AstroBlog Follow Friday & Weekly Stumbles For 2012-04-27

Weekly Stumbles:

Panoramic View of a Turbulent Star-Making RegionPanoramic View of a Turbulent Star-Making Region
Several million stars are vying for attention in this NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image of a raucous stellar breeding ground in 30 Doradus, located in the heart of the Tarantula nebula. 30 Doradus is the brightest star-forming region in our galactic neighbourhood and home to the most massive stars ever seen. The nebula resides 170 000 light-years away in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a small, satellite galaxy of our Milky Way. No known star-forming region in our galaxy is as large or as prolific as 30 Doradus.

Project StarTram: Could magnetic levitation propel low cost space travel of tomorrowProject StarTram: Could magnetic levitation propel low cost space travel of tomorrow?
A firm by the name of StarTram is now proposing a possible alternative to the bulky, fuel-bearing rockets that we use today and if the technologies of superconductivity and magnetic levitation progress and flourish at a healthy rate, then the future of space travel might involve a long maglev tunnel that will shoot payload into the vast infinity with ease!

Funding Cut Would Delay Private Space Taxis, NASA Deputy Chief SaysFunding Cut Would Delay Private Space Taxis, NASA Deputy Chief Says
NASA remains committed to preserving competition in its commercial crew initiative even if Congress does not provide the full $830 million requested for the effort in 2012, a senior agency official said. Speaking with reporters Monday (April 16) here at the 28th National Space Symposium, NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver said the agency likely would stretch out rather than change its approach to the Commercial Crew Program should it not be fully funded next year.

A new Great Enterprise for space settlementA new Great Enterprise for space settlement
For many space advocates, their ultimate goals go beyond reducing the cost of space access, opening new markets, and creating new uses for space. For decades, their long-term goal has been to enable humans to live in space permanently: space colonization or, more recently, space settlement (avoiding the negative historical connotations of “colonization”). It sounds fanciful and far-fetched to many, but has the endorsement from President Obama.

NASA's WISE Mission Sees Skies Ablaze With BlazarsNASA’s WISE Mission Sees Skies Ablaze With Blazars
Astronomers are actively hunting a class of supermassive black holes throughout the universe called blazars thanks to data collected by NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE). The mission has revealed more than 200 blazars and has the potential to find thousands more. Blazars are among the most energetic objects in the universe. They consist of supermassive black holes actively “feeding,” or pulling matter onto them, at the cores of giant galaxies.

Workings of Nearby Planetary System RevealedWorkings of Nearby Planetary System Revealed
A new observatory still under construction has given astronomers a major breakthrough in understanding a nearby planetary system and provided valuable clues about how such systems form and evolve. Astronomers using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) have discovered that planets orbiting the star Fomalhaut must be much smaller than originally thought. This is the first published science result from ALMA in its first period of open observations for astronomers worldwide.

Spectacular Solar Flare Erupts From the SunSpectacular Solar Flare Erupts From the Sun
The sun erupted in an amazing solar flare today (April 16), unleashing an intense eruption of super-heated plasma that arced high above the star’s surface before blasting out into space. The powerful solar flare occurred at 1:45 p.m. EDT and registered as a moderate M1.7-class on the scale of sun storms, placing it firmly in the middle of the scale used by scientists to measure flare strength. The storm is not the strongest this year from the sun, but photos and video of the solar flare captured by NASA spacecraft revealed it to be an eye-popping display of magnetic plasma.

Discovery of the Musket Ball Cluster, a System of Colliding Galaxy ClustersDiscovery of the Musket Ball Cluster, a System of Colliding Galaxy Clusters
The newly discovered galaxy cluster is called DLSCL J0916.2+2951. It is similar to the Bullet Cluster, the first system in which the separation of dark and normal matter was observed, but with some important differences. The newly discovered system has been nicknamed the “Musket Ball Cluster” because the cluster collision is older and slower than the Bullet Cluster.

NASA to Fly Atomic Clock to Improve Space NavigationNASA to Fly Atomic Clock to Improve Space Navigation
When people think of space technologies, many think of high-tech solar panels, complex and powerful propulsion systems or sophisticated, electronic guidance systems. Another critical piece of spaceflight technology, however, is an ultra stable, highly accurate device for timing — essential to NASA’s success on deep-space exploration missions. NASA is preparing to fly a Deep Space Atomic Clock, or DSAC, demonstration that will revolutionize the way we conduct deep-space navigation by enabling a spacecraft to calculate its own timing and navigation data in real time.

Working towards a space code of conductWorking towards a space code of conduct
In our modern society, space capabilities play a critical role every day. Capabilities provided from space have also become an important information source for the DoD. We are now an interconnected world, and all nations have a stake in the use of space. But space systems are fragile: still more like wondrous science projects than settled technologies; more gee-wiz capabilities than run-of-the-mill utilities. We have become all too comfortable with their benefits over these last few decades.

Dusty Disc of Crushed Comets Around a Nearby Star Caused by Collisions With Thousands of Comets a DayDusty Disc of Crushed Comets Around a Nearby Star Caused by Collisions With Thousands of Comets a Day
Astronomers Herschel have studied a ring of dust around the nearby star Fomalhaut and have deduced that it is created by the collision of thousands of comets every day. Fomalhaut, a star twice as massive as our Sun and around 25 light years away, has been of keen interest to astronomers for many years.

Comet Garradd DepartsComet Garradd Departs
An outbound comet that provided a nice show for skywatchers late last year is the target of an ongoing investigation by NASA’s Swift satellite. Formally designated C/2009 P1 (Garradd), the unusually dust-rich comet provides a novel opportunity to characterize how cometary activity changes at ever greater distance from the sun. A comet is a clump of frozen gases mixed with dust. These “dirty snowballs” cast off gas and dust whenever they venture near the sun.

Huge Satellite Loses Contact with EarthHuge Satellite Loses Contact with Earth
The European Space Agency is struggling to restore contact with its massive satellite Envisat, the largest civilian Earth-observation satellite ever to fly in space. The troubles began on April 8, when Envisat unexpectedly stopped phoning home. The communications dropout was noticed when flight controllers did not receive an expected transmission from the satellite when it flew over a ground station in Kiruna, Sweden.

Uranus Auroras Glimpsed from EarthUranus Auroras Glimpsed from Earth
For the first time, scientists have captured images of auroras above the giant ice planet Uranus, finding further evidence of just how peculiar a world that distant planet is. Detected by means of carefully scheduled observations from the Hubble Space Telescope, the newly witnessed Uranian light show consisted of short-lived, faint, glowing dots — a world of difference from the colorful curtains of light that often ring Earth’s poles.

1,000 Days of Infrared Wonders1,000 Days of Infrared Wonders
For the last 1000 days the Infrared Array Camera (IRAC), aboard NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, has been operating continuously to probe the universe from its most distant regions to our local solar neighborhood. The IRAC “warm” program began once Spitzer used up its liquid helium coolant, thus completing its “cold” mission. To commemorate 1000 days of infrared wonders, the program is releasing a gallery of the 10 best IRAC images.

Launching 64 times per dayLaunching 64 times per day
Current Earth-to-Orbit (ETO) launch systems, such as Proton and Soyuz, launch at most a dozen times per year. Concepts for replacement ETO launch systems are often evaluated at similar yearly flight rates; a typical evaluation regime constitutes 12 flights per year for 30 years. This essay considers an entirely different and much higher assumption as to flight rate: 64 times per day, three orders of magnitude higher than current flight rate, and evaluates its impact.

Some Stars Capture Rogue PlanetsSome Stars Capture Rogue Planets
New research suggests that billions of stars in our galaxy have captured rogue planets that once roamed interstellar space. The nomad worlds, which were kicked out of the star systems in which they formed, occasionally find a new home with a different sun. This finding could explain the existence of some planets that orbit surprisingly far from their stars, and even the existence of a double-planet system. “Stars trade planets just like baseball teams trade players,” said Hagai Perets of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

Asteroid Craters On Earth Give Clues in Search for Life On MarsAsteroid Craters On Earth Give Clues in Search for Life On Mars
Craters made by asteroid impacts may be the best place to look for signs of life on other planets, a study suggests. Tiny organisms have been discovered thriving deep underneath a site in the US where an asteroid crashed some 35 million years ago. Scientists believe that the organisms are evidence that such craters provide refuge for microbes, sheltering them from the effects of the changing seasons and events such as global warming or ice ages.

Comet Demolition Derby Around Star Surprises ScientistsComet Demolition Derby Around Star Surprises Scientists
A young star that is home to at least one alien planet is also ringed by a vast, dusty cloud of comets, like our own solar system. But there’s a big difference: There may be as many as 83 trillion comets there, with collisions destroying thousands each day, a new study suggests. In fact, there is so much dust around the star that the equivalent of 2,000 comets, each a half-mile wide, would have to have been obliterated every day to create the icy dust belt seen today, researchers say.

Serious Blow to Dark Matter Theories? New Study Finds Mysterious Lack of Dark Matter in Sun's NeighborhoodSerious Blow to Dark Matter Theories? New Study Finds Mysterious Lack of Dark Matter in Sun’s Neighborhood
The most accurate study so far of the motions of stars in the Milky Way has found no evidence for dark matter in a large volume around the Sun. According to widely accepted theories, the solar neighbourhood was expected to be filled with dark matter, a mysterious invisible substance that can only be detected indirectly by the gravitational force it exerts. But a new study by a team of astronomers in Chile has found that these theories just do not fit the observational facts.

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