AstroBlog Follow Friday & Weekly Stumbles For 2012-03-23

This week I recommend to follow @glxp for interesting tweets from the official Google Lunar X PRIZE Twitter account. For more Twitter follow suggestions see our astronomy list @TheAstroBlog/astronomy

Weekly Stumbles:

Astronomers Push for Space Mission Variety Amid Tight NASA BudgetAstronomers Push for Space Mission Variety Amid Tight NASA Budget
With President Barack Obama proposing a relatively flat budget for NASA in 2013, a group professional astronomers is urging the White House and Congress to find a better balance between the space agency’s planetary science and exploration needs. The American Astronomical Society (AAS) is asking Obama and Congress to include a greater variety of small, medium and large space missions across the fields of astronomy, astrophysics, planetary science and solar physics.

There really could be a giant planet hidden far beyond PlutoThere really could be a giant planet hidden far beyond Pluto
Pluto is about forty times the distance from the Sun as Earth. But the Solar System is over 50000 times that length across, meaning it could be hiding some huge secrets. That’s now looking like a small but real possibility. In recent years, astronomers have discovered a bunch of planets located at least 100 astronomical units, or the distance from the Sun to the Earth, away from their host stars. These planets are gas giants – they would have to be for us to see them at all – so this is something very different the dwarf planets like Pluto and Eris discovered in our solar system’s Kuiper Belt and beyond.

Oxygen Detected in Atmosphere of Saturn's Moon Dione: Discovery Could Mean Ingredients for Life Are Abundant On Icy Space BodiesOxygen Detected in Atmosphere of Saturn’s Moon Dione: Discovery Could Mean Ingredients for Life Are Abundant On Icy Space Bodies
Los Alamos National Laboratory scientists and an international research team have announced discovery of molecular oxygen ions (O2+) in the upper-most atmosphere of Dione, one of the 62 known moons orbiting the ringed planet. The research appeared recently in Geophysical Research Letters and was made possible via instruments aboard NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, which was launched in 1997.

Has suborbital's time finally arrived?Has suborbital’s time finally arrived?
Those who have followed the emerging commercial reusable suborbital launch industry over the last several years have been stuck in a waiting game. The various companies that comprise the industry would talk about the progress they’re making and promise that, in a year or two, they’d be ready to fly to space. A year or two later, they’d say, well, something similar. The future was tantalizingly just out of reach, it seemed. The feeling in the industry today, though, it a little different.

Dark Matter Core, Left Behind from Wreck Between Massive Clusters of Galaxies, Defies ExplanationDark Matter Core, Left Behind from Wreck Between Massive Clusters of Galaxies, Defies Explanation
Astronomers using data from NASA’s Hubble Telescope have observed what appears to be a clump of dark matter left behind from a wreck between massive clusters of galaxies. The result could challenge current theories about dark matter that predict galaxies should be anchored to the invisible substance even during the shock of a collision. Abell 520 is a gigantic merger of galaxy clusters located 2.4 billion light-years away.

Secret Codes Ready to Take Quantum Leap in SpaceSecret Codes Ready to Take Quantum Leap in Space
If secret agent James Bond wanted to tell his MI6 superiors about the location of a stolen superweapon without tipping off villains, he might turn to a global satellite network that transmitted coded keys made unbreakable by the weird laws of physics. Such “quantum key distribution” already exists on Earth beyond the realm of Hollywood spy fantasies, and could soon head for space. Plans to launch quantum communication satellites have already begun to take shape in Canada, Japan and the European Union.

Space Weather: Explosions On VenusSpace Weather: Explosions On Venus
In the grand scheme of the solar system, Venus and Earth are almost the same distance from the sun. Yet the planets differ dramatically: Venus is some 100 times hotter than Earth and its days more than 200 times longer. The atmosphere on Venus is so thick that the longest any spacecraft has survived on its surface before being crushed is a little over two hours. There’s another difference, too. Earth has a magnetic field and Venus does not — a crucial distinction when assessing the effects of the sun on each planet.

Red lines in outer spaceRed lines in outer space
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton recently announced that the United States would join international efforts to develop an International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities. Space systems are “of vital interest to the United States and the global community,” Secretary Clinton observed, and the Code of Conduct is a step toward ensuring the “sustainability, safety, stability, and security” of outer space, which “irresponsible actors” have placed “at serious risk.”

Galaxy Cluster Hidden in Plain ViewGalaxy Cluster Hidden in Plain View
A team of astronomers has discovered the most distant cluster of red galaxies ever observed using FourStar, a new and powerful near-infrared camera on the 6.5m Magellan Baade Telescope. The galaxy cluster is located 10.5 billion light years away in the direction of the constellation Leo. It is made up of 30 galaxies packed closely together, forming the earliest known “galaxy city” in the universe.

New Site Lets you Search for Extraterrestrial LifeNew Site Lets you Search for Extraterrestrial Life
Scientists need your help in the search for life beyond Earth. The SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute is asking the public to join in its hunt for signals from intelligent civilizations out there in the universe. Anyone can register on the new website, SETI Live (, to help analyze data from SETI’s radio telescope devoted to scanning the heavens for signals from E.T. “There are parts of the spectrum where our sophisticated signal processing system is overwhelmed because there are so many signals,” said astronomer Jill Tarter.

Lofty Goal for Private Spaceflight: 1,000 Launches a Year by 2019Lofty Goal for Private Spaceflight: 1,000 Launches a Year by 2019
American companies launched just five licensed commercial rockets into space last year, but they might be able to loft nearly that many every day by the end of the decade, a federal space official contends. George Nield, associate administrator for commercial space transportation at the Federal Aviation Administration, thinks it’s possible to double the number of permit-holding private launches every year for the rest of the decade. That exponential increase would lead to 1,280 liftoffs in 2019 — an average of 3 1/2 per day.

Looking at the Man in the Moon: Astronomers Explain Why the Man in the Moon Faces EarthLooking at the Man in the Moon: Astronomers Explain Why the Man in the Moon Faces Earth
Many of us see a man in the moon — a human face smiling down at us from the lunar surface. The “face,” of course, is just an illusion, shaped by the dark splotches of lunar maria (smooth plains formed from the lava of ancient volcanic eruptions). Like a loyal friend, the man is always there, constantly gazing at us as the moon revolves around Earth, locked in what’s called a synchronous orbit, in which the moon rotates exactly once every time it orbits Earth.

Astronauts Spy Southern Lights and Daybreak from SpaceAstronauts Spy Southern Lights and Daybreak from Space
An exquisite photo of Earth’s horizon taken from the International Space Station reveals the glimmer of daybreak on one side, offset by dazzling auroras over the planet’s South Pole region on the other. The remarkable photo from space was captured by one of the astronauts living aboard the International Space Station on March 6, as the orbiting outpost flew over the Indian Ocean, roughly 1,930 kilometers south of Australia.

NASA Sees Second Biggest Flare of the Solar CycleNASA Sees Second Biggest Flare of the Solar Cycle
NASA models using data from the Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO) and the Solar Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) have now provided more information about the two coronal mass ejections associated with the two March 6 flares. The first is traveling faster than 1300 miles per second; the second more than 1100 miles per second. NASA’s models predict that the CMEs will impact both Earth and Mars, as well as pass by several NASA spacecraft — Messenger, Spitzer, and STEREO-B.

Competition and the future of the EELV programCompetition and the future of the EELV program
Summarizing the year in space for his blog, “The Once and Future Moon”, Paul Spudis memorably characterized 2011 as “Annus Horribilis.” For proponents of Mars science missions, much the same might already be said for 2012. Even though the Mars Science Laboratory rover is en route to what should be a nerve-shattering landing in August, the President’s fiscal year 2013 budget proposal confirmed rumors that the US is withdrawing from the joint European ExoMars missions in 2016 and 2018.

Proposed Nuclear Clock May Keep Time With the UniverseProposed Nuclear Clock May Keep Time With the Universe
A proposed new time-keeping system tied to the orbiting of a neutron around an atomic nucleus could have such unprecedented accuracy that it neither gains nor loses 1/20th of a second in 14 billion years — the age of the Universe. “This is nearly 100 times more accurate than the best atomic clocks we have now,” says one of the researchers, Scientia Professor Victor Flambaum, who is Head of Theoretical Physics in the UNSW School of Physics.

Space 1975, 1999, 2099Space 1975, 1999, 2099
As much as it pains me to admit it, the seventies was probably a pretty good decade to be a kid in America. Vietnam was largely over and the social upheaval of the previous decade was faded. The Cold War had died down. We look nostalgically at the 1950s, which seemed so full of promise (unless you were black, or female), and although I have a fondness for the eighties, it was in many ways a scarier and more dangerous decade. The seventies had lousy fashion and a lot of bad music and Jimmy Carter, but it was a pretty good time to be a kid.

Large Solar Flares Generate Geomagnetic StormLarge Solar Flares Generate Geomagnetic Storm
A pair of unusually large solar flares early yesterday (March 7, 2012) generated a Coronal Mass Ejection that will reach Earth around mid-day today. It will likely cause at least a strong geomagnetic storm that could affect satellites in space and trigger auroral displays. The effects at ground level are expected to be limited, but there is a good chance for some excellent auroral displays in the north. The extra-large two solar flares occurred at 23:24 GMT on 6 March and 00:14 GMT March 7, throwing off a huge cloud of magnetised plasma from the Sun’s atmosphere — the corona — into interplanetary space.

How a Nuclear Bomb Could Save Earth From an AsteroidHow a Nuclear Bomb Could Save Earth From an Asteroid
A well-placed nuclear explosion could actually save humanity from a big asteroid hurtling toward Earth, just like in the movies, a new study suggests. Scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory, a United States Department of Energy facility in New Mexico, used a supercomputer to model nukes’ anti-asteroid effectiveness. They attacked a 1,650-foot-long (500-meter) space rock with a 1-megaton nuclear weapon — about 50 times more powerful than the U.S. blast inflicted on Nagasaki, Japan, to help end World War II.

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