AstroBlog Follow Friday & Weekly Stumbles For 2012-04-20

Weekly Stumbles:

Staking a claim on the MoonStaking a claim on the Moon
Some space advocates argue that private property rights on the Moon and other bodies are essential to the future of space development. Is there a way to accept property claims under the current treaty regime? “There’s maybe a loophole here” for space property rights, Rand Simberg said in a white paper by the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI). “The idea is that recognition is not necessarily appropriation.”

Two Nebulas Glow Together in Stunning Skywatcher PhotoTwo Nebulas Glow Together in Stunning Skywatcher Photo
Two colorful nebulas shine side by side in a spectacular new skywatcher image. Astrophotography duo Bob and Janice Fera took this photo in January 2012 from Eagle Ridge Observatory in Foresthill, Calif. The two nebulas in the photo are called the Cone and Foxfur nebulas. They are part of a larger system called NGC 2264, which is located in the Monoceros constellation about 2,600 light-years away from Earth.

Gallery: Visions of Interstellar Starship TravelGallery: Visions of Interstellar Starship Travel
Hungary-based space illustrator Adrian Mann is a graphical engineer for Project Icarus, an effort to research the possibilities for interstellar travel. When scientists conceive of spaceships for travel to another star, most proposals require advanced and exotic propulsion mechanisms, including nuclear power and antimatter power. The following illustrations by Mann show some of the proposed concepts for vehicles to take us beyond the solar system.

Organics Probably Formed Easily in Early Solar SystemOrganics Probably Formed Easily in Early Solar System
Complex organic compounds, including many important to life on Earth, were readily produced under conditions that likely prevailed in the primordial solar system. Scientists at the University of Chicago and NASA Ames Research Center came to this conclusion after linking computer simulations to laboratory experiments. Fred Ciesla, assistant professor in geophysical sciences at UChicago, simulated the dynamics of the solar nebula, the cloud of gas and dust from which the sun and the planets formed.

How Cosmic Collisions May Have Altered Earth's EvolutionHow Cosmic Collisions May Have Altered Earth’s Evolution
Cosmic impacts might have knocked matter off Earth in ways that make our planet quite different from its tiny stony meteorite cousins, suggesting our planet evolved differently than was previously thought, researchers say. For nearly a century, scientists thought Earth shared the same general makeup as stony meteorites known as chondrites, coalescing as they did from the same cloud of gas and dust. Chondrites are the most common meteorites, chipped off the most common kind of asteroid in the inner asteroid belt.

Clocking an Accelerating Universe: First Results from BOSSClocking an Accelerating Universe: First Results from BOSS
Some six billion light years ago, almost halfway from now back to the big bang, the universe was undergoing an elemental change. Held back until then by the mutual gravitational attraction of all the matter it contained, the universe had been expanding ever more slowly. Then, as matter spread out and its density decreased, dark energy took over and expansion began to accelerate. Today BOSS, the Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey, announced the most accurate measurement yet of the distance scale of the universe during the era when dark energy turned on.

Rogue Planets Can Find Homes Around Other StarsRogue Planets Can Find Homes Around Other Stars
As crazy as it sounds, free-floating rogue planets have been predicted to exist for quite some time and just last year, in May 2011, several orphan worlds were finally detected. Then, earlier this year, astronomers estimated that there could be 100,000 times more rogue planets in the Milky Way than stars. Now, the latest research suggests that sometimes, these rogue, nomadic worlds can find a new home by being captured into orbit around other stars.

Billions of Habitable Alien Planets Should Exist in Our GalaxyBillions of Habitable Alien Planets Should Exist in Our Galaxy
There should be billions of habitable, rocky planets around the faint red stars of our Milky Way galaxy, a new study suggests. Though these alien planets are difficult to detect, and only a few have been discovered so far, they should be ubiquitous, scientists say. And some of them could be good candidates to host extraterrestrial life. The findings are based on a survey of 102 stars in a class called red dwarfs, which are fainter, cooler, less massive and longer-lived than the sun, and are thought to make up about 80 percent of the stars in our galaxy.

Growing Up Supermassive: A Black Hole's Diet of StarsGrowing Up Supermassive: A Black Hole’s Diet of Stars
A study led by a University of Utah astrophysicist found a new explanation for the growth of supermassive black holes in the center of most galaxies: they repeatedly capture and swallow single stars from pairs of stars that wander too close. Using new calculations and previous observations of our own Milky Way and other galaxies, “we found black holes grow enormously as a result of sucking in captured binary star partners,” says physics and astronomy Professor Ben Bromley, lead author of the study.

Seeking direction for space explorationSeeking direction for space exploration
On paper, at least, NASA’s human space exploration program has a clear direction in front of it. Two years ago this month, in a speech at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, President Barack Obama gave NASA its marching orders: a human mission to an asteroid by 2025, a human mission to orbit Mars by the mid-2030s, followed by a landing on the Red Planet without a specified date, but soon enough thereafter that the now-50-year-old Obama said, “I expect to be around to see it.”

Cannibalistic Galaxy With a Powerful HeartCannibalistic Galaxy With a Powerful Heart
Observations by two of the European Space Agency’s space observatories have provided a multi-wavelength view of the mysterious galaxy Centaurus A. The new images, from the Herschel Space Observatory and the XMM-Newton x-ray satellite, are revealing further hints about its cannibalistic past and energetic processes going on in its core. At a distance of around 12 million light years, Centaurus A is the closest large elliptical galaxy to our own Milky Way.

Supernova Explosion Ripped Star's Guts Inside OutSupernova Explosion Ripped Star’s Guts Inside Out
A massive supernova explosion that destroyed a faraway star apparently turned the left over stellar corpse inside out as well, scientists say. Using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory spacecraft, a team of researchers mapped the distribution of elements in the supernova remnant Cassiopeia A (Cas A for short) in unprecedented detail. They found that Cas A — which is located about 11,000 light-years from Earth and exploded 300 years ago from our perspective — is wearing its guts on the outside.

New Isotope Measurement Could Alter History of Early Solar SystemNew Isotope Measurement Could Alter History of Early Solar System
The early days of our solar system might look quite different than previously thought, according to research at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory published in Science. The study used more sensitive instruments to find a different half-life for samarium, one of the isotopes used to chart the evolution of the solar system. “It shrinks the chronology of early events in the solar system, like the formation of planets, into a shorter time span,” said Argonne physicist Michael Paul.

Ushering in the final frontierUshering in the final frontier
There’s an emergence of a new human spaceflight order. The flawless docking between Shenzhou-8 and Tiangong-1 (a prototype space station) in 2011 laid a foundation for human spaceflight in China. India has been really inspiring too, with their scientific satellites and launch vehicles programs, also shooting for the Moon. New opportunities are now open to all: even African nations now have recognizable participation in small satellites and astronomy. Last year, for the first time ever, the International Astronautical Congress took place in Africa.

12-Mile-High Martian Dust Devil Caught in Act12-Mile-High Martian Dust Devil Caught in Act
A Martian dust devil roughly 12 miles high (20 kilometers) was captured whirling its way along the Amazonis Planitia region of Northern Mars on March 14. It was imaged by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Despite its height, the plume is little more than three-quarters of a football field wide (70 yards, or 70 meters). Dust devils occur on Earth as well as on Mars. They are spinning columns of air, made visible by the dust they pull off the ground.

Flowing Water on Mars? Strange Red Planet Features Stir DebateFlowing Water on Mars? Strange Red Planet Features Stir Debate
Flow-like features on Mars are a source of debate among scientists. While some experts say they are likely produced by liquid water or brine on the Red Planet’s surface today, other investigations interpret some of these features as dry mass movements, stirred up by various other processes. Whatever the cause, these slope streaks — called Recurring Slope Lineae — represent the movement of mass down slopes on the surface of our neighboring planet. They are among the few known examples of current geologic activity on Mars.

Astronomers Identify 12-Billion-Year-Old White Dwarf Stars Only 100 Light Years AwayAstronomers Identify 12-Billion-Year-Old White Dwarf Stars Only 100 Light Years Away
A University of Oklahoma assistant professor and colleagues have identified two white dwarf stars considered the oldest and closest known. Astronomers identified these 11- to 12-billion-year-old white dwarf stars only 100 light years away from Earth. These stars are the closest known examples of the oldest stars in the Universe forming soon after the Big Bang, according to the OU research group.

NASA Extends 9 Space Observatory MissionsNASA Extends 9 Space Observatory Missions
Nine NASA-funded astrophysics missions, including the planet-hunting Kepler space telescope and Chandra X-ray Observatory, will continue scanning the heavens for at least another two to four years, the U.S. space agency announced April 3. NASA’s decision to extend the science operations for nine of its 14 in-orbit missions largely follows the recommendations of an outside panel of senior scientists that convened in late February to weigh the scientific merits of keeping these missions in service.

Patience, perseverance, and other lessons for spaceportsPatience, perseverance, and other lessons for spaceports
This week marks the 51st anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s historic flight into space. Gagarin has been honored for his feat in a number of ways, with his name attached to everything from Russia’s cosmonaut training center to a district of the Ukrainian city of Sevastopol. Even Russia’s professional hockey league, the KHL, has named its championship trophy — the equivalent of the NHL’s Stanley Cup — the Gagarin Cup. And, perhaps, one day Gagarin will have his name attached to a spaceport.

Study On Extrasolar Planet Orbits Suggests That Planetary Systems Like Our Solar System Is the NormStudy On Extrasolar Planet Orbits Suggests That Planetary Systems Like Our Solar System Is the Norm
Recently, the HARPS spectrograph and the Kepler satellite made a census of the planetary population around stars like our own, revealing a bounty of planetary systems. A follow-up study led by members of the EXOEarths team, in collaboration with Geneva University, did a joint analysis of the data which showed that the planetary orbits in a system are strongly aligned, like in a disk, just as we have in our own solar system.

Proposed Satellite Would Beam Solar Power to EarthProposed Satellite Would Beam Solar Power to Earth
An energy-hungry Earth is in need of transformational and sustainable energy solutions, experts say. For decades, researchers have been appraising the use of power-beaming solar-power satellites. But the projected cost, complexity and energy economics of the notion seemingly short-circuited the idea. Now, a unique new approach has entered the scene, dubbed SPS-ALPHA, short for Solar Power Satellite via Arbitrarily Large PHased Array. Leader of the concept is John Mankins of Artemis Innovation Management Solutions of Santa Maria, Calif.

Astronomer Finds Evidence for Record-Breaking Nine Planet SystemAstronomer Finds Evidence for Record-Breaking Nine Planet System
A study by Mikko Tuomi, an astronomer at the University of Hertfordshire, has revealed that the planetary system around the star named HD 10180 may have more planets in its orbits than our own Solar system. Dr Tuomi carried out his analysis as part of the EU research network RoPACS, being led in Hertfordshire. Originally reported to be orbited by seven planets in 2010, re-analysed data from the HARPS (High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher) now indicates that the star has nine planets.

Mystery of How Stars Shed Major Pounds May Be SolvedMystery of How Stars Shed Major Pounds May Be Solved
When middleweight stars near the end of their cosmic lives, they shrug off their outer layers, shedding up to half their mass. But just how the stars manage to dispel so much material has been a mystery, though a new study may hold clues to closing the case. Astronomers sifting through new observations have found that dust grains in the outer layers of atmospheres of near-death stars are surprisingly large. The process, researchers say, allows the star dust to deflect light and skim out of the way, transporting their mass into space.

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