AstroBlog Follow Friday & Weekly Stumbles For 2011-09-02

This week I recommend to follow @bethbeck for interesting tweets from a Space Operations Outreach Manager at NASA. For more Twitter follow suggestions see our astronomy list @TheAstroBlog/astronomy

Weekly Stumbles:

Astronauts May Evacuate Space Station in November, NASA Says
The International Space Station may have to start operating without a crew in November if Russian engineers don’t figure out soon what caused a recent rocket failure, NASA officials announced today (Aug. 29). The unmanned Russian cargo ship Progress 44 crashed just after its Aug. 24 launch to deliver 2.9 tons of supplies to the orbiting lab. The failure was caused by a problem with the Progress’ Soyuz rocket, which is similar to the one Russia uses to launch its crew-carrying vehicle — also called Soyuz — to the station.

How Would NASA & Russia Evacuate the International Space Station?
In the wake of a Russian rocket failure, NASA is considering evacuating the crew of the International Space Station later this year. The unprecedented move would mark the first time in more than 10 years that the orbiting outpost has gone unmanned. The space station evacuation is one possibility following the failure of the unmanned Russian supply spacecraft just after its Aug. 24 launch — a surprise given the reliable track record of its workhorse Soyuz rocket.

The Mars Consortium 2011
What we need to first establish is the “why” of sending humans to Mars. In the past, the only comparison we have is when the US government sent men to the Moon 40 years ago. This vast project was completed for achieving one main purpose: beating the Russians by proving US technology was superior, and winning a battle in the Cold War. Forty years later, in a much-changed world, the challenge of sending humans to Mars has lacked a similar driving force and, as a result, has languished on the fringes of political and private priorities for decades.

Exploration initiatives from the private sector
Where is the US commitment to space exploration? Lack of leadership in our government and the resulting disarray in NASA has created a vacuum. All of the past four Presidents recognized what Mary Lynne Dittmar wrote about in her recent Space Review series: that human space exploration is justified by its importance to the geopolitical interests of the United States. Both Presidents Bush proposed visions for humans to return to the Moon and then travel to Mars as manifestations of American greatness.

Cassini Closes in On Saturn’s Tumbling Moon Hyperion
NASA’s Cassini spacecraft captured new views of Saturn’s oddly shaped moon Hyperion during its encounter with a cratered body on Thursday, Aug. 25. Raw images were acquired as the spacecraft flew past the moon at a distance of about 15,500 miles (25,000 kilometers), making this the second closest encounter. Hyperion is a small moon — just 168 miles (270 kilometers) across. It has an irregular shape and surface appearance, and it rotates chaotically as it tumbles along in orbit. This odd rotation prevented scientists from predicting exactly what terrain the spacecraft’s cameras would image during this flyby.

First Glimpse Into Birth of the Milky Way
For almost 20 years astrophysicists have been trying to recreate the formation of spiral galaxies such as our Milky Way realistically. Now astrophysicists from the University of Zurich present the world’s first realistic simulation of the formation of our home galaxy together with astronomers from the University of California at Santa Cruz. The new results were partly calculated on the computer of the Swiss National Supercomputing Center (CSCS) and show, for instance, that there has to be stars on the outer edge of the Milky Way.

Exotic Galaxy Reveals Tantalizing Tale
A galaxy with a combination of characteristics never seen before is giving astronomers a tantalising peek at processes they believe played key roles in the growth of galaxies and clusters of galaxies early in the history of the Universe. The galaxy, dubbed Speca by the team of researchers, is only the second spiral, as opposed to elliptical, galaxy known to produce large, powerful jets of subatomic particles moving at nearly the speed of light. It also is one of only two galaxies to show that such activity occurred in three separate episodes.

Extraterrestrial Hurricanes: Other Planets Have Huge Storms, Too
By Earth standards, Hurricane Irene is a monster storm. But it’s just a baby compared to the massive cyclones of Jupiter and Saturn. Our planet is not the only one in the solar system that boasts huge, hurricane-like storms. The gas giants Jupiter and Saturn, for example, churn out spinning squalls that can be bigger than the entire Earth. While these storms aren’t fed by warm ocean water the way terrestrial hurricanes are, they’re similar in a lot of ways, scientists say.

Peculiar Pair of Galaxies Nicknamed ‘The Eyes’
The European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope has taken a striking image of a beautiful yet peculiar pair of galaxies nicknamed The Eyes. The larger of these, NGC 4438, was once a spiral galaxy but has become badly deformed by collisions with other galaxies in the last few hundred million years. This picture is the first to come out of ESO’s Cosmic Gems programme, an initiative in which ESO has granted dedicated observing time for outreach purposes. The Eyes are about 50 million light-years away in the constellation of Virgo (The Virgin) and are some 100 000 light-years apart.

Astrophysicists Solve 40-Year-Old Mariner 5 Solar Wind Problem: Turbulence Doesn’t Go With the Flow
Research led by astrophysicists at the University of Warwick has resolved a 40-year-old problem with observations of turbulence in the solar wind first made by the probe Mariner 5. The research resolves an issue with what is by far the largest and most interesting natural turbulence lab accessible to researchers today. Our current understanding tells us that turbulence in the solar wind should not be affected by the speed and direction of travel of that solar wind.

New Method Detects Emerging Sunspots Deep Inside the Sun, Provides Warning of Dangerous Solar Flares
Viewed from the technological perspective of modern humans, the sun is a seething cauldron of disruptive influences that can wreak havoc on communication systems, air travel, power grids and satellites — not to mention astronauts in space. If disruptions such as solar flares and mass eruptions could be predicted, protective measures could be taken to shield vulnerable electronics before solar storms strike. Now Stanford researchers have developed a method that allows them to peer deep into the sun’s interior, using acoustic waves to catch sunspots in the early stage of development and giving as much as two days’ warning.

Worrying about a lack of Progress
Some launch services providers play up their long records of success: in some cases dozens of consecutive successful launches spanning years, even decades. They do so, understandably, to demonstrate their abilities and reliability. However, there’s another truism in the launch field: you’re only as good as your last launch. And if that most recent launch if not successful, no record of previous success will mitigate the effect of that failure to the customer whose payload was lost, or ameliorate the nervousness of the customer for the next launch.

Astrophysicists Simulate a Milky Way-Like Galaxy; Supercomputer Experiment Supports Cosmological Model of a ‘Cold Dark Matter’ Universe
After nine months of number-crunching on a powerful supercomputer, a beautiful spiral galaxy matching our own Milky Way emerged from a computer simulation of the physics involved in galaxy formation and evolution. The simulation by researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and the Institute for Theoretical Physics in Zurich solves a longstanding problem that had led some to question the prevailing cosmological model of the universe.

New Light Shed On Pulsars
Astronomers from NUI Galway’s Centre for Astronomy have made an important breakthrough in the understanding of how pulsars work, and have recently published their findings in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. The team, led by NUI Galway’s Dr Andy Shearer, compared optical observations with a detailed model of the structure of the pulsar. From this, using their inverse mapping or reverse engineering approach, they were able to establish for the first time that most of the light from the pulsar comes from close to the star’s surface.

Graphene Discovered in Space – Could It Revolutionize Our View of Space-Time?
Physicist Peter Horava, at the University of California, Berkeley, thinks graphere can help us understand what happened immediately after the big bang or what’s going on near the event horizon of black holes, where the gravitational fields are massive. This week, a team of astronomers, using the Spitzer Space Telescope, have reported the first extragalactic detection of the C70 fullerene molecule, and the possible detection of planar C24 (“a piece of graphene”) in space.

NASA’s Chandra Finds Nearest Pair of Supermassive Black Holes
Astronomers using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory discovered the first pair of supermassive black holes in a spiral galaxy similar to the Milky Way. Approximately 160 million light years from Earth, the pair is the nearest known such phenomenon. The black holes are located near the center of the spiral galaxy NGC 3393. Separated by only 490 light years, the black holes are likely the remnant of a merger of two galaxies of unequal mass a billion or more years ago.

The Star That Should Not Exist
A faint star in the constellation of Leo (The Lion), called SDSS J102915+172927, has been found to have the lowest amount of elements heavier than helium (what astronomers call “metals”) of all stars yet studied. It has a mass smaller than that of the Sun and is probably more than 13 billion years old. “A widely accepted theory predicts that stars like this, with low mass and extremely low quantities of metals, shouldn’t exist because the clouds of material from which they formed could never have condensed,” said Elisabetta Caffau.

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