Follow Friday & Weekly Stumbles For 2011-08-19

Honeycomb Carbon Crystals Possibly Detected in Space
NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope has spotted the signature of flat carbon flakes, called graphene, in space. If confirmed, this would be the first-ever cosmic detection of the material — which is arranged like chicken wire in flat sheets that are one atom thick. Graphene was first synthesized in a lab in 2004, and subsequent research on its unique properties garnered the Nobel Prize in 2010. It’s as strong as it is thin, and conducts electricity as well as copper. Some think it’s the “material of the future,” with applications in computers, screens on electrical devices, solar panels and more.

NASA’s Asteroid Photographer Beams Back Science Data
The Dawn spacecraft has completed a graceful spiral into the first of four planned science orbits during the spacecraft’s yearlong visit to Vesta. The spacecraft started taking detailed observations on Aug. 11 at 9:13 a.m. PDT, which marks the official start of the first science-collecting orbit phase at Vesta, also known as the survey orbit. Survey orbit is the initial and highest orbit, at roughly 1700 miles (2700 kilometers) above the surface, which will provide an overview or “big picture” perspective of the giant asteroid.

Within The Carina Nebula
Hubble has released a spectacular series of images of a section of the Carina Nebula in commemoration of its 20th Anniversary. This single pillar of gas and dust measures three light years in height and is being blown apart by infant stars buried within it and eaten away by the light from the stars that surround it. Images Credit: NASA, ESA, and M. Livio and the Hubble 20th Anniversary Team (STScI)

Escaping Gravity’s Clutches: Information Could Escape from Black Holes After All, Study Suggests
New research by scientists at the University of York gives a fresh perspective on the physics of black holes. Black holes are objects in space that are so massive and compact they were described by Einstein as “bending” space. Conventional thinking asserts that black holes swallow everything that gets too close and that nothing can escape, but the study by Prof. Samuel Braunstein and Dr. Manas Patra suggests that information could escape from black holes after all.

Will a new space power rise along the Atlantic?
Within a decade, a new spaceport could rise above the tropical vegetation beside the gleaming Atlantic Ocean. Brand new rockets will thunder aloft from state-of-the-art launch complexes, carrying almost any type of satellite into whatever orbit is required. Revenues will flow into the coffers of new companies. Cape Canaveral, in the NewSpace era? No. This one’s just a little further south. And it’s not the one in French Guiana. The spaceport is named Alcântara. And if Brazil can achieve its space goals for it over the next decade, it could become one of the busiest launch sites in the world, and one of the most lucrative.

Moon Younger Than Previously Thought, Analysis of Lunar Rock Reveals
Analysis of a piece of lunar rock brought back to Earth by the Apollo 16 mission in 1972 has shown that the Moon may be much younger than previously believed. This is concluded in new research conducted by an international team of scientists that includes James Connelly from the Centre for Star and Planet Formation, Natural History Museum of Denmark, University of Copenhagen. The prevailing theory of our Moon’s origin is that it was created by a giant impact between a large planet-like object and the proto-Earth very early in the evolution of our solar system.

Of ships and space
“This is a new ship, but she’s got the right name… treat her like a lady and she’ll always bring you home.” – Admiral McCoy, to Data, referring to the Enterprise, in Star Trek: The Next Generation, “Encounter at Farpoint” “You buy this ship, treat her proper – she’ll be with you for the rest of your life.” – Salesman, to Mal, in Firefly, “Out Of Gas” “A ship like no other, it’s place in history secure, Atlantis pulls into port for the last time.” – NASA announcer. Whether by design or circumstance, certain ships sometimes assume a much greater role in human affairs than could ever be expected when their keels were first laid down.

Cosmological Evolution of Dark Matter Is Similar to That of Visible Matter
Large cosmic structures made up of dark and normal matter evolve along the same lines — this is one of the most important conclusions emerging from the latest computer simulations. The performed calculations mark the culmination of many years of work by a Polish, German and Russian team of astrophysicists and cosmologists. High-resolution computer simulations prepared by a team of scientists from the Faculty of Physics, University of Warsaw (FUW), the Lebedev Physical Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Institute for Astrophysics in Potsdam made it possible to trace the evolution of large clouds of dark and normal matter that fill the Universe.

What Caused a Giant Arrow-Shaped Cloud On Saturn’s Moon Titan?
Why does Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, have what looks like an enormous white arrow about the size of Texas on its surface? A research group led by Jonathan L. Mitchell, UCLA assistant professor of earth and space sciences and of atmospheric and oceanic sciences, has answered this question by using a global circulation model of Titan to demonstrate how planetary-scale atmospheric waves affect the moon’s weather patterns, leading to a “stenciling” effect that results in sharp and sometimes surprising cloud shapes.

Found: A Batch of DNA Molecules That Seem To Have Originated in Space
In what appears to be seriously big news from a team of NASA-funded researchers, scientists have found evidence that some building blocks of DNA–including two of the four nucleobases that make up our genetic code–found in meteorites were created in space, lending credence to the idea that life is not homegrown but was seeded here by asteroids, meteorites, or comets sometime in Earth’s early lifetime. This is big news, of course, because if the ingredients for life were brought here from some external source, there’s always the possibility that the same thing has happened elsewhere in the universe–possibly many times over.

A Cosmic Inkblot Test: Spitzer Captures View of Dumbbell Nebula
If this were an inkblot test, you might see a bow tie or a butterfly depending on your personality. An astronomer would likely see the remains of a dying star scattered about space — precisely what this is. NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope captured this infrared view of what’s called a planetary nebula, which is a cloud of material expelled by a burnt out star, called a white dwarf. This object is named the Dumbbell Nebula after its resemblance to the exercise equipment in visible-light views.

Astronomy: A Spectacular Spiral in Leo
This new picture from ESO’s Very Large Telescope shows NGC 3521, a spiral galaxy located about 35 million light years away in the constellation of Leo (The Lion). Spanning about 50,000 light-years, this spectacular object has a bright and compact nucleus, surrounded by richly detailed spiral structure. The most distinctive features of the bright galaxy NGC 3521 are its long spiral arms that are dotted with star-forming regions and interspersed with veins of dust. The arms are rather irregular and patchy, making NGC 3521 a typical example of a flocculent spiral galaxy.

After the shuttle era, space exploration continues and thrives
Much was written and said as Atlantis completed its mission on July 21 and brought the Space Shuttle era to an end. A great deal of the commentary, and hence a popular impression, labeled it something like the winding down (or even the end) of the US space program. I saw very little from NASA, and less from the Obama Administration, to counter this view of the “end of space.” The few positive messages centered more on what wonderful things we will do on the International Space Station and with commercial industry rockets rather than a focus on the joy and discoveries of space exploration.

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