Follow Friday & Weekly Stumbles For 2011-03-25

This week I recommend to follow @TaviGreiner for interesting tweets about astronomy, space, night sky and photography. For more Twitter follow suggestions see our astronomy list @TheAstroBlog/astronomy

Weekly Stumbles:

NASA proposes laser use to move space junk
A team of scientists led by NASA space scientist James Mason have proposed the idea of using a mid-powered laser and telescope to nudge pieces of space junk out of the way and slow it down to avoid collisions. Currently, the low Earth orbit (LEO) is filled with over 9,700 pieces of debris and 1,500 old rocket bodies that are tracked by the U.S. military. When these pieces collide in space, more debris pieces are created. While many of these pieces are small, when you realize that they are traveling at a speed equivalent to 17,000 miles per hour, they pose a serious threat to space travel and the launching of new satellites.

Coldest Known Star: Brown Dwarf About as Hot as a Cup of Tea
Brown dwarfs are essentially failed stars: they lack enough mass for gravity to trigger the nuclear reactions that make stars shine. The newly discovered brown dwarf, identified as CFBDSIR 1458+10B, is the dimmer member of a binary brown dwarf system located just 75 light-years from Earth. The powerful X-shooter spectrograph on ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) was used to show that the composite object was very cool by brown dwarf standards.

America’s unknown astronauts
We are in the last year of Space Shuttle operations. The first launch of the Space Transportation System with the orbiter Columbia took place on April 12, 1981; this coming April 12th will mark 30 years of shuttle operations. Most everyone who has followed the shuttle program with any degree of interest can tell you the names of the first shuttle crew: Capt. John Young and Robert Crippen. Because they were the first astronauts to pilot the shuttle, their names are easy to remember. However, since that first launch, there have been hundreds of astronauts launched aboard the shuttle over the last three decades.

Dawn Opens Its Eyes, Checks Its Instruments
After a hibernation of about six months, the framing cameras on board NASA’s Dawn spacecraft have again ventured a look into the stars. The spacecraft also powered up its visible and infrared mapping spectrometer, which investigates surface mineralogy, and the gamma ray and neutron detector, which detects elemental composition. The reactivation prepares the instruments for the May approach and July arrival at Vesta, Dawn’s first port of call in the asteroid belt.

An Icy Gaze Into the Big Bang: Quantum Physicists Investigate New States of Matter in Ultracold Atom Mixtures
Scientists of the Institute for Quantum Optics and Quantum Information (IQOQI) in Innsbruck, Austria, have reached a milestone in the exploration of quantum gas mixtures. In an international first, the research group led by Rudolf Grimm and Florian Schreck has succeeded in producing controlled strong interactions between two fermionic elements — lithium-6 and potassium-40. This model system not only promises to provide new insights into solid-state physics but also shows intriguing analogies to the primordial substance right after the Big Bang.

Webb Telescope Sunshield Is Like an Umbrella on the Shores of the Universe
The James Webb Space Telescope has a unique shield to protect its sensitive instruments from the heat and light of the sun. The sunshield is like an umbrella popping open on the shores of the cosmos that allows the instruments beneath it to see far into the universe. Like a beach umbrella protects people from the sun’s heat and ultraviolet radiation, the sunshield protects the telescope and the sensitive infrared instruments that fly beneath the Webb telescope’s sunshield from our sun’s heat and light.

Stars Gather in ‘Downtown’ Milky Way
The region around the center of our Milky Way galaxy glows colorfully in a new version of an image taken by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope. The data were previously released as part of a long, 120-degree view of the plane our galaxy. Now, data from the very center of that picture are being presented at a different contrast to better highlight this jam-packed region. In visible-light pictures, it is all but impossible to see the heart of our galaxy, but infrared light penetrates the shroud of dust giving us this unprecedented view.

Alternatives Have Begun in Bid to Hear from NASA’s Spirit Mars Rover
Hopes for reviving NASA’s Spirit Mars rover dimmed further with passage last week of the point at which the rover’s locale received its maximum sunshine for the Martian year. The rover team has tried to contact Spirit for months with strategies based on the possibility that increasing energy availability might wake the rover from hibernation. The team has now switched to communication strategies designed to address more than one problem on the rover. If no signal is heard from Spirit in the next month or two, the team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., will shift to single-rover operations, continuing to operate Spirit’s active twin, Opportunity.

Spacebound Bacteria Inspire Earthbound Remedies
Recent research aboard the Space Shuttle is giving scientists a better understanding of how infectious disease occurs in space and could someday improve astronaut health and provide novel treatments for people on Earth. The research involves an opportunistic pathogen known as Pseudomonas aeruginosa, the same bacterium that caused astronaut Fred Haise to become sick during the Apollo 13 mission to the moon in 1970. Scientists studying the bacterium aboard the Shuttle hope to unlock the mysteries of how disease-causing agents work. They believe the research can lead to advanced vaccines and therapies to better fight infections.

Earthquakes and climate change: get the data
The earthquake and tsunami in Japan are the type of events that impact every aspect of life. Catastrophic events are not new on Earth—an argument that climate change deniers like to make to support their position that we should not worry about climate change’s impact. But what is so different now from even a century ago, let alone over the millennia of recorded history, is both the size of our population and its dependence on technology. Both change what were limited local problems into global ones.

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