Follow Friday & Weekly Stumbles For 2011-08-12

This week I recommend to follow @NASAblueshift for interesting tweets from a NASA blog which aims to bring the Universe closer to you. For more Twitter follow suggestions see our astronomy list @TheAstroBlog/astronomy

Weekly Stumbles:

NASA Picks 7 Private Spaceships for Trips to Edge of Space
NASA has picked seven private spaceflight companies, each working to build a commercial spaceship, as its transportation of choice for launching experiments to the edge of space and back. The space agency announced the selections Tuesday, as part of the agency’s Flight Opportunities Program. The seven commercial companies will receive two-year contracts to integrate and fly an indefinite number of technology payloads on their reusable suborbital vehicles, which fly to space but do not make a full orbit around the Earth.

NASA’s Juno Spacecraft Launches to Jupiter
NASA’s solar-powered Juno spacecraft lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 9:25 a.m. PDT (12:25 p.m. EDT), Aug. 5, 2011 to begin a five-year journey to Jupiter. Juno’s detailed study of the largest planet in our solar system will help reveal Jupiter’s origin and evolution. As the archetype of giant gas planets, Jupiter can help scientists understand the origin of our solar system and learn more about planetary systems around other stars.

Early Earth may have had two moons
Collision with lost second satellite would explain Moon’s asymmetry. Earth once had two moons, which merged in a slow-motion collision that took several hours to complete, researchers propose in Nature today. Both satellites would have formed from debris that was ejected when a Mars-size protoplanet smacked into Earth late in its formation period. Whereas traditional theory states that the infant Moon rapidly swept up any rivals or gravitationally ejected them into interstellar space, the new theory suggests that one body survived, parked in a gravitationally stable point in the Earth–Moon system.

‘Big Splat’ May Explain the Moon’s Mountainous Far Side
The mountainous region on the far side of the moon, known as the lunar farside highlands, may be the solid remains of a collision with a smaller companion moon, according to a new study by planetary scientists at the University of California, Santa Cruz. The striking differences between the near and far sides of the moon have been a longstanding puzzle. The near side is relatively low and flat, while the topography of the far side is high and mountainous, with a much thicker crust.

NASA Wants Gas Stations In Space
If humans are ever to live and explore in deep space for extended periods, space gas stations may prove a vital necessity. Toward that end, NASA has awarded contracts to four companies with plans to study how to store and transfer fuel in space. It’s not simply a matter of building a Shell station in orbit. Rocket fuel is cryogenic, meaning super-cold substances like liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen. If not kept extremely chilled and protected, some of those liquids tend to boil off into gases.

An enduring value proposition for NASA human spaceflight (part 1)
In 2007, I published an article in The Space Review titled “Sustaining Exploration: Communications, Relevance, and Value” that described NASA as a value delivery system (VDS). In it I made a case for re-alignment of the agency and its activities by means of a “value discovery process”. The article identified some issues driving resistance to change within the agency and warned of the possibility of “organizational obsolescence” if NASA continued to hold tight to past successes as a raison d’être for activities in the present and future.

Boeing Needs Space Pilots for Spaceship & Rocket Test Flights
Boeing’s new spaceship to fly astronauts into orbit for NASA and other customers has its rocket ride: an upgraded version of the Atlas 5 rocket currently used for satellite launches. All the company needs now are space test pilots. In a deal with the rocket launch provider United Launch Alliance, Boeing has agreed to use the Atlas 5 rocket as the launch vehicle of choice for its new crewed spaceship, the Commercial Space Transportation-100 (CST-100).

Cosmic Superbubble Carved by Stellar Winds from Bright Young Stars and Supernova Shockwaves
ESO’s Very Large Telescope captured a striking view of the nebula around the star cluster NGC 1929 within the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of our own Milky Way. A colossal example of what astronomers call a superbubble dominates this stellar nursery. It is being carved by the winds from bright young stars and the shockwaves from supernova explosions.

Still eyeing the lunar prize
Four years ago next month, the X PRIZE Foundation announced its newest space prize: the Google Lunar X PRIZE, or GLXP. Up for grabs was $30 million in prize money provided by the search engine giant for the non-government teams able to land a spacecraft on the Moon, travel at least 500 meters, and transmit a series of data packages that include photos and high-definition video. The competition also had a deadline to, as foundation CEO and chairman Peter Diamandis put it back in September 2007, “motivate earlier attempts” to win the prize.

Solar Flares: What Does It Take to Be X-Class? Sun Emits an X-Class Flare On August 9, 2011
Solar flares are giant explosions on the sun that send energy, light and high speed particles into space. These flares are often associated with solar magnetic storms known as coronal mass ejections (CMEs). The number of solar flares increases approximately every 11 years, and the sun is currently moving towards another solar maximum, likely in 2013. That means more flares will be coming, some small and some big enough to send their radiation all the way to Earth.

Dazzling Northern Lights Possible for Northern US This Weekend
Skywatchers as far south as Pennsylvania should be on the lookout for auroras in the night sky sparked by a powerful geomagnetic storm, space weather experts say. The auroras are triggered by charged solar particles that blew outward from the sun in an intense eruption on Thursday. The particles are typically funneled along Earth’s magnetic field to the polar regions, where they can spark stunning displays of the northern lights in the Northern Hemisphere, and southern lights in the south.

An update on the proposed European Code of Conduct
The Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities (CoC) was published in 2008 and first presented in September 2010 with a follow-up draft provided in December 2010. The document is intended as a proposal for a non-legally binding consensus ranging from security of space assets to the mitigation of space debris. Many aspects of the proposed CoC are not controversial; however, some specific concerns have been raised by space policy and arms control experts.

NASA Mars Rover Arrives at New Site On Martian Surface
After a journey of almost three years, NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity has reached the Red Planet’s Endeavour crater to study rocks never seen before. On Aug. 9, the golf cart-sized rover relayed its arrival at a location named Spirit Point on the crater’s rim. Opportunity drove approximately 21 kilometers since climbing out of the Victoria crater. “NASA is continuing to write remarkable chapters in our nation’s story of exploration with discoveries on Mars and trips to an array of challenging new destinations,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said.

Moonless Earth Could Potentially Still Support Life, Study Finds
Scientists have long believed that, without our moon, the tilt of the Earth would shift greatly over time, from zero degrees, where the Sun remains over the equator, to 85 degrees, where the Sun shines almost directly above one of the poles. A planet’s stability has an effect on the development of life. A planet see-sawing back and forth on its axis as it orbits the sun would experience wide fluctuations in climate, which then could potentially affect the evolution of complex life.

Avoiding “the end” of NASA
Taylor Dinerman recently published an op-ed for the Hudson Institute that purports to link the supposed “end of NASA” with impacts to national security. Unfortunately, this is only one example of the pervasive attitude in much of the media that equates the successful final mission of the Space Shuttle program with the end of American manned spaceflight. On its face, the argument doesn’t make much sense. The United States and its international partners have committed to extending operations on the International Space Station until, at least, 2020.

Supernovae Parents Found: Clear Signatures of Gas Outflows from Stellar Ancestors
Type Ia supernovae are violent stellar explosions whose brightness is used to determine distances in the universe. Observing these objects to billions of light years away has led to the discovery that the universe is expanding at an accelerating rate, the foundation for the notion of dark energy. Although all Type Ia supernovae appear to be very similar, astronomers do not know for certain how the explosions take place and whether they all share the same origin.

Blackest Planet Ever Found, Absorbs Nearly 100% of Light That Reaches It
Kepler has found the darkest known planet in universe — a Jupiter-sized exoplanet some 750 light-years away that is so black that it reflects just one percent of the light that reaches it. TrES-2b is so black that it’s darker than coal, or any other planet or moon that we’ve yet discovered. It’s less reflective than black acrylic paint. To summarize: it’s really, really black. But TrES-2b is not completely black. It emits an extremely faint red glow, like that of a hot ember.

Follow us:

If you would like to have the chance for your articles to be featured in a future issue of this weekly series follow us on Twitter @TheAstroBlog.