committee has produced authorizes up to $700 million a year for the Commercial Crew Program, which under the 2010 NASA Authorization Act was cleared for up to $500 million in annual funding. 
A signature Obama administration effort, the Commercial Crew Program seeks to get at least one privately developed crew transportation system ready to launch astronauts to the International Space Station by the end of 2017.
NASA in August split $1.1 billion among Boeing Space Exploration of Houston, Sierra Nevada Space Systems of Louisville, Colo., and Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) of Hawthorne, Calif., to mature competing designs. NASA expects a follow-on award next summer after another funding competition now scheduled to begin around July.
The White House has consistently sought more funding for the Commercial Crew Program than Congress has been willing to give. In 2013, the administration asked for more than $800 million and wound up with $525 million. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden has said repeatedly that Congress must meet the request, or the 2017 flight date will slip.
The House Science Committee’s draft bill calls on NASA to make sure that does not happen. The bill would require the space agency to evaluate the Commercial Crew Program’s prospects for making the 2017 deadline under annual funding levels ranging from $500 million to $800 million. The bill also establishes strict reporting requirements for the Commercial Crew Program, requiring NASA to brief Congress on the effort every 90 days, beginning 180 days after the bill becomes law. 
In a related provision, the bill places a $50 million cap — to be exceeded only with permission from Congress — on Space Act Agreements, an alternative procurement mechanism NASA uses routinely. The current round of the Commercial Crew Program is funded with $1.1 billion worth of Space Act Agreements. However, NASA has already said it does not plan to use Space Act Agreements for the program’s next development phase. 
An administration official panned the House proposal, calling it a "non-starter." The official asked for anonymity to speak candidly. Particularly objectionable, this person said, was the proposal to cut Earth Science and kill the asteroid retrieval mission.
The House subcommittee’s bill would authorize about $1.2 billion for Earth Science in 2014 and 2015 — about 30 percent less than the division’s budget in 2013 and 2012. The main beneficiary from this rebalancing would be the Planetary Science Division, which runs NASA’s robotic solar system exploration program. 
Conversely, the bill would authorize planetary science for $1.5 billion in funding in 2014 and 2015, the same level the division received for 2012. NASA has proposed reducing planetary science spending for 2013, funding it at about $1.2 billion even though Congress provided a larger appropriation in the The Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act of 2013 (H.R. 933), which became law March 26.
Budget proposal rundown
 Rounded to the nearest million, authorized spending levels for major NASA spending accounts in 2014 and 2015 under the House Science space subcommittee’s proposal are:
— Top Line: $16.865 billion, about even with NASA’s 2013 appropriation and roughly 5.1 percent less than what NASA got in 2012 in its last unsequestered spending bill.
— Exploration Systems: $4.007 billion, 8.9 percent more than what NASA has proposed spending in 2013 under an operating plan it delivered to Congress in May, and 8.1 percent more than in 2012. 
— Space Operations: $3.818 billion, 2.5 percent more than the NASA-adjusted level for 2013 and 8.8 percent less than in 2012. 
— Science Mission Directorate: $4.627 billion, 3.2 percent more than in 2013 and 8.8 percent less than in 2012.
— Cross-Agency Support: $2.6 billion, 4.1 percent less than 2013 and 13.2 percent lower than in 2012. 
— Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate: $566 million, 6.8 percent more than in 2013 and 0.6 percent less than 2012. 
— Space Technology Mission Directorate: $500 million, 21.9 percent lower than in 2013 and 12.9 percent lower than in 2012. The bill would transfer some of the human spaceflight research and development funding now managed by this directorate back to the Exploration Systems account.
— Education Mission Directorate: $125 million, 7.8 percent more than in 2013 and 8.2 percent less than in 2012.  
— Construction and Environmental Compliance and Restoration: $587 million, 9.3 percent less than 2013 appropriation and 18.7 percent more than in 2012. 
— Inspector General: $35 million, about flat compared with 2013 and 8.6 percent lower than 2012. 
 Proposed authorized funding for SLS and Orion in 2014 and 2015 under the House subcommittee’s bill are:
— SLS: $1.772 billion, of which $1.454 billion would be for rocket development and support work, and $318 million would be for SLS ground systems. That puts vehicle development and support about 6.1 percent higher than in the 2013 operating plan and 2.9 percent lower than in 2012. Ground systems, meanwhile, would be authorized for 15.2 percent less than in 2013 and 4.4 percent more than in 2012.
— Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle: $1.2 billion, 7.7 percent more than in 2013 and even with 2012. 
— The James Webb Space Telescope, meanwhile, would be authorized for $658 million in funding in 2014 and 2015, which are peak development years for the long-delayed, overbudget astrophysics flagship. The proposed authorized level is 4.9 percent more than 2013 and 26.9 percent more than in 2012.

Source of Article: Space.com

Earth Calling E.T.: New Project Begins Beaming Your Messages Into Deep Space

In 18 years, messages beamed out into space from Earth by a new alien-messaging project Monday (June 17) will reach a distant star system known as Gliese 526.
Officials with the Lone Signal project — a newly launched website designed to send user-written notices to any extraterrestrials who may receive them — hope that their messages might open the first dialogue between Earth and other intelligent life forms.
One of the company's first message beamed to the Gliese 526 system, located 17.6 light-years from Earth was sent by famous futurist Ray Kurzweil and reads: "Greetings to Gliese 526 from Singularity University. As you receive this, our computers have made us smarter, the better to understand you and the wisdom of the universe…"
"This signal, in 19 hours, will go farther than the Voyager spacecraft has in 40 years," Jason Silva, the host of "Brain Games" on the National Geographic Channel said. He spoke to a crowd of fashion models, businessmen and a handful of scientists in downtown Manhattan honoring Lone Signal's launch on Monday.
A chosen star system
Scientists aren't sure if Lone Signal's chosen target of Gliese 526 (a red dwarf star) plays host to any potentially alien-populated exoplanets, but Lone Signal's chief science officer, Jacob Haqq-Misra thinks that it's possible the system harbors life. Gliese 526 is listed in the Catalog of Nearby Habitable Systems.
Lone Signal officials won't put limitations on the messages their users send into space. Although other Lone Signal participants can mark a particular message in the queue as "NSFW" (not safe for work), that doesn't necessarily mean that it won't be beamed toward Gliese 526.
Haqq-Misra doesn't think that this kind of free-range messaging is anymore dangerous than other transmissions being sent into the universe. Radar signals and electromagnetic currents from cell phones and other devices also carry information to far-off places.
Humanity's presence in the universe isn't secret, according to Haqq-Misra.
"We don't really know if [Lone Signal] is more likely to be bad at all," Haqq-Misra told SPACE.com. "It could be more likely to be good. So there's really almost no information as to whether or not we should send radio signals if you're really worried about aliens responding to them … Is Lone Signal dangerous? Are cell phones dangerous? Is radar dangerous? The answer is we don't know."
A large antenna
Lone Signal officials are using the Jamesburg Earth Station, a central California radio dish built in 1968, to beam the messages into outer space. The company holds a 30-year lease with the antenna.
Lone Signal is continuously sending two different beams of information toward the alien star. One beam carries the user-created messages while the other holds a binary code "hailing message" that carries information about Earth's place in the galaxy, the hydrogen atom and other information about the planet. The more powerful hailing message will point alien observers to the other stream of messages.
Other scientists and organizations have tried to send messages to possible intelligent beings elsewhere in the universe. One of the most powerful attempts is known as the "Arecibo message" — a powerful radar signal sent to the globular star cluster M13 about 25,000 light-years away.
Lone Signal's beams are weaker than the Arecibo message sent from a powerful observatory in Puerto Rico, however, the company's messages are aimed at a much closer region of the universe, Haqq-Misra said.
"What's different about this from previous attempts at messaging to extra-terrestrials is past attempts have been pulses in time that have existed for just a matter of a few seconds or so and then they've ceased," Haqq-Misra said in a video introduction of the website. " … So if we really want to communicate something to a potential extra terrestrial listener, you have to transmit your message repeatedly and with a periodic signal and something that's going to allow a lot of time for them to tune in to the right station."

Source of Article: Space.com