Follow Friday & Weekly Stumbles For 2011-01-14

From now on, I have decided to increase the number of featured articles to 10 in this weekly stumbles series.

This week I recommend to follow @cosmos4u for lots of interesting tweets about astronomy and space. For more Twitter follow suggestions see our astronomy list @TheAstroBlog/astronomy

Weekly Stumbles:

Powerful thunderstorms can send bursts of antimatter hurtling into space
Antimatter seems impossibly exotic, something that exists only in particle accelerators or in cosmic events many light-years away. But the next time there’s a big thunderstorm, look up at the sky: you’re looking at the creation of natural antimatter bursts. NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope picked up on the antimatter by monitoring several recent thunderstorms. Lightning is known to produce what’s known as a terrestrial gamma-ray flash, or TGF, which is basically a brief burst of gamma-rays. There are a few different ways to create gamma-rays, including the collision of an electron and its antimatter counterpart, the positron.

NASA’s Kepler Mission Discovers Its First Rocky Planet
NASA’s Kepler mission confirmed the discovery of its first rocky planet, named Kepler-10b. Measuring 1.4 times the size of Earth, it is the smallest planet ever discovered outside our solar system. The discovery of this planet, called an exoplanet, is based on more than eight months of data collected by the spacecraft from May 2009 to early January 2010.

NASA’s Next “Hubble” will Orbit at the Lagrange Point 1 Million Miles from Earth
Imagine a place colder than Pluto where rubber behaves like glass and where most gasses are liquid. The place is called a Lagrange point where the infrared James Webb Space Telescope will orbit following its scheduled launch in 2014. NASA engineers have created a unique engineering marvel called the ISIM structure that recently survived exposure to extreme cryogenic temperatures, proving that the structure will remain stable when exposed to the harsh environment of space.

Gravitational Lensing: Cosmic Magnifying Lenses Distort View of Distant Galaxies
Looking deep into space, and literally peering back in time, is like experiencing the universe in a house of mirrors where everything is distorted through a phenomenon called gravitational lensing. Gravitational lensing occurs when light from a distant object is distorted by a massive object that is in the foreground. Astronomers have started to apply this concept in a new way to determine the number of very distant galaxies and to measure dark matter in the universe.

Most Distant Galaxy Cluster Identified
Astronomers have uncovered a burgeoning galactic metropolis, the most distant known in the early universe. This ancient collection of galaxies presumably grew into a modern galaxy cluster similar to the massive ones seen today. The developing cluster, named COSMOS-AzTEC3, was discovered and characterized by multi-wavelength telescopes, including NASA’s Spitzer, Chandra and Hubble space telescopes, and the ground-based W.M. Keck Observatory and Japan’s Subaru Telescope.

Hubble Zooms in on a Space Oddity
One of the strangest space objects ever seen is being scrutinized by the penetrating vision of NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope. A mysterious, glowing green blob of gas is floating in space near a spiral galaxy. Hubble uncovered delicate filaments of gas and a pocket of young star clusters in the giant object, which is the size of our Milky Way galaxy.

A ‘Galaxy X’ Found Orbiting the Milky Way
The search for a mystery Galaxy X orbiting the Milky Way may have been solved. Many large galaxies are thought to have dark matter satellite galaxies too dim to be detected. Theoretical astronomer Sukanya Chakrabarti explains how she has found a way to locate “dark” satellite galaxies by analyzing the ripples in the hydrogen gas distributed in spiral galaxies such as the Milky Way. Chakrabarti predicted the mass of Galaxy X to be one-hundredth that of the Milky Way, in a parabolic orbit around our galaxy, at a distance of about 300,000 light years from the galactic center.

Cassini to Probe Icy Moon Rhea for Clues to Saturn Rings
Saturn’s icy moon Rhea might seem a strange place to look for clues to understanding the vast majestic rings encircling Saturn. But that’s what NASA’s Cassini spacecraft plans to do on its next flyby of Rhea. At closest approach, Cassini will pass within about 69 kilometers (43 miles) of the surface at 4:53 AM UTC on Tuesday, Jan. 11, which is 10:53 PM Pacific Time on Monday, Jan. 10. This flyby is the closest Cassini will get to the icy moon’s surface.

Public interest and space exploration
Not counting the disaster of the Columbia accident, what do you think was the biggest space story of the last decade? I think it has to be the loss of Pluto as a planet. That’s pretty remarkable considering that few things are less relevant or touch our lives less than Pluto. Fortunately—dare we say with prescience—there is a mission, New Horizons, going out to explore Pluto. The mission was developed despite NASA’s (then) objections in the early 2000s as result of a public interest campaign, largely led by The Planetary Society, urging Congress to add it to the NASA budget. So, when Pluto’s categorical place in the solar system was changed, NASA fortuitously was sending a mission to explore the new category of objects. Indeed, the mission target was enlarged to investigate not just Pluto but the Kuiper Belt as well.

Human operations beyond LEO by the end of the decade: An affordable near-term stepping stone
For more than a decade, several teams have assessed designs for a long-duration free-space human habitat beyond low Earth orbit (LEO), building upon years of hard-won experience with the International Space Station (ISS). These systems would enable multiple achievements for science and human space flight. Most were intended to be deployed using available or near-future capabilities within about a decade after funding begins and serve as the first major human “stepping stone” beyond LEO. Last year, Thronson and Talay summarized work up to that time on expandable or inflatable concepts for deployment at an Earth-Moon (E-M) L1 or L2 location. Here we summarize our team’s more recent work both on a long-duration human habitat that could be deployed beyond LEO within a decade and on the priority goals that such a habitat might accomplish.

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