AstroBlog Follow Friday & Weekly Stumbles For 2012-03-30

This week I recommend to follow @AstronomyView for the latest news on astronomy. For more Twitter follow suggestions see our astronomy list @TheAstroBlog/astronomy

Weekly Stumbles:

Apollo 11 Moon Landing Site Seen in Unprecedented DetailApollo 11 Moon Landing Site Seen in Unprecedented Detail
The clearest view yet of the famous Apollo 11 landing site on the moon was captured by a NASA spacecraft in orbit around our planet’s natural satellite. The agency’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) zeroed in on Mare Tranquillitatis, or the Sea of Tranquility — the place where humans first touched down on the lunar surface on July 20, 1969. The new image from LRO captures amazing details of the historic site, even revealing the remnants of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s first steps on the moon.

The Moon Treaty: it isn't dead yetThe Moon Treaty: it isn’t dead yet
In the realm of international space law, the Moon Treaty is considered failed international law that will have little if any bearing on the future of space exploration and space exploitation. Yet, despite the chorus chanting its failure, the Moon Treaty is very much alive, as three significant events within the past six months have given the measure new vigor. A domestic action taken by Austria in 2011 is the first significant event that gives new vigor to the Moon Treaty.

Astronomers Get Rare Peek at Early Stage of Star FormationAstronomers Get Rare Peek at Early Stage of Star Formation
Using radio and infrared telescopes, astronomers have obtained a first tantalizing look at a crucial early stage in star formation. The new observations promise to help scientists understand the early stages of a sequence of events through which a giant cloud of gas and dust collapses into dense cores that, in turn, form new stars. The scientists studied a giant cloud about 770 light-years from Earth in the constellation Perseus.

Vetting New Suborbital Spaceships May Take Thousands of FlightsVetting New Suborbital Spaceships May Take Thousands of Flights
The first generation of commercial suborbital spaceships is about to come online, but it’ll take a while to determine if these vehicles have the right stuff, a prominent voice within the industry cautions. Several different firms, including Virgin Galactic and XCOR Aerospace, may begin launching paying customers to suborbital space within the next year or two. But even if the first several dozen — or several hundred — flights go perfectly, company officials can’t exactly declare victory, XCOR president Jeff Greason said.

Thermonuclear Behavior of Unique Neutron Star CapturedThermonuclear Behavior of Unique Neutron Star Captured
A neutron star is the closest thing to a black hole that astronomers can observe directly, crushing half a million times more mass than Earth into a sphere no larger than a city. In October 2010, a neutron star near the center of our galaxy erupted with hundreds of X-ray bursts that were powered by a barrage of thermonuclear explosions on the star’s surface. NASA’s Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer (RXTE) captured the month-long fusillade in extreme detail. Using this data, an international team of astronomers has been able to bridge a long-standing gap between theory and observation.

Private Spaceship Flights to Space Station Delayed to Spring & FallPrivate Spaceship Flights to Space Station Delayed to Spring & Fall
The launches of two private spaceships to the International Space Station are being pushed deeper into the year to allow more time to test the vehicles and prepare the launch sites, company officials said recently. California-based Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) and Virginia-based Orbital Sciences Corp. are expected to launch their unmanned, privately-built capsules to the International Space Station this year on demonstration flights to test the vehicles’ ability to carry cargo to the orbiting complex.

Cassini Captures New Images of Icy MoonCassini Captures New Images of Icy Moon
New raw, unprocessed images of Saturn’s second largest moon, Rhea, were taken on March 10, 2012, by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft. This was a relatively distant flyby with a close-approach distance of 26,000 miles (42,000 kilometers), well suited for global geologic mapping. During the flyby, Cassini captured these distinctive views of the moon’s cratered surface, creating a 30-frame mosaic of Rhea’s leading hemisphere and the side of the moon that faces away from Saturn.

Getting a Full Picture of an Elusive Subject: Astronomers Map Dark Matter in 3-D in Galaxy ClusterGetting a Full Picture of an Elusive Subject: Astronomers Map Dark Matter in 3-D in Galaxy Cluster
Two teams of astronomers have used data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and other telescopes to map the distribution of dark matter in a galaxy cluster known as Abell 383, which is located about 2.3 billion light years from Earth. Not only were the researchers able to find where the dark matter lies in the two dimensions across the sky, they were also able to determine how the dark matter is distributed along the line of sight.

NASA Prepares to Ship Shuttles to Museum Retirement HomesNASA Prepares to Ship Shuttles to Museum Retirement Homes
NASA is set to begin delivering its retired space shuttles next month to museums for their public display. Out of the four orbiters to be moved — space shuttles Discovery, Atlantis, and Endeavour, as well as the prototype Enterprise — two are ready and waiting to be flown to their new homes in April, while the remaining two are now undergoing final preparations at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Flying Through a Geomagnetic StormFlying Through a Geomagnetic Storm
Glowing green and red, shimmering hypnotically across the night sky, the aurora borealis is a wonder to behold. Longtime sky watchers say it is the greatest show on Earth. It might be the greatest show in Earth orbit, too. High above our planet, astronauts onboard the International Space Station (ISS) have been enjoying an up-close view of auroras outside their windows as the ISS flys through geomagnetic storms. “We can actually fly into the auroras,” says eye-witness Don Pettit, a Flight Engineer for ISS Expedition 30.

Hubble Finds Quasars Acting as Gravitational LensesHubble Finds Quasars Acting as Gravitational Lenses
Astronomers using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope have found several examples of galaxies containing quasars, which act as gravitational lenses, amplifying and distorting images of galaxies aligned behind them. Quasars are among the brightest objects in the universe, far outshining the total starlight of their host galaxies. Quasars are powered by supermassive black holes. To find these rare cases of galaxy-quasar combinations acting as lenses, a team of astronomers led by Frederic Courbin at the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne selected 23,000 quasar spectra in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey.

Suborbital gets seriousSuborbital gets serious
The idea of using commercial reusable suborbital vehicles for research is not necessarily a novel idea: some companies planning such vehicles as far back at the late 1990s examined the potential research applications of carrying payloads and people to space and back on a low-cost and frequent basis. Until a few years ago, though, those efforts were overshadowed by the emphasis on space tourism, with its compelling vision of ordinary — if somewhat wealthy — people flying to space in large numbers.

NASA's Goddard, Glenn Centers Look to Lift Space Astronomy out of the FogNASA’s Goddard, Glenn Centers Look to Lift Space Astronomy out of the Fog
A fogbank is the least useful location for a telescope, yet today’s space observatories effectively operate inside one. That’s because Venus, Earth and Mars orbit within a vast dust cloud produced by comets and occasional collisions among asteroids. After the sun, this so-called zodiacal cloud is the solar system’s most luminous feature, and its light has interfered with infrared, optical and ultraviolet observations made by every astronomical space mission to date.

Cassini Spies Wave Rattling Jet Stream On JupiterCassini Spies Wave Rattling Jet Stream On Jupiter
New movies of Jupiter are the first to catch an invisible wave shaking up one of the giant planet’s jet streams, an interaction that also takes place in Earth’s atmosphere and influences the weather. The movies, made from images taken by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft when it flew by Jupiter in 2000, are part of an in-depth study conducted by a team of scientists and amateur astronomers led by Amy Simon-Miller at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and published in the April 2012 issue of Icarus.

NASA Rocket Barrage Should Provide Skywatching TreatNASA Rocket Barrage Should Provide Skywatching Treat
NASA will launch five rockets in five minutes Wednesday (March 14) to study fast-moving winds at the edge of space, and many skywatchers along the United States’ mid-Atlantic coast will be able to watch the show. The unmanned rocket barrage, which is slated to blast off late Wednesday from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, forms the core of the agency’s Anomalous Transport Rocket Experiment, or ATREX. The five suborbital rockets will release chemical tracers between 80 to 145 kilometers up to track high-altitude winds, which can zip around the planet at more than 483 kph.

First Atomic Hydrogen Spectral Line Images of a Nearby GalaxyFirst Atomic Hydrogen Spectral Line Images of a Nearby Galaxy
South Africa’s KAT-7 telescope, a seven-dish array which is a precursor to the much larger MeerKAT telescope in the Karoo and to the Square Kilometre Array, has reached another major milestone by observing the radio emission from the neutral hydrogen gas (HI) in a nearby galaxy. Hydrogen gas emits radio emission in a spectral line at a very specific frequency of 1420 MHz. The astronomers pointed the telescope towards a galaxy called NGC 3109 – a small spiral galaxy, about 4.3 million light-years away from Earth, located in the constellation of Hydra.

Clues to 'Weird' Saturn Moon Found in Earth's IceClues to ‘Weird’ Saturn Moon Found in Earth’s Ice
Astronomers hoping to shed light on how Saturn’s “weird” moon Iapetus developed over time are taking cues from climate research of icy surfaces right here on Earth. Iapetus’ bizarre two-toned appearance — with one dark side and one bright side — has puzzled astronomers since the moon was first discovered by Giovanni Domenico Cassini in 1671. To better understand how this oddball Saturn moon formed and evolved, researchers are now studying the temperature variation across Iapetus’ differing surfaces by measuring the moon’s microwave emissions.

Glittering Jewels of Messier 9Glittering Jewels of Messier 9
The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has produced the so far most detailed image so far of Messier 9, a globular star cluster located close to the centre of the galaxy. This ball of stars is too faint to see with the naked eye, yet Hubble can see over 250 000 individual stars shining in it. Messier 9 is a globular cluster, a roughly spherical swarm of stars that lies around 25 000 light-years from Earth, near the centre of the Milky Way, so close that the gravitational forces from the galactic centre pull it slightly out of shape.

Looking at Quantum Gravity in a MirrorLooking at Quantum Gravity in a Mirror
Einstein’s theory of gravity and quantum physics are expected to merge at the Planck-scale of extremely high energies and on very short distances. At this scale, new phenomena could arise. However, the Planck-scale is so remote from current experimental capabilities that tests of quantum gravity are widely believed to be nearly impossible. Now an international collaboration between the groups of Caslav Brukner and Markus Aspelmeyer at the University of Vienna and Myungshik Kim at Imperial College London has proposed a new quantum experiment using Planck-mass mirrors.

Why Giant Alien Planets Like Some Orbits More than OthersWhy Giant Alien Planets Like Some Orbits More than Others
Some zones encircling baby stars are far more popular than others, drawing crowds of giant planets while the other potential paths for orbits remain empty.Now computer simulations may reveal why, scientists say. When astronomers began discovering giant alien planets similar to Jupiter and Saturn outside our solar system, they noticed that the orbits of these giants weren’t spread out in regular intervals from baby stars. Instead, certain orbital distances seemed strangely attractive to these giants.

Cosmic Rays Alter Chemistry of Lunar Ice, May Create Building Blocks of LifeCosmic Rays Alter Chemistry of Lunar Ice, May Create Building Blocks of Life
Space scientists from the University of New Hampshire and multi-institutional colleagues report they have quantified levels of radiation on the moon’s surface from galactic cosmic ray (GCR) bombardment that over time causes chemical changes in water ice and can create complex carbon chains similar to those that help form the foundations of biological structures. In addition, the radiation process causes the lunar soil, or regolith, to darken over time, which is important in understanding the geologic history of the moon.

Hazy Shades of Life On Early EarthHazy Shades of Life On Early Earth
A ‘see-sawing’ atmosphere over 2.5 billion years ago preceded the oxygenation of our planet and the development of complex life on Earth, a new study has shown. Research, led by experts at Newcastle University, UK, and published March 18 in the journal Nature Geoscience, reveals that Earth’s early atmosphere periodically flipped from a hydrocarbon-free state into a hydrocarbon-rich state similar to that of Saturn’s moon, Titan. This switch between “organic haze” and a “haze-free” environment was the result of intense microbial activity and would have had a profound effect on the climate of Earth system.

Towards a European multitask space vehicleTowards a European multitask space vehicle
France is set to table a proposal before the 17 member states of the European Space Agency (ESA) to develop an entirely new unmanned spacecraft, announced Yannick d’Escatha, President of the French space agency CNES, during the traditional beginning-of-year press conference at the agency’s Paris headquarters on January 19. APEX — for Advanced Platform for EXploration — will be designed chiefly for the types of missions now performed by the European ATV, which is slated to make its fifth and last flight in 2014.

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