Monday, 20 December 2010

Cryosat ice mission returns first science

The Cryosat-2 spacecraft has produced its first major science result.
Radar data from the European satellite has been used to make a map of ocean circulation across the Arctic basin.
Cryosat's primary mission is to measure sea-ice thickness, which has been in sharp decline in recent decades.
But its ability also to map the shape of the sea surface will tell scientists if Arctic currents are changing as a result of winds being allowed to blow more easily on ice-free waters.
"Nobody really knows how the Arctic is going to behave as the ice retreats, but we do anticipate that significant changes will occur," said Dr Seymour Laxon, a Cryosat science team member from University College London, UK.
"This is just the first data, and it shows we now have the tool to monitor what is happening," he told BBC News.

Space Pictures This Week: Cosmic Gem, Sun Burp, Vegas

NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft has reached the outside edge of the solar system.

A NASA space probe dispatched 33 years ago for the first close-up studies of Jupiter and Saturn has entered the tail of the solar system, a place where the constant stream of charged particles flowing from the sun ebbs.

This final phase of solar system exploration should last another four years, computer models show, though scientists overseeing the two Voyager spacecraft really don't know what to expect.

Voyager 1 is now about 10.8 billion miles from the sun, traveling in a region of space known as the heliosheath, a turbulent area between the sphere of space influenced by the sun and magnetic forces from interstellar space that lies beyond.

Read more ...

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Magnetic Eruption on 14 December 2010


MAGNETIC ERUPTION : On Dec. 14th around 1530 UT, a filament of magnetism lifted up from the surface of the sun and--snap!--erupted. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory recorded the action.
The blast produced an hours-long C2-class solar flare and hurled a magnificent CME into space: SOHO movie. The expanding cloud is not heading directly toward Earth, but it might deliver a glancing blow to our planet's magnetic field two or three days hence. High latitude sky watchers should be alert for auroras.

Source: Visit

Coleman, Crew Members Fly to ISS

Monday, 13 December 2010

89 Instruments used for tank test on Discovery

IMAGE: Technicians prepare space shuttle Discovery's external fuel tank for a tanking test on launch pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center. Teams have installed environmental enclosures on the tank, removed foam and prepared the tank's skin for approximately 89 strain gauges and thermocouples. Credit: NASA/Frank Michaux

Shuttle Discovery's tanking test will occur no earlier than Friday as cold weather and strong wind have slowed preparations.

Workers at launch pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center continue to instrument the tank with temperature sensors, after work through the weekend finished attaching strain gauges.

In total, nearly 90 instruments are being placed on the tank's mid-section. Fresh insulating foam will be applied over those areas.

The sensors won't bond properly to the tank's metal skin in cold weather. Specially constructed environmental enclosures and thermal blankets are being used to control temperatures. 

Read more ...

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Reuters Best Photos of 2010

Out of the half-million photos that Reuters photographers produce each here, Reuters has selected 55 as the Best Photos of 2010.  These photographs capture the human spirit at play and in turmoil within the natural world around us.  The Pakistani floods, the Gulf oil spill, the Shanghai World Expo, the Haitian earthquakes and more are all represented here with stunning symbolism.  These photographs are a visual record of the world in 2010, where human culture made its movement into yet another decade.  

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

NASA-Funded Research Discovers Life Built With Toxic Chemical

NASA-funded astrobiology research has changed the fundamental knowledge about what comprises all known life on Earth.

Researchers conducting tests in the harsh environment of Mono Lake in California have discovered the first known microorganism on Earth able to thrive and reproduce using the toxic chemical arsenic. The microorganism substitutes arsenic for phosphorus in its cell components.

"The definition of life has just expanded," said Ed Weiler, NASA's associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at the agency's Headquarters in Washington. "As we pursue our efforts to seek signs of life in the solar system, we have to think more broadly, more diversely and consider life as we do not know it."

Jupiter gets its stripe back

| 24 November 2010 

One of Jupiter's dark brown stripes that faded out last spring is regaining its color, providing an unprecedented opportunity for astronomers to observe a rare and mysterious phenomenon caused by the planet's winds and cloud chemistry.
Earlier this year, amateur astronomers noticed that the long-standing stripe, known as the South Equatorial Belt (SEB), just south of Jupiter's equator, had turned white. In early November, amateur astronomer Christopher Go of Cebu City in the Philippines observed a prominent bright spot in the unusually whitened belt, piquing the interest of professional and amateur astronomers around the world.

More Space Pictures

Best Space Pictures of 2010

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Secret military mini-shuttle lands in California

The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle in the encapsulation cell at the Astrotech facility in April 2010, in Titusville, Florida.
Credit: Reuters/U.S. Air Force/Handout

(Reuters) - A miniature robotic space shuttle wrapped up a 224-day classified military mission and made an unannounced landing in darkness on a California runway on Friday, Air Force officials said.
The Orbital Test Vehicle, or X-37B, touched down at 1:16 a.m. PST at Vandenberg Air Force Base, becoming the first U.S. spaceship to land itself on a runaway.
The former Soviet Union's Buran space shuttle accomplished a similar feat in 1988.
"We are very pleased that the program completed all the on-orbit objectives for the first mission," program manager Lt. Col. Troy Giese said in a statement.
The project, which was started by NASA in the late 1990s and later adopted by the military, is intended to test technologies for a next-generational space shuttle.
Rather than carry people, however, the military is looking at the spaceplane as a way to test new equipment, sensors and material in space, with the intention of incorporating successful technologies into satellites and other operational systems.
Another key point of the project is to see if the costs and turnaround time between flights can be reduced from months to days.
The Air Force imposed a news blackout on the X-37B's activities while in orbit, though it was tracked by amateur satellite-watchers throughout its nine-month mission.
The X-37B looks like a space shuttle orbiter, but is smaller, with a similar shape and payload bay for cargo and experiments. But it measures 29 feet, 3 inches in length and has a 15-foot (4.5-metres) wing span, compared to the 122-foot (37-metres) orbiters with wing spans of 78 feet.
Unlike NASA's space shuttles which can stay in orbit about two weeks, X-37B is designed to spend as long as nine months in space, then land itself on a runway.
The Air Force plans to fly its second X-37B vehicle this spring. The spaceplanes were built by Boeing's advanced research lab, Phantom Works.
(Editing by Kevin Gray and Philip Barbara)

Monday, 22 November 2010

Sky Guide Africa South 2011 on the shelves

Sky Guide Africa South 2011

The Astronomical Handbook for Southern Africa

Sky Guide Africa South is an invaluable practical resource for anyone who has even a passing interest in the night skies of southern Africa.
Prepared yearly by the Astronomical Society of Southern Africa as a reference work for the novice, amateur and professional astronomer, it continues the tradition of the well-established Astronomical Handbook for Southern Africa.
It presents a wealth of information about the Sun, Moon, planets, comets, meteors and bright stars in a clear and accessible way, accompanied by a number of diagrams to support the text.

 Comprising 128 pages in A5 size, it is published and distributed by Struik Nature and is available from bookshops or on-line bookshops such as or

The recommended retail price is R85.

Ns. Ek was so bietjie teleurgesteld in die kopie wat ek as ASSA-lid ontvang het. Van die bladsye het swak gedruk - die registrasie was uit en dubbelle geblurde letters was die gevolg. So blaai eers mooi deur voor jy koop. (Hannes Pieterse)

Icy Particle Spray - Comet Hartley 2.

This movie made from images obtained by NASA's EPOXI mission spacecraft shows an active end of the nucleus of comet Hartley 2. Icy particles spew from the surface. The specks move as the movie toggles back and forth. Most of these particles are traveling with the nucleus. They are fluffy "snowballs" about 3 centimeters to 30 centimeters (1 inch to 1 foot) across.

The images for the movie were obtained by the Medium Resolution Imager on Nov. 4, 2010, the day the EPOXI mission spacecraft made its closest approach to the comet.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., manages the EPOXI mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. The University of Maryland, College Park, is home to the mission's principal investigator, Michael A'Hearn. The spacecraft was built for NASA by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., Boulder, Colo.

For more information about EPOXI visit and

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UMD/Brown

NASA Nanosatellite Studies Life in Space, Demonstrates Technology

Thursday, 4 November 2010

STS-133 Flight Plan (Shuttle & ISS)

Changes and additions:
- July 6: Posting initial release
- July 27: Launch time updated
- Sept. 4: Spacewalk tasks changed
- Sept. 17: Slight tweaks
- Oct. 25: Latest revision
- Oct. 27: Tweaks to docking, undocking and landing
- Oct. 30: New launch date of Nov. 3
- Nov. 4: New launch date of Nov. 5


Flight Day 1

Fri 03:04 PM...00...00...00...00...Launch
Fri 03:41 PM...00...00...37...21...OMS-2 rocket firing
Fri 03:54 PM...00...00...50...00...Post insertion timeline begins
Fri 05:34 PM...00...02...30...00...Laptop computer setup (part 1)
Fri 05:49 PM...00...02...45...00...GIRA install
Fri 06:24 PM...00...03...20...39...NC-1 rendezvous rocket firing
Fri 06:44 PM...00...03...40...00...SRMS powerup
Fri 06:49 PM...00...03...45...00...SEE setup
Fri 06:59 PM...00...03...55...00...Group B computer powerdown
Fri 07:14 PM...00...04...10...00...SRMS checkout
Fri 07:24 PM...00...04...20...00...ET photo
Fri 07:34 PM...00...04...30...00...Wing leading edge sensors activated
Fri 07:34 PM...00...04...30...00...ET video downlink
Fri 07:54 PM...00...04...50...00...ET umbilical downlink
Fri 09:04 PM...00...06...00...00...Crew sleep begins

Animation of the five closest-approach Hartley 2 images ( KFC Chicken leg or cucumber?)

Those of you who follow my blog must have known this was coming: now that I got all five new Deep Impact images of Comet Hartley 2 posted and explained, I had to make an animation. Here they are. I rotated them all counterclockwise by a quarter turn and aligned the frames, but otherwise did no processing.

Animation of Deep Impact close-approach images
About an hour after its closest approach of Hartley 2, Deep Impact downlinked five precious images taken during the nearest part of its flyby. The top two images were taken 82 and 16 seconds before closest approach, and the bottom three 18, 57, and 117 seconds after closest approach (image times are 13:58:07, 13:59:13, 13:59:47, 14:00:26, and 14:01:26 UTC on November 4, 2010). They show a very active comet with numerous jets. Credit: NASA / JPL / UMD / animation by Emily Lakdawalla 


This is how Comet Hartley 2 might appear in the eyepiece of a large amateur telescope. Located about eight degrees (16 full moon diameters) away from the bright star Procyon as it leaves the constellation Gemini, Comet Hartley will be best viewed high in the sky just before dawn. Credit: David A. Aguilar (CfA)

Did Earth encounter pieces of an alien visitor last night? Apparently so! It appears tiny pieces of Comet Hartley 2 may have presented a spectacular and startling sky show across the country yesterday. NASA meteor experts had predicted it was a long shot, but the evenings of November 2nd and 3rd might display a meteor shower from dust which puffed off this visiting comet as it passed within twelve million miles of Earth. And indeed, the Center for Astrophysics has collected several sightings of bright meteors called fireballs, which result when comet dust burns up in Earth's atmosphere.

Helga Cabral in Seascape, California, reported after 9 pm last night, "I saw a bright white ball and tail, arcing towards the ocean. It was quite beautiful and it looked like it was headed out to sea and so picture perfect it could have been a movie!" Three thousand miles away just north of Boston, Teresa Witham witnessed a similar cosmic event. "I was in the Revere area about 7:15 last night, driving north on Route 1, when a brilliant object with a tail passed in front of me -- very similar in appearance to a shooting star but it appeared much lower to the Earth than a typical shooting star would be. If it weren't for the fact that I had my daughter with me, I'd begin to believe I'd imagined it."

Comet Hartley 2 has put on quite a nice show for amateur astronomers over the past few weeks, sporting a vivid green coma or halo around it and a golden auburn tail of dust. NASA's Deep Impact/EPOXI probe will present dramatic close-up images of the comet when it zooms past the nucleus on November 4th.

When a comet approaches the Sun, it heats up unevenly, throwing off dust, ice and bits of rock. When the Earth encounters some of this space debris, it is seen as a beautiful meteor shower.

"Many people don't realize that the famous periodic meteor shower in August, the Perseids, is the remains of Comet Swift-Tuttle and the Orionids, appearing in late October, are leftovers from Comet Halley," said Tim Spahr, Director of the Minor Planet Center at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, MA.

So for the next two evenings, we may see more of Comet Hartley 2. And if you have dark skies and a small telescope or binoculars, try to find Comet Hartley 2 itself. It will be near the bright star Procyon in the constellation Canis Minor near Orion the Hunter, which will be high overhead in the early hours before dawn.


A map of water in Comet Hartley 2, observed by Odin on 29 October
2010. Copyright 2010 Swedish Space Corporation/Centre National
d’Etudes Spatiales/Observatoire de Paris.

The Odin satellite observed Comet Hartley 2 almost continuously from 29 October to 1 November. The water signature (line) was easily detected. Its extension and space distribution is shown on a map (Fig. 1). The production of water derived from the observations ranges from 180 to 300 kg (400 to 660 lb) per second.

This production of water (Fig. 2) is rapidly varying with time. This is in line with variations reported from other means of observation. It may be related to the rotation of the comet's nucleus, for which periods around 17h have been reported.

Comet 103P/Hartley 2 is a Jupiter-family comet orbiting the Sun close to the ecliptic plane, with a period of 6.5 years. Its return this year is exceptional. It passed perihelion on 28 October at 1.059 AU from the Sun (158 million km; 98 million miles) and on 20 October, it came close to the Earth, at only 0.121 AU (18 million km; 11 million miles). Furthermore, it is the target of NASA's mission EPOXI, which is to fly by the comet on 4 November.

At this occasion, this comet is the object of an intense, international campaign of observation which mobilizes all major astronomical resources, including the Herschel Space Observatory. The Odin satellite is participating to this campaign.

The Odin satellite is a small spacecraft, orbiting the Earth, designed and built by Sweden, in collaboration with Canada, Finland and France. It was launched in February 2001. Aimed for studying both the Universe (astronomy) and the terrestrial atmosphere (aeronomy), it allows for the observation of a number of molecular lines, at radio (submillimeter range) wavelengths, otherwise not accessible from the ground: in particular the fundamental water line at 556.9 GHz.

Odin is thus well suited for the study of water, the main constituent of cometary ices, released as water vapor following heating of cometary nuclei by the Sun.

Since its launch, Odin has observed about 15 comets. Now closed for astronomical observations, the Odin satellite concentrates on aeronomical studies, except for special occasions such as the passage of Comet Hartley 2.

Figure 2:

The evolution of the production of water in Comet Hartley 2, as observed with Odin. Copyright 2010 Swedish Space Corporation/Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales/Observatoire de Paris.

Reference:International Astronomical Union electronic telegram No. 2524.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Solar ring sigbaar in Gauteng: Pretoria en Secunda

Foto:  Roland Friend, Secunda.
So 10:30 (Maandag 1 November) bel my broer Ben uit Johannesburg. "Daar's `n sirkel om die son! Gaan kyk! Ek besef dadelik wat dit is, want die vorige een was `n sirkel om die maan (Sien blog). Tog loer ek by die venster uit en sien niks. Dit het toe die vorige dag by hulle gereën en hoë cirrus wolke was nog in die lug. 

Skaars `n halfuur later storm  kollega Nellie Friend  van die Universiteit by my in en vertel van die kring om die son, maar die son is te skerp en sy  kan dit nie sien nie. Haar seun, Roland Friend van Secunda het gebel en gesê sy moet kyk. Hy het ook die foto hier bo geneem en vir ons aangestuur. 

Ek kan nie die foto dadelik op die blog laai nie en stuur dit vir Auke Slotegraaf in die Kaap. Hy is toe in dieselfde bootjie - besig om van internet versakaffers te verander. Hy kon toe darem die foto gistermiddag op sy blog gaan laai.

Besoek dit gerus: en lees meer oor die verskynsel.

Solar ring visible in Gauteng Pretoria and also Secunda.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Cosmonaut flies resupply ship to space station docking

File photo of approaching Progress spacecraft. Credit: NASA


Posted: October 30, 2010

For the 40th time in the past decade, a Russian cargo freighter has arrived at the International Space Station carrying vital supplies to feed the needs of the orbiting laboratory and its resident crews. But this docking required the intervention by one of the most experienced cosmonauts.
The Progress M-08M spacecraft, flying on autopilot, performed a flawless rendezvous with the space station after a three-day journey from the Baikonur Cosmodrome launch pad, but some yet-unspecified problem at the last minute prompted cosmonaut Alexander Kaleri to take over manual control and guide the vehicle to docking.
The successful linkup to the Pirs docking compartment came at 12:36 p.m. EDT (1636 GMT) while soaring 220 miles over western Kazakhstan.
Hooks and latches were engaged a few minutes later to firmly secure the 24-foot-long craft to the station.
The Expedition 25 crew of commander Doug Wheelock, fellow NASA astronauts Shannon Walker and Scott Kelly, and Russian cosmonauts Fyodor Yurchikhin, Oleg Skripochka and Kaleri plan to open hatches and enter the Progress later today.
The cargo includes 2,804 pounds of equipment, food, clothing and life support system gear, 1,918 pounds of propellant to replenish reservoirs that feed the Russian maneuvering thrusters, 498 pounds of water and some 110 pounds of oxygen and air for the station's atmosphere.
The Progress was launched Wednesday atop a Soyuz rocket from Baikonur Cosmodrome, reaching a preliminary orbit of 151 by 120 miles. A series of precise engine firings propelled the freighter on the orbital chase.
After arriving in range of the space station today, the vessel began a flyaround maneuver to get lined up with the docking port and then executed a roll maneuver to properly orient its solar wings with surrounding structures around the Pirs module.
A brief stationkeeping hold with about 650 feet between the freighter and station allowed Russian flight controllers to assess systems before giving approval to commence the final approach.
It was during stationkeeping that Russian flight controllers in Moscow instructed Kaleri to activate the TORU manual docking equipment and take over the piloting tasks from the Progress' autonomous KURS system.


Encounters with Comet Hartley 2

by Greg Bryant and the editors of Sky & Telescope

The diffuse coma of Comet Hartley 2 was more than 1° wide on October 13th, when Nick Howes took this image with a 4-inch apochromatic refractor in Wiltshire, U.K. Stars are shown by short exposures in the blue and green channels; the comet is shown as a full-color long exposure. Howes has also been remotely operating the 2-meter Faulkes North Telescope in Hawaii. Using this he has measured the rotation rate of the comet's nucleus to be 19 ± 1.5 hours.
Nick Howes

Friday, 29 October 2010

Comet Hartley 2 a "6-inch spinning cucumber!"

Twelve radar images of the nucleus of comet Hartley 2 were obtained by the Arecibo Observatory's planetary radar from Oct 25 to 27, 2010. Image credit: NAIC-Arecibo/Harmon-Nolan 

 Provided by JPL/NASA (news : web)

 Exactly one week before the world gets a new look at comet Hartley 2 via NASA's EPOXI mission, observations of the comet by the Arecibo Planetary Radar in Puerto Rico have offered scientists a tantalizing preview. 

"It kind of looks like a cross between a bowling pin and a pickle," said EPOXI project manager Tim Larson of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "Only it's about 14-thousand-times larger and hurtling through space at 23 miles per second." A new image is online at http://www.naic.ed … ~pradar/103P

Scientists using Arecibo's massive radar dish began observations of Hartley 2 on Oct. 24, just four days after the made its closest approach to Earth since its discovery in 1986. (On Oct. 20, the comet came within 17.7 million kilometers, or 11 million miles, of Earth). The observations are scheduled to continue through Friday, Oct. 29. 

During the Nov. 4 flyby, the cameras aboard the EPOXI mission will get within 700 kilometers (about 435 miles) of the comet.\

"Observing comet Hartley 2 from the Earth with radar was like imaging a 6-inch spinning cucumber from 836 miles away," said Jon Giorgini, a scientist at JPL and a member of the Arecibo team that imaged the comet. "Even without all the data in, we can still make some basic assertions about Hartley 2. Its nucleus is highly elongated and about 2.2 kilometers [1.4 mile] long, and it rotates around itself about once every 18 hours. In addition we now know the size, speed and direction of particles being blown off the comet, and we immediately forwarded all this information to the EPOXI team." 


Space station on to the 2nd decade (ISS)

NASA astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson, Expedition 24 flight engineer, replaces a dewar tray containing biological samples in the Minus Eighty Degree Laboratory Freezer for ISS in the Kibo laboratory of the International Space Station. Image Credit: NASA
Provided by JPL/NASA (news : web)

The second decade of a new era in human history -- when not everyone lives on our home planet -- begins Nov. 2, 2010, as the International Space Station crosses the 1.5 billion mile mark of its travels with six residents on board and six visitors en route. 

 On Oct. 25, the station also set a record for being the longest continuously inhabited spacecraft. On that day, the eclipsed the previous record of 3,644 days set by the Russian Mir Space Station. With each new day, NASA and its partners are pushing the envelope of human achievement in space into uncharted territory.
Ten years ago, Bill Shepherd, Yuri Gidzenko and Sergei Krikalev launched into history as the first crew to live on the International Space Station. They blasted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Oct. 31, 2000, and docked with the station two days later. From the moment the hatch of their opened and they entered the fledgling space station, there have been people living and working in orbit, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
“As we look forward to the next 10 years, taking us through 2020, the space station will serve many roles,” said Mike Suffredini, International Space Station program manager since 2005. “With its permanent human presence, it will serve as a foothold for long-term exploration into space, being an integral part of testing human endurance, equipment reliability and processes essential for space exploration.”
Before his launch, Expedition 1 commander Shepherd explained that the station “gives us unique access to the space environment where we hope we can do very interesting and productive research, but it really means we [will] develop a lot of the capabilities and technology that’ll allow humans to go elsewhere away from the planet.”

Read more... (A Must read!)

Leaks delay final launch of space shuttle Discovery

The launch of the space shuttle Discovery on its final scheduled mission has been delayed by at least 24 hours until Tuesday because of a leak in a pressurization system, NASA said.

"We have developed two leaks on the pressurization system on the maneuvering system of Discovery on the right side," Kennedy Space Center spokesman Allard Beutel told AFP on Friday.
Fixing the shuttle and getting it ready for take-off would take until "Tuesday at the earliest," the spokesman added.
Discovery and its crew of six astronauts had been scheduled to launch Monday on its last mission to the International Space Station, but that now has been reset for 4:17 pm (2017 GMT) Tuesday, assuming repairs are successful, NASA said.

Eutelsat suffers spacecraft loss

The Paris-based Eutelsat company says its latest spacecraft has failed less than 24 hours after being launched on an Ariane rocket from French Guiana.
The satellite operator said the W3B platform had developed a leak in its propellant system and could not raise itself to its operational orbit.
The 5.3-tonne spacecraft was to have been stationed high above the equator at 16 degrees East, to provide TV, radio, internet and other data services to Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Indian Ocean islands.
The company already has another satellite in production called W3C, and this will be moved into the 16-East slot when it launches in the second half of 2011.
"It's a massive disappointment," said Eutelsat's Vanessa O'Connor, "but our job now as an operator is to continue our services and make sure W3C gets there as soon as possible, and that we expedite the new programme to replace W3B," she told BBC News.


Time Will End in Five Billion Years, Physicists Predict

Ker Than
Published October 28, 2010

Our universe has existed for nearly 14 billion years, and as far as most people are concerned, the universe should continue to exist for billions of years more.
But according to a new paper, there's one theory for the origins of the universe that predicts time itself will end in just five billion years—coincidentally, right around the time our sun is slated to die.
The prediction comes from the theory of eternal inflation, which says our universe is part of the multiverse. This vast structure is made up of an infinite number of universes, each of which can spawn an infinite number of daughter universes. (Related: "New Proof Unknown 'Structures' Tug at Our Universe.")
The problem with a multiverse is that anything that can happen will happen an infinite number of times, and that makes calculating probabilities—such as the odds that Earth-size planets are common—seemingly impossible.


Superhero suit to strengthen astronauts' bones

WITH its stitching clearly visible and reference lines drawn in marker pen, the stretchy superhero-blue suit at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Man Vehicle Laboratory doesn't look like much. But if it works as planned it could offer orbiting astronauts a replacement for something they are sorely missing: gravity.
The microgravity of orbital flight is tough on the bones. Even with regular exercise, an astronaut can lose 1.5 per cent of the mass of some bones in the hips and lower back in just one month. That is similar to the bone loss experienced by a post-menopausal woman in a year.
To combat the problem, Russian cosmonauts on the International Space Station wear space suits designed to mimic gravity. Bungee cords on the suit's arms and legs exert a force that simulates the body's weight. But these suits are difficult to wear for long periods, and it is not clear how effective they are in preventing bone loss.

Mars Rover Spirit Finds Evidence of Water

Above, we see two of Spirit's wheels stuck in the sand on the Martian surface -- the same location where the rover found evidence of water.

Source: Discovery News

Stuck in the sand and with time to spare, Spirit hits the jackpot.

Stuck in the sands of Mars, the grounded Spirit rover unearthed evidence of subsurface water in the planet's recent past.
"It's total serendipity," Washington University planetary scientist Ray Arvidson told Discovery News. "We're driving backwards, the right front wheel doesn't work, so wherever we went we had to drag it along. It's like pushing a shopping cart with a bad front wheel. You don't push it, you pull it, but the wheel has torque."
The rover ended up getting stuck, breaking through the crust and -- surprisingly -- discovering telltale byproducts of water passing through the exceptionally silica-rich patch of soil.
"This sand wasn't normal looking," Arvidson said.
So, with nowhere to go and time to spare, scientists started a layer-by-layer look at what likely will become Spirit's final resting spot.



Astronomers are used to looking millions of years into the past. Now scientists have used the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope to look thousands of years into the future. Looking at the heart of Omega Centauri, a globular cluster in the Milky Way, they have calculated how the stars there will move over the next 10,000 years.

The globular star cluster Omega Centauri has caught the attention of sky watchers ever since the ancient astronomer Ptolemy first catalogued it 2,000 years ago. Ptolemy, however, thought Omega Centauri was a single star. He didn't know that the "star" was actually a beehive swarm of nearly 10 million stars, all orbiting a common center of gravity.

The stars are so tightly crammed together that astronomers had to wait for the powerful vision of NASA's Hubble Space Telescope to peer deep into the core of the "beehive" and resolve individual stars. Hubble's vision is so sharp it can even measure the motion of many of these stars, and over a relatively short span of time.

A precise measurement of star motions in giant clusters can yield insights into how stellar groupings formed in the early universe, and whether an "intermediate mass" black hole, one roughly 10,000 times as massive as our Sun, might be lurking among the stars.

Analyzing archived images taken over a four-year period by Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys, astronomers have made the most accurate measurements yet of the motions of more than 100,000 cluster inhabitants, the largest survey to date to study the movement of stars in any cluster.

"It takes high-speed, sophisticated computer programs to measure the tiny shifts in the positions of the stars that occur in only four years' time," says astronomer Jay Anderson of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Md., who conducted the study with fellow Institute astronomer Roeland van der Marel. "Ultimately, though, it is Hubble's razor-sharp vision that is the key to our ability to measure stellar motions in this cluster."

Adds van der Marel: "With Hubble, you can wait three or four years and detect the motions of the stars more accurately than if you had waited 50 years on a ground-based telescope."

The astronomers used the Hubble images, which were taken in 2002 and 2006, to make a movie simulation of the frenzied motion of the cluster's stars. The movie shows the stars' projected migration over the next 10,000 years.

Identified as a globular star cluster in 1867, Omega Centauri is one of roughly 150 such clusters in our Milky Way Galaxy. The behemoth stellar grouping is the biggest and brightest globular cluster in the Milky Way, and one of the few that can be seen by the unaided eye. Located in the constellation Centaurus, Omega Centauri is viewable in the southern skies.

Images and more information about Omega Centauri:

The Release Was Received Jointly From The Space Telescope
Science Institute In Baltimore, Maryland, And The Hubble European
Space Agency Information Centre In Garching, Germany