This is an obvious one, but if you don’t already, this week I recommend to follow @NASA for interesting tweets from NASA’s official Twitter account. For more Twitter follow suggestions see our astronomy list @TheAstroBlog/astronomy
Hubble Reveals a New Class of Extrasolar Planet
Observations by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope have come up with a new class of planet, a waterworld enshrouded by a thick, steamy atmosphere. It’s smaller than Uranus but larger than Earth. An international team of astronomers led by Zachory Berta of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) made the observations of the planet GJ 1214b. “GJ 1214b is like no planet we know of,” Berta said. “A huge fraction of its mass is made up of water.”
Japanese Company Aims for Space Elevator by 2050
People could be gliding up to space on high-tech elevators by 2050 if a Japanese construction company’s ambitious plans come to fruition. Tokyo-based Obayashi Corp. wants to build an operational space elevator by the middle of the century, Japan’s Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper reported Wednesday (Feb. 22). The device would carry passengers skyward at about 124 mph (200 kph), delivering them to a station 22,000 miles (36,000 kilometers) above Earth in a little more than a week.
Red Dwarf Stars May Be Best Chance for Habitable Alien Planets
Stars known as red dwarfs might have larger habitable zones friendly to ‘life as we know it’ than once thought, researchers say. Red dwarfs, also known as M stars, are dim compared to stars like our sun and are just 10 to 20 percent as massive. They make up roughly three-quarters of the stars in the galaxy, and recently scientists found red dwarfs are far more common than before thought, making up at least 80 percent of the total number of stars. The fact that red dwarfs are so very common has made astrobiologists wonder if they might be the best chance for discovering planets habitable to life as we know it.
NuSTAR Mated to Its Rocket
NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) was mated, or attached, to its Pegasus XL rocket Feb. 17, 2012 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in central California. The mission’s launch is now scheduled for no earlier than March 21 to allow the launch vehicle team an additional week to complete necessary engineering reviews. After the reviews, the team will begin final preparations for the rocket’s delivery to the launch site at Kwajalein Atoll in the South Pacific.
Is this the beginning of the end, or the end of the beginning, of deep space human spaceflight?
Originally, I planned on talking about the synergies between reusable spaceplanes and a permanent base on the Moon. It is a striking fact, which the team I led at NASA analytically demonstrated just before I left, that reusable spaceplanes will provide cheap access to space and enable an affordable permanent human base on the Moon. At the same time, the permanent lunar base, if structured around propellant depots, can close the business case for the reusable spaceplane.
X-Rays Illuminate the Interior of the Moon
Unlike Earth, our Moon has no active volcanoes, and the traces of its past volcanic activity date from billions of years ago. This is surprising because recent Moonquake data suggest that there is plenty of liquid magma deep within the Moon and part of the rocks residing there are thought to be molten. Scientists have now identified a likely reason for this peaceful surface life: the hot, molten rock in the Moon’s deep interior could be so dense that it is simply too heavy to rise to the surface like a bubble in water.
Sheep in Wolf-Rayet’s Clothing: New Image of Planetary Nebula Hen 3-1333
It’s well known that the universe is changeable: even the stars that appear static and predictable every night are subject to change. A new image from the NASA Hubble Space Telescope shows planetary nebula Hen 3-1333. Planetary nebulae have nothing to do with planets — they actually represent the death throes of mid-sized stars like the sun. As they puff out their outer layers, large, irregular globes of glowing gas expand around them, which appeared planet-like through the small telescopes that were used by their first discoverers.
‘Marsquake’ May Have Shaken Up Red Planet
The surface of Mars appears to have been shaken by quakes relatively recently, hinting at the existence of active volcanoes and perhaps reservoirs of liquid water on the Red Planet, a new study suggests. Using photographs snapped by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, researchers analyzed the tracks made by boulders that fell from a Martian cliff. The number and size of these boulders — which ranged from 2 to 20 meters in diameter — decreased over a radius of 100 kilometers from a point along Mars’ Cerberus Fossae faults.
Pulsars: The Universe’s Gift to Physics
Pulsars, superdense neutron stars, are perhaps the most extraordinary physics laboratories in the Universe. Research on these extreme and exotic objects already has produced two Nobel Prizes. Pulsar researchers now are poised to learn otherwise-unavailable details of nuclear physics, to test General Relativity in conditions of extremely strong gravity, and to directly detect gravitational waves with a “telescope” nearly the size of our Galaxy. Neutron stars are the remnants of massive stars that exploded as supernovae.
The cislunar econosphere (part 1)
While there maybe those who have a preference for development of cislunar space and/or the Moon according to some plan decreed by government diktat, my years in economics and finance and banking have shown me that the growth (and death) of industries and companies is a very messy affair once you get down into the trenches. The markets that the United States provided in the past embraced the chaos and let free men trade as they would, because it was out of the chaos that the best ideas emerged through competition with other ideas in open markets where people can make informed decisions.
Fastest Wind from Stellar-Mass Black Hole
Astronomers using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory have clocked the fastest wind yet discovered blowing off a disk around a stellar-mass black hole. This result has important implications for understanding how this type of black hole behaves. The record-breaking wind is moving about 20 million mph, or about 3 percent of the speed of light. This is nearly 10 times faster than had ever been seen from a stellar-mass black hole. Stellar-mass black holes are born when extremely massive stars collapse.
NASA Spacecraft Reveals Recent Geological Activity On the Moon
New images from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) spacecraft show the moon’s crust is being stretched, forming minute valleys in a few small areas on the lunar surface. Scientists propose this geologic activity occurred less than 50 million years ago, which is considered recent compared to the moon’s age of more than 4.5 billion years. A team of researchers analyzing high-resolution images obtained by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) show small, narrow trenches typically much longer than they are wide.
Rocket Launches Into Dazzling Northern Lights Show
A team of scientists launched a small rocket into an eye-popping northern lights display Saturday (Feb. 18) in an attempt to discover what makes auroras tick. The two-stage suborbital rocket blasted off from the Poker Flat Research Range just north of Fairbanks, Alaska, and reached a height of about 217 miles (349 kilometers) as part of a NASA-funded study into how the northern lights can affect signals from global positioning system (GPS) satellites and other spacecraft.
The Many Moods of Titan
A set of recent papers, many of which draw on data from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, reveal new details in the emerging picture of how Saturn’s moon Titan shifts with the seasons and even throughout the day. The papers, published in the journal Planetary and Space Science in a special issue titled “Titan through Time,” show how this largest moon of Saturn is a cousin — though a very peculiar cousin — of Earth. “As a whole, these papers give us some new pieces in the jigsaw puzzle that is Titan,” said Conor Nixon, a Cassini team scientist at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.
NASA’s Spitzer Finds Solid Buckyballs in Space
Astronomers using data from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope have, for the first time, discovered buckyballs in a solid form in space. Prior to this discovery, the microscopic carbon spheres had been found only in gas form in the cosmos. Formally named buckministerfullerene, buckyballs are named after their resemblance to the late architect Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic domes. They are made up of 60 carbon molecules arranged into a hollow sphere, like a soccer ball.
Chemical Clues On Formation of Planetary Systems: Earth ‘Siblings’ Can Be Different
An international team of researchers, with the participation of IAC astronomers, has discovered that the chemical structure of Earth-like planets can be very different from the bulk composition of Earth. This may have a dramatic effect on the existence and formation of the biospheres and life on Earth-like planets. The study of the photospheric stellar abundances of the planet-host stars is the key to understanding how protoplanets form, as well as which protoplanetary clouds evolve planets and which do not.
Review: Beyond Planet Earth
Museums around the world feature growing collections of artifacts from the first half-century spaceflight. Earlier this month, for example, the Museum of Flight received a Soyuz capsule donated by space tourist Charles Simonyi that will go into a gallery named after him. Over the next year, some of the biggest space artifacts of all, the shuttle orbiters Atlantis, Discovery, and Endeavour, will go to museums in Florida, Virginia, and California, respectively, while Enterprise moves to New York City.
First Ultraluminous Source in Andromeda Galaxy Unmasked as ‘Normal’ Stellar Mass Black Hole
Detailed observations show that the first ultraluminous X-ray source detected in our neighbouring Andromeda galaxy is due to a stellar mass black hole swallowing material at very high rates. An international team of astronomers, including scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics, have now published their findings in two papers. The emission of the ultraluminous source probably originates from a system similar to X-ray binaries in our galaxy with matter accreting onto a black hole, which is at least 13 times more massive than our Sun.
Dwarf Galaxy Questions Current Galaxy Formation Models
Researcher from the Centro de Astrofísica da Universidade do Porto (Center for Astrophysics of the University of Porto) observed the dwarf galaxy I Zw 18, and found that much of what is known about galaxy formation and evolution might need substantial revision. CAUP Astronomer Polychronis Papaderos, along with his colleague Göran Östlin (Oskar Klein Center, U. Stokholm), used the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) to get extremely accurate observations of the I Zw 18 galaxy. Their research led to the conclusion that this enigmatic blue compact dwarf might force astronomers to review current galaxy formation models.
Ultra-Fast Outflows Help Monster Black Holes Shape Their Galaxies
A curious correlation between the mass of a galaxy’s central black hole and the velocity of stars in a vast, roughly spherical structure known as its bulge has puzzled astronomers for years. An international team led by Francesco Tombesi at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., now has identified a new type of black-hole-driven outflow that appears to be both powerful enough and common enough to explain this link.
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