Saturn Spacecraft Returns to the Realm of Icy Moons


Cosmology & Space Research Institute

A dual view of Saturn’s icy moon Rhea marks the return of NASA’s Cassini spacecraft to the realm of the planet’s icy satellites. This follows nearly two years during which the spacecraft’s orbits carried it high above the planet’s poles. Those paths limited the mission’s ability to encounter the moons, apart from regular flybys of Titan.

Cassini’s orbit will remain nearly equatorial for the remainder of 2015, during which the spacecraft will have four close encounters with Titan, two with Dione and three with the geyser-moon, Enceladus.

The two views of Rhea were taken about an hour-and-a-half apart on Feb. 9, 2015, when Cassini was about 30,000 to 50,000 miles (50,000 to 80,000 kilometers) away from the moon. Cassini officially began its new set of equatorial orbits on March 16.

The views show an expanded range of colors from those visible to human eyes in order to highlight subtle color…

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An Absolutely Epic Photo of Humans Returning From Space


Lights in the Dark

The Expedition 42 Soyuz capsule descending via parachute to land in Kazakhstan on March 12, 2015. (NASA/Bill Ingalls)The Expedition 42 Soyuz capsule descending via parachute to land in Kazakhstan on March 12, 2015. (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

It almost doesn’t look real but it is: the return of three humans aboard a Soyuz TMA-14M capsule after spending nearly six months aboard the ISS as part of Expedition 41/42, captured on camera by NASA photographer Bill Ingalls during their sunlit descent via parachute. The Soyuz landed in a remote area near the town of Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan at 10:07 p.m. EDT March 11 / 02:07 UTC March 12. The landing site may have been in dense fog, but above the clouds the view was simply amazing!

Aboard the Soyuz TMA-14 were cosmonauts Elena Serova, Alexander Samokutyaev, and NASA astronaut Barry “Butch” Wilmore. See more photos from the descent and landing on the NASA HQ Photo album on Flickr here.

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Bright spots on dwarf planet Ceres puzzle scientists


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This image was taken by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft of dwarf planet Ceres on Feb. 19 from a distance of nearly 29,000 miles (46,000 kilometers). It shows that the brightest spot on Ceres has a dimmer companion, which apparently lies in the same basin.
Image by: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

According to Nasa, the latest images from its Dawn probe, taken about 46,000 kilometres from Ceres, reveal a new bright spot.

The spot lies close to another area that held a bright spot in previous images.

“Ceres’ bright spot can now be seen to have a companion of lesser brightness, but apparently in the same basin. This may be pointing to a volcano-like origin of the spots, but we will have to wait for better resolution before we can make such geologic interpretations,” said Chris Russell, principal investigator for the Dawn mission, based at the University of California, Los Angeles.

“The brightest spot continues to be too small to resolve with our camera, but despite its size it is brighter than anything else on Ceres. This is truly unexpected and still a mystery to us,” said Andreas Nathues, lead investigator for the framing camera team at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Gottingen, Germany.

Dawn is scheduled to enter Ceres’ orbit on 6 March, which will give researchers a closer look at the dwarf planet and its geological history.

Some researchers have speculated that given the abundance of water on the planet, it could possible hold life.

“Ceres is actually the largest water reservoir in the inner solar system other than the Earth,” Jian-Yang Li, of the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona told Space.com last year.

It is unclear how much of this is liquid. While steam has been noted from the dwarf planet, this appears to only be as it nears to sun.

“When Ceres is in the colder part of its orbit, no water escapes,” Nasa reported.

Source : http://www.timeslive.co.za/

Astronomers Discover Extremely Rare Jet-Emitting Spiral Galaxy


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(Click image to Dwonload)

1649+2635 is a spiral galaxy located about 800 million light-years away from our Solar System.

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It is only the fourth spiral galaxy known to produce large, powerful jets of subatomic particles moving at nearly the speed of light.

The first galaxy of this type, 0313-192, was found in 1998 in the galaxy cluster Abell 428.

The second, Speca (J1409-030), was revealed in 2011 by images from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey and the Very Large Array.

And the third, J2345-0449, was found earlier this year near the massive galaxy cluster RBS 2042.

Giant jets of superfast particles are powered by supermassive black holes at the cores of galaxies. Both elliptical and spiral galaxies harbor such black holes, but only J1649+2635 and three other spiral galaxies have been seen to produce large jets. These jets pour outward from the poles of rapidly-rotating disks of material orbiting the black hole.

The problem is that spiral galaxies are not supposed to have such large jets.

“In order to figure out how these jets can be produced by the ‘wrong’ kind of galaxy, we realized we needed to find more of them,” said Dr Minnie Mao from the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, who is the lead author of the paper accepted for publication in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society (arXiv.org preprint).

Dr Mao and his colleagues, with help from participants of an online project called the Galaxy Zoo, looked at images of galaxies from the visible-light Sloan Digital Sky Survey and classified them as spiral, elliptical, or other types.

Next, they decided to cross-match the SDSS visible-light spirals with galaxies in a catalog that combines data from the NRAO VLA Sky Survey and the Faint Images of the Radio Sky at Twenty Centimeters survey.

The results of the cross-matching showed that one of the galaxies, J1649+2635, is both a spiral galaxy and has powerful twin radio jets.

“This is the first time that a galaxy was first identified as a spiral, then subsequently found to have large radio jets. It was exciting to make such a rare find,” said team member Dr Ryan Duffin from the University of Virginia and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory.

J1649+2635 is unusual not only because of its jets, but also because it is the first example of a ‘grand design’ spiral galaxy with a large optical halo (about 313,000 light-years in diameter) surrounding it.

The galaxy harbors an enormous black hole with the mass of 300 million to 700 million times the mass of the Sun.

“This galaxy presents us with many mysteries. We want to know how it became such a strange beast,” Dr Mao said.

Source : Sci-news

Mars One Mission Could be end up with Big Failure


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Mars One is the ambitious, privately-funded plan to develop a colony on the Red Planet by 2025. But a new study led by a researcher at MIT found the current roadmap could be a deadly one.

Sydney Do, a PhD candidate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), released a feasibility study that found the first humans on Mars would suffocate within 68 days of landing.

At the International Astronomical Union conference in Toronto, Do and his team presented their results: excess oxygen from crops produced in the artificial habitat would require ventilation and eventually cause asphyxiation.

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According to CBC News, Do’s team ran a 26-month simulation to monitor conditions on the planned Mars One habitat; Twenty-six months is the time it would take backup spaceships to arrive from Earth according to the current Mars One plan.

Do told CBC News that a machine capable of solving the oxygen dilemma would be “so large that we couldn’t land it in one of the landers.” He said he actually contacted Mars One with his research, but has not heard back.

The Mars One team, which formed in 2011, is now two steps into its projected roadmap. According to the project’s website, the team produced a complete feasibility study during its first year with the help of experts from “space agencies and private corporations around the world.”

Mars One has already been collecting candidates for its 2024 launch. Candidates chosen by Mars One will begin training in 2015, and even when faced with the news that the mission could be deadly, several candidates remain undeterred.

Claude Gauthier, a 61-year-old Canadian mathematics professor, told CBC news that the problems laid out by Do and his team would be solved by food transports from Earth.

Fellow candidates and Canadians Paige Hunter and Tyler Reyno also told CBC News they weren’t worried by the study’s findings.

“Obviously, keeping humans alive on Mars is extremely difficult,” Reyno said. “You just have to understand there’s a lot of uncertainty and a lot of unknowns and those who are passionate and inspired will understand that and do it anyway.”

Scientists Create 3D Map of Cosmic Web for the First Time Showing ‘Adolescent’ Universe


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Using extremely faint light from galaxies 10.8 billion light-years away, scientists created one of the most complete, 3D maps of the early universe. 3D map of the cosmic web at a distance of 10.8 billion years from Earth, generated from imprints of hydrogen gas observed in the spectrum of 24 background galaxies behind the volume. (Photo : Casey Stark (UC Berkeley) and Khee-Gan Lee (MPIA))

y have managed to create a map of what our universe looked like during its adolescence. Using extremely faint light from galaxies 10.8 billion light-years away, the researchers created one of the most complete, 3D maps at a time when the universe was made of a fraction of the dark matter we see today.

In this case, the researchers used a new technique for high-resolution universe maps. This technique, which uses distant galaxies to backlight hydrogen gas, could actually also inform future mapping projects, such as the proposed Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument (DESI).

Before this study, no one knew if galaxies further than 10 billion light-years away could provide enough light to be useful. Yet the Keck-1 telescope collected four hours of data during a brief break in cloudy skies and showed that it was possible to do so. Because of the extreme faintness of the light, though, the scientists had to develop algorithms to subtract light from the sky that would otherwise drown out the galactic signals.

“It’s a pretty weird map because it’s not really 3D,” said David Schlegel, one of the researchers, in a news release. “It’s all these skewers; we don’t have a picture of what’s between the quasars, just what’s along the skewers.”

The resulting map, though, shows that this technique is possible for future maps.

“This technique is pretty efficient and it wouldn’t take a long time to obtain enough data to cover volumes hundreds of millions of light-years on a side,” said Khee-Gan Lee, the lead researcher.

The findings reveal a bit more about the early universe and show that this technique could be huge when it comes to peering even further back into the past. That said, scientists will need to collect more data before this becomes a possibility.

Source : Science World Report

Stephen Hawking joins Facebook , First post for ice bucket challenge


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Famed physicist and writer Stephen Hawking has joined Facebook.

Hawking has promised to share his work investigating “what makes the universe exist” with followers of his new account.

He writes, “Time and space may forever be a mystery, but that has not stopped my pursuit. Our connections to one another have grown infinitely and now that I have the chance, I’m eager to share this journey with you. Be curious, I know I will forever be.”

The message even got a “like” from Hawking’s employer, the University of Cambridge, which added, “Nice to see you here Stephen Hawking.”

Hawking also shared a video of him accepting the Ice Bucket Challenge, though he didn’t opt to take the plunge himself. Instead, his three children stepped up to do the challenge on his behalf. In the video Hawking says, “It would not be wise for me to have a bucket of cold water poured over me.”
Hawking then nominated Ian Blatchford, director of The Science Museum, Lord Sainsbury, Chancellor of the University of Cambridge and professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge to take the challenge.

Some speculate that Hawking’s decision to join Facebook may be a marketing stunt for his upcoming biopic, The Theory Of Everything. So far, no promotional material for the film has been posted to his page. The movie will detail Hawking’s first marriage and his early battles with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

Hawking has already amassed over 1,300,000 followers on the site.

Google executive sets new stratosphere (Near space) skydive world record


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A skydiving Google executive is safely back on Earth after jumping out of a giant balloon floating in the stratosphere more than 25 miles (40 km) above New Mexico, a feat that broke the sound barrier and shattered a world altitude record.

Alan Eustace, a senior vice president at the Mountain View, California-based company, was lifted up 135,890 feet (41,419 meters) by an enormous balloon shortly before dawn on Friday, the Paragon Space Development Corp said.

After spending about 30 minutes “experiencing the wonders of the stratosphere,” he plunged toward the earth, the company, which designed his custom-made pressurized spacesuit and life support system, said on its website.

The jump topped a record set by Austrian daredevil Felix Baumgartner over New Mexico on Oct. 14, 2012 after he jumped from a height of 128,100 feet (39,045 meters).

Eustace remained in a free fall for about 4.5 minutes before landing safely nearly 70 miles from his launch point, setting a world record for the highest skydive and breaking the sound barrier in the process.

“In rapid free-fall, Alan experienced a short period of near weightlessness and within 90 seconds exceeded the speed of sound,” Paragon said on its website.

He landed on the ground just 15 minutes after he was lifted into the air.

Eustace, who has worked with Google since 2002, is a pilot and skydiver, Paragon said.

“I always wondered: what if you could design a system that would allow humans to explore the stratosphere as easily and safely as they do the ocean?” Eustace is quoted as saying on the space development company’s website.

Source : Reuters

GSLV-Mark III launch in 45 days, says ISRO chief


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A step closer to sending astronauts into space

In just 45 days from now, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) would launch its most ambitious suborbital — less than the usual orbit- test flight — Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) Mark III.

It will be an unmanned crew module. This will unleash India’s dream of sending its astronauts into space come true.

“We will comeback soon with an unmatched module in the next 45 days. GSLV Mark III will be one of the heaviest indigenous launch vehicles,” said K. Radhakrishnan, Chairman, ISRO, after the launch of PSLV C26, IRNSS-1C, the third satellite of the Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System from the first launch pad of Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota.

The GSLV Mark III will help ISRO put heavier communication satellites of INSAT-4 class into orbit. These satellites weigh anywhere between 4,500-5,000 kg. The vehicle is 42.4 metre tall compared to the other GSLV which is 49 metre. It will be a three-stage vehicle.

“We are already working on this next launch. The work is completed and in testing stages,” Y.S. Prasad, Director, SHAR, said.

Terming the Mark III mission as most important and challenging, M. Chandradathan, Director of Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre of ISRO, said: “It is one of the heaviest indigenous launch vehicles that is been developed till date.”

The launch of GSLV Mark III will enhance India’s capability to be a competitive player in the multimillion dollar commercial launch market.

The vehicle envisages multi-mission launch capability for GTO (geo transfer orbit), LEO (low earth orbit), Polar and intermediate circular orbits.

To the moon and back: Lunar mission tests China’s space program


China launched an experimental spacecraft early Friday that is scheduled to orbit the moon before returning to Earth, a first for the country’s ambitious space program and considered a precursor to a planned mission to the moon.

The unmanned spacecraft was launched by a Long March 3C rocket from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan, western China, state media said.

It is China’s first lunar module capable of returning to Earth and the mission’s main technical challenge will be making sure the spacecraft slows down enough to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere safely.

Too fast and it could overheat or become difficult to track and control, Hu Hao, chief designer of the lunar exploration program, told The China Daily.

It is expected to take around a week to fly around the moon. The spacecraft will end its mission by landing on the grasslands of Inner Mongolia.

The mission tests technology that will be used in a more ambitious launch, scheduled to take place in 2017, when an unmanned lunar probe will go to the moon, collect soil samples and return home.

Chinese astronauts have made five manned space flights on a series of Shenzhou “Divine Vessel” modules, with the latest mission in 2013 completing a successful manual docking with the Tiangong-1 space station.

Last December, China put a lunar rover — known as the Jade Rabbit — on the moon but it has been plagued by mechanical troubles, the China Daily said.

On course for the moon?

Joan Johnson-Freese, a professor at the U.S. Naval War College, said the lunar orbiter marks a step forward in the capabilities needed for a potential manned lunar program, which while under discussion hasn’t been officially approved yet.

“It’s significance is not only in demonstration of technical abilities, but in a continued political will to achieve its space goals over long periods of time — which is what China has that the U.S. currently lacks.”

While the United States has pulled back its space program, other countries are trying to match or surpass China’s accomplishments in what some observers have called an Asian space race.

In September, India became the first Asian country to send an orbiter around Mars.

Political symbolism

China sent its first astronaut into space in 2003 and has made rapid advances in the intervening decade.

Despite this, its space program is still yet to achieve capabilities reached by the U.S. and then Soviet Union decades ago, says James A. Lewis, director and senior fellow at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.

With little economic or military advantage, its value, he says, lies in how the space program shapes China’s perception of itself — a conspicuous display of national power and wealth that asserts China’s return to confidence and authority.

“We could ask if China is following an outdated recipe for superpower status,” he writes in a blog for the University of Nottingham in the UK.

“In terms of the global effect of the manned program, there might be some truth to this. But for the domestic audience that is the chief concern of China’s leaders, the space program produces invaluable results.”