AstroBlog Follow Friday & Weekly Stumbles For 2011-09-23

This week I recommend to follow @VirtualAstro for interesting tweets about exciting astronomy, science, nature and more. For more Twitter follow suggestions see our astronomy list @TheAstroBlog/astronomy

Weekly Stumbles:

Soyuz Space Capsule Lands Safely With US-Russian CrewSoyuz Space Capsule Lands Safely With US-Russian Crew
A Russian-built Soyuz space capsule landed safely back on Earth late Thursday (Sept. 15), returning an American astronaut and two cosmonauts home after more than five months in space. The Soyuz TMA-21 spacecraft touched down at about 11:59 p.m. EDT (0359 GMT), though it was 9:59 a.m. Friday local time at their landing site on the steppes of Kazakhstan in central Asia. Russia’s Mission Control center in Moscow lost direct communications with the Soyuz during its descent through Earth’s atmosphere, but the glitch apparently did not affect the spacecraft’s normal landing operations.

A monster rocket, or just a monster?A monster rocket, or just a monster?
For nearly a year the future of NASA’s human space exploration plans revolved around the development of a new heavy-lift launch vehicle. The NASA Authorization Act of 2010, signed into law last October, included a provision directing NASA to begin development of what it prosaically called the Space Launch System (SLS), a rocket capable of launching at least 70 tons, and eventually at least 130 tons, into low Earth orbit. Coupled with the equally unimaginatively named Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) — effectively a continuation of the Orion spacecraft under the now-cancelled Constellation program — these vehicles would provide NASA with the means to launch astronauts into Earth orbit and beyond.

Hunt Is on for Ticking 'Time Bomb' StarsHunt Is on for Ticking ‘Time Bomb’ Stars
Thousands of ticking time bomb stars set to explode at any moment are hidden throughout our galaxy, according to a new study. When massive stars reach the end of their lives, they can explode in fiery fits called supernovas. Astronomers calculate that about three stars explode in a specific category of supernova called Type 1a every thousand years in the Milky Way. That means that within a few thousand light-years of Earth there should be dozens of stars on the verge of exploding. Yet while scientists know these stars are out there, they’ve had trouble so far identifying which stars are nearing the explosion point.

An Angry Bird in the Sky: Lambda Centauri NebulaAn Angry Bird in the Sky: Lambda Centauri Nebula
A new image from the Wide Field Imager on the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope reveals the Lambda Centauri Nebula, a cloud of glowing hydrogen and newborn stars in the constellation of Centaurus (The Centaur). The nebula, also known as IC 2944, is sometimes nicknamed the Running Chicken Nebula, from a bird-like shape some people see in its brightest region. In the nebula, which lies around 6500 light-years from Earth, hot newborn stars that formed from clouds of hydrogen gas shine brightly with ultraviolet light.

NASA's WISE Mission Captures Black Hole's Wildly Flaring JetNASA’s WISE Mission Captures Black Hole’s Wildly Flaring Jet
Astronomers using NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) have captured rare data of a flaring black hole, revealing new details about these powerful objects and their blazing jets. Scientists study jets to learn more about the extreme environments around black holes. Much has been learned about the material feeding black holes, called accretion disks, and the jets themselves, through studies using X-rays, gamma rays and radio waves. But key measurements of the brightest part of the jets, located at their bases, have been difficult despite decades of work.

NASA Completes Giant Mirrors for Hubble Successor TelescopeNASA Completes Giant Mirrors for Hubble Successor Telescope
NASA’s next huge space telescope passed a major mirror milestone this week on its path to become the world’s most powerful space observatory when it launches in 2018. Engineers completed coating 21 mirrors that will make up NASA’s flagship James Webb Space Telescope with the thin — but vital — layer of gold that will reflect the faint infrared light collected by the observatory from the most distant reaches of the universe. “It represents not just the coating event but the completion of a huge engineering project,” John Mather, the telescope’s senior project scientist, told SPACE.com.

Saturn's Moon Enceladus Spreads Its InfluenceSaturn’s Moon Enceladus Spreads Its Influence
Chalk up one more feat for Saturn’s intriguing moon Enceladus. The small, dynamic moon spews out dramatic plumes of water vapor and ice — first seen by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft in 2005. It possesses simple organic particles and may house liquid water beneath its surface. Its geyser-like jets create a gigantic halo of ice, dust and gas around Enceladus that helps feed Saturn’s E ring. Now, thanks again to those icy jets, Enceladus is the only moon in our solar system known to influence substantially the chemical composition of its parent planet.

UARS: A potential opportunity to bolster international space lawUARS: A potential opportunity to bolster international space law
NASA has announced that Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS), launched by the shuttle Discovery in September 1991, is expected to reenter the atmosphere within the next week. The satellite, 10.7 meters long and 4.5 meters wide, is unlikely to reenter over a populated area; however, 26 large pieces are expected to survive reentry. Debris from satellites and their boosters surviving reentry and falling on land is not uncommon. On March 2 of this year there was a report of the titanium motor casing of the STAR-48B third-stage of a Delta II rocket being recovered in Uruguay after spending seven years in orbit.

Could the Higgs Boson Explain the Size of the Universe?Could the Higgs Boson Explain the Size of the Universe?
The Universe wouldn’t be the same without the Higgs boson. This legendary particle plays a role in cosmology and reveals the possible existence of another closely related particle. The race to identify the Higgs boson is on at CERN. This Holy Grail of particle physics would help explain why the majority of elementary particles possess mass. The mysterious particle would also help us understand the evolution of the Universe from the moment of its birth, according to a group of EPFL physicists. If their theory is verified with data from the Planck satellite, it would clear up several questions about the Universe, past and future.

Next Space Station Crew Will Launch Nov. 14, NASA SaysNext Space Station Crew Will Launch Nov. 14, NASA Says
NASA and the Russian Federal Space Agency have agreed on a Nov. 14 date for the first manned Soyuz rocket launch since the failure of a similar booster carrying a robotic cargo ship last month. The decision follows an investigation by Russian space officials to identify the source of that failure and ensure it won’t plague future launches, NASA announced today (Sept. 15). It also clears the way for a new three-man crew to launch on the Soyuz to the International Space Station, sustaining the orbiting lab’s 10-year streak for a continuous human presence in space.

How Single Stars Lost Their CompanionsHow Single Stars Lost Their Companions
Not all stars are loners. In our home galaxy, the Milky Way, about half of all stars have a companion and travel through space in a binary system. But explaining why some stars are in double or even triple systems while others are single has been something of a mystery. Now a team of astronomers from Bonn University and the Max-Planck-Institute for Radio astronomy (also in Bonn) think they have the answer — different stellar birth environments decide whether a star holds on to its companion.

Gamma-Ray Bursts Shed Light On the Nature of Dark EnergyGamma-Ray Bursts Shed Light On the Nature of Dark Energy
Dark energy is the basic constituent of the Universe today, one that is responsible for its accelerated expansion. Although astronomers observe the cosmological effects of the impact of dark energy, they still do not know exactly what it is. A new method for measuring the largest distances in the Universe developed by scientists from the Faculty of Physics, University of Warsaw and the University of Naples Federico II helps solve the mystery. A key role is played by the most powerful cosmic explosions — gamma-ray bursts.

Senate Panel Restores James Webb Space Telescope FundingSenate Panel Restores James Webb Space Telescope Funding
A U.S. Senate panel has proposed giving NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) about $150 million more for 2012 than the White House requested for the overbudget project, which appropriators in the House of Representatives voted this summer to cancel. The additional funding for JWST amounts to a 40 percent increase for the project and is part of a 2012 spending bill approved Sept. 14 by the Senate Appropriations commerce, justice, science subcommittee. Overall, the subcommittee’s bill would provide NASA with a total of $17.9 billion for 2012.

NASA's Dawn Collects a Bounty of Beauty from Asteroid VestaNASA’s Dawn Collects a Bounty of Beauty from Asteroid Vesta
A new video from NASA’s Dawn spacecraft takes us on a flyover journey above the surface of the giant asteroid Vesta. The data obtained by Dawn’s framing camera, used to produce the visualizations, will help scientists determine the processes that formed Vesta’s striking features. It will also help Dawn mission fans all over the world visualize this mysterious world, which is the second most massive object in the main asteroid belt.

NASA's WISE Raises Doubt About Asteroid Family Believed Responsible for Dinosaur ExtinctionNASA’s WISE Raises Doubt About Asteroid Family Believed Responsible for Dinosaur Extinction
Observations from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) mission indicate the family of asteroids some believed was responsible for the demise of the dinosaurs is not likely the culprit, keeping open the case on one of Earth’s greatest mysteries. While scientists are confident a large asteroid crashed into Earth approximately 65 million years ago, leading to the extinction of dinosaurs and some other life forms on our planet, they do not know exactly where the asteroid came from or how it made its way to Earth.

Neutron star blows away models for thermonuclear explosionsNeutron star blows away models for thermonuclear explosions
Amsterdam astronomers have discovered a neutron star that confounds existing models for thermonuclear explosions in such extreme objects. In the case of the accreting pulsar IGR J17480-2446, it seems to be a strong magnetic field that causes some parts of the star to burn more brightly than the rest. The results of the study, by Yuri Cavecchi et al. (2011), are to be published in the journal Astrophysical Journal Letters. The neutron star concerned is part of the X-ray binary IGR J17480-2446 (hereafter J17480). X-ray binaries consist of a neutron star and a companion star in orbit around each other.

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