Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Russian Cargo Spacecraft Heads to Space Station with Holiday Goodies

Published on Nov 25, 2013

The Russian Progress 53 cargo craft blasted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Nov. 25, hauling almost three tons of food, fuel, supplies and holiday gifts to the International Space Station's Expedition 38 crew. The unpiloted spacecraft will test upgraded automated rendezvous equipment at a distance of a mile from the complex on Nov. 27 before docking to the aft port of the Zvezda Service Module on Nov. 29.

Magnetic field: an introduction

Published on Nov 22, 2013

An introduction to Earth's magnetic field: what it is, where it comes from and what it's used for.

This is the first of three videos:
Magnetic field: an introduction
Magnetic field: why it matters
Magnetic field: learning more with Swarm

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Guide to our Galaxy

Published on Nov 21, 2013

This virtual journey shows the different components that make up our home galaxy, the Milky Way, which contains about a hundred billion stars.

It starts at the black hole at the centre of the Milky Way and with the stars that orbit around it, before zooming out through the central Galactic Bulge, which hosts about ten billion stars.

The journey continues through a younger population of stars in the stellar disc, home to most of the Milky Way's stars, and which is embedded in a slightly larger gaseous disc. Stars in the disc are arranged in a spiral arm pattern and orbit the centre of the Galaxy.

The discs and bulge are embedded in the stellar halo, a spherical structure that consists of a large number of globular clusters -- the oldest population of stars in the Galaxy -- as well as many isolated stars. An even larger halo of invisible dark matter is inferred by its gravitational effect on the motions of stars in the Galaxy.

Looking at a face-on view of the Galaxy we see the position of our Sun, located at a distance of about 26 000 light-years from the Galactic Centre.

Finally, the extent of the stellar survey conducted by ESA's Hipparcos mission is shown, which surveyed more than 100 000 stars up to 300 light-years away from the Sun. In comparison, ESA's Gaia survey will study one billion stars out to 30 000 light-years away.

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3D virtual spacewalk outside the International Space Station

Published on Nov 19, 2013

Get an idea of what it feels like to see the International Space Station from the outside, as an astronaut on a spacewalk. Put your 3D glasses on to appreciate the size of humankind's orbital laboratory and watch a Soyuz spacecraft undock and a docking with ESA's supply spacecraft Automated Transfer Vehicle.

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3D virtual tour of the International Space Station

Published on Nov 19, 2013

Put your 3D glasses on for this virtual visit of the International Space Station's modules. Float through the space laboratories and connecting modules from the perspective of an astronaut.

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Mars showcase (European Space Agency)

Published on Oct 28, 2013

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From the highest volcano to the deepest canyon, from impact craters to ancient river beds and lava flows, this showcase of images from ESA's Mars Express takes you on an unforgettable journey across the Red Planet.

Mars Express was launched on 2 June 2003 and arrived at Mars six-and-a-half months later. It has since orbited the planet nearly 12 500 times, providing scientists with unprecedented images and data collected by its suite of scientific instruments.

The data have been used to create an almost global digital topographic model of the surface, providing a unique visualisation and enabling researchers to acquire new and surprising information about the evolution of the Red Planet.

The images in this movie were taken by the High Resolution Stereo Camera and the video was released by the DLR German Aerospace Center as part of the ten years of Mars Express celebrations in June 2013. The music has been created by Stephan Elgner of DLR's Mars Express planetary cartography team. DLR developed and is operating the stereo camera.

Read the original post on DLR's website here:

Credit: ESA / DLR / FU Berlin (G. Neukum)

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

With 2 More Cubesats in Orbit, Earth-imaging Startup Planet Labs Ships Next Batch of 28 to Wallops

By Debra Werner | Nov. 26, 2013

Planet Labs is preparing for the scheduled launch Dec. 15 of its operational Earth imaging constellation of 28 satellites, dubbed Flock 1, to the international space station.
Credit: Photo by Gabriel Liendo
SAN FRANCISCO — Planet Labs, the San Francisco company planning to establish the world’s largest Earth imaging constellation, announced Nov. 26 the successful launch of two satellites and shipment to Virginia of 28 additional spacecraft in preparation for their December launch.

On Nov. 21, Planet Labs sent triple cubesats Dove 3 and Dove 4 into polar orbit on a Dnepr rocket from Russia’s Yasny launch site. “The launch was extremely successful,” said William Marshall, Planet Labs co-founder and chief executive. “They went into precisely the orbit we wanted. We have also successfully made contact.”

The latest additions to the Planet Labs fleet offer improvements in the capability provided by the firm’s first satellites launched in April, Dove 1 and Dove 2, which also were triple cubesats measuring 10 centimeters by 10 centimeters by 30 centimeters.

Dove 3 and Dove 4 will demonstrate the firm’s latest technology, including upgraded communications, attitude control and observation technology. “We like to iterate our satellite designs very rapidly,” Marshall said. “It’s the same compact form factor as Dove 1 and Dove 2, but we have stuck in more capability.”

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Hi-Def Space Selfies Coming To Your Web Browser Soon

Posted by Andrew Fazekas in StarStruck on November 25, 2013

Space buffs can expect to to ogle stunning near-real-time Earth views anytime on their computers and mobile devices once new HD cameras are installed on the International Space Station.
Credit: NASA
Coming soon—take the ultimate selfie from space!

Two high-definition cameras are on their way now to the International Space Station. There, they will aim to revolutionize how we view our planet and ourselves.

A Canadian-based company named UrtheCast will offer the world’s first near-live HD video and imagery of Earth from space, using the new cameras. Launched aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft on Monday, the two eyes in the sky will be installed on the underbelly of the space station over the next few months. Expectations are that space buffs everywhere with an internet connection will see the first live streaming-video broadcast from the cameras on the company’s web portal early next year.

One of the cameras will offer sharp five-meter resolution stills of a broad 25-mile-wide (40 kilometer) swath of the globe, with pictures taken anywhere between 51°N and 51°S latitude (from England to Chile). The other camera can be pointed at 150 specific targets of interest per day. It has the capability of generating video with super-sharp Ultra-HD or 4K quality, and offers one-meter resolution.

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Monday, November 25, 2013

Cut-rate SpaceX poised for first commercial satellite launch

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida Mon Nov 25, 2013 11:40am EST

(Reuters) - - An unmanned Falcon 9 rocket developed by Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, is poised to enter the commercial satellite market on Monday, a potential game-changer in a global industry worth nearly $190 billion a year.

Following a successful debut test fight on September 29, the privately owned firm's upgraded Falcon 9 rocket is due to lift off at 5:37 p.m. EST/2237 GMT from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Perched on top of the rocket is a 6,400-pound (2,900 kg) communications satellite owned by Luxembourg-based SES S.A., which currently operates a 54-satellite fleet, the world's second-largest.

The satellite, known as SES-8 and worth about $100 million, will be positioned to provide television, cable, broadband and other services to customers in India, China, Vietnam and other markets in Asia.

"It's an extremely important satellite for us," Martin Halliwell, chief technology officer of SES, told reporters on Sunday in Cocoa Beach, Florida.

"We know that as we go forward into these very significant growth markets that it's absolutely critical that we have a cost-effective and efficient way to get to orbit. That's really what SpaceX has brought us," Halliwell said.

Previous SES satellites were launched primarily aboard Russian Proton and European Ariane rockets, which cost far more than the approximately $55 million the company paid for its ride on SpaceX's Falcon booster, Halliwell said.

He would not say exactly how much SpaceX undercut the competition, but did say SES got a bit of a discount by agreeing to fly on Falcon 9's first mission to the high altitudes that communication satellites require.

In addition to the upgraded Falcon 9's test flight in September, older versions of the rocket previously flew five times successfully, including three missions for NASA to deliver cargo to the International Space Station, which flies about 250 miles above Earth.

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SES-8 Satellite Launch Will Be SpaceX’s Most Challenging To Date

November 25, 2013

A September test launch of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket. Credit: SpaceX
Lawrence LeBlond for – Your Universe Online

SpaceX is preparing for its next big mission this evening when it will, for the first time, attempt to launch a telecom satellite into orbit. A successful launch could prove the Elon Musk-owned company’s worth as both a private and commercial powerhouse in the space launch game.

The launch window for SpaceX’s Falcon 9 opens today at 5:37 p.m. EST from Cape Canaveral, Florida. The rocket will be carrying a Luxembourg-based SES-8 satellite that will serve television customers in India and parts of Southeast Asia.

The launch of a satellite is not only a first for SpaceX, but will also be its most challenging. The Falcon 9 rocket must show its capabilities in launching the SES-8 satellite into a geostationary transfer orbit more than 22,000 miles over Earth’s equator.

Today’s launch of an upgraded Falcon 9 rocket, known as version 1.1, also comes after a September 29 test launch of the same rocket design in California. While that test was successful, an optional restart of the rocket’s upper stage engine, which will be necessary for the latest mission, failed to activate.

SpaceX later determined that an igniter line froze and believes that added insulation will prevent a repeat of the issue.

“We’ve done everything we can possibly think of to maximize the reliability of this launch,” Musk, CEO and chief designer at SpaceX, told BBC’s Jonathan Amos in an interview

“There’s no stone that hasn’t been turned over at least twice to maximize the probability of success. Being a rocket, there’s still some chance of failure, but whatever happens we can be at peace that we’ve done everything we could think of, and SES’s technical team has looked at it and they concur,” Musk added.

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NASA Launches Technology Transfer 'Super Tool'

Nov. 25, 2013

Sarah Ramsey
Headquarters, Washington

RELEASE 13-347

Businesses and individuals interested in using NASA research to develop new technologies and products now have access to an online tool to make the process of licensing easier.

The QuickLaunch licensing tool provides access to a select portfolio of NASA technologies for the purpose of licensing and commercial development.

The tool features pre-approved terms and conditions, including fixed, up-front and royalty pricing, a streamlined process for electronic agreements and significantly reduced response and approval times. It provides access to existing, patented NASA technologies to provide rapid and cost-effective deployment to industry.

"The QuickLaunch Licensing tool will enhance our efforts to transfer more NASA technologies to American industry and U.S. consumers in a timely manner," said Daniel Lockney, NASA's technology transfer program executive. "NASA develops hundreds of technologies each year in support of its aeronautics and space exploration missions. This new tool ensures that the American taxpayer will receive a second benefit from its investment in NASA through the creation of new products, new markets and new jobs."

More than 30 technologies currently are available for license using the QuickLaunch website. The number will increase during the coming year. Technologies range from a plant chlorophyll content meter, which detects plant stress by determining the chlorophyll content of plants, to a propulsion-controlled aircraft computer that provides a low-cost method of implementing this aircraft technology for a wide range of aircraft.

QuickLaunch users can search by NASA center or by technology category, ask questions of NASA licensing managers, and file a licensing application online.

For more information about NASA's QuickLaunch Licensing website, please visit:

For more information about NASA's Technology Transfer Portal website, visit:

NASA Delivers Precipitation Satellite to Japan for 2014 Launch

Nov. 25, 2013

Steve Cole
Headquarters, Washington

Rani Gran
Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

RELEASE 13-346

A U.S. Air Force C-5 transport aircraft carrying the Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) Core Observatory landed at Kitakyushu Airport in Japan at approximately 10:30 p.m. EST Saturday, Nov. 23.
(Credit: JAXA)
An international satellite that will set a new standard for global precipitation measurements from space has completed a 7,300-mile journey from the United States to Japan, where it now will undergo launch preparations.

A U.S. Air Force C-5 transport aircraft carrying the Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) Core Observatory landed at Kitakyushu Airport, about 600 miles southwest of Tokyo, at approximately 10:30 p.m. EST Saturday, Nov. 23.

The spacecraft, the size of a small private jet, is the largest satellite ever built at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. It left Goddard inside a large shipping container Nov. 19 and began its journey across the Pacific Ocean Nov. 21 from Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, with a refueling stop in Anchorage, Alaska.

From Kitakyushu Airport, the spacecraft was loaded onto a barge heading to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's (JAXA's) Tanegashima Space Center on Tanegashima Island in southern Japan, where it will be prepared for launch in early 2014 on an H-IIA rocket.

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Saturday, November 23, 2013

MAVEN is on the way on This Week @NASA

Published on Nov 22, 2013

The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN, or MAVEN spacecraft launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on a 10-month journey to Mars. MAVEN will take critical measurements of the Martian upper atmosphere to investigate how loss of the atmosphere to space impacted the history of water on the planet's surface. Also, Happy anniversary, ISS!, Asteroid Ideas, LADEE in science orbit, Orion progress, Rocket autopilot test, Commercial crew, and more!

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2014 NASA Rover Challenge

2014 NASA Rover Challenge
NASA is introducing a new engineering design challenge that will focus on NASA’s current plans to explore planets, moons, asteroids and comets -- all members of the solar system family. The new NASA Rover Challenge (formerly NASA Great Moonbuggy Race) will be held April 10-12, 2014, at the U. S. Space & Rocket Center. The challenge will focus on designing, constructing and testing technologies for mobility devices to perform in these different environments, and it will provide valuable experiences that engage students in the technologies and concepts that will be needed in future exploration missions. Registration is OPEN!

Visit the registration section of this site for details.

Is Inspiration Enough To Launch Inspiration Mars?

NASA By Amy Shira Teitel Posted Nov. 22, 2013

An artist’s concept of Inspiration Mars Inspiration Mars
Credit: Inspiration Mars
In 2001, Dennis Tito used his millions to buy a seat on a Soyuz spacecraft for an eight-day visit to the International Space Station. On February 27 of this year, he announced his plan to foot a large portion of the bill for Inspiration Mars, a flyby mission to the red planet. On Wednesday in front of a House Committee on Space, he called for NASA to pick up the slack to see his mission fly, both financially and technologically. Inspiration Mars had some obvious problems from the start, but this latest development looks a little like it might be the first nail in the mission’s coffin.

Tito unveiled Inspiration Mars earlier this year as a philanthropic mission; technological and scientific ends were secondary to the primary goal of inspiring the nation to aspire to great things in space once again. The mission itself is fairly straightforward. A crew of two (a married, middle-aged, heterosexual couple) will launch in January of 2018, fly to Mars, and whip around the planet’s far side using gravity to boost them back to Earth. The mission isn’t designed to land on Mars of even go into orbit. It would be a 501 day flight with a very short but exciting flyby around one of our neighbours.

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Clock Ticking for 2018 Private Manned Mars Mission

By Mike Wall, Senior Writer | November 21, 2013 06:00am ET

An artist’s illustration of the manned spacecraft for the Inspiration Mars
mission to send two astronauts on a Mars flyby mission in 2017-2018.
Credit: Inspiration Mars
A private manned Mars mission won’t get off the ground as planned in January 2018 unless it secures the support of the federal government within the next few months, officials say.

The nonprofit Inspiration Mars Foundation aims to partner with NASA to send two astronauts on a flyby mission to the Red Planet in 2018. Inspiration Mars has little chance of making this launch date unless it receives assurances very soon from Congress and the White House that the mission will be a NASA priority, officials said.

“We have a just a couple of months to get some signals that would indicate that there’s serious interest developing,” Inspiration Mars founder Dennis Tito, who became the world’s first space tourist when he paid his own way to the International Space Station in 2001, told reporters during a teleconference Wednesday (Nov. 20). “So, not much time.” [Private Mission to Mars Explained (Infographic)]

Inspiration Mars’ “Mission for America” would launch a married couple on a 501-day flyby mission to the Red Planet in January 2018. The astronauts would not land on Mars, but would streak within 100 miles (160 kilometers) of its surface before beginning the long trek back to Earth.

The mission would lay the foundation for even more ambitious exploration efforts in the future and help cement the United States’ status as a global leader in science and technology by inspiring the next generation of researchers and engineers, Inspiration Mars officials say.

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Discovery Of Cosmic Neutrinos Signals New Era Of Astronomy

November 21, 2013

Computers at the IceCube laboratory collect raw data in near-real time from detectors buried deep in the Antarctic ice.
Credit: Felipe Pedreros, IceCube/NSF
Lee Rannals for – Your Universe Online

Astronomers working with the IceCube Neutrino Observatory in Antarctica have announced that they have, for the first time, observed 28 very high-energy particle events, leading them to conclude that “the era of neutrino astronomy has begun.”

Cosmic neutrinos are nearly massless particles that stream to Earth at the speed of light from outside our solar system. This observation, published in the journal Science, will allow scientists to learn about the nature of astrophysical phenomena that occurs millions to billions of light years away from Earth.

“The sources of neutrinos, and the question of what could accelerate these particles, has been a mystery for more than 100 years. Now we have an instrument that can detect astrophysical neutrinos. It’s working beautifully, and we expect it to run for another 20 years,” Gregory Sullivan, who led the team from University of Maryland, said in a statement.

Between May 2010 and May 2012, the IceCube detector at the South Pole captured a total of 28 neutrinos with energies greater than 30 teraelectronvolts (TeV). Two of the neutrinos had an energy of more than 1,000 TeV, which is more than the kinetic energy of a flying bug.

“This is the first indication of very high-energy neutrinos coming from outside our solar system,” said Francis Halzen, principal investigator of IceCube and the Hilldale and Gregory Breit Distinguished Professor of Physics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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Ukraine Keen on Working with India on Space Programmes

November 22, 2013

Image via
After co-developing semi-cryogenic engines for the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) launch vehicles, Ukraine is now keen on working with India on other space programmes, including missions to moon. Ambassador of Ukraine to India, Oleksandr D Shevchenko, told on Wednesday that the head of State Space Agency of Ukraine visited ISRO facilities in Bangalore and held meetings with its chairman K Radhakrishnan to explore areas where the two countries can work together. “The two space agencies have agreed to launch a joint working programme,” he said.

He added that Ukraine has been involved in joint manufacturing of semi-cryogenic engine for ISRO in the past.

“Now we want to identify other areas where we can cooperate. We are waiting for specialists from the Indian side to visit Ukraine so that we can start the projects by next year,” he added.

The future programmes would also include moon exploration programmes, he said. Ukraine is also interested in supplying power generation equipment to India and is keen to work on thermal and hydro power projects, he said.

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NASA | How to Cook a Comet

Published on Nov 21, 2013

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A comet's journey through the solar system is perilous and violent. Before it reaches Mars - at some 230 million miles away from the sun - the radiation of the sun begins to cook off the frozen water ice directly into gas. This is called sublimation. It is the first step toward breaking the comet apart. If it survives this, the intense radiation and pressure closer to the sun could destroy it altogether.

Animators at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. created this short movie showing how the sun can cook a comet.

Such a journey is currently being made by Comet ISON. It began its trip from the Oort cloud region of our solar system and is now traveling toward the sun. The comet will reach its closest approach to the sun on Thanksgiving Day -- Nov. 28, 2013 -- skimming just 730,000 miles above the sun's surface. If it comes around the sun without breaking up, the comet will be visible in the Northern Hemisphere with the naked eye, and from what we see now, ISON is predicted to be a particularly bright and beautiful comet.

Even if the comet does not survive, tracking its journey will help scientists understand what the comet is made of, how it reacts to its environment, and what this explains about the origins of the solar system. Closer to the sun, watching how the comet and its tail interact with the vast solar atmosphere can teach scientists more about the sun itself.

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Exploring the dark universe at the speed of petaflops

Nov 21, 2013 by Gail Pieper
This visualization, part of a 1.1-trillion-particle simulation run on Argonne’s supercomputer
Mira, shows the complexity of cosmological structure formation.
Image via
An astonishing 95% of our universe is made of up dark energy and dark matter. Understanding the physics of this sector is the foremost challenge in cosmology today. Sophisticated simulations of the evolution of the universe play a crucial role.

The primary lens through which scientists look at the night sky is no longer only a telescope—it's also a supercomputer. The new and coming generations of supercomputers will finally be capable of modeling the universe in the detail and volume required by astronomical surveys of the sky that are now underway, or soon will be.

Scientists use large cosmological simulations to test theories about the structure of the universe and the evolution of the distribution of galaxies and clusters of galaxies. State-of-the-art supercomputers let cosmologists make predictions and test them against data from powerful telescopes and space probes. Two decades of surveying the sky have culminated in the celebrated Cosmological Standard Model. Yet two of the model's key pillars—dark matter and dark energy, together accounting for 95% of the universe—remain mysterious. A research team led by Argonne is tackling this mystery, aided by some of the world's fastest supercomputers.

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Friday, November 22, 2013

China's 1st Moon Lander May Cause Trouble for NASA Lunar Dust Mission

by Leonard David,'s Space Insider Columnist | November 21, 2013 06:45am ET

The Chang’e 3 lunar lander and moon rover
Credit: Beijing Institute of Spacecraft System Engineering
China’s mission to robotically land on the moon next month is sure to stir up lunar dust, but it may also cause a political dust up, too.

China is in the final stages of preparing its robotic Chang’e 3 moon lander to launch atop a Long March 3B rocket, slated for liftoff in early December. The ambitious mission is built to first orbit the moon, then propel down to a landing site, after which a small, solar-powered lunar rover will be unleashed.

Already on duty orbiting the moon is NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE). The probe’s science instrument commissioning is now underway, after which the spacecraft will drop down to the lower lunar science orbit and start the full science phase of the mission. [NASA's LADEE Moon Mission in Photos]

LADEE Readies for Orbital Maneuvering Thruster Burn
Credit: NASA Ames/Dana Berry

LADEE is designed to study the moon’s thin exosphere and the lunar dust environment. However, there is concern that China’s ambitious Chang’e 3 mission could impact LADEE’s science goals.

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NASA sees 'watershed' cosmic blast in unique detail

Posted: Nov 21, 2013 by Francis Reddy

In the most common type of gamma-ray burst, illustrated here, a dying massive star forms a
black hole (left), which drives a particle jet into space.
Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
( —On April 27, a blast of light from a dying star in a distant galaxy became the focus of astronomers around the world. The explosion, known as a gamma-ray burst and designated GRB 130427A, tops the charts as one of the brightest ever seen

A trio of NASA satellites, working in concert with ground-based robotic telescopes, captured never-before-seen details that challenge current theoretical understandings of how gamma-ray bursts work.

"We expect to see an event like this only once or twice a century, so we're fortunate it happened when we had the appropriate collection of sensitive space telescopes with complementary capabilities available to see it," said Paul Hertz, director of NASA's Astrophysics Division in Washington.

Gamma-ray bursts are the most luminous explosions in the cosmos, thought to be triggered when the core of a massive star runs out of nuclear fuel, collapses under its own weight, and forms a black hole. The black hole then drives jets of particles that drill all the way through the collapsing star and erupt into space at nearly the speed of light.

Gamma-rays are the most energetic form of light. Hot matter surrounding a new black hole and internal shock waves produced by collisions within the jet are thought to emit gamma-rays with energies in the million-electron-volt (MeV) range, or roughly 500,000 times the energy of visible light. The most energetic emission, with billion-electron-volt (GeV) gamma rays, is thought to arise when the jet slams into its surroundings, forming an external shock wave.

The Gamma-ray Burst Monitor (GBM) aboard NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope captured the initial wave of gamma rays from GRB 130427A shortly after 3:47 a.m. EDT April 27. In its first three seconds alone, the "monster burst" proved brighter than almost any burst previously observed.

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Thursday, November 21, 2013

NASA Spacecraft Begins Collecting Lunar Atmosphere Data

Nov. 21, 2013

Artist’s concept of NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) spacecraft
Image Credit: NASA Ames / Dana Berry
NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) is ready to begin collecting science data about the moon.

On Nov. 20, the spacecraft successfully entered its planned orbit around the moon's equator -- a unique position allowing the small probe to make frequent passes from lunar day to lunar night. This will provide a full scope of the changes and processes occurring within the moon's tenuous atmosphere.

LADEE now orbits the moon about every two hours at an altitude of eight to 37 miles (12-60 kilometers) above the moon's surface. For about 100 days, the spacecraft will gather detailed information about the structure and composition of the thin lunar atmosphere and determine whether dust is being lofted into the lunar sky.

"A thorough understanding of the characteristics of our lunar neighbor will help researchers understand other small bodies in the solar system, such as asteroids, Mercury, and the moons of outer planets," said Sarah Noble, LADEE program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

Scientists also will be able to study the conditions in the atmosphere during lunar sunrise and sunset, where previous crewed and robotic missions detected a mysterious glow of rays and streamers reaching high into the lunar sky.

“This is what we've been waiting for – we are already seeing the shape of things to come,” said Rick Elphic, LADEE project scientist at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif.

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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

NASA's Chandra Helps Confirm Evidence of Jet in Milky Way's Black Hole

Nov. 20, 2013

Composite image of Sagittarius A* (Sgr A*), the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way.
Image Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/UCLA/Z. Li et al; Radio: NRAO/VLA
Astronomers have long sought strong evidence that Sagittarius A* (Sgr A*), the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way, is producing a jet of high-energy particles. Finally they have found it, in new results from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and the National Science Foundation's Very Large Array (VLA) radio telescope.

Previous studies, using a variety of telescopes, suggested there was a jet, but these reports -- including the orientation of the suspected jets -- often contradicted each other and were not considered definitive.

"For decades astronomers have looked for a jet associated with the Milky Way's black hole. Our new observations make the strongest case yet for such a jet," said Zhiyuan Li of Nanjing University in China, lead author of a study appearing in an upcoming edition of The Astrophysical Journal and available online now.

Jets of high-energy particles are found throughout the universe, on large and small scales. They are produced by young stars and by black holes a thousand times larger than the Milky Way's black hole. They play important roles in transporting energy away from the central object and, on a galactic scale, in regulating the rate of formation of new stars.

"We were very eager to find a jet from Sgr A* because it tells us the direction of the black hole's spin axis. This gives us important clues about the growth history of the black hole," said Mark Morris of the University of California at Los Angeles, a co-author of the study.

The study shows the spin axis of Sgr A* is pointing in one direction, parallel to the rotation axis of the Milky Way, which indicates to astronomers that gas and dust have migrated steadily into Sgr A* over the past 10 billion years. If the Milky Way had collided with large galaxies in the recent past and their central black holes had merged with Sgr A*, the jet could point in any direction.

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Dark Matter Reveals the Structure of the Universe


Image via
Physics is both deeply inspiring and deeply humbling, in a way that few other disciplines are today. On the one hand, physicists have found the elusive Higgs boson, the particle responsible for mass. On the other hand, physicists are comparatively clueless when it comes to dark matter, which makes up the vast majority of the Universe.

Comparatively clueless, that is to say, but not completely clueless.

In the video below, Joel Primack, an astrophysicist at the University of California-Santa Cruz, explains that we don’t yet know the real nature of the dark matter “beyond that it’s pretty cold.” Cold refers to the terminology that Primack coined in 1983. Dark matter is either hot, warm or cold “depending on how rapidly it’s moving in the early stages of the Big Bang,” Primack says.

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NASA outlines the final steps in plan for next manned spaceships

Alan Boyle, Science Editor NBC News
Posted: Nov. 19, 2013

Future NASA astronauts will rely on commercial transports
Image via
As promised, NASA issued the formal invitation on Tuesday for a competition leading to new types of commercial spaceships that could carry astronauts to and from the International Space Station.

Three of the invitees have a multimillion-dollar head start.

NASA expects the final phase of the competition — known as the Commercial Crew Transport Capability program, or CCtCAP — to result in a fleet of commercial spacecraft that are certified to transport crew by 2017. The space agency would prefer to have more than one provider for those transport services, but that might depend on how much funding is available.

The timetable and resources available for commercial spaceships are key sticking points that are left unresolved in Tuesday's request for proposals. Last week, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden called on Congress to provide the full $821 million requested for the current fiscal year "to keep us on track to begin these launches in 2017." Congress, however, has proposed spending hundreds of millions of dollars less.

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Martian Geology More Diverse Than Previously Thought

November 18, 2013
Image Caption: NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is providing new spectral "windows" into the diversity of Martian surface materials. Here in a volcanic caldera, bright magenta outcrops have a distinctive feldspar-rich composition. Credit: NASA/JPL/JHUAPL/MSSS
Brett Smith for – Your Universe Online

For years, scientists have thought of Mars as being made up of just one kind of rock – a very simplistic planet compared to the diverse geology of Earth.

However, a new study in the journal Nature Geoscience suggests there may be granite on Mars and puts forward a theory for how it could have formed there.

“We’re providing the most compelling evidence to date that Mars has granitic rocks,” said study author James Wray, an assistant professor of earth and atmospheric sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

The study is based on the large deposit of feldspar, a mineral found in granite, recently found in an inactive Martian volcano. The location of the feldspar suggests protracted magmatic activity under the Martian surface could produce large-scale granite deposits, the study team said.

The Martian surface is mostly covered with basalt, the dark-colored rock commonly found throughout Hawaii. However, in the area around the Martian feldspar deposit, minerals rich in iron and magnesium and common in basalts are almost completely absent.

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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

New Algorithm Will Help Curiosity Rover Analyze Mars Soil

November 16, 2013

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
While the instruments on NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity are able to easily identify the chemical composition of rocks, measure the speed of the wind and snap amazing images from mast-mounted cameras, the process of analyzing soil images can be a somewhat daunting task, according to researchers from Louisiana State University (LSU).

After all, the university points out, many times there are several thousand images to analyze, and the soil particles are typically only five to 10 pixels wide. Now, however, a research team led by Suniti Karunatillake of the LSU Department of Geology and Geophysics has come to the rescue with a new algorithm that should make the task easier.

Karunatillake and colleagues from Rider University, Stony Brook University and the US Geological Survey (USGS) in Flagstaff, Arizona joined forces to create an image analysis and segmentation algorithm specifically to help NASA scientists complete this basic, but nonetheless challenging, part of their mission.

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Astrophysicists tackle the Sun and one of physics' biggest unsolved problems

Nov 18, 2013 by Beth Kwon

Picture of the sun with a coronal hole 
(the large dark region at the bottom). Credit: NASA
Daniel Wolf Savin and Michael Hahn have been fascinated by the universe since they were boys. For Savin, a senior research scientist in the Columbia Astrophysics Laboratory, discovering Albert Einstein at age 12 spurred the desire to "learn everything about the universe." Years later, Hahn, an associate research scientist who grew up 40 miles from Savin's home town in Connecticut, started gazing at the stars as a teenager; he eventually became president of the astronomy club at his alma mater, Carnegie Mellon.

Now the two have made a big leap toward cracking one of the biggest mysteries in astrophysics—why the corona, or plasma surrounding the sun, is so much hotter than the sun's surface.

The coronal heating problem, as it is known, is important because the corona is the source of solar wind, which is responsible for the northern and southern lights and can also disrupt telecommunications and power grids. "Satellites can be slowly pushed out of their orbits if they're deflected by the solar wind so if we can better understand the cause, we can create better models for space weather," says Savin, referring to conditions beyond the atmosphere.

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High-Tech VASIMR Rocket Engine Could Tackle Mars Trips, Space Junk and More

By Leonard David,'s Space Insider Columnist | November 19, 2013 07:01am ET

Former astronaut Franklin Chang-Díaz leads Ad Astra Rocket Co. and highly charged work on the Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket (VASIMR) engine.
Credit: Ad Astra
Scientists are making progress on an advanced space propulsion system aimed at a variety of uses, including reboosting space stations, cleaning up space junk and powering superfast journeys that could reach Mars in less than two months.

Led by former NASA astronaut Franklin Chang-Díaz, Ad Astra Rocket Co. is developing the versatile, high-tech engine, which is known as the Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket, or VASIMR for short.

Engine work has been underway for more than 25 years, and is based on NASA and U.S. Department of Energy research and development in plasma physics and space propulsion technology. Commercializing the VASIMR electric propulsion engine is the flagship project of Ad Astra, which has been in business for nine years and has invested $30 million to date to mature the concept.

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Russia starts ambitious super-heavy space rocket project

Published time: November 17, 2013 03:26

The Buran orbiter landing at the Baikonur space center.
(RIA Novosti / Alexander Mokletsov)
On the 25th anniversary of the historic flight of the Soviet space shuttle Buran, Russia’s Roscosmos space agency has formed a working group to prepare “within weeks” a roadmap for the revival of the Energia super-heavy booster rocket.

The group led by Oleg Ostapenko, the new head of Roscosmos Federal Space Agency, is set to draw up proposals on the design of a super-heavy launch vehicle capable of delivering up to 100 tonnes of payload to the baseline orbit, former Soviet minister of general machine building, Oleg Baklanov, said on Friday.

"You have assumed the responsibility and dared to head the group, which is supposed to find an answer to the question how we can regain the position we demonstrated to the world with the launch of a 100-tonne spacecraft [Buran in 1988] within a few weeks," the ex-minister told Ostapenko at the event dedicated to the 25th anniversary of the flight of the Buran shuttle spacecraft.

The new carrier rocket Angara is set to become the base for the ambitious project that could bring Russia back to its heyday of space exploration. It could be launched from the Vostochny Cosmodrome which is now being constructed in Russia’s Far East, and will replace Kazakhstan’s Baikonur as Russia’s main launchpad.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Ames to pitch NASA on value of 'new' Kepler mission

By Stephen Clark
Posted: 16 November 2013

Artist's concept of the Kepler spacecraft. Credit: NASA/Ames
Managers in charge of the Kepler telescope have identified a way of salvaging the crippled observatory for a modified, less-sensitive cosmic survey for alien worlds, but NASA may not have the money to pay for the mission.

Since Kepler was knocked offline in May, officials at NASA's Ames Research Center in California have considered and analyzed new missions for the telescope.

And they think they have found a concept that is both feasible and scientifically intriguing.

The new mission scenario, dubbed "K2," calls for pointing Kepler across a swath of sky known as the ecliptic plane, or the plane where all the solar system's planets orbit the sun.

If approved by NASA Headquarters, the renewed Kepler campaign would be a shift from looking at stars like the sun to observing smaller, cooler stars that may harbor rocky planets close in, meaning they would be easier to detect.

"This is science that Kepler can do, and the K2 mission can do this uniquely, so this is really a selling point," said Steve Howell, Kepler's project scientist, during a Nov. 4 presentation at the second Kepler Science Conference held at Ames.

Plagued by reaction wheels and unable to adequately control its roll motion, Kepler is no longer capable of holding its gaze toward a field of more than 150,000 stars in the constellations Cygnus and Lyra. Kepler's optical detectors kept up a near-contant stare at the star field, which was selected because it was representative of the rest of the Milky Way, allowing scientists to extend their findings predict what may lie elsewhere in the sky.

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Saturday, November 16, 2013

Pluto Ho! Close Encounter Just Two Years Away

Artist concept of New Horizons spacecraft. Credit: Johns Hopkins
University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute (JHUAPL/SwRI)

Hurtling toward the Pluto system at 33,000 mph, NASA’s New Horizons probe was briefly awakened from electronic hibernation earlier this month to go through a full dress rehearsal for the July 2015 flyby.

With eight cameras and four spectrometers running on an anemic 30 watts of power, New Horizons is “the most sophisticated payload ever sent on a first reconnaissance mission,” said principal investigator Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute during a presentation at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., on July 23.

Stern emphasizes that this is a mission of superlatives. New Horizons is the fastest manmade object ever built. It is not only reaching the farthest classical planet in the solar system, but also surveying a new class of binary world.

There is little doubt that Pluto could have fascinating weather and geology, and serve as a Rosetta stone for the history of the solar system’s vast outer rim. This region, called the Kupier belt, contains countless icy bodies — perhaps 900 others the size of Pluto.

The marathon flight will complete our initial reconnaissance of the solar system that began over 50 years ago at the dawn of the Space Age. There will never be another time like this in the history of mankind.

Yes, we’ve sent orbiters and landers to follow in the track of the trailblazing probes like Voyager and Pioneer. But to people under age 30 today, the Pluto mission will be their first — and maybe last — experience at the thrill of seeing a new world close-up for the first time. The last planetary flyby was of Neptune in the summer of 1989 by Voyager 2.

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Are electric aircraft next for Tesla's Elon Musk?

Chris Woodyard, USA TODAY 8:15 p.m. EST November 12, 2013

Elon Musk, founder of Tesla Motors and SpaceX, in a 
USA TODAY interview (Photo: Maxine Park USA TODAY)
Having tried to conquer earth with Tesla Motors and the stars with SpaceX, CEO Elon Musk now appears interested in the void in between -- commercial aviation.

He says there is "an interesting opportunity" to make a radical change in aviation with an electrically powered vertical takeoff and landing supersonic aircraft. As much as he admires aerospace companies like Boeing and Airbus -- he lauds the Boeing 747 as his favorite while dissing the new 787 -- Musk questions whether the otherwise staid industry is passing up the opportunity for "radical" change.

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NASA Commercial Crew Partner SpaceX Achieves Milestone in Safety Review

Nov. 15, 2013

This is an artist concept of SpaceX’s Dragon 
capsule in orbit. (Image Credit: SpaceX)

Engineers and safety specialists from NASA and Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) met in late October to review the safety of the Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket being developed to launch humans into low-Earth orbit later this decade.

The detailed overview of safety practices the company is implementing was a major milestone for SpaceX under a funded Space Act Agreement with NASA's Commercial Crew Program (CCP).

SpaceX is one of NASA's commercial partners working to develop a new generation of U.S. spacecraft and rockets capable of transporting humans to and from low-Earth orbit from American soil. NASA intends to use new commercial systems to fly U.S. astronauts to and from the International Space Station within the next four years.

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Roscosmos Wants Only Domestic Civilian Satellite Makers

Roscosmos Wants Only Domestic Civilian Satellite Makers
15 November 2013 | Issue 5256
The Moscow Times

Image via

Federal Space Agency Chief Oleg Ostapenko proposed in a letter to Deputy Premier Dmitry Rogozin to end the practice of placing orders for the production of civilian communication satellites with foreign manufacturers, a news report said Friday.

The new head of Roscosmos sees such orders as a kind of subsidy of foreign manufacturers, Kommersant reported.

If the government heeds Ostapenko's advice European space concern EADS may lose part of its contracts here, leaving Russia's Information Satellite Systems Company, or ISS, as the only supplier of civilian communication satellites. Ostapenko noted in the letter that the planning for the launch of the next series of three communication satellites — Express-AMU2, Express-AMU3 and Express-AMU4 — in 2016-2025 — involves only one supplier, ISS.

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NASA Looks To Small Businesses For Big Space Programs

NASA Looks To Small Businesses For Big Space Programs

November 15, 2013
Image Credit:
NASA is seeking proposals for the agency’s Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer (SBIR/STTR) programs to enable future space exploration while helping to seed viable commercial products and services here in the US.

Small businesses and nonprofit research institutions that participate in the SBIR and STTR Programs are provided with opportunities to address specific technology gaps in NASA missions. The programs stimulate opportunities for the commercialization of new technologies developed through federal research and development. Many NASA efforts have been aided through the program results, such as modern air traffic control systems, Earth and sun observing spacecraft, the International Space Station (ISS), planetary and astrophysics science missions and the technologies needed for human exploration beyond low-Earth orbit.

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Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Notre Dame a partner in NASA’s Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute

Image via
The University of Notre Dame will be a partner in NASA’s Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute(SSERVI), a new organization that expands the scope of the NASA Lunar Science Institute to one that includes near-Earth asteroids and the moons of Mars.

Clive R. Neal, a Notre Dame planetary geologist, was part of a Universities Space Research Association (USRA) team that was selected for SSERVImembership. Scientists from USRA’s Lunar and Planetary Institute, the Johnson Space Center and the Arecibo Observatory and researchers from six universities, including Notre Dame, will be one of eight initial teams in SSERVI.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Through the Wormhole: What Are We Really Made Of?

Through the Wormhole: What Are We Really Made Of?

Our understanding of the universe and the nature of reality itself has drastically changed over the last 100 years, and it's on the verge of another seismic shift. In a 17-mile-long tunnel buried 570 feet beneath the Franco-Swiss border, the world's largest and most powerful atom smasher, the Large Hadron Collider, is powering up.

Its goal is nothing less than recreating the first instants of creation, when the universe was unimaginably hot and long-extinct forms of matter sizzled and cooled into stars, planets, and ultimately, us. These incredibly small and exotic particles hold the keys to the greatest mysteries of the universe. What we find could validate our long-held theories about how the world works and what we are made of. Or, all of our notions about the essence of what is real will fall apart.

Through the Wormhole: Are We Alone?

Through the Wormhole: Are We Alone?

Aliens almost certainly do exist. So why haven't we yet met E.T.? It turns out we're only just developing instruments powerful enough to scan for them, and science sophisticated enough to know where to look. As a result, race is on to find the first intelligent aliens.

But what would they look like, and how would they interact with us if we met? The answers may come to us sooner than we imagine, for one leading astronomer believes she may already have heard a hint of their first efforts to communicate.

Everywhere we look, life exists in both the most hospitable of environments and in the most extreme. Yet we have only ever found life on our planet. How did the stuff of stars come together to create life as we know it? What do we really mean by 'life'? And will unlocking this mystery help us find life elsewhere?

Through the Wormhole: What Happened Before the Beginning?

Every cosmologist and astronomer agrees: our Universe is 13.7 billion years old. Using cutting-edge technology, scientists are now able to take a snapshot of the Universe a mere heartbeat after its birth.

Armed with hypersensitive satellites, astronomers look back in time to the very moment of creation, when all the matter in the Universe exploded into existence. It is here that we uncover an unsolved mystery as old as time itself - if the Universe was born, where did it come from? Meet the leading scientists who have now discovered what they believe to be the origin of our Universe, and a window into the time before time.

Through the Wormhole: Is Time Travel Possible?

Through the Wormhole: Is Time Travel Possible?

Einstein's Theory of Relativity says that time travel is perfectly possible — if you're going forward. Finding a way to travel backwards requires breaking the speed of light, which so far seems impossible. But now, strange-but-true phenomena such as quantum nonlocality, where particles instantly teleport across vast distances, may give us a way to make the dream of traveling back and forth through time a reality. Step into a time machine and rewrite history, bring loved ones back to life, control our destinies.

Through the Wormhole: The Riddle of Black Holes

They are the most powerful objects in the universe. Nothing, not even light, can escape the gravitational pull of a black hole. Astronomers now believe there are billions of them out in the cosmos, swallowing up planets, even entire stars in violent feeding frenzies. New theoretical research into the twisted reality of black holes suggests that three-dimensional space could be an illusion. That reality actually takes place on a two-dimensional hologram at the edge of the universe.

Through the Wormhole: Is There a Creator?

Through the Wormhole: Is There a Creator? 
It's perhaps the biggest, most controversial mystery in the cosmos. Did our Universe just come into being by random chance, or was it created by a God who nurtures and sustains all life?

The latest science is showing that the four forces governing our universe are phenomenally finely tuned. So finely that it had led many to the conclusion that someone, or something, must have calibrated them; a belief further backed up by evidence that everything in our universe may emanate from one extraordinarily elegant and beautiful design known as the E8 Lie Group.

While skeptics hold that these findings are neither conclusive nor evidence of a divine creator, some cutting edge physicists are already positing who this God is: an alien gamester who's created our world as the ultimate SIM game for his own amusement. It's an answer as compelling as it is disconcerting.