AstroBlog Follow Friday & Weekly Stumbles For 2012-05-04

This week I recommend to follow @badas_tweets for interesting tweets from the Blackpool & District Astronomical Society. For more Twitter follow suggestions see our astronomy list @TheAstroBlog/astronomy

Weekly Stumbles:

Asteroid Mining Venture Backed by Google Execs, James Cameron UnveiledAsteroid Mining Venture Backed by Google Execs, James Cameron Unveiled
A newly unveiled company with some high-profile backers — including filmmaker James Cameron and Google co-founder Larry Page — is set to announce plans to mine near-Earth asteroids for resources such as precious metals and water. Planetary Resources, Inc. intends to sell these materials, generating a healthy profit for itself. But it also aims to advance humanity’s exploration and exploitation of space, with resource extraction serving as an anchor industry that helps our species spread throughout the solar system.

Does Star Trek make space travel look too easy?Does Star Trek make space travel look too easy?
In an interview with a reporter from the Associated Press, Scott Pace, the current director of the Space Policy Institute at The George Washington University and a former NASA associate administrator, was asked to comment on the April 12th failure of the North Korean rocket launch. He noted that sending a vehicle into space is still a significant technical challenge, and added, “In many ways, the worst enemy of NASA is Star Trek… Captain Picard says ‘engage’ and the ship moves. And people think ‘How hard can this be?'”

Private Spaceflight Company SpaceX Has Lofty Goal: Help Save HumanityPrivate Spaceflight Company SpaceX Has Lofty Goal: Help Save Humanity
SpaceX plans to launch a historic demonstration mission to the International Space Station in early May, but the company’s ambitions extend far beyond low-Earth orbit. If all goes according to plan, SpaceX’s unmanned Dragon capsule will blast into space in about two weeks, lifting off the pad at Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station atop a Falcon 9 rocket. Once aloft, Dragon will berth with the orbiting lab — a first for a private spaceship — offload supplies and take some different items on for the trip back to Earth.

Dawn Gets Extra Time to Explore VestaDawn Gets Extra Time to Explore Vesta
NASA’s Dawn mission has received official confirmation that 40 extra days have been added to its exploration of the giant asteroid Vesta, the second most massive object in the main asteroid belt. The mission extension allows Dawn to continue its scientific observations at Vesta until Aug. 26, while still arriving at the dwarf planet Ceres at the same originally scheduled target date in February 2015.

Sombrero Galaxy Has Split PersonalitySombrero Galaxy Has Split Personality
While some galaxies are rotund and others are slender disks like our spiral Milky Way, new observations from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope show that the Sombrero galaxy is both. The galaxy, which is a round elliptical galaxy with a thin disk embedded inside, is one of the first known to exhibit characteristics of the two different types. The findings will lead to a better understanding of galaxy evolution, a topic still poorly understood.

9 Concepts for Cleaning up Space Junk9 Concepts for Cleaning up Space Junk
From almost the first moment that man started traveling beyond Earth’s atmosphere, we’ve been leaving behind all sorts of debris in space. Not only is it wasteful, but space junk can be dangerous as well – to satellites, to space stations, and when some of it plummets back to Earth, to human life on the ground. But there is no shortage of concepts for cleaning up the junk we’ve left behind in orbit, even if some of them seem far-fetched. Here’s an overview of some of the ideas being proposed for cleaning up space debris.

Did Exploding Stars Help Life On Earth Thrive?Did Exploding Stars Help Life On Earth Thrive?
Research by a Danish physicist suggests that the explosion of massive stars — supernovae — near the Solar System has strongly influenced the development of life. Prof. Henrik Svensmark of the Technical University of Denmark (DTU) sets out his novel work in a paper in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. When the most massive stars exhaust their available fuel and reach the end of their lives, they explode as supernovae, tremendously powerful explosions that are briefly brighter than an entire galaxy of normal stars.

Why Asteroid Mining Makes Huge Dollars and SenseWhy Asteroid Mining Makes Huge Dollars and Sense
Science fiction dreams of mining riches from asteroids only make sense if humans can make it worth their time and effort. The new Planetary Resources group backed by Silicon Valley billionaires and Hollywood moguls is now betting on the fact that there is big money in mining space rocks. Nobody knows exactly how much asteroid wealth exists, but early estimates point to riches beyond Earth’s wildest dreams.

Spectacular Star Cluster a Wing-Span Away from Eagle NebulaSpectacular Star Cluster a Wing-Span Away from Eagle Nebula
The star cluster NGC 6604 is shown in this new image taken by the Wide Field Imager attached to the 2.2-metre MPG/ESO telescope at the La Silla Observatory in Chile. It is often overlooked in favour of its more prominent neighbour, the Eagle Nebula (also known as Messier 16), that lies a mere wingspan away. But the framing of this picture, which places the star cluster in a landscape of surrounding gas and dust clouds, shows what a beautiful object NGC 6604 is in its own right.

Splatters of Molten Rock Signal Period of Intense Asteroid Impacts On EarthSplatters of Molten Rock Signal Period of Intense Asteroid Impacts On Earth
New research reveals that the Archean era — a formative time for early life from 3.8 billion years ago to 2.5 billion years ago — experienced far more major asteroid impacts than had been previously thought, with a few impacts perhaps even rivaling those that produced the largest craters on the Moon, according to a paper recently published online in Nature.

Does Asteroid Mining Violate Space Law?Does Asteroid Mining Violate Space Law?
Several well-known billionaires are forming a company with plans to send a robotic spacecraft to mine precious metals from an asteroid and bring them back to Earth. Google executives Larry Page and Eric Schmidt and their business partners say the enterprise will “add trillions to the global GDP.” But to whom do those trillions belong — the company, or everyone? Does a private company have a right to stake claim to an asteroid, or are celestial bodies such as the moon, planets and asteroids the communal property of all Earthlings?

Saturn's Giant Moon: How Long Has Titan's Chemical Factory Been in Business?Saturn’s Giant Moon: How Long Has Titan’s Chemical Factory Been in Business?
Saturn’s giant moon Titan hides within a thick, smoggy atmosphere that’s well-known to scientists as one of the most complex chemical environments in the solar system. It’s a productive “factory” cranking out hydrocarbons that rain down on Titan’s icy surface, cloaking it in soot and, with a brutally cold surface temperature of around minus 270 degrees Fahrenheit, forming lakes of liquid methane and ethane.

NASA's Dawn Spacecraft Reveals Secrets of Giant Asteroid VestaNASA’s Dawn Spacecraft Reveals Secrets of Giant Asteroid Vesta
Findings from NASA’s Dawn spacecraft reveal new details about the giant asteroid Vesta, including its varied surface composition, sharp temperature changes and clues to its internal structure. The findings were presented today at the European Geosciences Union meeting in Vienna, Austria, and will help scientists better understand the early solar system and processes that dominated its formation.

Planetary Resources believes asteroid mining has come of agePlanetary Resources believes asteroid mining has come of age
Asteroid mining has been a staple of both science fiction and space advocacy for decades. The interest is understandable: the millions of small bodies in the solar system contain resources that, in theory, are readily accessible thanks to their miniscule gravity and orbits that, in some cases, bring them relatively close to the Earth. Accessing these resources, proponents have long argued, could supply the Earth with precious metals that are increasingly scarce, while creating a sustainable foothold for humanity off Earth.

Vast Structure of Satellite Galaxies Discovered: Do the Milky Way's Companions Spell Trouble for Dark Matter?Vast Structure of Satellite Galaxies Discovered: Do the Milky Way’s Companions Spell Trouble for Dark Matter?
Astronomers from the University of Bonn in Germany have discovered a vast structure of satellite galaxies and clusters of stars surrounding our Galaxy, stretching out across a million light years. The work challenges the existence of dark matter, part of the standard model for the evolution of the universe. PhD student and lead author Marcel Pawlowski reports the team’s findings in a paper in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

NASA's WISE Catches Aging Star Erupting With DustNASA’s WISE Catches Aging Star Erupting With Dust
Images from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) reveal an old star in the throes of a fiery outburst, spraying the cosmos with dust. The findings offer a rare, real-time look at the process by which stars like our sun seed the universe with building blocks for other stars, planets and even life. The star, catalogued as WISE J180956.27-330500.2, was discovered in images taken during the WISE survey in 2010, the most detailed infrared survey to date of the entire celestial sky.

A space joint stock companyA space joint stock company
Members of Congress have begun proposing drastic changes to entitlement programs such as Medicare and Social Security. Astute observers believe that before these entitlement programs are cut, NASA’s budget will come under increasing pressure, and thus many of the space exploration and science programs it runs will be curtailed significantly in the coming years. It’s possible that, by 2020, NASA could become a shell of its former self.

Hubble Images Searchlight Beams from a Preplanetary NebulaHubble Images Searchlight Beams from a Preplanetary Nebula
The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has been at the cutting edge of research into what happens to stars like our sun at the ends of their lives. One stage that stars pass through as they run out of nuclear fuel is called the preplanetary or protoplanetary nebula stage. A new Hubble image of the Egg Nebula shows one of the best views to date of this brief but dramatic phase in a star’s life.

Cassini Finds Saturn Moon Has Planet-Like QualitiesCassini Finds Saturn Moon Has Planet-Like Qualities
Data from NASA’s Cassini mission reveal Saturn’s moon Phoebe has more planet-like qualities than previously thought. Scientists had their first close-up look at Phoebe when Cassini began exploring the Saturn system in 2004. Using data from multiple spacecraft instruments and a computer model of the moon’s chemistry, geophysics and geology, scientists found Phoebe was a so-called planetesimal, or remnant planetary building block. The findings appear in the April issue of the journal Icarus.

100 Days and Counting to NASA's Curiosity Mars Rover Landing100 Days and Counting to NASA’s Curiosity Mars Rover Landing
At 10:31 p.m. PDT today, April 27, (1:31 p.m. EDT), NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory, carrying the one-ton Curiosity rover, will be within 100 days from its appointment with the Martian surface. At that moment, the mission has about 119 million miles (191 million kilometers) to go and is closing at a speed of 13,000 mph (21,000 kilometers per hour). “Every day is one day closer to the most challenging part of this mission,” said Pete Theisinger, Mars Science Laboratory project manager.

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