Follow Friday & Weekly Stumbles For 2011-07-22

This week I recommend to follow @NASAJPL for interesting tweets from NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory which manages many of NASA’s robotic space exploration missions. For more Twitter follow suggestions see our astronomy list @TheAstroBlog/astronomy

Weekly Stumbles:

Twisted Tale of Our Galaxy’s Ring: Strange Kink in Milky Way
New observations from the Herschel Space Observatory show a bizarre, twisted ring of dense gas at the center of our Milky Way galaxy. Only a few portions of the ring, which stretches across more than 600 light-years, were known before. Herschel’s view reveals the entire ring for the first time, and a strange kink that has astronomers scratching their heads. “We have looked at this region at the center of the Milky Way many times before in the infrared,” said Alberto Noriega-Crespo of NASA’s Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

On survival, goals, and human space flight
We are in the last few days of the last Space Shuttle mission and many, both inside and outside NASA, wonder where we will go from here. In that light, I have been considering the question as to why humans are so attracted or attached, emotionally or spiritually, to something as inanimate as a vehicle or structure. What is it that draws us to feel a loss when we lose objects such as these that have been a part of our lives? What is it that has been endowed in something we have created with our hands that so attaches us to it?

How We Snapped a Picture-Perfect Space Shuttle Launch
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. “T minus 10 . . . 9 . . . 8 . . . 7 . . . 6 . . . 5 . . . 4 . . . All three engines up and burning . . . 2 . . 1 . . . Zero and liftoff, the final liftoff of Atlantis.” Those were the words hundreds of thousands of people gathered at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center had been waiting to hear. The spectacular fiery ascent of the space shuttle Atlantis and her crew into orbit and into history was the happy culmination of a week filled with tension and anxiety. And for the hundreds of media photographers and videographers like us who had set up remote cameras around the launch pad to capture this historic flight, the effort was well worth the rain, heat, humidity and nasty mosquitoes.

NASA’s Dawn Spacecraft Enters Orbit Around Asteroid Vesta
NASA’s Dawn spacecraft on July 16, 2011 became the first probe ever to enter orbit around an object in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Dawn will study the asteroid, named Vesta, for a year before departing for a second destination, a dwarf planet named Ceres, in July 2012. Observations will provide unprecedented data to help scientists understand the earliest chapter of our solar system. The data also will help pave the way for future human space missions.

Did space exploration sow the seeds of its own demise?
Some have tried to diminish or even dismiss the Apollo lunar landing program’s contribution to the birth of the microelectronics industry. However, its demand for large numbers of reliable integrated circuits undeniably gave a significant impetus to the technology. However, in so doing, might it ironically have doomed the future of space exploration itself? History is replete with instances of technological advances affecting society. These have been as minor yet pervasive as the pop-top beverage can opener to as global and personally distant as nuclear weapons.

Movement of Black Holes Powers Quasars, the Universe’s Brightest Lights
Whether on their own or orbiting as a pair, black holes don’t typically sit still. Not only do they spin, they can also move laterally across their host galaxy. And according to astrophysicists at Brigham Young University, both types of movement power massive jets of energy known as quasars. These spectacular jets stream out of galaxies that contain discs of debris and gas, the remnants of stars ripped apart by the force from black holes. “The black hole is like a generator spinning around in these magnetic fields,” said BYU professor David Neilsen, lead author of the study.

Galaxy-Sized Twist in Time Pulls Violating Particles Back Into Line
A University of Warwick physicist has produced a galaxy-sized solution that explains one of the outstanding puzzles of particle physics, while leaving the door open to the related conundrum of why different amounts of matter and antimatter seem to have survived the birth of our Universe. Physicists would like a neat universe where the laws of physics are so universal that every particle and its antiparticle behave in the same way. However in recent years experimental observations of particles known as Kaons and B Mesons have revealed significant differences in how their matter and anti matter versions decay.

Explosive Idea to Blast Craters in Asteroids
To the disappointment of Michael Bay fans worldwide, blowing stuff up on an asteroid is still a beautiful, elusive, testosterone-charged Hollywood dream. But one recent proposal for NASA may someday make it real by deploying explosive space pods the size of soccer balls to target space rocks. It’s simple, it’s cheap for a space mission, and it requires no new technologies. It’s also in the name of science — the shockwaves and even the craters left behind could help reveal the makeup of any asteroid’s rocky mass. That knowledge could then pave the way for NASA’s planned human mission to a near-Earth asteroid.

NASA’s Opportunity Tops 20 Miles of Mars Driving
More than seven years into what was planned as a three-month mission on Mars, NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity has driven more than 20 miles, which is more than 50 times the mission’s original distance goal. A drive of 407 feet (124 meters) completed on July 17 took Opportunity past the 20-mile mark (32.2 kilometers). It brought the rover to within a few drives of reaching the rim of Endeavour crater, the rover’s team’s long-term destination since mid-2008.

NASA’s Hubble Discovers Another Moon Around Pluto
Astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope discovered a fourth moon orbiting the icy dwarf planet Pluto. The tiny, new satellite – temporarily designated P4 – was uncovered in a Hubble survey searching for rings around the dwarf planet. The new moon is the smallest discovered around Pluto. It has an estimated diameter of 8 to 21 miles (13 to 34 km). By comparison, Charon, Pluto’s largest moon, is 648 miles (1,043 km) across, and the other moons, Nix and Hydra, are in the range of 20 to 70 miles in diameter (32 to 113 km).

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