AstroBlog Follow Friday & Weekly Stumbles For 2011-11-04

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

Weekly Stumbles:

NASA's Spitzer Detects Comet Storm in Nearby Solar SystemNASA’s Spitzer Detects Comet Storm in Nearby Solar System
NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope has detected signs of icy bodies raining down in an alien solar system. The downpour resembles our own solar system several billion years ago during a period known as the “Late Heavy Bombardment,” which may have brought water and other life-forming ingredients to Earth. During this epoch, comets and other frosty objects that were flung from the outer solar system pummeled the inner planets. The barrage scarred our moon and produced large amounts of dust.

Launch industry transitionsLaunch industry transitions
Much of the space community’s attention regarding launch vehicles has focused on two high-profile ventures: NASA’s announced design of the Space Launch System (SLS) heavy-lift rocket and SpaceX’s plans to develop a reusable version of its Falcon 9 rocket, with both stages designed to make powered vertical landings back at the launch site. Both certainly have the potential to significantly alter the space industry: the SLS could become the vehicle that take humans beyond Earth orbit for the first time since 1972 — provided NASA can secure the long-term funding needed for its development — while the latter could radically alter the economics of spaceflight — if SpaceX can overcome the considerable technical challenges associated with reusability.

Giant Asteroid Mountain Taller Than Mt. Everest PhotographedGiant Asteroid Mountain Taller Than Mt. Everest Photographed
A new image from a NASA spacecraft has shone a light on a massive mountain taller than anything on Earth rising up from the south pole of the huge asteroid Vesta. The new photo, released late Monday (Oct. 10), shows the peak of Vesta’s tallest mountain rising up nearly 22 kilometers above the rough surrounding terrain. The image was recorded by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft, which is currently orbiting Vesta. The Vesta mountain is nearly three times as high as Mt. Everest, the tallest mountain on Earth above sea level.

Dark Matter Mystery DeepensDark Matter Mystery Deepens
Like all galaxies, our Milky Way is home to a strange substance called dark matter. Dark matter is invisible, betraying its presence only through its gravitational pull. Without dark matter holding them together, our galaxy’s speedy stars would fly off in all directions. The nature of dark matter is a mystery — a mystery that a new study has only deepened. “After completing this study, we know less about dark matter than we did before,” said lead author Matt Walker, a Hubble Fellow at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

Revisiting the Liability Convention: reflections on ROSAT, orbital space debris, and the future of space lawRevisiting the Liability Convention: reflections on ROSAT, orbital space debris, and the future of space law
The year 2011 will be remembered for a lot of things in the space field, but the topic of orbital space debris will likely be a significant one. The events highlighting the dangers orbital space debris include several close encounters with the International Space Station (ISS) from China’s 2007 direct-ascent test in April, June and most recently in October. Additionally, on July 11, 2011 the ISS had a close brush with orbital space debris from the Soviet-era Cosmos 375, which was a satellite in a series of development tests that ran from 1967 to 1971 that led to the deployment of the Istrebitel Sputnik satellite system through the 1970s and early 1980s.

How the Milky Way Killed Off Nearby GalaxiesHow the Milky Way Killed Off Nearby Galaxies
Two researchers from Observatoire Astronomique de Strasbourg have revealed for the first time the existence of a new signature of the birth of the first stars in our galaxy, the Milky Way. More than 12 billion years ago, the intense ultraviolet light from these stars dispersed the gas of our Galaxy’s nearest companions, virtually putting a halt to their ability to form stars and consigning them to a dim future. Now Pierre Ocvirk and Dominique Aubert, members of the Light in the Dark Ages of the Universe (LIDAU) collaboration, have explained why some galaxies were killed off, while stars continued to form in more distant objects.

NASA Buys Flights on Virgin Galactic's Private SpaceshipNASA Buys Flights on Virgin Galactic’s Private Spaceship
The space tourism company Virgin Galactic has struck a deal with NASA worth up to $4.5 million for research flights on the company’s new private spaceliner SpaceShipTwo, Virgin Galactic officials announced today (Oct. 13). Under the deal, NASA will charter up to three flights on Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo, an air-launched spacecraft designed to carry eight people on trips to suborbital space. The announcement comes just two days after Virgin Galactic announced that Mike Moses, NASA’s former deputy space shuttle program chief, had joined the company’s ranks as vice president of operations.

NASA's Dawn Science Team Presents Early Science ResultsNASA’s Dawn Science Team Presents Early Science Results
Scientists with NASA’s Dawn mission are sharing with other scientists and the public their early information about the southern hemisphere of the giant asteroid Vesta. The findings were presented at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America in Minneapolis, Minn. Dawn, which has been orbiting Vesta since mid-July, has found that the asteroid’s southern hemisphere boasts one of the largest mountains in the solar system. Other findings show that Vesta’s surface, viewed by Dawn at different wavelengths, has striking diversity in its composition, particularly around craters.

Let the Space Shuttle Rest in Peace, Experts Tell CongressLet the Space Shuttle Rest in Peace, Experts Tell Congress
The space shuttle isn’t going to fly again, no matter how often supporters of the iconic winged vehicle trot out the possibility, a panel told lawmakers Wednesday (Oct. 12) on Capitol Hill. Ever since NASA grounded its shuttle fleet in July, some prominent voices have been calling for the venerable orbiters to be pressed back into service. But that’s simply not going to happen, panelists said, so continuing to pound the drum won’t do any good.

Is a human asteroid mission a non-starter?Is a human asteroid mission a non-starter?
Now that NASA has unveiled its heavy-lift booster, the Space Launch System (SLS), in the absence of Project Constellation, many have asked what its purpose would be. When unveiling the new design, NASA did not disclose a specific mission profile. The space agency only mentioned, almost in passing, potential roles for the booster beyond low Earth orbit to a prospective asteroid destination and, of course, eventually Mars. There is no need to rehash the rise and fall of Project Constellation and its Ares 1 and Ares 5 rockets.

Hubble Survey Carries out a Dark Matter CensusHubble Survey Carries out a Dark Matter Census
Cluster MACS J1206.2-0847 (or MACS 1206 for short) is one of the first targets in a Hubble survey that will allow astronomers to construct the highly detailed dark matter maps of more galaxy clusters than ever before. These maps are being used to test previous but surprising results that suggest that dark matter is more densely packed inside clusters than some models predict. This might mean that galaxy cluster assembly began earlier than commonly thought. The Cluster Lensing And Supernova survey with Hubble (CLASH) probes, with unparalleled precision, the distribution of dark matter in 25 massive clusters of galaxies.

Space is getting its groove backSpace is getting its groove back
There’s something new afoot in the space industry. It’s something reminiscent of an earlier time, when the aerospace and airline industries were new—and it’s called entrepreneurship. One sees this new entrepreneurship vividly in SpaceX, the high-profile California-based rocket and capsule builder, founded in 2002 by Internet entrepreneur Elon Musk. One also sees it in the bevy of suborbital spacelines, including Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, Jeff Greason’s XCOR Aerospace, Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin, John Carmack’s Armadillo Aerospace, and Dave Masten’s Masten Space Systems.

New Mystery On Mars' Forgotten PlainsNew Mystery On Mars’ Forgotten Plains
One of the supposedly best understood and least interesting landscapes on Mars is hiding something that could rewrite the planet’s history. Or not. In fact, about all that is certain is that decades of assumptions regarding the wide, flat Hesperia Planum are not holding up very well under renewed scrutiny with higher-resolution, more recent spacecraft data. “Most scientists don’t want to work on the flat things,” noted geologist Tracy Gregg of University at Buffalo, State University of New York.

Linking JWST and human spaceflightLinking JWST and human spaceflight
I’ve been viewing from afar what’s been reported about the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) project with a lot of sadness and disappointment. When I was at NASA Headquarters in the ’90s, I was the first leader of the JWST program. We all believed that we could pull this off for under $2 billion (1996 dollars). A lot has changed. It’s deeply troubling to see such a scientifically important NASA project being threatened with cancellation because it appears that the current life cycle cost estimate for JWST has now climbed to $8.7 billion.

Erasing History? Temporal Cloaks Adjust Light's Throttle to Hide an Event in TimeErasing History? Temporal Cloaks Adjust Light’s Throttle to Hide an Event in Time
Researchers from Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., have demonstrated for the first time that it’s possible to cloak a singular event in time, creating what has been described as a “history editor.” In a feat of Einstein-inspired physics, Moti Fridman and his colleagues sent a beam of light traveling down an optical fiber and through a pair of so-called “time lenses.” Between these two lenses, the researchers were able to briefly create a small bubble, or gap, in the flow of light.

New Map of Saturn Moon Titan Reveals Surprisingly Earth-Like FeaturesNew Map of Saturn Moon Titan Reveals Surprisingly Earth-Like Features
After meticulously stitching together images that were gathered over six years by a NASA spacecraft in orbit around Saturn, astronomers have created a global map of the surface of Titan, the ringed planet’s largest moon, and it features some surprisingly Earth-like geological features. An international team of astronomers, led by the University of Nantes in France, created the striking mosaic of Titan’s surface using infrared images taken by the Visual and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer (VIMS) aboard NASA’s Cassini spacecraft.

Astrophysicists Find Evidence of Black Holes' Destruction of StarsAstrophysicists Find Evidence of Black Holes’ Destruction of Stars
Astrophysicists have found evidence of black holes destroying stars, a long-sought phenomenon that provides a new window into general relativity. The research, reported in the latest issue of the Astrophysical Journal, also opens up a method to search for the possible existence of a large population of presently undetectable “intermediate mass” black holes which are hypothesized to be precursors to the super-massive black holes at the centers of most large galaxies.

Moon Packed with Precious Titanium, NASA Probe FindsMoon Packed with Precious Titanium, NASA Probe Finds
A new map of the moon has uncovered a trove of areas rich in precious titanium ore, with some lunar rocks harboring 10 times as much of the stuff as rocks here on Earth do. The map, which combined observations in visible and ultraviolet wavelengths, revealed the valuable titanium deposits. These findings could shed light on some of the mysteries of the lunar interior, and could also lay the groundwork for future mining on the moon, researchers said.

Distant Galaxies Reveal the Clearing of the Cosmic Fog; New VLT Observations Chart Timeline of ReionizationDistant Galaxies Reveal the Clearing of the Cosmic Fog; New VLT Observations Chart Timeline of Reionization
An international team of astronomers used the VLT as a time machine, to look back into the early Universe and observe several of the most distant galaxies ever detected. They have been able to measure their distances accurately and find that we are seeing them as they were between 780 million and a billion years after the Big Bang. The new observations have allowed astronomers to establish a timeline for what is known as the age of reionisation for the first time. During this phase the fog of hydrogen gas in the early Universe was clearing, allowing ultraviolet light to pass unhindered for the first time.

Life Zones of Mars Identified in New AnalysisLife Zones of Mars Identified in New Analysis
Two small depressions on Mars found to be rich in minerals that formed by water could have been places for life relatively recently in the planet’s history, according to a new paper in the journal Geology. “We discovered locations at Noctis Labyrinthus that show many kinds of minerals that formed by water activity,” said Catherine Weitz, lead author and senior scientist at the Planetary Science Institute. “The clays we found, called iron/magnesium (Fe/Mg)-smectites, are much younger at Noctis Labyrinthus relative to those found in the ancient rocks on Mars, which indicates a different water environment in these depressions relative to what was happening elsewhere on Mars.”

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