This week I recommend to follow @NickAstronomer for interesting tweets from an astronomy consultant and visiting lecturer at UCGLAM. For more Twitter follow suggestions see our astronomy list @TheAstroBlog/astronomy
Venus has an ozone layer too: probe finds
ESA’s Venus Express spacecraft has discovered an ozone layer high in the atmosphere of Venus. Comparing its properties with those of the equivalent layers on Earth and Mars will help astronomers refine their searches for life on other planets. Venus Express made the discovery while watching stars seen right at the edge of the planet set through its atmosphere. Its SPICAV instrument analysed the starlight, looking for the characteristic fingerprints of gases in the atmosphere as they absorbed light at specific wavelengths.
Space Telescopes Reveal Secrets of Turbulent Black Hole
Supermassive black holes at the hearts of active galaxies swallow large amounts of gas. During this feast they spill a lot of their “food”, which is discharged in turbulent outbursts. An international team of astronomers has revealed some striking features of such an outburst around a supermassive black hole in a distant galaxy. They found a very hot “convertor” corona hovering above the black hole and cold gas “bullets” in hotter diffuse gas, speeding outwards with velocities up to 700 km/s.
Exotic Quantum States: A New Research Approach
Theoretical physicists of the University of Innsbruck have formulated a new concept to engineer exotic, so-called topological states of matter in quantum mechanical many-body systems. They linked concepts of quantum optics and condensed matter physics and show a direction to build a quantum computer which is immune against perturbations. Three years ago a research team led by Sebastian Diehl and Peter Zoller presented a completely new approach to engineer quantum states in many-body systems.
National Space Strategy: proactive or reactive?
Throughout its history, America has notoriously been reactive when it comes to its national strategy. The United States was the nation to invent the powered airplane, but was slow to realize its potential until European powers seized the opportunity. When it came to space, some historians argue that had the Soviet Union not orbited a satellite and later a cosmonaut, there would have been no Apollo program or human space program of the kind we think of when the phrase “spacepower” is bandied about. In those situations, America had the industrial might and political fortitude to see the threats at hand to their global influence as a superpower on the world stage.
SpaceX Unveils Plan for World’s First Fully Reusable Rocket
The private spaceflight firm SpaceX will try to build the world’s first completely reusable rocket and spaceship, a space travel method that could open the gates of Mars for humanity, the company’s millionaire CEO Elon Musk announced Thursday. A fully reusable rocket would dramatically decrease the cost of lifting cargo and humans to space, making the exploration and colonization of other worlds such as Mars more feasible, Musk said in a speech at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.
Galaxy Caught Blowing Bubbles
Hubble’s famous images of galaxies typically show elegant spirals or soft-edged ellipses. But these neat forms are only representative of large galaxies. Smaller galaxies like the dwarf irregular galaxy Holmberg II come in many shapes and types that are harder to classify. This galaxy’s indistinct shape is punctuated by huge glowing bubbles of gas, captured in a new image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. The intricate glowing shells of gas in Holmberg II were created by the energetic lifecycles of many generations of stars.
A progress report on commercial cargo and crew
NASA’s commercial cargo and crew programs have together become something of a lightning rod of debate in the last couple of years. Some see these programs as essential to both the agency and the nation by providing new means of accessing and sustaining the International Space Station (ISS), freeing up NASA resources for exploration and other endeavors, and enabling the growth of the nation’s commercial space industry. Others, though, have been critical of these programs, citing delays in the commercial cargo program in particular and worries that NASA is asking too much of entrepreneurial space companies with little experience in space and especially human spaceflight.
The 100-Year Starship: US Agencies Ponder Interstellar Travel
Warp drives. Artificial gravity. Terraforming planets. These concepts might sound as though they’re ripped from the pages of science fiction, but they’re the topic of serious scientific presentations at a symposium this weekend sponsored by DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Called the 100-Year Starship Symposium, the public event will run Sept. 30 to Oct. 2 in Orlando, Fla. For three days, scientists from universities, NASA centers and private institutions will discuss far-out ideas for building a spaceship to visit another star.
Astronomers Reveal Supernova Factory
A team led by astronomers at Chalmers and Onsala Space Observatory has detected seven previously unknown supernovae in a galaxy 250 million light years away. Never before have so many supernovae been discovered at the same time in the same galaxy. The discovery proves what astronomers have long believed: that the galaxies which are the universe’s most efficient star-factories are also supernova factories. The astronomers used a worldwide network of radio telescopes in five countries, including Sweden, to be able to create extremely sharp images of the galaxy Arp 220.
Science and human exploration: together at last
NASA Chief Scientist Waleed Abdalati recently visited our lunar simulation laboratory at the University of Colorado at Boulder, where students are investigating next-generation materials to be deployed as sensors on the Moon’s surface. Following the tour, Dr. Abdalati, who was director of the university’s Earth Science and Observation Center before moving on to NASA in January, asked the intriguing question, “What would you do next to move NASA’s human exploration forward beyond LEO?” We believe that journeys outside the near-Earth environs should begin to advance the US space program beyond the artificial separation between science and human exploration and instead build on this symbiotic relationship.
Earth Surrounded by Fewer Potentially Dangerous Asteroids Than Thought, NASA Finds
A NASA space telescope that meticulously mapped the entire sky has found fewer potentially dangerous asteroids that orbit near Earth, space agency officials announced today. The discovery significantly lowers the number of medium-size asteroids near Earth to 19,500 — nearly a 50 percent drop from the 35,000 space rocks initially estimated — and suggests that the threat to Earth by dangerous asteroids may be “somewhat less than previously thought,” NASA officials said in a statement. Still, there are thousands more of these asteroids, which can measure up to 3,300 feet wide, that remain to be found.
Scientists Release Most Accurate Simulation of the Universe to Date
The Bolshoi supercomputer simulation, the most accurate and detailed large cosmological simulation run to date, gives physicists and astronomers a powerful new tool for understanding such cosmic mysteries as galaxy formation, dark matter, and dark energy. The simulation traces the evolution of the large-scale structure of the universe, including the evolution and distribution of the dark matter halos in which galaxies coalesced and grew. Initial studies show good agreement between the simulation’s predictions and astronomers’ observations.
Private Space Race On to Launch US Astronauts for NASA
Private space companies will launch American astronauts into orbit years before NASA is ready to do so on its own again, but the race to be the first commercial space taxi service is still far from won. NASA’s next crew-carrying rocket, the heavy-lift Space Launch System, will blast off on its first test flight in 2017 at the earliest, agency officials have said. But a handful of private companies say they’re on schedule to begin lifting astronauts by 2015 — or perhaps even earlier. “We believe we’ll be ready in three years,” said Gwynne Shotwell, president of Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (also known as SpaceX).
Creating near-term results in US human space exploration
Next January will see the eighth anniversary of President Bush’s announcement of the Vision for Space Exploration (VSE), which set the nation on a renewed course to send Americans to explore beyond Earth orbit. Eight years: that’s about how long it took from John F. Kennedy’s lunar landing challenge in 1961 to the accomplishment of that goal in 1969. Yet, eight years after the 2004 VSE announcement — by a president, no less — we are hardly closer to venturing beyond low Earth orbit (LEO) with humans than we were when these goals were first announced.
Dawn at Vesta: Massive Mountains, Rough Surface, and Old-Young Dichotomy in Hemispheres
NASA’s Dawn mission, which has been orbiting Vesta since mid-July, has revealed that the asteroid’s southern hemisphere boasts one of the largest mountains in the System. Other results show that Vesta’s surface, viewed at different wavelengths, has striking diversity in its composition particularly around craters. The surface appears to be much rougher than most asteroids in the main asteroid belt. Preliminary results from crater age dates indicate that areas in the southern hemisphere are as young as 1-2 billion years old, much younger than areas in the north.
Gravitational Waves That Are ‘Sounds of the Universe’
Einstein wrote about them, and we’re still looking for them — gravitational waves, which are small ripples in the fabric of space-time, that many consider to be the sounds of our universe. Just as sound complements vision in our daily life, gravitational waves will complement our view of the universe taken by standard telescopes. Albert Einstein predicted gravitational waves in 1918. Today, almost 100 years later, advanced gravitational wave detectors are being constructed in the US, Europe, Japan and Australia to search for them.
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