This week I recommend to follow @AsteroidWatch for tweets from JPL’s Near Earth Object Office, which coordinates NASA’s efforts to detect, track, and characterize potentially hazardous asteroids and comets that could approach Earth. For more Twitter follow suggestions see our astronomy list @TheAstroBlog/astronomy
NASA’s Juno Spacecraft Refines Its Path to Jupiter
NASA’s solar-powered Juno spacecraft successfully refined its flight path Feb. 1 with the mission’s first trajectory correction maneuver. The maneuver is the first of a dozen planned rocket firings that, over the next five years, will keep Juno on course for its rendezvous with Jupiter. “We had a maneuver planned soon after launch but our Atlas V rocket gave us such a good ride we didn’t need to make any trajectory changes,” said Rick Nybakken, Juno project manager from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.
Habitable Zones Around Alien Suns May Depend on Chemistry
Trace elements in stars may influence the evolution of habitable zones around them where life as we know it might dwell, scientists now find. Stars are made nearly entirely from hydrogen and helium gas. Still, traces of heavier elements — which astronomers call metals, even if they are not what one normally think of as metals — can be found in stars as well, either inherited from the remains of older stars or forged via nuclear fusion. Scientists can detect what elements a star possesses by looking at its light, which comes in a wide variety of wavelengths, some visible, many invisible.
Astronomers Spot Fourth Potential Habitable Planet
An international team of astronomers have discovered a potentially habitable planet 22 light years away orbiting a nearby star, reports The Telegraph. Scientists, led by Carnegie’s Guillem Anglada-Escudé and Paul Butler, discovered the triple star system with a planet orbiting one of the stars, clearly within the habitable zone, where its neither too hot nor too cold, making it suitable for liquid water to be present on the surface. The host star has a different makeup than our own Sun, being relatively lacking in metallic elements.
Hubble Zooms in On a Magnified Galaxy
Thanks to the presence of a natural “zoom lens” in space, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope got a uniquely close-up look at the brightest “magnified” galaxy yet discovered. This observation provides a unique opportunity to study the physical properties of a galaxy vigorously forming stars when the universe was only one-third its present age. A so-called gravitational lens is produced when space is warped by a massive foreground object, whether it is the Sun, a black hole, or an entire cluster of galaxies.
Virgin Galactic’s Private Spaceship Ramping Up Toward Passenger Flights
This year is key for Virgin Galactic’s bid to become the first commercial spaceliner service, as rocket-powered flights of its SpaceShipTwo are on the books for summer. Meanwhile, assembly of a second vehicle pair — the WhiteKnightTwo carrier plane and another SpaceShipTwo suborbital space plane — is in progress at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California.
How NASA May Use Microbes to Power Space Robots
Today’s robotic space missions take careful steps to avoid carrying tiny bacterial life from Earth that could contaminate the surface of Mars or other planets. That may all change if a NASA-funded effort can harness microbes as an almost endless power source for the next generation of robotic explorers. Such microbial fuel cells could power space robots almost indefinitely, as long as their bacteria have the tiny amounts of food needed to stay alive and create electricity through their chemical reactions.
Do Black Holes Help Stars Form?
The centre of just about every galaxy is thought to host a black hole, some with masses of thousands of millions of Suns and consequently strong gravitational pulls that disrupt material around them. They had been thought to hinder the birth of stars, but now an international team of astronomers studying the nearby galaxy Centaurus A has found quite the opposite: a black hole that seems to be helping stars to form. Black holes at the center of galaxies ‘switch on’ from time to time, driving material around them into outflows that can stretch for millions of light years.
NASA Awash In Astronaut Applications, But Still Lacks Spaceships
NASA may not have space shuttles to launch people into the final frontier anymore, but that hasn’t stopped Americans from lining up in droves for the chance to join the agency’s iconic astronaut corps during the latest recruitment drive. The U.S. space agency received more than 6,300 applications between Nov. 15 and Jan. 27 during the search for new astronauts — making it second-highest turnout ever and double the normal response, NASA officials said.
Classic Portrait of a Barred Spiral Galaxy
The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has taken a picture of the barred spiral galaxy NGC 1073, which is found in the constellation of Cetus. Our own galaxy, the Milky Way, is a similar barred spiral, and the study of galaxies such as NGC 1073 helps astronomers learn more about our celestial home. Most spiral galaxies in the Universe have a bar structure in their centre, and Hubble’s image of NGC 1073 offers a particularly clear view of one of these. Galaxies’ star-filled bars are thought to emerge as gravitational density waves funnel gas toward the galactic centre, supplying the material to create new stars.
Russia’s Space Woes Stress NASA’s Need for Private Spaceships
The recent delay of the next manned launch to the International Space Station due to a damaged Russian space capsule highlights NASA’s critical need for commercially built vehicles, space policy experts say. The Russian Soyuz spacecraft was originally scheduled to launch to the orbiting outpost on March 29, but the capsule was damaged in a botched pressure test and is unusable for the upcoming flight. Instead, Russia is preparing the next spaceship on the line, which means the liftoff will occur no earlier than May 15.
Surface of Mars an Unlikely Place for Life After 600-Million-Year Drought, Say Scientists
Mars may have been arid for more than 600 million years, making it too hostile for any life to survive on the planet’s surface, according to researchers who have been carrying out the painstaking task of analysing individual particles of Martian soil. Dr Tom Pike, from Imperial College London, will discuss the team’s analysis at a European Space Agency (ESA) meeting on 7 February 2012. The researchers have spent three years analysing data on Martian soil that was collected during the 2008 NASA Phoenix mission to Mars.
Damaged Russian Spaceship Forces Big Launch Delay for Next Station Crew
A botched pressure test of a Russian space capsule slated to launch the next crew to the International Space Station has forced NASA and its partners to delay the planned liftoff for more than a month. The Russian Soyuz spacecraft launch was originally slated for March 29, but now is targeted for no earlier than May 15, NASA’s International Space Station program manager Mike Suffredini told reporters today (Feb. 2).
The complex, challenging problem of orbital debris
The headline might well have read “Terror From The Skies!” “Beijing ‘seven minutes from destruction’ when a 2.5 ton satellite crashed to Earth at 300mph” declared a headline from the web site of the British tabloid The Daily Mail on Tuesday. The article described how debris the German RoSAT satellite, which reentered harmlessly over the Bay of Bengal in October, might have hit the Chinese capital city had that reentry taken place just seven minutes later. That seven minutes “saved huge areas of Beijing from destruction” as well as “untold human casualties”, the article argued.
Millisecond Pulsar Paradox: Stellar Astrophysics Helps Explain Behavior of Fast Rotating Neutron Stars in Binary Systems
Pulsars are among the most exotic celestial bodies known. They have diameters of about 20 kilometres, but at the same time roughly the mass of our sun. A sugar-cube sized piece of its ultra-compact matter on Earth would weigh hundreds of millions of tons. A sub-class of them, known as millisecond pulsars, spin up to several hundred times per second around their own axes. Previous studies reached the paradoxical conclusion that some millisecond pulsars are older than the universe itself.
Signs of Ancient Ocean on Mars Spotted by European Spacecraft
A European spacecraft orbiting Mars has found more revealing evidence that an ocean may have covered parts of the Red Planet billions of years ago. The European Space Agency’s Mars Express spacecraft detected sediments on Mars’ northern plains that are reminiscent of an ocean floor, in a region that has also previously been identified as the site of ancient Martian shorelines, the researchers said. “We interpret these as sedimentary deposits, maybe ice-rich.”
Mars Express Radar Yields Strong Evidence of Ocean That Once Covered Part of Red Planet
ESA’s Mars Express has returned strong evidence for an ocean once covering part of Mars. Using radar, it has detected sediments reminiscent of an ocean floor within the boundaries of previously identified, ancient shorelines on Mars. The MARSIS radar was deployed in 2005 and has been collecting data ever since. Jérémie Mouginot, Institut de Planétologie et d’Astrophysique de Grenoble (IPAG) and the University of California, Irvine, and colleagues have analyzed more than two years of data and found that the northern plains are covered in low-density material.
Hidden Secrets of Majestic Nebula Revealed in New Photo
The most detailed image yet of the well-known Carina nebula has been caught by a European telescope, unveiling previously hidden features of an exquisite star nursery. The European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) spied the cosmic landscape of gas, dust and young stars in the majestic Carina nebula, which is located about 7,500 light-years away from Earth. The lively star nursery lies deep in the heart of the southern Milky Way, in the constellation of Carina (The Keel).
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