This week I recommend to follow @MarsCuriosity for tweets from the Curiosity Mars rover mission, currently en route to the Red Planet. For more Twitter follow suggestions see our astronomy list @TheAstroBlog/astronomy
Mars Rover Curiosity On Track for Early August Landing
A maneuver on Tuesday (June 26, 2012) adjusted the flight path of NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft for delivering the rover Curiosity to a landing target beside a Martian mountain. The car-size, one-ton rover is bound for arrival the evening of Aug. 5, 2012, PDT. The landing will mark the beginning of a two-year prime mission to investigate whether one of the most intriguing places on Mars ever offered an environment favorable for microbial life.
The ‘Flame’ Burns Bright in New WISE Image
A new image from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, shows the candle-like Flame nebula lighting up a cavern of dust. The Flame nebula is part of the Orion complex, a turbulent star-forming area located near the constellation’s star-studded belt. The image is being released July 2, 2012 along with a new batch of data from the mission. Last March, WISE released its all-sky catalog and atlas containing infrared images and data on more than a half billion objects, including everything from asteroids to stars and galaxies.
Young Rapidly Spinning Star Flaunts Its X-Ray Spots in McNeil’s Nebula
X-ray observations have revealed something curious about the young star that illuminates McNeil’s Nebula, a glowing jewel of cosmic dust in the Orion constellation: The object is a protostar rotating once a day, or 30 times faster than the sun. The stellar baby also has distinct birthmarks — two X-ray-emitting spots, where gas flows from a surrounding disk, fueling the infant star.
One Step Closer to Robotic Refueling Demonstrations On Space Station
NASA completed another successful round of Robotic Refueling Mission (RRM) operations on the International Space Station with the Canadian Dextre robot and RRM tools, leaving the RRM module poised for the highly-anticipated refueling demonstration scheduled for late summer 2012. A joint effort between NASA and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), RRM is an external station experiment designed to demonstrate the technologies, tools, and techniques needed to robotically repair and refuel satellites in orbit.
Cosmic Skyrocket: Geyser of Hot Gas Flowing from a Newborn Star
Resembling a Fourth of July skyrocket, Herbig-Haro 110 is a geyser of hot gas from a newborn star that splashes up against and ricochets off the dense core of a cloud of molecular hydrogen. Although the plumes of gas look like whiffs of smoke, they are actually billions of times less dense than the smoke from a July 4 firework. This Hubble Space Telescope photo shows the integrated light from plumes, which are light-years across.
Sounding Rocket Mission to Observe Magnetic Fields On the Sun
On July 5, NASA will launch a mission called the Solar Ultraviolet Magnetograph Investigation or SUMI, to study the intricate, constantly changing magnetic fields on the sun in a hard-to-observe area of the sun’s low atmosphere called the chromosphere. Magnetic fields, and the intense magnetic energy they help marshal, lie at the heart of how the sun can create huge explosions of light such as solar flares and eruptions of particles such as coronal mass ejections (CMEs).
A private effort to watch the skies
Astronomers have long relied on wealthy benefactors to support their efforts. Philanthropists have donated money to support the development of observatories that allowed astronomers to look deeper into the cosmos, from the Lick Observatory in California and Yerkes Observatory in Wisconsin in the late 19th century to more contemporary examples like the Keck Observatory in Hawaii. Those funders, in turn, got those observatories named after them.
Cassini Finds Likely Subsurface Ocean On Saturn’s Moon Titan
Data from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft have revealed Saturn’s moon Titan likely harbors a layer of liquid water under its ice shell. Researchers saw a large amount of squeezing and stretching as the moon orbited Saturn. They deduced that if Titan were composed entirely of stiff rock, the gravitational attraction of Saturn would cause bulges, or solid “tides,” on the moon only 3 feet (1 meter) in height.
Understanding What’s Up With the Higgs Boson at the Large Hadron Collider
CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, will hold a seminar early in the morning on July 4 to announce the latest results from ATLAS and CMS, two major experiments at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) that are searching for the Higgs boson. Both experimental teams are working down to the wire to finish analyzing their data, and to determine exactly what can be said about what they’ve found.
Longest-Lived Mars Orbiter Is Back in Service
NASA’s Mars Odyssey orbiter has resumed its science observations and its role as a Mars rover’s relay, thanks to a spare part that had been waiting 11 years to be put to use. Odyssey’s flight team returned the orbiter to full service this week after a careful two-week sequence of activities to recover from a fault that put Odyssey into reduced-activity “safe” mode. Odyssey switched to safe mode when one of the three primary reaction wheels used for attitude control stuck for a few minutes on June 8, Universal Time.
Earth’s Oldest Known Impact Crater Found in Greenland
A 100 kilometre-wide crater has been found in Greenland, the result of a massive asteroid or comet impact a billion years before any other known collision on Earth. The spectacular craters on the Moon formed from impacts with asteroids and comets between 3 and 4 billion years ago. The early Earth, with its far greater gravitational mass, must have experienced even more collisions at this time — but the evidence has been eroded away or covered by younger rocks.
Milky Way Struck 100 Million Years Ago, Still Rings Like a Bell
An international team of astronomers have discovered evidence that our Milky Way had an encounter with a small galaxy or massive dark matter structure perhaps as recently as 100 million years ago, and as a result of that encounter it is still ringing like a bell. The discovery is based on observations of 300,000 nearby Milky Way stars by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS).
Has the Speediest Pulsar Been Found?
The fastest moving pulsar may have been found about 30,000 light years from Earth. This object is known as IGR J1104-6103 and may be racing away from a supernova remnant at about 6 million miles per hour. If confirmed, this would challenge theorists to create models that explain such super speeds out of supernova explosions. Researchers used three different telescopes — NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and ESA’s XMM-Newton in space, and the Parkes radio telescope in Australia.
First-Ever Changes in an Exoplanet Atmosphere Detected
An international team of astronomers using data from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has made an unparalleled observation, detecting significant changes in the atmosphere of a planet located beyond our solar system. The scientists conclude the atmospheric variations occurred in response to a powerful eruption on the planet’s host star, an event observed by NASA’s Swift satellite.
Evidence of Life On Mars Could Come from Martian Moon Phobos
A mission to a Martian moon could return with alien life, according to experts at Purdue University, but don’t expect the invasion scenario presented by summer blockbusters like “Men in Black 3” or “Prometheus.” “We are talking little green microbes, not little green men,” said Jay Melosh, a distinguished professor of earth, atmospheric and planetary sciences and physics and aerospace engineering at Purdue.
ALMA Reveals Constituent of a Galaxy at 12.4 Billion Light-Years Away
How and when did galaxies with hundreds of billions of stars form and evolve? The sun, which is the center of the solar system in which we live, is also only one of the countless stars contained within a galaxy. In brief, it can be said that we need to understand the evolution of galaxies to understand the world we live in. One of the most effective methods of studying galaxy evolution is “element investigation.”
New Way of Probing Exoplanet Atmospheres
The planet Tau Bootis b was one of the first exoplanets to be discovered back in 1996, and it is still one of the closest exoplanets known. Although its parent star is easily visible with the naked eye, the planet itself certainly is not, and up to now it could only be detected by its gravitational effects on the star. Tau Bootis b is a large “hot Jupiter” planet orbiting very close to its parent star.
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