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Space News Reports

Today's 'Galaxy' Insight --"The Cosmos Would Not Exist Without Consciousness"
Today's 'Galaxy' Insight --"The Cosmos Would Not Exist Without Consciousness"       "The universe and the observer exist as a pair. I cannot imagine a
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Sun-Like G-Dwarf Stars --"Best Bet for Locating Habitable Planets"
For planets to be habitable, they must orbit stars within the 'habitable zone' where it is not too hot or too cold. In addition, recent studies on habitability of planets suggest that the water-land ratio must be
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The "Quantum" Sleeping Beauty --Why Einstein's Paper Took Half a Century to Make an Impact
"This study provides empirical evidence that a paper can truly be 'ahead of its time,'" said Alessandro Flammini, an associate professor of informatics and corresponding author on the study. "A 'premature' topic may
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NASA Research Reveals Europa's Mystery Dark Material Could Be Sea Salt
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NASA’s New Horizons Detects Surface Features, Possible Polar Cap on Pluto
Sorry, readability was unable to parse this page for content.Powered By WizardRSS.com | Full Text RSS
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NASA’s Europa Mission Begins with Selection of Science Instruments
Sorry, readability was unable to parse this page for content.Powered By WizardRSS.com | Full Text RSS
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Hubble Observes One-of-a-Kind Star Nicknamed 'Nasty'
Get larger image formats Astronomers have spent decades trying to determine the oddball behavior of an aging star nicknamed "Nasty 1" residing in our Milky Way galaxy. Nasty 1 was identified as a Wolf-Rayet star, a rapidly
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Hubble Catches a Stellar Exodus in Action
Get larger image formats Globular star clusters are isolated star cities, home to hundreds of thousands of stars. And like the fast pace of cities, there's plenty of action in these stellar metropolises. The stars are in
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Hubble Finds Giant Halo Around the Andromeda Galaxy
Get larger image formats The Andromeda galaxy is our Milky Way's nearest neighbor in space. The majestic spiral of over 100 billion stars is comparable in size to our home galaxy. At a distance of 2.5 million light-years,
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Astronomers Set a New Galaxy Distance Record
Get larger image formats The universe is incredibly big. But how do astronomers know that? Billion-mile-long tape measures can't be found at the hardware store. Instead, astronomers use the expansion of the universe itself
Read More 9 Hits 0 Ratings
Hubble Space Telescope Celebrates 25 Years of Unveiling the Universe
Get larger image formats NASA and ESA are celebrating the Hubble Space Telescope's silver anniversary of 25 years in space by unveiling some of nature's own fireworks a giant cluster of about 3,000 stars called Westerlund
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Researchers Test Smartphones for Earthquake Warning
Crowdsourced Smartphone Data Could Give Advance Notice for People in Quake Zones Smartphones and other personal electronic devices could, in regions where they are in widespread use, function as early warning systems for large
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NASA/Forest Service Maps Aid Fire Recovery 13 April 2015, 23.28 Space
NASA/Forest Service Maps Aid Fire Recovery
Fast Facts: › New maps of burn areas from two California megafires are so detailed, they can show individual trees. › The maps are being used in rehabilitating the burn areas and protecting wildlife. New maps of two
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Mars Test Rover Joins Runners at Finish Line
Runners at JPL are celebrating the first Martian marathon -- the Opportunity rover's achievement in surpassing marathon distance of total driving on Mars. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech › Larger image About 90 employees at
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NASA-funded Study Explains Saturn's Epic Tantrums
This series of images from NASA's Cassini spacecraft shows the development of a huge storm of the type that erupts about every 30 years on Saturn. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI › Full image and caption The long-standing
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Dawn's Ceres Color Map Reveals Surface Diversity
A new color map of dwarf planet Ceres, which NASA's Dawn spacecraft has been orbiting since March, reveals the diversity of the surface of this planetary body. Differences in morphology and color across the surface suggest
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NASA Mars Rover's Weather Data Bolster Case for Brine
Fast Facts: › Conditions that might produce liquid brine in Martian soil extend closer to the equator than expected › Perchlorate salt in soil can pull water molecules from the atmosphere and act as anti-freeze ›
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Puzzle of Saturn's "Great White Spots" Solved --"Water was the Missing Piece"
      Every 20 to 30 years, Saturn's atmosphere roils with giant, planet-encircling thunderstorms that produce intense lightning and enormous cloud disturbances. The head of one of these
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The Milky Way's Globular Star Clusters --"Relics from the Early Universe"
        About 160 globular clusters have been spotted encircling our galaxy, the Milky Way, mostly toward its central bulge. These clusters are among the oldest objects in the Universe.
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The Dark Side of the Universe --"Mapping an Invisible Force"
    Scientists on the Dark Energy Survey have released the first in a series of dark matter maps of the cosmos. These maps, created with one of the world's most powerful digital cameras, are the
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Hubble Captures Rare Triple-Moon Conjunction
Get larger image formats Firing off a string of snapshots like a sports photographer at a NASCAR race, NASA's Hubble Space Telescope captured a rare look at three of Jupiter's largest moons zipping across the banded face
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Hubble Spies a Loopy Galaxy 13 April 2015, 23.27 Space
Hubble Spies a Loopy Galaxy
Get larger image formats At first glance, galaxy NGC 7714 resembles a partial golden ring from an amusement park ride. This unusual structure is a river of Sun-like stars that has been pulled deep into space by the
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NASA's Hubble Observations Suggest Underground Ocean on Jupiter's Largest Moon
Get larger image formats Nearly 500 million miles from the Sun lies a moon orbiting Jupiter that is slightly larger than the planet Mercury and may contain more water than all of Earth's oceans. Temperatures are so cold,
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Hubble Sees Supernova Split into Four Images by Cosmic Lens
Get larger image formats Three-leaf clover plants abound everywhere: on lawns, in gardens, and in forests. But spotting a four-leaf clover is a rare, lucky find. Astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope have found the
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Hubble Gets Best View of a Circumstellar Debris Disk Distorted by a Planet
Get larger image formats Over a decade before planets were found orbiting normal stars, the astronomy world was intrigued by the discovery of a vast, edge-on, pancake-flat disk of dust and gas encircling the newborn star
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Hubble and Chandra Discover Dark Matter Is Not as Sticky as Once Thought
Get larger image formats In particle physics labs, like the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva, Switzerland, scientists smash atoms together to study the underpinnings of matter and energy. On the scale of the macrocosm,
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Hubble Source Catalog: One-Stop Shopping for Astronomers
Get larger image formats Astronomers at the Space Telescope Science Institute and the Johns Hopkins University, both in Baltimore, Maryland, have created a new master catalog of astronomical objects called the Hubble
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Our Sun Came Late to the Milky Way's Star-Birth Party
Get larger image formats Our Sun missed the stellar "baby boom" that erupted in our young Milky Way galaxy 10 billion years ago. During that time the Milky Way was churning out stars 30 times faster than it does today. Our
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NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Mission Passes Critical Milestone
[image-36] NASA's groundbreaking science mission to retrieve a sample from an ancient space rock has moved closer to fruition. The Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx)
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NASA and STScI Select Hubble Fellows for 2015
Get larger image formats NASA and the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) have announced the selection of 17 new Hubble Fellows. STScI in Baltimore, Maryland, administers the Hubble Fellowship Program for NASA. The
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NASA's Opportunity Mars Rover Finishes Marathon, Clocks in at Just Over 11 Years
[image-36] There was no tape draped across a finish line, but NASA is celebrating a win. The agency’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity completed its first Red Planet marathon Tuesday -- 26.219 miles (42.195 kilometers) –
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Hubble Finds Phantom Objects Near Dead Quasars
Get larger image formats In 2007, Dutch schoolteacher Hanny van Arkel discovered a never-before-seen ghostly structure near a galaxy, while she was participating in an online amateur scientist project called Galaxy Zoo.
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Curiosity Sniffs Out History of Martian Atmosphere
[image-36] NASA's Curiosity rover is using a new experiment to better understand the history of the Martian atmosphere by analyzing xenon. While NASA's Curiosity rover concluded its detailed examination of the rock layers
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Weekly Space Hangout – Jan. 23, 2015: SpaceX, Rosetta, and Asteroid Updates!
Send to Email Address Your Name Your Email Address Cancel Post was not sent - check your email addresses! Email check failed, please try again Sorry, your blog cannot share posts by
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The Entire Milky Way Might Be a Huge Wormhole That’s Stable and Navigable
Artist rendering of a wormhole connecting two galaxies. Credit: Davide and Paolo Salucci. Our very own Milky Way could be home to a giant tunnel in spacetime. At least, that’s what the authors of a new study have proposed.
Read More 116 Hits 0 Ratings

SpaceWatch.TV

 

Future News Reports

Obama's War Against US Energy Independence:  Give Away Oil Rich Alaskan Islands to Russia!
  By Joe Miller The Obama administration, despite the nation’s economic woes, effectively killed the job-producing Keystone Pipeline last month. The Arab Spring is turning the oil production of Libya and other Arab
Read More 2853 Hits 0 Ratings
OSBIT Power's MaXccess system completes successful offshore trials 08 April 2012, 02.33 Administrator Energy
OSBIT Power's MaXccess system completes successful offshore trials
OSBIT Power's MaXccess system completes successful offshore trials Visit http://www.osbitpower.com for further information OSBIT Power (OP), Siemens Wind Power and Statoil have successfully completed offshore
Read More 2582 Hits 0 Ratings
North America's EV charging infrastructure to get a boost 12 January 2012, 02.01 Administrator Energy
North America's EV charging infrastructure to get a boost
        North America’s EV charging infrastructure may soon see significant improvements, thanks to a recent agreement between Eaton Corporation and Coulomb Technologies. Under the deal, Eaton’s Level II and
Read More 2453 Hits 0 Ratings
Could The Gravitomagnetic Field Be The Ultimate Energy Source? 28 May 2011, 01.34 Administrator Energy
Could The Gravitomagnetic Field Be The Ultimate Energy Source?
      Have scientists already unknowingly discovered the source for all atomic energy reactions, and could the discovery of the gravitomagnetic field be the ultimate energy source?  What if our understandings on how
Read More 5486 Hits 1 Rating
Physicists urge caution over apparent speed of light violation 25 September 2011, 16.27 Administrator Energy
Physicists urge caution over apparent speed of light violation
Physicists wary of junking light speed limit yet Physicist Antonio Ereditato poses before presenting the result of an experiment, which found a subatomic particle, the neutrino, seemed to move faster than the speed of
Read More 3507 Hits 1 Rating
STEORN ORBO  FREE ENERGY:  What's Next a Self Charging Unit for your Electric Car?
Steorn's Free Energy Orbo -- From Permanent Magnets to Solid State Systems   My associate, Hank Mills composed this for PESN, Saturday, February 12, 2011 6:17 Steorn is a small company based in Dublin, Ireland. For
Read More 5520 Hits 1 Rating
Cold Fusion, Releases Energy from Hydrogen's Gravitomagnetic Field 16 January 2011, 09.17 Administrator Energy
Cold Fusion, Releases Energy  from Hydrogen's Gravitomagnetic Field
Cold Fusion "In Bologna we did it" By Ilaria VENTURI, La Republica News, Bolona, Italy For the first time in Italy, in front of experts, the process was carried out using nickel and hydrogen. It 's the way to achieve
Read More 4175 Hits 0 Ratings
Abu Dhabi Media Zone to generate renewable energy through its façade
Eco Factor: Sustainable development to generate renewable solar energy. Bernard Tschumi Architects have re-imagined their master plan for the new Abu Dhabi Media Zone, by incorporating several environmentally-friendly
Read More 3109 Hits 1 Rating

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Space

CATS Out of The Bag, Crawling Around ISS for Science Down Below PDF Print E-mail

This video frame shows a robotic arm on the space station, called the Japanese Experiment Module Remote Manipulator System, successfully installing NASA's Cloud-Aerosol Transport System (CATS) to the Space Station’s Japanese Experiment Module on Jan. 22, 2015. Credit: NASA

The Japanese robotic arm installs the CATS experiment on an external platform on Japan’s Kibo lab module. The SpaceX Dragon commercial cargo craft is seen at the right center of the image. Credit: NASA TV
See way cool installation video below

“Robotic controllers let the CATS out of the bag!” So says NASA spokesman Dan Huot in a cool new NASA timelapse video showing in detail how CATS crawled around the space stations gangly exterior and clawed its way into its new home – topped off with a breathtaking view of our home planet below that will deliver science benefits to us down below.

The CATS experiment was installed on the exterior of the International Space Station (ISS) via a first ever type of robotic handoff, whereby one of the stations robotic arms handed the rectangular shaped instrument off to a second robotic arm. Sort of like relays runners racing for the gold medal around the track.

In this case it was all in the name of science. CATS is short for Cloud Aerosol Transport System.

CATS is a new Earth Science instrument dedicated to collecting continuous data about clouds, volcanic ash plumes and tiny airborne particles that can help improve our understanding of aerosol and cloud interactions and improve the accuracy of climate change models.

All the movements were conducted overnight by robotic flight controllers on the ground. They installed CATS to an external platform on Japan’s Kibo lab module.

Check out this cool NASA ‘Space to Ground’ video showing CATS installation

Video caption: NASA’s Space to Ground on 1/23/15 covers CATS Out of The Bag. This is your weekly update on what’s happening aboard the International Space Station. Got a question or comment? Use #spacetoground to talk to us.

CATS was launched to the station as part of the payload aboard the SpaceX Dragon CRS-5 cargo vessel bolted atop the SpaceX Falcon 9 for the spectacular nighttime blastoff on Jan. 10 at 4:47 a.m. EST from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

CATS was loaded in the unpressurized rear trunk section of Dragon.

Kibo Laboratory The new CATS experiment delivered by the SpaceX commercial cargo craft will be installed on a platform outside Japan’s Kibo Laboratory module. Credit: NASA

Kibo Laboratory
The new CATS experiment delivered by the SpaceX commercial cargo craft will be installed on a platform outside Japan’s Kibo Laboratory module. Credit: NASA

The Dragon CRS-5 spacecraft was loaded with over 5108 pounds (2317 kg) of scientific experiments, technology demonstrations, the CATS science payload, student research investigations, crew supplies, spare parts, food, water, clothing and assorted research gear for the six person crew serving aboard the ISS.

It successfully rendezvoused at the station on Jan. 12 after a two day orbital chase, delivering the critical cargo required to keep the station stocked and humming with science.

Artist concept of CATS on ISS. Credit: NASA

Artist concept of CATS on ISS. Credit: NASA

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

About 

Dr. Ken Kremer is a speaker, research scientist, freelance science journalist (Princeton, NJ) and photographer whose articles, space exploration images and Mars mosaics have appeared in magazines, books, websites and calendars including Astronomy Picture of the Day, NBC, BBC, SPACE.com, Spaceflight Now and the covers of Aviation Week & Space Technology, Spaceflight and the Explorers Club magazines. Ken has presented at numerous educational institutions, civic & religious organizations, museums and astronomy clubs. Ken has reported first hand from the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, NASA Wallops, NASA Michoud/Stennis/Langley and on over 40 launches including 8 shuttle launches. He lectures on both Human and Robotic spaceflight - www.kenkremer.com. Follow Ken on Facebook and Twitter

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There’s a Crack Forming on Rosetta’s 67P. Is it Breaking Up? PDF Print E-mail

A Fissure spanning over 100 meters across the neck of Rosetta's comet 67P raises the question of if or when will the comet breakup. The fissure is part of released studies by Rosetta scientists in the Journal Science (Image Credits: ESA/Rosetta, Illustration, T.Reyes)

A fissure spanning over 100 meters across the neck of Rosetta’s comet 67P raises the question of if, or when, the comet will breakup. The fissure is part of released studies by Rosetta scientists in the Journal Science (Image Credits: ESA/Rosetta, Illustration, T.Reyes)

Not all comets breakup as they vent and age, but for Rosetta’s comet 67P, the Rubber Duckie comet, a crack in the neck raises concerns. Some comets may just fizzle and uniformly expel their volatiles throughout their surfaces. They may become like puffballs, shrink some but remain intact.

Comet 67P is the other extreme. The expulsion of volatile material has led to a shape and a point of no return; it is destined to break in two. Songwriter Neil Sedaka exclaimed, “Breaking Up is Hard to Do,” but for comet’s this may be the norm. The fissure is part of the analysis in a new set of science papers published this week.

Top left: The Hathor cliff face is to the right in this view. The aligned linear structures can be clearly seen. The smooth Hapi region is seen at the base of the Hathor cliff. Boulders are prevalent along the long axis of the Hapi region. Bottom left and right: Crack in the Hapi region. The left panel shows the crack (indicated by red arrows) extending across Hapi and beyond. The right panel shows the crack where it has left Hapi and is extending into Anuket, with Seth at the uppermost left and Hapi in the lower left. (Credit: ESA/Rosetta)

Top left: The Hathor cliff face is to the right in this view. The aligned linear structures can be clearly seen. The smooth Hapi region is seen at the base of the Hathor cliff. Boulders are prevalent along the long axis of the Hapi region. Bottom left and right: Crack in the Hapi region. The left panel shows the crack (indicated by red arrows) extending across Hapi and beyond. The right panel shows the crack where it has left Hapi and is extending into Anuket, with Seth at the uppermost left and Hapi in the lower left. (Credit: ESA/Rosetta)

The images show an approximate 100 meter (328 foot) fissure in the neck of the two lobe comet. The fissure is just one of the many incredible features on Comet 67P and is reported in research articles released in the January 22, 2015 edition of the journal Science.

What it means is not certain, but Rosetta team scientists have stated that flexing of the comet might be causing the fissure. As the comet approaches the Sun, the solar radiation is raising the temperature of the surface material. Like all materials, the comet’s will expand and contract with temperature. And diurnal (daily) changes in the tidal forces from the Sun is a factor, too.

An image sequence from the Navcam of the Rosetta spacecraft (right) is shown beside a simulation. Further work on the interaction of comets with solar radiation will include computer models that utilize Rosetta data to reveal how comet nuclei evolve over time – many orbits of the Sun- and break up. Peanut, rubber-duck, potatoes or just round-shaped comet nuclei likely result from combinations of rotation, changes in rotation, spin rate, composition and  internal structure, as a nucleus interacts with the Sun over many orbits. (Credits: ESA/Rosetta, Illustration – J.Schmidt)

The crack, or fissure, could spell the beginning of the end for comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. It is located in the neck area, in the region named Hapi, between the two lobes that make 67P appear so much like a Rubber Duck from a distance. The fissure could represent a focal point of many properties and forces at work, such as the rotation rate and axis – basically head over heels of the comet. The fissure lies in the most active area at present, and possibly the most active area overall. Though the Hapi region appears to receive nearly constant sunlight, at this time, Rosetta measurements (below) show otherwise – receiving 15% less sunlight than elsewhere.

Left: A map looking at the northern (right-hand rule, positive) pole of 67P showing the total energy received from the Sun per rotation on 6 August 2014. The base of the neck (Hapi) receives ~15% less energy than the most illuminated region, 3.5 × 106 J m-2 (per rotation). If self-heating were not included, the base of the neck would receive ~30% less total energy. Right: Similar to the left panel but showing total energy received over an entire orbital period in J m-2 (per orbit). (Credit:ESA/Journal Science Article, Figure 5)

Left: A map looking at the northern (right-hand rule, positive,) pole of 67P showing the total energy received from the Sun per rotation on 6 August 2014. The base of the neck (Hapi) receives ~15% less energy than the most illuminated region, 3.5 × 106 J m-2 (per rotation). If self-heating were not included, the base of the neck would receive ~30% less total energy. Right: Similar to the left panel but showing total energy received over an entire orbital period in J m-2 (per orbit). (Credit:ESA/Journal Science Article, Figure 5)

Sunlight and heating are major factors and the neck likely experiences the greatest mechanical stresses – internal torques – from heating or tidal forces from the sun as it rotates and approaches perihelion. Rosetta scientists are still not certain whether 67P is two bodies in contact – a contact binary – or a shape that formed from material expelled about the neck area leading to its narrowing.

Fragmentation of comets is common. Many sungrazers are broken up by thermal and tidal stresses during their perihelions. At top, an image of the comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 (May 1994) after a close approach with Jupiter which tore the comet into numerous fragments. An image taken by Andrew Catsaitis of components B and C of Comet 73P/Schwassmann–Wachmann 3 as seen together on 31 May 2006 (Credit: NASA/HST, Wikipedia, A.Catsaitis)

Fragmentation of comets is common. Many sungrazers are broken up by thermal and tidal stresses during their perihelions. At top, an image of the comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 (May 1994) after a close approach with Jupiter which tore the comet into numerous fragments. An image taken by Andrew Catsaitis of components B and C of Comet 73P/Schwassmann–Wachmann 3 as seen together on 31 May 2006 (Credit: NASA/HST, Wikipedia, A.Catsaitis)

The Philae lander’s MUPUS thermal sensor measured a temperature of –153°C (–243°F) at the landing site, while VIRTIS, an instrument on the primary spacecraft Rosetta, has measured -70°C (-94°F) at present. These temperatures will rise as perihelion is reached on August 13, 2015, at a distance of 1.2432 A.U. (24% further from the Sun than Earth). At present – January 23rd – 67P is 2.486 A.U. from the Sun (2 1/2 times farther from the Sun than Earth). While not a close approach to the Sun for a comet, the Solar radiation intensity will increase by 4 times between the present (January 2014) and perihelion in August.

Hubble capture a sequence of images of the comet 73P/Schwassman-Wachmann 3. The comet fragmented and like 73P, Rosetta's 67P will likely breakup some day in two majore fragments with debris spreading out as in these images. The Solar wind pressure as well as any explosive force from the breakup causes the comet fragments to slowly disperse but altogether remain effectively in the same orbit. (Image Credit: NASA/Hubble)

Hubble captured a sequence of images of the comet 73P/Schwassman-Wachmann 3. The comet fragmented, and like 73P, Rosetta’s 67P will likely break some day into two major fragments with debris spreading out as in these images. The Solar wind pressure, as well as any explosive force from the breakup, will cause the comet fragments to slowly disperse but effectively remain in the same orbit. (Image Credit: NASA/Hubble)

Stresses due to temperature changes from diurnal variations, the changing Sun angle during perihelion approach, from loss of material, and finally from changes in the tidal forces on a daily basis (12.4043 hours) may lead to changes in the fissure causing it to possibly widen or increase in length. Rosetta will continue escorting the comet and delivering images of the whole surface that will give Rosetta scientists the observations and measurements to determine 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko’s condition now and its fate in the longer term.

The fissure is not a very recent event. Universe Today's Bob King published an earlier image in his blog in September and added a question to illustrate. Whether the crack has widen since this time is not certain. (Image Credit: ESA, Illustration, Bob King)

The fissure is not a very recent event. Universe Today’s Bob King published an earlier image in his blog in September and added a question to illustrate. Whether the crack has widened since that time is not certain. (Image Credit: ESA, Illustration, Bob King)

Stay tuned for a forthcoming article from UT’s writer Bob King about numerous Rosetta mission scientific findings published this week in the journal Science.

Reference:

The morphological diversity of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko

On the nucleus structure and activity of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko

About 

Contributing writer Tim Reyes is a former NASA software engineer and analyst who has supported development of orbital and lander missions to the planet Mars since 1992. He has an M.S. in Space Plasma Physics from University of Alabama, Huntsville.

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See a Rare Comet-Moon Conjunction Tonight PDF Print E-mail

Tonight (Friday, Jan. 23rd) the moon will pass only about 1° (two moon diameters) south of Comet 15P/Finlay as seen from the Americas. This map shows the view from the upper Midwest at 7 p.m. Two 6th magnitude stars in Pisces are labelled. Created with Chris Marriott's SkyMap software

Tonight (Friday, Jan. 23rd) the moon will pass only about 1° (two moon diameters) south of Comet 15P/Finlay as seen from the Americas. This map shows the view from the upper Midwest at 7 p.m. Two 6th magnitude stars in Pisces are labelled. Created with Chris Marriott’s SkyMap software

I want to alert you to a rather unusual event occurring this evening.

Many of you already know about the triple shadow transit of Jupiter’s moons Io, Europa and Callisto. That’s scheduled for late tonight.

Earlier, around nightfall, the crescent moon will lie 1° or less to the south-southwest of comet 15P/Finlay. No doubt lunar glare will hamper the view some, but what a fun opportunity to use the moon to find a comet.

Finlay underwent a flare in brightness last week when it became easily visible in binoculars.

The farther south you live, the closer the moon will approach the comet tonight. This diagram shows the view from Tucson, Ariz. at nightfall when less than 1/2° will separate the two. At about the same time (~7 p.m. local time) the moon will occult or cover up a 6th magnitude star (seen poking out from its left side). Source: SkyMap

The farther south you live, the closer the moon will approach the comet tonight. This diagram shows the view from Tucson, Ariz. at nightfall when less than 1/2° will separate the two. At about the same time (~7 p.m. local time) the moon will occult or cover up a 6th magnitude star (seen poking out from its left side). Source: SkyMap

Though a crescent moon isn’t what you’d call a glare bomb, I can’t predict for certain whether you’ll still see the comet in binoculars tonight or need a small telescope instead. Most likely a scope. Finlay has faded some since its outburst and now glows around magnitude +8.5.

You can try with a 10×50 or larger glass, and if you don’t succeed, whip out your telescope; a 4.5-inch or larger instrument should handle the job.

Just point it at the moon at star-hop a little to the north-northeast using the map until you see a fuzzy spot with a brighter center. That’s your comet. The tail won’t be visible unless you’re using more firepower, something closer to 10-inches.

Comet Finlay in outburst on January 20, 2015 shows a beautiful parabolic-shaped head. Credit: Joseph Brimacombe

Comet Finlay in outburst on January 20, 2015 showing a beautiful parabolic-shaped head. Credit: Joseph Brimacombe

By the way, the father south you live, the closer the moon approaches Finlay. From the far southern U.S. they’ll be just 1/2° apart. Keep going south and parts of Central and South America will actually see the earth-lit edge of moon approach and then occult the comet from view!

About 

I'm a long-time amateur astronomer and member of the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO). My observing passions include everything from auroras to Z Cam stars. Every day the universe offers up something both beautiful and thought-provoking. I also write a daily astronomy blog called Astro Bob.

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Dawn Delivers New Image of Ceres PDF Print E-mail

As NASA's Dawn spacecraft closes in on Ceres, new images show the dwarf planet at 27 pixels across, about three times better than the calibration images taken in early December. These are the first in a series of images that will be taken for navigation purposes during the approach to Ceres.

Over the next several weeks, Dawn will deliver increasingly better and better images of the dwarf planet, leading up to the spacecraft's capture into orbit around Ceres on March 6. The images will continue to improve as the spacecraft spirals closer to the surface during its 16-month study of the dwarf planet.

"We know so much about the solar system and yet so little about dwarf planet Ceres. Now, Dawn is ready to change that," said Marc Rayman, Dawn's chief engineer and mission director, based at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

The best images of Ceres so far were taken by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope in 2003 and 2004. This most recent images from Dawn, taken January 13, 2015, at about 80 percent of Hubble resolution, are not quite as sharp. But Dawn's images will surpass Hubble's resolution at the next imaging opportunity, which will be at the end of January.

"Already, the [latest] images hint at first surface structures such as craters," said Andreas Nathues, lead investigator for the framing camera team at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Gottingen, Germany.

Ceres is the largest body in the main asteroid belt, which lies between Mars and Jupiter. It has an average diameter of 590 miles (950 kilometers), and is thought to contain a large amount of ice. Some scientists think it's possible that the surface conceals an ocean.

Dawn's arrival at Ceres will mark the first time a spacecraft has ever visited a dwarf planet.

"The team is very excited to examine the surface of Ceres in never-before-seen detail," said Chris Russell, principal investigator for the Dawn mission, based at the University of California, Los Angeles. "We look forward to the surprises this mysterious world may bring."

The spacecraft has already delivered more than 30,000 images and many insights about Vesta, the second most massive body in the asteroid belt. Dawn orbited Vesta, which has an average diameter of 326 miles (525 kilometers), from 2011 to 2012. Thanks to its ion propulsion system, Dawn is the first spacecraft ever targeted to orbit two deep-space destinations.

JPL manages the Dawn mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Dawn is a project of the directorate's Discovery Program, managed by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. The University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) is responsible for overall Dawn mission science. Orbital Sciences Corp. in Dulles, Virginia, designed and built the spacecraft. The Dawn framing cameras were developed and built under the leadership of the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Gottingen, Germany, with significant contributions by German Aerospace Center (DLR), Institute of Planetary Research, Berlin, and in coordination with the Institute of Computer and Communication Network Engineering, Braunschweig. The Framing Camera project is funded by the Max Planck Society, DLR, and NASA/JPL. The Italian Space Agency and the Italian National Astrophysical Institute are international partners on the mission team.

More information about Dawn is online at http://dawn.jpl.nasa.gov.

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2015-023

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SPIDER Experiment Touches Down in Antarctica PDF Print E-mail

Jeff Filippini, a postdoctoral scholar who worked on the SPIDER receiver team at Caltech Jeff Filippini, a postdoctoral scholar who worked on the SPIDER receiver team at Caltech, stands in front of the instrument as it was being readied for launch. Credit: Jeff Filippini
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After spending 16 days suspended from a giant helium balloon floating 115,000 feet (35,000 meters) above Antarctica, a scientific instrument dubbed SPIDER has landed in a remote region of the frozen continent. Conceived of and built by an international team of scientists, the instrument was launched from McMurdo Station on New Year's Day. The California Institute of Technology and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, both in Pasadena, California, designed, fabricated and tested the six refracting telescopes the instrument uses to map the cosmic microwave background (CMB), the thermal afterglow of the Big Bang that created our universe.

SPIDER's goal: to search the CMB for the signal of inflation, an explosive event that blew our observable universe up from a volume smaller than a single atom in the first "fraction of an instant" after its birth.

The instrument appears to have performed well during its flight, said Jamie Bock, head of the SPIDER receiver team at Caltech and JPL. "Of course, we won't know everything until we get the full data back as part of the instrument recovery."

Read the full story and see a slideshow from Caltech at:

http://www.caltech.edu/content/spider-experiment-touches-down-antarctica#more

The SPIDER project originated in the early 2000s with the late Andrew Lange's Observational Cosmology Group at Caltech, and collaborators. The experiment is now led by William Jones of Princeton University, who was a graduate student of Lange's.

SPIDER is funded in part by NASA. The NASA Balloon Program Office at Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia has oversight of all NASA balloon flight operations, including SPIDER. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

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2015-026

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Telescope To Seek Dust Where Other Earths May Lie PDF Print E-mail

The NASA-funded Large Binocular Telescope Interferometer, or LBTI, has completed its first study of dust in the "habitable zone" around a star, opening a new door to finding planets like Earth. Dust is a natural byproduct of the planet-formation process, but too much of it can block our view of planets.

The findings will help in the design of future space missions that have the goal of taking pictures of planets similar to Earth, called exo-Earths.

"Kepler told us how common Earth-like planets are," said Phil Hinz, the principal investigator of the LBTI project at the University of Arizona, Tucson, referring to NASA's planet-hunting Kepler mission, which has identified more than 4,000 planetary candidates around stars. "Now we want to find out just how dusty and obscured planetary environments are, and how difficult the planets will be to image."

The new instrument, based at the Large Binocular Telescope Observatory at the top of Mount Graham in southeastern Arizona, will obtain the best infrared images yet of dust permeating a star's habitable zone, the region around the star where water -- an essential ingredient for life as we know it -- could pool on a planet. Earth sits comfortably within our sun's habitable zone, hence its glistening surface of oceans.

Scientists want to take pictures of exo-Earths and break up their light into a rainbow of colors. This color information is displayed in plots, called spectra, which reveal chemical clues about whether a planet could sustain life. But dust -- which comes from colliding asteroids and evaporating comets -- can outshine the feeble light of a planet, making this task difficult.

"Imagine trying to view a firefly buzzing around a lighthouse in Canada from Los Angeles," said Denis Defrère of the University of Arizona, lead author of the new study that appears in the Jan. 14 issue of the Astrophysical Journal. "Now imagine that fog is in the way. The fog is like our stardust. We want to eliminate the stars with fog from our list of targets to study in the future."

A previous NASA project, called the Keck Interferometer, had a similar task of seeking out this dust, finding good news for planet hunters: The stars they observed didn't seem to be all that dusty on average. LBTI is taking the research a step further, more precisely quantifying the amount of dust around stars. It will be 10 times more sensitive than the Keck Interferometer, and is specially designed to target a star's inner region -- its sweet spot, the habitable zone.

The new study reports LBTI's first test observations of stardust, in this case around a mature, sun-like star called eta Corvi known to be unusually dusty. According to the science team, this star is 10,000 times dustier than our own solar system, likely due to a recent impact between planetary bodies in its inner regions. The surplus of dust gives the telescope a good place to practice its dust-detecting skills.

The results showed the telescope works as intended, but also yielded a surprise: The dust was observed to be significantly closer to the star than previously thought, lying between the star and its habitable zone. NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has previously estimated the dust to be farther out, based on models of the size of the dust grains.

"With LBTI, we can really see where the dust is," said Hinz. "This star is a not a good candidate for direct imaging of planets, but it demonstrates what LBTI is good for: We are figuring out the architecture of planetary systems in a way that has not been done before."

LBTI will begin its official science operations this spring, and will operate for at least three years. One of the project's goals is to find stars 10 times less dusty than our solar system -- the good candidates for planet imaging. These survey results will inform designs and strategies for upcoming exo-Earth imaging missions now in early planning stages. The journey to find worlds ripe for life begins in part by following a trail of dust.

LBTI is funded by NASA Headquarters. It is managed by the agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, for NASA's Exoplanet Exploration Program office, and operated by the University of Arizona. The Large Binocular Telescope Observatory is operated by an international collaboration among institutions in the United States, Italy and Germany. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

The Astrophysical Journal paper is online at:

http://iopscience.iop.org/0004-637X/799/1/42/article

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2015-024

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NASA, Microsoft Collaboration Will Allow Scientists to 'Work on Mars' PDF Print E-mail

NASA and Microsoft have teamed up to develop software called OnSight, a new technology that will enable scientists to work virtually on Mars using wearable technology called Microsoft HoloLens.

Developed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, OnSight will give scientists a means to plan and, along with the Mars Curiosity rover, conduct science operations on the Red Planet.

"OnSight gives our rover scientists the ability to walk around and explore Mars right from their offices," said Dave Lavery, program executive for the Mars Science Laboratory mission at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "It fundamentally changes our perception of Mars, and how we understand the Mars environment surrounding the rover."

OnSight will use real rover data and extend the Curiosity mission's existing planning tools by creating a 3-D simulation of the Martian environment where scientists around the world can meet. Program scientists will be able to examine the rover's worksite from a first-person perspective, plan new activities and preview the results of their work firsthand.

"We believe OnSight will enhance the ways in which we explore Mars and share that journey of exploration with the world," said Jeff Norris, JPL's OnSight project manager.

Until now, rover operations required scientists to examine Mars imagery on a computer screen, and make inferences about what they are seeing. But images, even 3-D stereo views, lack a natural sense of depth that human vision employs to understand spatial relationships.

The OnSight system uses holographic computing to overlay visual information and rover data into the user's field of view. Holographic computing blends a view of the physical world with computer-generated imagery to create a hybrid of real and virtual.

To view this holographic realm, members of the Curiosity mission team don a Microsoft HoloLens device, which surrounds them with images from the rover's Martian field site. They then can stroll around the rocky surface or crouch down to examine rocky outcrops from different angles. The tool provides access to scientists and engineers looking to interact with Mars in a more natural, human way.

"Previously, our Mars explorers have been stuck on one side of a computer screen. This tool gives them the ability to explore the rover's surroundings much as an Earth geologist would do field work here on our planet," said Norris.

The OnSight tool also will be useful for planning rover operations. For example, scientists can program activities for many of the rover's science instruments by looking at a target and using gestures to select menu commands.

The joint effort to develop OnSight with Microsoft grew from an ongoing partnership to investigate advances in human-robot interaction. The JPL team responsible for OnSight specializes in systems to control robots and spacecraft. The tool will assist researchers in better understanding the environment and workspace of robotic spacecraft -- something that can be quite challenging with their traditional suite of tools.

JPL plans to begin testing OnSight in Curiosity mission operations later this year. Future applications may include Mars 2020 rover mission operations, and other applications in support of NASA's journey to Mars.

JPL manages the Mars Science Laboratory Project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington, and built the project's Curiosity rover.

Learn more about NASA's journey to Mars at:

http://www.nasa.gov/mars

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Gullies on Vesta Suggest Past Water-Mobilized Flows PDF Print E-mail

This image shows Cornelia Crater on the large asteroid Vesta. This image shows Cornelia Crater on the large asteroid Vesta. On the right is an inset image showing an example of curved gullies, indicated by the short white arrows, and a fan-shaped deposit, indicated by long white arrows. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA
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Protoplanet Vesta, visited by NASA's Dawn spacecraft from 2011 to 2013, was once thought to be completely dry, incapable of retaining water because of the low temperatures and pressures at its surface. However, a new study shows evidence that Vesta may have had short-lived flows of water-mobilized material on its surface, based on data from Dawn.

"Nobody expected to find evidence of water on Vesta. The surface is very cold and there is no atmosphere, so any water on the surface evaporates," said Jennifer Scully, postgraduate researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles. "However, Vesta is proving to be a very interesting and complex planetary body."

The study has broad implications for planetary science.

"These results, and many others from the Dawn mission, show that Vesta is home to many processes that were previously thought to be exclusive to planets," said UCLA's Christopher Russell, principal investigator for the Dawn mission. "We look forward to uncovering even more insights and mysteries when Dawn studies Ceres."

Dawn is currently in the spotlight because it is approaching dwarf planet Ceres, the largest object in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. It will be captured into orbit around Ceres on March 6. Yet data from Dawn's exploration of Vesta continue to capture the interest of the scientific community.

Scully and colleagues, publishing in the journal "Earth and Planetary Science Letters," identified a small number of young craters on Vesta with curved gullies and fan-shaped ("lobate") deposits.

"We're not suggesting that there was a river-like flow of water. We're suggesting a process similar to debris flows, where a small amount of water mobilizes the sandy and rocky particles into a flow," Scully said.

The curved gullies are significantly different from those formed by the flow of purely dry material, scientists said. "These features on Vesta share many characteristics with those formed by debris flows on Earth and Mars," Scully said.

The gullies are fairly narrow, on average about 100 feet (30 meters) wide. The average length of the gullies is a little over half a mile (900 meters). Cornelia Crater, with a width of 9 miles (15 kilometers), contains some of the best examples of the curved gullies and fan-shaped deposits.

The leading theory to explain the source of the curved gullies is that Vesta has small, localized patches of ice in its subsurface. No one knows the origin of this ice, but one possibility is that ice-rich bodies, such as comets, left part of their ice deep in the subsurface following impact. A later impact would form a crater and heat up some of the ice patches, releasing water onto the walls of the crater.

"If present today, the ice would be buried too deeply to be detected by any of Dawn's instruments," Scully said. "However, the craters with curved gullies are associated with pitted terrain, which has been independently suggested as evidence for loss of volatile gases from Vesta." Also, evidence from Dawn's visible and infrared mapping spectrometer and gamma ray and neutron detector indicates that there is hydrated material within some rocks on Vesta's surface, suggesting that Vesta is not entirely dry.

It appears the water mobilized sandy and rocky particles to flow down the crater walls, carving out the gullies and leaving behind the fan-shaped deposits after evaporation. The craters with curvy gullies appear to be less than a few hundred million years old, which is still young compared to Vesta's age of 4.6 billion years.

Laboratory experiments performed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, indicate that there could be enough time for curved gullies to form on Vesta before all of the water evaporated. "The sandy and rocky particles in the flow help to slow the rate of evaporation," Scully said.

The Dawn mission to Vesta and Ceres is managed by JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. UCLA is responsible for overall Dawn mission science.

For more information about Dawn, visit:

http://dawn.jpl.nasa.gov

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Five Things about NASA's SMAP PDF Print E-mail

Satellite in a Can Last week, NASA's Soil Moisture Active Passive satellite was transported across Vandenberg Air Force Base in California to Space Launch Complex 2, where it will be mated to a Delta II rocket for launch. Image credit: NASA/Randy Beaudoin
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The Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) mission, scheduled for launch on Jan. 29, will measure the moisture in Earth's soil with greater accuracy and higher resolution than any preceding mission, producing a global map of soil moisture every three days. Here are five quick facts about the spacecraft and what it studies.

1. Soil moisture is a tiny fraction of water with a big punch. Only 0.001 percent of Earth's total water is lodged in the top few feet of soil. That tiny percentage, however, affects all living things on land and plays an important role in moving water, carbon and heat between land and atmosphere.

2. Soil moisture can compound water risks. A flood follows a heavy rainfall -- but only if the ground cannot soak up the rain. Waterlogged soil makes a region more flood-prone. Going to the opposite extreme, a drought can parch soil to such an extent that plants are unable to grow even after a few rains have fallen. Knowing soil moisture allows hydrologists to make better decisions related to the risk of flooding and drought, such as how much water to retain in reservoirs.

3. Soil moisture controls the on-off switch for carbon dioxide cleanup. The world's vast northern forests remove carbon dioxide from the air as they grow, helping to clean up our emissions from burning fossil fuels. But when the ground freezes, that process switches off. Carbon dioxide builds up in the atmosphere until the ground thaws in the spring and plants begin growing again. Knowing where and for how long the ground is frozen or thawed is an important part of understanding the role of the northern forests in reducing greenhouse warming. SMAP will map frozen and thawed soils north of 45 degrees north latitude (about the latitude of Minneapolis), around the globe.

4. SMAP is a twofer. The spacecraft's radiometer produces an accurate reading of how much moisture is in the top two inches (five centimeters) of soil, but it has low spatial resolution, that is, one measurement covers a large area. A radar instrument produces an image with higher spatial resolution, but it can't measure soil moisture as accurately as a radiometer. Through sophisticated data processing, SMAP combines observations from the two instruments into a very accurate measurement with high spatial resolution.

5. SMAP has a huge, folding, spinning antenna. At 19 feet 8 inches (6 meters) in diameter, SMAP's rotating mesh antenna dwarfs the size of the instruments and spacecraft and is the largest rotating antenna of its kind that NASA has yet deployed. But the entire dish furls into a cylinder one foot (diameter) by four feet (30 by 120 centimeters) to fit inside the rocket's fairing for launch, and it weighs only 128 pounds (about 58 kilograms).

For more information about SMAP, see:

http://smap.jpl.nasa.gov/

http://www.nasa.gov/smap/

Media Contact

Alan Buis
818-354-0474
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California
This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Written by Carol Rasmussen
NASA Earth Science News Team

2015-028

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