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Sunday, 30 December 2007

Jets Spiral in 'Reverse Whirlpool' from Star

Astronomers have observed for the first time a jet of matter spiraling outward from an infant star, as if a lengthy strand of curly pasta.

The enormous jet, which shoots out in two directions, is rocketing material away from the so-called protostar and into interstellar space at more than "supersonic speeds." From end to end, the bipolar jet extends 16,000 astronomical units (AU), where 1 AU is the average distance between the Earth and sun.

Called Herbig-Haro (HH) 211, the protostar is located about 1,000 light-years away in the constellation Perseus. Scientists have estimated HH 211 started gathering stellar material about 20,000 or so years ago.

"It's like an infant compared to the sun," said astronomer Qizhou Zhang of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass. "Ultimately this object we observed will grow into a star like the sun, but right now it's only 6 percent of the mass of the sun."

The finding, detailed in the Dec. 1 issue of the Astrophysical Journal, confirms a key step of star formation, one that astronomers have suspected since the 1980s.

Stellar birth

Stars are thought to form at the center of rotating disks of hydrogen gas and dust. Over time, protostars pack on material from spinning disks, meanwhile getting hotter and hotter, until they begin nuclear fusion. This hydrogen-burning process keeps full-blown stars aglow.

However, there's a stellar glitch of sorts. Similar to dizzying rides that rotate so swiftly riders stick to the outer walls, as a disk rotates faster and faster, the swirling matter sticks to the disk's outer edge. The gas can't fall inward toward the star until it sheds excess spin power called angular momentum.

"It has to get rid of the spin energy otherwise the matter will just keep swirling around in this disk around the star without actually going into the star," Zhang told

Reverse whirlpool

Theory suggests nascent stars could shed excess angular momentum in the form of gas spiraling outward around shooting jets. Zhang and his colleagues glimpsed such spiraling gas using the Submillimeter Array (SMA), which consists of eight radio telescopes located atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii.

Measurements showed matter rotating around the jet's axis in a sort of "reverse whirlpool." The results suggest the bipolar jet moves outward at a speed greater than 200,000 mph (322,000 kph), while matter swirls around the jet's major axis at more than 3,000 mph (4,828 kph).

"HH 211 essentially is a 'reverse whirlpool,'" Zhang explained. "Instead of water swirling around and down into a drain, we see gas swirling around and outward."

This artist's concept shows the protostar HH 211, as it accretes material from a surrounding disk. Some of the material from the disk is ejected outward in a bipolar jet. The matter in the jet rotates around the jet's axis, carrying away angular momentum so the star can grow. Credit: Change Tsai (ASIAA)


Friday, 28 December 2007

A picture on the end of one of the aft solar arrays looks toward the midsection of Genesis 2 as well as the forward solar panels. Credit: Bigelow Aero


NASA Sets Plan for Shuttle Sensor Fix

NASA engineers will remove parts of a suspect fuel tank connector for analysis and repair, work that will likely further delay the planned January launch of the shuttle Atlantis, the agency's shuttle chief said Thursday.

Space shuttle program manager Wayne Hale told reporters that engineers will replace external components of an oversized electrical socket on Atlantis' fuel tank before setting a new launch date.

"This is probably going to not allow us to fly on Jan. 10," Hale said in an afternoon teleconference. "We're probably going to be a little bit after that."

A few extra days, or possibly weeks, will be required to complete the troubleshooting work, he added.

Atlantis' STS-122 construction flight to the International Space Station (ISS) has been delayed since December, when fuel gauge-like sensors failed standard countdown tests during two separate launch attempts. The sensors are vital, since they serve as a backup system to shut down a shuttle's three main engines before their fuel supply runs out.

Engineers tracked the intermittent glitch to a so-called "pass-through" connector that serves as a bridge for electrical connections running from the interior of Atlantis' fuel tank to the orbiter's aft-mounted avionics bay. The connector consists of internal and external electrical sockets that plug into a central glass plate with embedded metal pins.

"We believe we are experiencing intermittent electrical system open circuits in this arrangement," Hale said, adding that the glitch occurs only when Atlantis' fuel tank is fueled with its super-chilled liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen.

On Saturday, engineers will remove the pass-through connector's central plug and exterior wiring for additional tests in early January, Hale said.

"After the first of the year, when we start getting the first of these lab reports in, we will begin to have a handle on our no earlier than launch date," he added.

The leading repair option under discussion is a soldering method that will fuse the exterior electrical connections in the pass-through plug, which will avoid open circuits caused by the movement of pins when the fuel tank is fueled. A similar fix was used on Atlas-Centaur rockets when they experienced engine cutoff sensor glitches, Hale said.

"We have a high degree of confidence that that will solve our problems," he added.

Commanded by veteran shuttle flyer Stephen Frick, Atlantis' seven-astronaut crew is tasked with delivering the European Space Agency's Columbus laboratory to the ISS during a planned 11-day mission. The spaceflight will be the first of possibly six NASA shuttle flights slated for 2008.

"We're taking this one step at a time," said Hale, adding that any changes to the 2008 shuttle flight schedule are secondary to fixing the current sensor glitch. "Obviously, we'd like to fly as soon as it's practical and safe to do so."


International Robotic Rivalry in Space

GOLDEN, Colorado — It has to be some sort of record. At no time over the five decades of sending robot craft into the heavens have so many spacecraft been on duty at such a variety of far-flung destinations or en route to their targets.

Ballistic buckshot of science gear is now strewn throughout the solar system — and in some cases, like Voyager hardware — have exited our cosmic neighborhood to become an interstellar mission.

But the march of time has also meant that more nations have honed the skills and know-how to explore the solar system. For example, Europe has dispatched probes to the Moon, Mars and Venus — and their Rosetta spacecraft is on a 10-year journey to investigate a comet in 2014.

Meanwhile, Japan's Kaguya and China's Chang'e 1 lunar orbiters have each just settled into an aggressive campaign of surveying the Moon. India is set to orbit the Moon with its Chandrayaan-1 in 2008, and the German space agency is also prepping for a future robotic lunar mission as is the United Kingdom.

All this action at the Moon — including the rekindling of Russian and U.S. lunar missions — bodes well for bolder ventures ever-deeper into the solar system by multiple nations.

And there are other signals stemming from all this outbound traffic.

Opportunity for discovery

"The Moon is a great place that we often take for granted and we feel that we know it well enough. This is a grave mistake," said Stephen Mackwell, Director of the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston, Texas.

Mackwell explained that we have barely scraped the surface of what the Moon has to tell us. So why then did the Moon take a backseat -- exploration wise -- given that so much remains to be learned?

"I guess we became rather addicted to our ability to robotically explore the vast distances of our solar system, and we relegated humans to low Earth orbit and below," Mackwell told "Mars came to ascendancy as the possible source of living organisms, and we had so many new and exotic places to explore. The further we reached and the closer we looked, the more fascinating these foreign bodies seemed, and we gave up on the Moon," he added.

Now, as more and more lunar imagery and data floods in from Kaguya and Chang'e 1, Mackwell sees a captivating place with "so much opportunity for discovery."

Unresolved questions

Mackwell said that the relegation of the Moon to the history books all changed when the U.S. President George W. Bush announced the Vision for Space Exploration, that's the NASA Moon, Mars and beyond to-do list.

"Suddenly, we were thinking of humans beyond low Earth orbit, and how we would reach out real hands rather than robotic to touch those exotic places," Mackwell pointed out. "And you have to start it makes sense to learn to live off [the] planet in a place close by. Somehow this new vision started people thinking of the Moon again as a place to do science."

That thinking has meant resurfacing and dusting off some old unresolved questions about the Moon, Mackwell continued, bringing them to the fore, such as: How well do we have the cratering record calibrated? Was there really a late heavy bombardment and what caused it? How did the Earth-Moon system really form? Does the Moon have a core? Are there resources on the Moon that would enable human exploration...and is there commercial viability down-line? How about hotels on the Moon?

Making a statement

The number of nations shooting for the Moon is a declaration of sorts.

"A lot of this international activity is clearly about making a statement that they can do it too, and that these countries have come of age technologically in the early part of the 21st century. But one cannot help thinking that there is also the underlying urge to explore the unknown, to open new frontiers. Now the South Koreans and the Canadians are moving forward with their own visions, and the Moon is the logical place to go and test a nation's ability to design, build and test instruments and spacecraft," Mackwell senses.

There is abundant important science to be done, Mackwell continued, regardless of whether it is for science sake or as a precursory activity for eventual human exploration and habitation. "Nobody seems to openly admit there is a space race...yet. But there is certainly a lot going on, and it is inevitable that some milestones will ultimately result in more overt competition," he said.

More chances to partner

"We're certainly outnumbered at the Moon," said Alan Stern, Associate Administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. Still, that present-day situation pales given the space agency's peppering of inner and outer worlds with spacecraft.

Reviewing the number of nations doing or planning space science missions, Stern's outlook is positive. "I think it's good. The more countries studying the Earth and global change, the more countries involved in planetary or astrophysics,'s good for space science and for space exploration," he told

"Sometimes it's cooperative, sometimes it is competitive...but in terms of the science, whether it is cooperative or competitive, it is probably good," Stern said. "We see more and more chances to partner, not just with the Japanese and Europeans, and the individual European space programs, but the Indians...and the Argentineans doing missions with them in Earth orbit to study our globe. I'm not threatened by any of this. I'm very keen on having a lot more partners," he said.

Stern warning

On the more down-to-Earth side of U.S. robotic space missions, however, there's a "Stern warning" concerning cost overruns and tight budgets.

"We need to increase our flight rates. We need to rev up our Earth science program. We need to get more out of the budget that we have," Stern advised, as well as rebalance the ratio of small to large missions. "A lot of the vigor is taken out of the program when you don't have enough small missions to match the large missions...that it is all large missions."

"The pendulum swung a little too far on that. We need to start pushing that back," Stern said, spotlighting small Explorer missions and Discovery-class spacecraft.

Stern said that NASA has been throwing money away on unexpected cost overruns. "I need to change that behavior, because that's the best way to fund more missions."

The problem, Stern said, has been scientists and science teams that try to put too much in the missions, be it science experiments, technologies or techniques. "When you create a psychology that you always pay for the overruns, then people don't have to mind the store very closely. Overruns need to be rare...not routine."

Big picture

But while NASA is rebalancing its robotic exploration agenda, is NASA losing its touch? Is the U.S. space agency likely to fall behind other nations in space?

"I don't think so," responded Mackwell of the Lunar and Planetary Institute. "We have a vibrant robotic space program with numerous mission opportunities ahead of us. In some ways NASA has done a lot of the easy stuff, and future missions are likely to be more challenging -- and expensive -- as the questions get tougher and more complex," he suggested.

In looking at the big picture, Mackwell pointed out that there are a scad of missions still at Mars, a very healthy Cassini spacecraft doing wonderful science at Saturn, spacecraft are on their respective ways to Mercury and Pluto, and missions under preparation for the Moon, Mars and Jupiter.

"Compared to the number of active NASA missions out there, the number of spacecraft by other nations is more modest," Mackwell said. "Projections for future launches of planetary missions from other nations do not suggest that the rest of the world will overtake NASA in the near future."

So the prognosis for NASA advancing forward in this arena is good, Mackwell said, but not without issues to deal with.

In Mackwell's estimation, the challenges for NASA science include issues with Congress passing a reasonable budget for the space agency that will support both the human and robotic activities; potential taxation of the science budget to pay for shortfalls in human spaceflight and development of the Ares booster; questions about the space policy of a new President; and the escalation of robotic mission costs for both new missions and extended mission activities.

"Nonetheless, the new management of NASA's Science Mission Directorate has a vision and a will to have a healthy mission suite to diverse targets, and strong research and analysis lines to capitalize on the wealth of wondrous new data generated by these missions," Mackwell concluded.


Stepping Forward: The Year in Spaceflight

It's been a busy year for spaceflight in the U.S. and around the world, with an even more ambitious slate ahead for 2008.

On the home front, NASA launched three shuttle missions to the International Space Station (ISS), where astronauts laid the framework for new European and Japanese laboratories set to fly next year even as they uncovered new glitches with the outpost's solar arrays.

"I think that we have accomplished a lot post-Columbia, and that this last year has been our proving ground," said the space station's current commander Peggy Whitson, the first female ISS skipper, this month.

Malaysia's first astronaut and a record space tourist flight also launched toward the ISS in 2007, which saw a myriad of science probes rocket spaceward while the Space Age turned 50. China and Japan also made great strides this year, launching their first moon probes as both countries prepare to send crewed spacecraft into orbit next year.

Orbital construction leaps forward

While a freak hail storm in February delayed the start of NASA's shuttle flight plan for months, the U.S. agency bounced back to complete three missions that added new solar arrays, truss segments and the Harmony connecting room to the ISS.

Astronauts moved old, massive trusses, stitched up torn solar wings and overcame crippling computer glitches while outfitting the ISS with new segments. Engineers are currently grappling with the station's balky starboard solar wing joints, with repairs slated for sometime next year.

"Obviously, it hasn't gone along flawlessly, but that's part of the process too," said Whitson, adding that only by tackling such challenges will humanity learn how to better explore space.

The construction work culminated in a November marathon of spacewalks and robotics by Whitson and her crewmates to ready their station for a fourth shuttle flight—since delayed—bearing Europe's Columbus laboratory. Columbus will dock at the station's Harmony node, the first new room to arrive at the ISS since 2001.

"The activity we just did on [the] station is probably the most complicated assembly we have ever done," said William Gerstenmaier, NASA's associate administrator for space operations. "And all that has worked precisely as we needed it to work."

NASA plans up to 12 more shuttle flights to complete ISS construction, plus one more to the Hubble Space Telescope, before its three-orbiter fleet retires in 2010. Six shuttle flights are currently on NASA's docket for 2008.

"I think we've got easily the capability to go fly the four flights a year that we need to do to complete our manifest," Gerstenmaier said.

Asian Space Race

China began this year with a bang, literally, when it destroyed a defunct communications platform during a January anti-satellite test that spurred widespread criticism from countries around the world.

"They really do seem to have been caught off guard," said China space specialist Dean Cheng, a senior Asia analyst with CAN Corp. in Arlington, Va., of the country's surprise from the protests. "And the damage control efforts that they've undertaken have, frankly, been poor."

But the test kicked off a busy launch period for China and Japan capped by the near launches of separate lunar orbiters—Chang'e 1 and Kaguya, respectively—to explore the surface of the moon. The year also saw Malaysia's first astronaut launch to the ISS aboard a Russian spacecraft and return during a harrowing ballistic descent with two professional cosmonauts.

"This was, in a sense, the first wave of Asia's jump into space," Cheng said of 2007. "This is not a high-impact, pedal-to-the-metal kind of race."

Unlike the Space Race between the U.S. and former Soviet Union, the international competition for space prowess in Asia reaches past national prestige, he added.

"The Chinese are still, for better or worse, head and shoulders above the rest simply because they're putting up their own astronauts up on their own vehicle," Cheng said.

China is the third country, after Russia and the U.S., to build and launch spacecraft capable of carrying astronauts into orbit.

South Korea's first astronaut is slated to launch to the space station atop a Russian rocket in 2008 after, if all goes well, Japanese astronauts visit the ISS to help install segments of their country's massive Kibo laboratory. When fully assembled, Kibo will be the largest single lab attached to the ISS.

Meanwhile, China is gearing up to launch its third manned spaceflight, with three astronauts and a planned spacewalk, in fall 2008.

"These countries are competing with each other to say, 'We are a first world, first rate, aerospace and scientifically advanced country,'" Cheng said. "Take us seriously, invest in us, hire our people, all of those factors. And I think in the next several years you're going to see an even higher growth rate."

The road ahead

While national space agencies made steady progress, commercial firms met with mixed results highlighted by Bigelow Aerospace's successful second launch of a prototype space station and the tragic explosion that killed three and wounded three others.

NASA is banking on advances in commercial spaceflight to help bridge the anticipated years-long gap between the space shuttle fleet's retirement and the first flights of its replacement—the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle.

The U.S. space agency completed awarding contracts for the spacecraft's Ares I rocket among other milestones, with the first abort test flights planned for 2008.

"[I]t's been an important year for us," Whitson said. "And I'd like to think that it's been very successful."


Wednesday, 26 December 2007

...some amazing video :D

Black hole

I wish to be there


+++ amazing photo

enough for today ^^


Some amazing photos

Use IE for the best viewing


'Death Star' Galaxy Black Hole Fires at Neighboring Galaxy

A powerful jet from a super massive black hole is blasting a nearby galaxy, according to new findings from NASA observatories. This never-before witnessed galactic violence may have a profound effect on planets in the jet's path and trigger a burst of star formation in its destructive wake.

Known as 3C321, the system contains two galaxies in orbit around each other. Data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory show both galaxies contain super massive black holes at their centers, but the larger galaxy has a jet emanating from the vicinity of its black hole. The smaller galaxy apparently has swung into the path of this jet.

This "death star" galaxy was discovered through the combined efforts of both space and ground-based telescopes. NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, Hubble Space Telescope, and Spitzer Space Telescope were part of the effort. The Very Large Array telescope, Socorro, N.M., and the Multi-Element Radio Linked Interferometer Network (MERLIN) telescopes in the United Kingdom also were needed for the finding.

"We've seen many jets produced by black holes, but this is the first time we've seen one punch into another galaxy like we're seeing here," said Dan Evans, a scientist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and leader of the study. "This jet could be causing all sorts of problems for the smaller galaxy it is pummeling."

Jets from super massive black holes produce high amounts of radiation, especially high-energy X-rays and gamma-rays, which can be lethal in large quantities. The combined effects of this radiation and particles traveling at almost the speed of light could severely damage the atmospheres of planets lying in the path of the jet. For example, protective layers of ozone in the upper atmosphere of planets could be destroyed.

Jets produced by super massive black holes transport enormous amounts of energy far from black holes and enable them to affect matter on scales vastly larger than the size of the black hole. Learning more about jets is a key goal for astrophysical research.

"We see jets all over the universe, but we're still struggling to understand some of their basic properties," said co-investigator Martin Hardcastle of the University of Hertfordshire in the United Kingdom. "This system of 3C321 gives us a chance to learn how they're affected when they slam into something like a galaxy and what they do after that."

The effect of the jet on the companion galaxy is likely to be substantial, because the galaxies in 3C321 are extremely close at a distance of only about 20,000 light years apart. They lie approximately the same distance as Earth is from the center of the Milky Way galaxy.

A bright spot in the Very Large Array and MERLIN images shows where the jet has struck the side of the galaxy, dissipating some of the jet's energy. The collision disrupted and deflected the jet.

Another unique aspect of the discovery in 3C321 is how relatively short-lived this event is on a cosmic time scale. Features seen in the Very Large Array and Chandra images indicate that the jet began impacting the galaxy about one million years ago, a small fraction of the system's lifetime. This means such an alignment is quite rare in the nearby universe, making 3C321 an important opportunity to study such a phenomenon.

It is possible the event is not all bad news for the galaxy being struck by the jet. The massive influx of energy and radiation from the jet could induce the formation of large numbers of stars and planets after its initial wake of destruction is complete.

The results from Evans and his colleagues will appear in The Astrophysical Journal. NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala., manages the Chandra program for the agency's Science Mission Directorate. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory controls science and flight operations from the Chandra X-ray Center in Cambridge, Mass.


Tuesday, 25 December 2007

Moon race

Moon 2.0: Join the Revolution

A Word From the Founders of X PRIZE & Google

X PRIZE Founder – Peter H. Diamandis, MD

It has been many decades since we explored the Moon from the lunar surface, and it could be another 6 - 8 years before any government returns. Even then, it will be at a large expense, and probably with little public involvement.

The Google Lunar X PRIZE seeks to create a global private race to the Moon that excites and involves people around the world and, accelerates space exploration for the benefit of all humanity. The use of space has dramatically enhanced the quality of life and may ultimately lead to solutions to some of the most pressing environmental problems that we face on earth – energy independence and climate change.

The X PRIZE Foundation could think of no better sponsor and partner than Google. We share a common vision for opening frontiers and a belief that a small dedicated group of individuals can accomplish amazing feats at very low cost.

With the Ansari X PRIZE, we were able to demonstrate that personal spaceflight is possible. Now, a new industry is emerging making it possible for anyone to fulfill their dream of spaceflight. With the Google Lunar X PRIZE we hope to usher in an era of commercial exploration and development, in which small companies, groups of individuals and universities can build, launch and explore the Moon and beyond.

We are very grateful to Google for their support, vision and courage and look forward to working with them to extend the online community to the Moon and beyond.

Google Co-Founder – Sergey Brin

It's a great honor to participate in the Google Lunar X PRIZE. Google is really excited about this particular effort because we believe in the entrepreneurial spirit and its ability to accomplish the most ambitious tasks.

When we were creating Google, the concept of a web search engine able to capture everything in the Internet seemed like an unimaginable goal and yet today many companies, Google among them, are able to do this.

When the original Ansari X PRIZE was launched it was considered unimaginable that private individuals could commercially venture into space and yet that was accomplished.

So now, we are here today embarking upon this great adventure of having a nongovernmental, commercial organization return to the Moon and explore. And I'm very excited that Google can play a part in it.

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Test your science and space smarts.

Check this out


Full moon meets Mars on Sunday

Unusual sight creates great photo opportunity

Mars, which made its closest approach to the Earth on Dec. 18, will be only hours from a Christmas Eve opposition with the sun and is now shining prominently with a bright yellow-orange glow.

And if you're favorably positioned in certain parts of the Pacific Northwest, western Canada, or Alaska, you'll actually see the moon occult (hide) Mars for a short time as the pair sits low above the east-northeast horizon.
A similar encounter in 2003 created a great photo opportunity.

The farther north and west you are located, the closer together the moon and Mars will appear; the time of closest approach will come earlier in the evening as you head west. Those along the U.S. East Coast will get their best views during mid-evening between about 8:40 and 9:10 p.m. EST. For skywatchers along the West Coast, closest approach comes as evening twilight fades between about 5:30 and 5:45 p.m. PST.

Two full moons?
It is rather ironic that Mars and this upcoming full moon will appear side-by-side, considering that several months ago, an Internet hoax regarding Mars and the moon unfortunately received wide circulation. This infamous e-mail message duped countless people into believing that there would be "two full moons" shining side by side in the sky, implying that Mars would seem to loom as large as the moon itself. As preposterous as this hyperbole sounded, many nonetheless made elaborate plans to be outside on the appointed night, fully expecting to see Mars swollen to an incredibly large size. Of course, it was not to be.

Now keep this in mind: With this upcoming pre-Christmas tableau, Mars will be only 1/127 as large as the disk of the moon. So to the naked eye it will appear not as a disk, but as a non-twinkling, albeit brilliant "star."

No doubt many last-minute holiday shoppers who are out on Sunday evening might do a double-take should they cast their gaze up toward the winter's first full moon and wonder, "What is that star that happens to be hovering below it?" But unless they're looking through a high-power eyepiece of a telescope nobody should expect to see Mars even remotely resembling a moon-sized object! Something for all of you to keep in mind next summer, if that insipid Martian hoax gets recycled yet again.

Below are details of how this event will appear for several different regions of North America. Note that 10 degrees in the sky is about equal to the width of your fist on an outstretched arm.

Eastern States/Maritime Provinces/Southern portions of Quebec/Central and Eastern Ontario:
For places in the Eastern time zone, the moon and Mars will appear separated by roughly 2 to 3-degrees as they rise from east-northeast at dusk.

Mars will be situated below and to the left of the moon. Notice that the moon will appear to approach Mars as the evening progresses by its own diameter each hour. By about 7:00 p.m., the moon will seem to be sitting directly above Mars and an hour later, it will have shifted to the upper left of Mars. They will appear closest together at around 8:55 p.m. — give or take about 15-minutes depending on your exact location. Mars will appear to get as close as about 21 arc-minutes relative to the moon's lower right limb ... that's about two-thirds of the apparent width of the moon.

For the rest of the night, the moon will slowly pull away to the left (east) of Mars. For the Canadian Maritimes, Mars and the moon are closest at 10:22 p.m. for Halifax, Nova Scotia, and 11:12 p.m. for St. John's, Newfoundland.

Central States/Western Ontario/Southern Manitoba:
For places in the Central time zone, Mars and the moon will be separated by only about a couple of degrees (or even slightly less) as they emerge from the east-northeast horizon at dusk.

Soon after 6:00 p.m., the moon will be sitting directly above Mars. At about 7:40 p.m. — give or take about 10 minutes — they'll appear closest, with Mars situated about 16 arc minutes (about half the apparent width of the moon) below and to the right of the moon's edge.

The moon then pulls away from Mars at its own diameter each hour for the rest of the night.
Mountain/Plains States/Canadian Prairies:
From the Mountain time zone, the moon will appear to be sitting less than its own apparent width, directly above Mars at 5:45 p.m. Less than an hour later at around 6:35 p.m. — give or take five minutes — you'll see Mars sitting only about 9-arc minutes — or less than one-third of the moon's apparent width — from its lower right edge.

Pacific States:
From California, the moon will hover just above Mars at 5:00 p.m. PST, but the pair will be very low to the east-northeast horizon.

From Los Angeles, the closest approach comes at 5:32 p.m. — only 8 arc minutes separate Mars from the moon's lower right limb. They'll be only half as close as this (about one-eighth of the moon's apparent diameter) as seen from San Francisco at 5:37 p.m.

Traveling farther north (toward Oregon) places you closer to the southern limit of where Mars will actually disappear behind the moon's right-hand edge.

In the occultation zone
If you live anywhere north of a line that will run southwest to northeast from near Newport, Oregon, to Eastport, Idaho, and continuing on up toward western Hudson Bay, you will see the moon cross in front of Mars and temporarily eclipse it.

This includes the northwestern part of Oregon, much of Washington state (except the southeast) and a small sliver of northernmost Idaho. Also within the viewing zone is a large part of western Canada, as well as the entire state of Alaska. Some notable cities are within the zone, including Portland, Seattle, Vancouver, Edmonton and Anchorage. From Portland, for instance, Mars will be hidden from 5:46 to 5:50 p.m. PST.
The glare from the brilliant moon will make the disappearance and reappearance all but impossible to see with the naked-eye alone; binoculars or better yet, a telescope should be used as Mars gradually closes in on the moon and later moves away from it.

A map of the visibility zone along with a schedule for dozens of cities in North America, as well as Europe and Asia (where Mars will be occulted during the predawn hours of Dec. 24) can be accessed here.


Scientists say asteroid could hit Mars

Space rock has 1-in-75 chance of Red Planet smash-up in January
LOS ANGELES - Mars could be in for an asteroid hit.

A newly discovered hunk of space rock has a 1-in-75 chance of slamming into the Red Planet on Jan. 30, scientists said Thursday.

"These odds are extremely unusual. We frequently work with really long odds when we track ... threatening asteroids," said Steve Chesley, an astronomer with the Near Earth Object Program at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
The asteroid, known as 2007 WD5, was discovered in late November and is similar in size to the Tunguska object that hit remote central Siberia in 1908, unleashing energy equivalent to a 15-megaton nuclear bomb that wiped out 60 million trees.

Scientists tracking the asteroid, which is halfway to Mars, initially put the odds of impact at 1 in 350 and increased the chances this week after analyzing the data. Scientists expect the odds to diminish again early next month after getting new observations of the asteroid's orbit, Chesley said.

"We know that it's going to fly by Mars and most likely going to miss, but there's a possibility of an impact," he said.

If the asteroid does smash into Mars, it'll likely aim near the equator, close to where the rover Opportunity has been exploring the Martian plains since 2004. The robot is not in danger because it lies outside the potential impact zone. Speeding at 8 miles (12.8 kilometers) a second, a collision would carve a hole the size of the famed Meteor Crater in Arizona.

In 1994, fragments of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 smacked into Jupiter, creating a series of overlapping fireballs in space. Astronomers have yet to witness an asteroid impact with another planet.

"Unlike an Earth impact, we're not afraid, but we're excited," Chesley said.


Sunday, 23 December 2007

Visit the Surface of the Red Planet Mars

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Conflict Delays NASA's Mars Scout Launch to 2013

WASHINGTON - Launch of the next Mars Scout mission will be delayed by two years to 2013 due to an undisclosed conflict of interest with one of two finalists, Doug McCuistion, NASA's Mars Exploration program director, said in a Dec. 21 teleconference with reporters.

Upon discovering the conflict, the evaluation panel was disbanded, and an entirely new panel has been formed, McCuistion said. New proposals for the next Mars Scout mission will be due in August, and the selection will occur in December 2008, he said.

These changes to the evaluation panel have pushed the next Mars Scout mission out of the planned 2011 launch window, McCuistion said. Planetary alignment between the Earth and Mars occurs every 26 months.

The "serious conflict that required resolution," was found in an evaluation proposal from one of the two Boulder, Colo.-based finalists, McCuistion said. Though he refused to disclose the details, McCuistion said the conflict, which was announced Nov. 28, was related to procurement.

NASA established the Mars Scout program to fund relatively inexpensive missions to the red planet. The first such mission, Mars Phoenix, launched Aug. 4.


Prototype Moon Lander Takes Test Flight

A privately-built moon lander prototype lifted off on a test flight Thursday during a successful check of its propulsion system.

The Poway, Calif.-based firm, SpaceDev, launched the lunar lander prototype approximately 35 feet (10.7 meters) into the air on a tether, where it hovered before descending for a careful landing. The test represents the first ever for a hybrid rocket powered lander vehicle.

SpaceDev is working with the International Lunar Observatory Association (ILOA) to ultimately land a spacecraft on the south pole of the Moon for astrophysics and communication research.

"This is an exciting project that has shown not only the versatility of our hybrid motors, but also SpaceDev's high levels of responsiveness and efficiency," said Mark Sirangelo, SpaceDev's chairman and CEO, in a statement. "We see many important applications for our throttleable rockets, and we look forward to continuing our relationship with ILOA as well as our research and development of lander vehicles."

The lander prototype has four hybrid rocket motors that contain both solid and liquid fuel — a combination of non-explosive materials that supposedly reduces the chance for accidents. The liquid fuel also permits throttling by controlling fuel flow and acceleration.

SpaceDev previously worked with Mojave, Calif.'s Scaled Composites to produce the reusable hybrid rocket motor that launched SpaceShipOne, the privately-developed, piloted spacecraft that won the $10 million Ansari X Prize in 2004.


some pictures




Saturday, 22 December 2007

The Top 10 Views of Earth From Space

Humans have sent many missions, both manned and robotic, beyond our
planet to explore our neighboring celestial bodies. Now and then, these
intrepid explorers have glanced home to provide us with sometimes
stunning and always thought-provoking images. The following is a
compilation of ten of those homeward glances, from the moon and beyond.
- Justin Jernigan 


The iconic image of the Earth rising, the first of its kind taken by an astronaut from lunar orbit, greeted the Apollo 8 astronauts as they rounded the far side of the Moon during their insertion burn. The photo is displayed here in its original orientation, though it is more commonly viewed with the lunar surface at the bottom of the photo.

This color image of the Earth was taken by the Galileo spacecraft on December 11, 1990, as it departed on its three year flight to Jupiter. Antarctica is visible at the bottom of the image, and dawn is rising over the Pacific Ocean.

This picture of the Earth and Moon in a single frame, the first of its kind ever taken by a spacecraft, was recorded Sept. 18, 1977, by NASAs Voyager 1 at a distance of 7.25 million miles from Earth. Because Earth is many times brighter than the Moon, the Moon was artificially brightened by a factor of three relative to the Earth by computer enhancement so that both bodies would show clearly in the prints.

The European Space Agency's comet chasing mission Rosetta took these infrared and visible images during its Earth fly-by in early March 2005 while on its way to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The images gave the Rosetta team a chance to calibrate its instruments on a real space object to make sure everything was in working order.

Astronaut Harrison Schmitt, Apollo 17 lunar module pilot, is photographed here next to the U.S. flag during NASA's final lunar landing mission in the Apollo series. The photo was taken at the Taurus-Littrow landing site while Schmitt was conducting extravehicular activity (EVA).

MESSENGER's Earth flyby on Aug. 2, 2005, not only adjusted the spacecraft's path to Mercury but allowed the spacecraft team to test several of the onboard instruments by taking some shots of its home planet. The camera, designed to characterize minerals that may have formed in Mercury's crust, took this three band composite image on the left using multiple wavelength imaging, giving the continental areas their red color - a result of the high reflectance of vegetation in the near-infrared part of the spectrum.

After traveling more than 727,000 miles in three days, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's cameras were pointed toward Earth on Aug. 15, 2005. The Orbiter's main objective, to obtain daily global images of Martian meteorology, was postponed to help the Mars Color Imager science team obtain a measurement of the instrument's sensitivity and to check that no contamination occurred to the camera during launch.

This image was taken by the Cassini spacecraft's wide-angle camera on Sept. 15, 2006, at a distance of 1.3 million miles from Saturn and about 930 million miles from Earth. The moon Enceladus is also captured on the left, swathed in blue and trailing its plume of water ice particles through Saturn's E ring.

This is the first image ever taken of Earth from the surface of a planet beyond the Moon. It was taken by the Mars Exploration Rover Spirit one hour before sunrise on the 63rd Martian day, or sol, of its mission. Because Earth was too faint to be detected in images taken with the panoramic camera's color filters, the inset image shows a combination of four panoramic images zoomed in on Earth.

Part of the first ever "family portrait" of the solar system taken by Voyager 1 in 1990, this image of Earth was captured from a distance of more than 4 billion miles. Pictured here as a dot only 0.12 pixels in size, the Earth is, as described by Voyager contributor Carl Sagan, "...a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly and compassionately with one another and to preserve and cherish this pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known."


Russian Trash Ship Casts Off from Space Station

An unmanned
Russian cargo ship packed with trash cast off from the International Space
Station (ISS) late Friday to make room for fresh delivery due at the orbital
lab next week.
automated space
freighter Progress 26 departed its berth at the station’s
Russian-built Pirs docking port at about 10:59 p.m.
EST (0359 GMT), freeing up a parking spot for a new ship to dock early

on Aug. 2, Progress 26 is the latest in a long line of unmanned Russian
cargo ships to depart the ISS. Similar in appearance to Russia’s
crewed Soyuz spacecraft, Progress freighters routinely haul new equipment,
clothing, water, food, propellant and personal items to astronauts living
aboard the orbital laboratory.A replacement supply ship, Progress 27, is due to launch atop a Russian Soyuz
rocket at 2:12 a.m. EST (1912 GMT) from the Central Asian spaceport of Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
In addition to Malenchenko’s birthday gifts,
the cargo ship will ferry more than 2.5 tons of propellant, food, and other
vital supplies to the station’s .

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