Black Hole 12 Billion Times Bigger Than the Sun Discovered


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Scientists say they have discovered a black hole so big that it challenges the theory about how they grow.

The scientists were initially reluctant to classify it as a black hole because it was too bright, its luminosity equal to the brightness of 420 trillion suns. Most of the people do not believe black holes to be bright, though they can be. This is particularly so because black holes suck everything inside them but just before that there is tremendous friction which produces a lot of light.

Scientists said this black hole was formed about 900 million years after the Big Bang.

But with measurements indicating it is 12 billion times the size of the Sun, the black hole challenges a widely accepted hypothesis of growth rates.

“Based on previous research, this is the largest black hole found for that period of time,” Dr Fuyan Bian, Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics, Australian National University (ANU).

“Current theory is for a limit to how fast a black hole can grow, but this black hole is too large for that theory.”

The creation of supermassive black holes remains an open topic of research. However, many scientists have long believed the growth rate of black holes was limited.

Black holes grow, scientific theory suggests, as they absorb mass. However, as mass is absorbed, it will be heated creating radiation pressure, which pushes the mass away from the black hole.

“Basically, you have two forces balanced together which sets up a limit for growth, which is much smaller than what we found,” said Bian.

The black hole was discovered a team of global scientists led by Xue-Bing Wu at Peking University, China, as part of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, which provided imagery data of 35 percent of the northern hemisphere sky.

The ANU is leading a comparable project, known as SkyMapper, to carry out observations of the Southern Hemisphere sky.

Bian expects more black holes to be observed as the project advances.

Source : Reuters , ScienceTimes

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Russia to create joint orbital station with India, China


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Russia is exploring the possibility of a joint manned orbital station with India and China as part of a common strategy to create technological alliances and may take up the matter with the two Asian space giants in July.

“Moscow could propose to China and India to create a joint manned orbital station at the summit of the BRICS emerging economies in Russia’s Ufa in July,” a document drafted by the expert council at Russia’s military and industrial commission said.

The experts recommend “working out the possibilities of an international manned project with BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) countries as part of a common strategy of creating technological alliances”, Itar Tass reported.

The proposal comes after months of speculation that the crisis in Ukraine would doom U.S.-Russia space cooperation. For two decades this effort has largely been focused on the International Space Station project (ISS), which is due to end in 2020. NASA has proposed extending it to 2024, but Russia has suggested it might duck out and instead build its own space station — possibly with the participation of China.

The BRICS project would be roughly analogous to the ISS, a $150 billion project involving 15 nations. Anchored by the United States and Russia, the world’s leading spacefaring powers, the ISS allows countries with less advanced spaceflight capabilities to either join onto the station’s Russian and American segments or contribute smaller segments.

A BRICS space station would likely emerge from a similar two-nation partnership, again with Russia in a driver’s seat. The Military-Industrial Commission recommended approaching either China or India — both countries that have well-developed and increasingly ambitious space programs. The proposal would then allow other BRICS members to join.

India has yet to put a man in space without hitching rides on other nations’ rockets. Last year, it demonstrated its rising capabilities after launching an unmanned satellite to Mars on a shoestring budget.

China is perhaps the best partner for such a project. China already launches its own astronauts into space, and is designing its own medium-sized space station. The placement of Russia’s new Vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia’s Far East also makes close cooperation with China far easier.

Source : Times Of India , TheMoscowTimes

Hayabusa 2 launches on audacious asteroid adventure


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Japan’s Hayabusa 2 asteroid mission blasts off from Tanegashima Space Center aboard an H-2A rocket. Credit: JAXA

A Japanese H-2A launcher blasted off from an idyllic island spaceport Tuesday, dispatching a daring six-year expedition to bring a piece of an asteroid back to Earth.

The Hayabusa 2 mission’s roundtrip voyage began at 0422 GMT Wednesday (11:22 p.m. EST Tuesday) with a thunderous ascent from Tanegashima Space Center in southern Japan.

The 1,300-pound spacecraft rode a hydrogen-fueled H-2A rocket through clouds hanging over the seaside spaceport, leaving a twisting column of exhaust in its wake before disappearing hundreds of miles over the Pacific Ocean.

The rocket’s upper stage engine fired two times to accelerate Hayabusa 2 on a speedy departure fast enough to break free of the pull of Earth’s gravity.

The robotic explorer, packed with four stowaway landers to be deployed to the asteroid’s surface, separated from the H-2A rocket at 0609 GMT (1:09 a.m. EST). Applause could be heard in a live webcast of the launch provided by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, which manages the Hayabusa 2 mission.

The launch marked the opening chapter in the most ambitious mission to an asteroid ever attempted. The roundtrip journey will take six years to complete, and Hayabusa 2 promises to expand scientists’ understanding of how asteroids may have seeded Earth with water and organic molecules, the building blocks of life.

Hayabusa 2 is heading for asteroid 1999 JU3, a carbon-rich world just 900 meters — about 3,000 feet — across with a tenuous gravity field 60,000 times weaker than Earth’s.

The mission follows up on the achievements of Japan’s Hayabusa 1 probe, which made the first roundtrip flight to an asteroid from 2003 to 2010. The first Hayabusa mission encountered several crippling problems, including a fuel leak, failures in its pointing system, and a glitch with the craft’s sample collection system.

Despite the challenges, the spacecraft returned to Earth in 2010 — a few years late and carrying a fraction of the asteroid specimens intended. But Japanese scientists found microscopic samples from asteroid Itokawa — Hayabusa 1’s research subject — inside the probe’s landing vehicle.

The success vaulted Japan into the big leagues of solar system exploration.

“Many scientific milestones have been achieved from asteroid observations and samples from the asteroid Itokawa,” said Tetsuo Tanaka, associate director general of JAXA’s Lunar and Planetary Exploration Program Group. “Going to a far-off asteroid and returning with samples from it for the first time, these are tremendous technological challenges and our success in meeting them has brought worldwide admiration.”

“For the Hayabusa 2 project, Japan’s development of its own deep space exploration technology aims to lead the world in that technical field,” Tanaka said. “The Hayabusa 2 project sets new challenges for Japan’s unique technologies. How we face those challenges and how we use (the) project results will surely bring new impacts to the world.”

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Artist’s concept of the Hayabusa 2 spacecraft at asteroid 1999 JU3. Credit: JAXA

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Europe targets Ariane deal to stay in commercial space race


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  • Meeting on Tuesday expected to agree funding for new rocket
  • Franco-German compromise aims to keep Europe competitive
  • Airbus CEO urges radical shift to counter U.S. rival SpaceX

Weeks after its dramatic coup in landing a probe on a speeding comet, Europe is hoping a last-minute deal to provide funding for the workhorse Ariane rocket will prevent its space ambitions falling back to earth this week.

Anxious to preserve its own access to space, the 20-nation European Space Agency will seek to put aside differences over how to respond to U.S. low-cost rival SpaceX and safeguard thousands of high-tech jobs at ministerial talks on Tuesday.

After two years of wrangling, the outlines of an accord to fund development of a new Ariane 6 satellite launch vehicle appeared to be in place after Germany dropped its insistence on a prior upgrade to the current Ariane 5, officials said.

France is likely in return to back continued European funding for the International Space Station.

“It would be very serious if there is no decision on Dec 2 because Europe would have a competitive delay that it would never manage to reverse,” said Karim Michel Sabbagh, chief executive of Luxembourg-based satellite operator SES.

With the arrival in 2013 of SpaceX, founded by electric car entrepreneur Elon Musk and offering cut-price satellite launches, Ariane needs to lower costs dramatically.

The chief executive of Europe’s largest space contractor Airbus Group, Tom Enders, told Reuters a deal would mark a “new chapter” in the way Europe approaches space.

But he called for a clean break with bureaucratic public-private space industry structures to avoid Europe being “marginalized” by international competition.

“A departure from current ways of working is a precondition for future competitiveness of the European space business”.

Airbus Group, which builds the Ariane 5 launch vehicle, is expected to inaugurate a previously announced joint venture with engine maker Safran on the eve of the talks to help secure Ariane’s future. It will incorporate Arianespace, the launch services firm which operates Europe’s satellite launcher.

CALL FOR REFORM

The new venture is the most serious effort to reorganise Europe’s space industry and is being set up in the hope the one-day ministerial meeting in Luxembourg will back Ariane 6 – ending a compromise two years ago which split potential funding between the upgrade known as Ariane 5ME and an eventual new Ariane 6.

But Europe’s space industry remains heavily influenced by state agencies and industry sources say removing multiple layers of management is key to keeping Europe’s commercial activities competitive.

SpaceX offers launches for around $60 million (50 million euros) compared to 70-90 million euros a shot expected for the Ariane 6 and an average Ariane 5 launch price of 130 million euros ($160 million).

Efficiency comes into play in a cut-throat global commercial market where most companies can only rely on national links when it comes to sensitive defence satellites.

RUSSIA’S ROLE

The European Space Agency, an intergovernmental organisation with 20 member states from across Europe, was founded in 1975 to pool the continent’s finances and brains at a time when the United States and Russia had virtually monopolised space.

But despite Europe’s Ariane capturing 50 percent of the market, a costly system of job distribution and rival design offices has cast a shadow over Europe’s commercial activity even as it basks in scientific success like the Philae comet lander.

Science ministers will also decide on whether the ESA’s participation in the International Space Station will continue beyond 2020, its original shutdown date, and in what way.

The United States earlier this year said it would keep the ISS running until at least 2024, but Russia is looking at going alone and creating its own orbital station. Europe and Russia are also working on a two-mission ExoMars probe shot to Mars.

“(The ISS) shows we can achieve a lot if we all work together and it’s important to highlight that given the tensions building up between Russia and the West,” Daniel Brown, an astronomy expert at Nottingham Trent University, said.

ESA’s budget for 2014 was about 4.1 billion euros ($5.12 billion), and roughly equates to the price of one cinema ticket each year per each European tax payer.

NASA’s budget is $17.6 billion in 2014. The budget gap has made the achievements of Rosetta appear all the more impressive to many observers, but Europe’s space industry is lobbying for a healthy commercial launch activity to support such projects.

ESA plans also include a mission to orbit one of the icy moons of Jupiter and one going to Mercury.

The Horizon 2000 programme, developed in 1984, transformed Europe into a world leader in many areas, including solar physics, cosmology and X-ray Astronomy, said Ken Pounds, former CEO of the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council.

Pounds said he hoped the success of Philae would lead to a virtuous circle “where Europe is proving it can do world-class things, people feel warm about it, and the political class respond to that.”

Source : Reuters

Complex life may be possible in only 10% of all galaxies


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The universe may be a lonelier place than previously thought. Of the estimated 100 billion galaxies in the observable universe, only one in 10 can support complex life like that on Earth, a pair of astrophysicists argues. Everywhere else, stellar explosions known as gamma ray bursts would regularly wipe out any life forms more elaborate than microbes. The detonations also kept the universe lifeless for billions of years after the big bang, the researchers say.

“It’s kind of surprising that we can have life only in 10% of galaxies and only after 5 billion years,” says Brian Thomas, a physicist at Washburn University in Topeka who was not involved in the work. But “my overall impression is that they are probably right” within the uncertainties in a key parameter in the analysis.

WHAT IS GAMMA RAY BURST 

Gamma-ray bursts (GRBs) are flashes of gamma rays associated with extremely energetic explosions that have been observed in distant galaxies. They are the brightest electromagnetic events known to occur in the universe.Bursts can last from ten milliseconds to several minutes. A typical burst releases as much energy in a few seconds as the Sun will in its entire 10-billion-year lifetime. But all observed GRBs have originated from outside the Milky Way galaxy.

Scientists have long mused over whether a gamma ray burst could harm Earth. The bursts were discovered in 1967 by satellites designed to spot nuclear weapons tests and now turn up at a rate of about one a day. They come in two types. Short gamma ray bursts last less than a second or two; they most likely occur when two neutron stars or black holes spiral into each other. Long gamma ray bursts last for tens of seconds and occur when massive stars burn out, collapse, and explode. They are rarer than the short ones but release roughly 100 times as much energy. A long burst can outshine the rest of the universe in gamma rays, which are highly energetic photons.

Continue reading Complex life may be possible in only 10% of all galaxies

NASA prepares to wake New Horizons ahead of historic Pluto flyby


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NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft comes out of hibernation on December 6 at 3:00 pm EST. Now about 2.9 billion miles (4.6 billion km) from Earth, and 162 million miles (260 million km) from Pluto, the spacecraft will be put through a month-long preparation for its six month flyby of Pluto, with the primary phase of the mission slated to begin on January 15.

New Horizons’ current state of hibernation means that most of the spacecraft’s systems are shut down except for monitors and a weekly beacon-status transmission. So far, the probe has gone through 18 hibernation phases since it launched in 2006. This works out to 1,873 days in hibernation or two-thirds of the Pluto flyby mission.

The hibernation technique, which NASA pioneered, is a way of conserving onboard resources, cutting down on mission control personnel time, reducing time on NASA’s Deep Space Network, and saving wear and tear on the spacecraft’s electronics. New Horizons was reawoken periodically over the years to check the systems, rehearse the flyby, perform course corrections, and upload software updates. Last August, the probe was programmed to wake up on the scheduled December date. NASA says that 90 minutes after coming back online, New Horizons will transmit a confirmation back to Earth. However, this signal will not reach Earth for 4 hours and 25 minutes due to the enormous distances involved.

Once out of hibernation, mission control will put New Horizons through its final system checks and course corrections, download science data, and write and upload software updates. During the flyby, the probe will use its suite of seven scientific instruments to map Pluto, study its topology, temperatures, geology, and composition, as well as study the planet’s moons and search for additional satellites.

One particular reason for the missions timing is that Pluto is currently in its late “summer” and scientists want to take the opportunity to study the planet’s atmosphere before it freezes again during its century-long winter. New Horizon’s instruments includes an advanced imaging infrared and ultraviolet spectrometers, compact multicolor camera, high-resolution telescopic camera, two particle spectrometers, space-dust detector, and two radio experiments.

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Real picture of Pluto and its Moon Charon taken by New Horizons

The US$650 million New Horizons mission was launched January 19, 2006 atop an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida. The unmanned 478 kg (1,054 lb) nuclear-powered spacecraft was sent on a 9.5-year mission to fly by Pluto and then on to study selected objects in the Kuiper Belt. Sent on a slingshot trajectory using the gravitational pull of Jupiter, New Horizons passed the orbit of Neptune on August 24 and will rendezvous with Pluto on July 14 of next year, which it will pass at a distance of 13,000 km (8,000 mi).

According to NASA, the mission was fast tracked due to the increasing knowledge about the Kuiper Belt. Since Pluto is the most accessible object originating from there, it seemed a logical way to gain direct information. In addition, it is the first mission sent to the only unvisited planet (if you’re old school) in the Solar System.

NASA says that the flight team will be kept busy even after the flyby, because so much data will have been recorded that it won’t all be transmitted to Earth until October 2016.

“We’ve worked years to prepare for this moment,” says Mark Holdridge, New Horizons encounter mission manager at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. “New Horizons might have spent most of its cruise time across nearly three billion miles of space sleeping, but our team has done anything but, conducting a flawless flight past Jupiter just a year after launch, putting the spacecraft through annual workouts, plotting out each step of the Pluto flyby and even practising the entire Pluto encounter on the spacecraft. We are ready to go.”

Source : gizmag

Lunar Mission One aims to take Moon exploration to new depths


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Another private space exploration venture is under way with the British-led Lunar Mission One announcing plans to send an unmanned robotic landing module to the South Pole of the Moon. Initially funded by a Kickstarter campaign, the non-profit organization hopes to drill ten times deeper into the lunar surface than has ever previously been attempted and use the borehole to store a giant digital time capsule of human knowledge.

Under development for about eight years, the UK-based Lunar Mission One had its public launching this week at the the Royal Society’s 12th Reinventing Space Conference in London. The effort was founded as Lunar Mission Ltd by former Royal Navy Engineering Officer David Iron, and is partnered with the University College of London and the Open University among others. Its goal is to develop and land a probe at the Lunar South Pole by 2024 as part of an effort to not only gather more knowledge about the Moon, but also to promote public interest in space exploration and develop new means of funding future missions without government support.

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ISRO’s Mangalyaan Mars Mission Among Time Magazine’s ’25 Best Inventions of 2014′


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Mangalyaan has been named among the best inventions of 2014 by Time magazine which described it as a technological feat that will allow India to flex its “interplanetary muscles.”
“Nobody gets Mars right on the first try. The US didn’t, Russia didn’t, the Europeans didn’t. But on September 24, India did. That’s when the Mangalyaan… went into orbit around the Red Planet, a technological feat no other Asian nation has yet achieved,” Time said about Mangalyaan, calling it “The Supersmart Spacecraft.”

Mangalyaan is among the 25 ‘Best Inventions of 2014’ listed by Time magazine that are “making the world better, smarter and-in some cases-a little more fun.”

Developed by the Indian Space Research Organisation, the Mars spacecraft cost India just US $74 million (roughly Rs. 457 crores), less than the budget for the multi-Academy Award winning science fiction thriller film Gravity. Time said at that price, the Mangalyaan is equipped with just five onboard instruments that allow it to do simple tasks like measure Martian methane and surface composition.

“More important, however, it allows India to flex its interplanetary muscles, which portends great things for the country’s space programme and for science in general,” Time said.

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(Click Image to Download) Image of mars image  taken from a height of 7300 km by India ‘s Mangalyaan

Continue reading ISRO’s Mangalyaan Mars Mission Among Time Magazine’s ’25 Best Inventions of 2014′

NASA’s “Remastered” View of Europa is the Best Yet


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(Click image to download) This newly-reprocessed color view of Europa was made from images taken by NASA’s Galileo spacecraft in the late 1990s. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute

Europa, Jupiter’s sixth-closest moon, has long been a source of fascination and wonder for astronomers. Not only is it unique amongst its Jovian peers for having a smooth, ice-covered surface, but it is believed that warm, ocean waters exist beneath that crust – which also makes it a strong candidate for extra-terrestrial life.

And now, combining a mosaic of color images with modern image processing techniques, NASA has produced a new version of what is perhaps the best view of Europa yet. And it is quite simply the closest approximation to what the human eye would see, and the next best thing to seeing it up close.

The high-resolution color image, which shows the largest portion of the moon’s surface, was made from images taken by NASA’s Galileo probe. Using the Solid-State Imaging (SSI) experiment, the craft captured these images during it’s first and fourteenth orbit through the Jupiter system, in 1995 and 1998 respectively.

The view was previously released as a mosaic with lower resolution and strongly enhanced color (as seen on the JPL’s website). To create this new version, the images were assembled into a realistic color view of the surface that approximates how Europa would appear to the human eye.

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The cracked, icy surface of Europa. The smoothness of the surface has led many scientists to conclude that oceans exist beneath it. Credit: NASA/JPLredit: NASA

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‘Space plane’ readies for launch


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(Click image to Download) The Intermediate experimental Vehicle. Photo: ESA 

Europe’s first-ever “space plane” will be launched on February 11 next year, rocket firm Arianespace says after a three-month delay to fine-tune the flight plan.

The unmanned, car-sized vessel will be sent into low orbit by Europe’s Vega light rocket, on a 100-minute fact-finding flight to inform plans to build a shuttle-like, reusable space vehicle.

Dubbed IXV, for Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle, the plane will be boosted from Europe’s space pad in Kourou, French Guiana, and separate from its launcher at an altitude of 320 kilometres.

The European Space Agency website says it will attain an altitude of around 450k kilometres before re-entering the atmosphere at an altitude of 120 kilometres – representative of a return mission from low orbit.

The vessel is expected to collect data on its hypersonic and supersonic flight phases, before plunging into the Pacific Ocean with a parachute.

The initial launch had been scheduled for November 18, but Arianespace in October announced a postponement “to carry out additional flight trajectory analyses”.

“Based on joint work by ESA [the European Space Agency] and CNES [the French space agency], the date for the IXV mission to be launched by Vega has been set for February 11, 2015,” the company said in a statement on Friday.

Developed over five years at a cost of 150 million euros ($225 million), the IXV is the testbed for a reusable vehicle that may one day be able to land on a conventional runway on Earth after a mission to space.

This could be useful for bringing astronauts back from the International Space Station (ISS).

The only craft currently able to ferry astronauts to the ISS and back is Russia’s Soyuz.

Last month saw two major setbacks for the space industry.

On October 28, an Orbital Sciences Antares rocket exploded shortly after launch on what was to be a supply mission to the ISS, followed three days later by the crash of Virgin Galactic tourist space plane SpaceShipTwo on a test flight, killing one of two pilots.

Source : smh