Evidence for Complex Molecules on Pluto's surface

New data from the Hubble Space Telescope indicates that complex hydrocarbon and/or nitrile molecules may be present on the surface of Pluto.

The Cosmic Origins Spectrograph aboard NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope recently discovered a strong ultraviolet-wavelength absorber on Pluto’s surface. Image Credit: NASA/ES

The new and highly sensitive Cosmic Origins Spectrograph aboard the Hubble Space Telescope has discovered a strong ultraviolet-wavelength absorber on Pluto's surface, providing new evidence that points to the possibility of complex hydrocarbon and/or nitrile molecules lying on the surface, according to a paper recently published in the Astronomical Journal by researchers from Southwest Research Institute and Nebraska Wesleyan University.


Lovejoy from Space

International Space Station Commander Dan Burbank captured spectacular imagery of Comet Lovejoy as seen from about 240 miles above the Earth’s horizon on Wednesday, Dec. 21. Burbank described seeing the comet as “the most amazing thing I have ever seen in space,” in an interview with WDIV-TV in Detroit.


NASA Telescopes Help Find Rare Galaxy at Dawn of Time

This image shows one of the most distant galaxies known, called GN-108036, dating back to 750 million years after the Big Bang that created our universe. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/STScI/University of Tokyo. Click to enlarge.

Astronomers using NASA's Spitzer and Hubble space telescopes have discovered that one of the most distant galaxies known is churning out stars at a shockingly high rate. The blob-shaped galaxy, called GN-108036, is the brightest galaxy found to date at such great distances.

Dawn Obtains First Low Altitude Images of Vesta

NASA's Dawn spacecraft has sent back the first images of the giant asteroid Vesta from its low-altitude mapping orbit. The images, obtained by the framing camera, show the stippled and lumpy surface in detail never seen before, piquing the curiosity of scientists who are studying Vesta for clues about the solar system's early history.

NASA's Dawn spacecraft has spiraled closer and closer to the surface of the giant asteroid Vesta. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

At this detailed resolution, the surface shows abundant small craters, and textures such as small grooves and lineaments that are reminiscent of the structures seen in low-resolution data from the higher-altitude orbits. Also, this fine scale highlights small outcrops of bright and dark material.


Discovered First Earth-Size Planets Beyond Our Solar System!

This chart compares the first Earth-size planets found around a sun-like star to planets in our own solar system, Earth and Venus. Image credit: NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech

NASA's Kepler mission has discovered the first Earth-size planets orbiting a sun-like star outside our solar system. The planets, called Kepler-20e and Kepler-20f, are too close to their star to be in the so-called habitable zone where liquid water could exist on a planet's surface, but they are the smallest exoplanets ever confirmed around a star like our sun.

Comet Lovejoy , the survivor!

Comet Lovejoy. A surprise in  Tasmanian summer early morning twilight with the waning Moon. The comet's tail was just naked eye and perhaps a degree long.

Tasmania, amateur astronomer Peter Sayers did see the tail with his unaided eyes--"but just barely," he says. Credit: Peter Sayers

The visibility of the tail could improve in the days ahead as the comet moves away from the sun and the background sky darkens accordingly. Early-rising sky watchers should be alert for this rare apparition.

Phobos-Grunt will reenter on January

Hayabusa spacecraft disintegrates upon re-entry (NASA)

On Dec. 16, 2011, Roskosmos reported parameters of Phobos-Grunt's orbit as 275.7 by 201.3-kilometers and predicted its reentry between the 6th and 19th of January 2012. According to the agency, more accurate prediction of the reentry time and its location could be made no earlier than few days in advance. Around 20-30 fragments with a total mass of no more than 200 kilograms were to reach the Earth surface, the agency said.

Roskosmos confirmed that 10 micrograms of the radioactive Cobalt-57 isotope were a part of one of the scientific instruments onboard the spacecraft, however a tiny amount of material and its slow decay rate would render it harmless to the environment. All propellant onboard the spacecraft would burn up at an altitude of around 100 kilometers, Roskosmos said.

The Russian Federal Space Agency proposed sending a new mission to Phobos in 1999. Called Phobos-Grunt (“grunt” being the Russian word for “soil”), this mission aimed to gather a sample of soil from the moon’s surface and send it back to Earth for analysis. Although an unmanned sample return mission sounds complicated, the Russian space program has succeeded many times in conducting similar missions closer to home. Unfortunately Mars seems too far away again for Russia.

Above: The final architecture of the Phobos-Grunt spacecraft. Credit: NPO Lavochkin


Fear No Supernova nor Gamma-Ray Burst for 2012

Given the incredible amounts of energy in a supernova explosion – as much as the sun creates during its entire lifetime – another erroneous doomsday theory is that such an explosion could happen in 2012 and harm life on Earth. However, given the vastness of space and the long times between supernovae, astronomers can say with certainty that there is no threatening star close enough to hurt Earth.
Supernova 1987A was the closest exploding star seen in modern times. It occurred in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a small galaxy that orbits our own Milky Way. Images taken by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope were combined to make this composite of the blast's expanding debris. Credit: NASA / ESA / P. Challis and R. Kirshner (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics)

Astronomers estimate that, on average, about one or two supernovae explode each century in our galaxy. But for Earth's ozone layer to experience damage from a supernova, the blast must occur less than 50 light-years away. All of the nearby stars capable of going supernova are much farther than this.

NASA Concludes 2011 Testing of J-2X Engine

NASA conducted its final J-2X rocket engine test of the year Dec. 14, the 10th firing in a series of tests on the new upper-stage engine that will carry humans farther into space than ever before.

The J-2X engine was test fired on the A-2 Test Stand at NASA's Stennis Space Center, in south Mississippi. The test was performed at the 100 percent power level. The main focus of this test was to characterize engine performance calibration and the effects of fuel inlet pressure variations. The results of this test are being analyzed.


Life Possible on Extensive Parts of Mars

A new study indicates that extensive regions of the sub-surface of Mars could contain water and be at comfortable temperatures for terrestrial - and potentially martian - microbes. 

The Curiosity rover touches down on the Martian surface in this artist rendition. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Scientists from The Australian National University have found that extensive regions of the sub-surface of Mars could contain water and be at comfortable temperatures for terrestrial – and potentially martian – microbes.


NASA's Dawn Spirals Down to Lowest Orbit

This artist's concept shows NASA's Dawn spacecraft orbiting the giant asteroid Vesta. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA's Dawn spacecraft successfully maneuvered into its closest orbit around the giant asteroid Vesta today, beginning a new phase of science observations. The spacecraft is now circling Vesta at an altitude averaging about 130 miles (210 kilometers) in the phase of the mission known as low altitude mapping orbit.


Is this NASA secret Mission?

NASA has been given a presidential directive to land astronauts on an asteroid by 2025. Is a human mission to an asteroid possible in this time-frame, and what benefits will such a mission provide for the future of space exploration?

This artist's concept shows NASA's giant rocket, the Space Launch System, soaring off a launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The rocket is NASA's new booster for deep space missions to an asteroid and ultimately Mars.

Why is so urgent  that endeavor that the development and training attaining that goal is as hard as the apollo programme on the 60s?

More Training to work on an Asteroid

NASA’s Research and Technology Studies (RATS) team will conduct its 2012 events in two phases. The first phase is further separated into two, three-day parts, conducted at Johnson Space Center’s (JSC) Building 9.

A mock Multi-Mission Space Exploration Vehicle (MMSEV) is show in the "flying" configuration, mounted on an air sled, moving across the air-bearing floor.

Phase 1 will take place Dec. 13-15, 2011, and Jan. 18-20, 2012. This phase will focus on determining functionality and habitability of the Multi-Mission Space Exploration Vehicle (MMSEV). The MMSEV has a flexible architecture, allowing it to rove on a planetary surface atop a wheeled chassis, or fly in space using advanced in-space propulsion systems.

Earth Flips Magnetic Poles All the Time

Scientists understand that Earth's magnetic field has flipped its polarity many times over the millennia. In other words, if you were alive about 800,000 years ago, and facing what we call north with a magnetic compass in your hand, the needle would point to 'south.' This is because a magnetic compass is calibrated based on Earth's poles.

Schematic illustration of Earth's magnetic field. Credit/Copyright: Peter Reid

The N-S markings of a compass would be 180 degrees wrong if the polarity of today's magnetic field were reversed. Many doomsday theorists have tried to take this natural geological occurrence and suggest it could lead to Earth's destruction. But would there be any dramatic effects? The answer, from the geologic and fossil records we have from hundreds of past magnetic polarity reversals, seems to be 'no.'


SETI Targets Kepler Planets

The Allen Telescope Array (ATA) is once again searching for signals of extraterrestrial intelligence. New targets for ATA will include exoplanet candidates discovered by NASA's Kepler space telescope.

The Allen Telescope Array (ATA) is a "Large Number of Small Dishes" (LNSD) array designed to be highly effective for “commensal” (simultaneous) surveys of conventional radio astronomy projects and SETI (search for extraterrestrial intelligence) observations at centimeter wavelengths. Credit: SETI

The Allen Telescope Array (ATA) is once again searching planetary systems for signals that would be evidence of extraterrestrial intelligence. Among its first targets are some of the exoplanet candidates recently discovered by NASA's Kepler space telescope.


Asteroid 2003 XV

The 12 - 28 metre wide asteroid 2003 XV will make a close pass (1.1 lunar distances, 0.0027 AU), travelling at 11.93 km/second, to the Earth-Moon system on the 7th December, 2011  06:41 UTC.

NASA's Kepler Confirms Its First Planet In Habitable Zone

NASA's Kepler mission has confirmed its first planet in the "habitable
zone," the region around a star where liquid water could exist on a planet’s surface. Kepler also has discovered more than 1,000 new planet candidates, nearly doubling its previously known count. Ten of these candidates are near-Earth-size and orbit in the habitable zone of their host star. Candidates require follow-up observations to verify they are actual planets.

This artist's conception illustrates Kepler-22b, a planet known to comfortably circle in the habitable zone of a sun-like star. Image credit: NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech


Phobos-Grunt falling apart?

On December 3rd, according to US radar data, two objects apparently separated from Phobos-Grunt on November 29 (around mid-day) and on November 30. Both objects apparently slowly drifted away from the main spacecraft, then quickly lost the altitude and at least one of them reentered the Earth atmosphere on December 1. Available radar data enabled to conclude about relatively high density of one piece and estimate its size at 0.1 meters and mass at around 0.5 kilograms.

Probably this is the end for Phobus-Grunt, the spacecraft was slowly losing its altitude: the apogee (the highest point of the orbit) descended from 345 kilometers following the launch on November 9 to around 308 kilometers; while the perigee following a slight boost from original 204 kilometers to around 206 kilometers between November 18 and November 21, then decayed to 203 kilometers.



New Horizons Becomes Closest Spacecraft to Approach Pluto

NASA’s New Horizons mission reached a special milestone yesterday, Dec. 2, 2011, on its way to reconnoiter the Pluto system, coming closer to Pluto than any other spacecraft.

It’s taken New Horizons 2,143 days of high-speed flight – covering more than a million kilometers per day for nearly six years—to break the closest-approach mark of 1.58 billion kilometers set by NASA’s Voyager 1 in January 1986.

Click on the image to view the current position of New Horizons as it races toward Pluto.
“What a cool milestone!” says New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute. “Although we’re still a long way — 1.5 billion kilometers from Pluto — we’re now in new territory as the closest any spacecraft has ever gotten to Pluto, and getting closer every day by over a million kilometers.


Photos show Phobos Grunt - update 02 December

The European ground station in Maspalomas joined the effort to contact Phobos-Grunt on December 1 with two attempts, however still nothing was heard from the spacecraft. A station in Perth planned to send commands too, but ESA reported less than favorable conditions: during one pass, the spacecraft would be totally in darkness (and therefore likely without power), during another - only with limited sunlight, while two passes in the daylight would not be optimal for pointing the antenna.

To photos taken by Ralf Vandebergh seem to show that the probe's solar panels were deployed (center).
Copyright © Ralf Vandenbergh. Published here with permission.


Phobos-Grunt update 29th November

Color image of Phobos, imaged by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter in 2008.

November 29
During the night from November 28 to November 29, the ground station in Perth had five opportunities to contact Phobos-Grunt from 18:21 to 03:47 GMT (22:21 - 07:47 Moscow Time) However all attempts to command Phobos-Grunt to fire its engines for reaching higher orbit were unsuccessful, Russian news agencies reported, as industry sources promised to continue their efforts to communicate with the spacecraft.


An Alien Code Close to Home: Seeking ET Beyond the Radio Silence

Summary: The search for intelligent alien life goes beyond SETI's search for intergalactic radio signals. Some scientists are looking for evidence of technological footprints and biological clues embedded in the DNA of life on Earth.

Allen Telescope Array. Image Credit: SETI.org

Any intelligent extraterrestrial life that exists probably won't announce itself by blowing up the White House, or win over the hearts of children as a lovable alien with a glowing finger. Many scientists simply hope to find evidence of them by scanning the skies for a radio signal from a distant star's alien civilization. But such efforts may also risk overlooking clues of past alien activity right here on Earth.

Seeking Alien Artifacts in the Solar System

Summary: Probes like Pioneer and Voyager are heading out into the galaxy carrying plaques about humankind. Why have we never found similar evidence of other civilizations? A new mathematical study suggests that we may not be looking hard enough.

credit: Astrobio

Two Pioneer probes left our solar system carrying plaques about humankind, and two Voyager probes will soon join them to gather information about places far out in our galaxy. We can and will send more autonomous probes into outer space, but why have we never found evidence of other civilizations doing the same? A pair of postdoctoral researchers at Penn State, approaching the problem mathematically, shows that we have not looked in enough places to ensure that no extraterrestrial artifacts exist in our solar system.

New update on Russian Mars Probe Phobos-Grunt

Click to enlarge

November 28

Although Phobos-Grunt did not respond to several latest radio requests for more telemetry, specialists at NPO Lavochkin prepared a new set of instructions for the probe to raise its orbit, the Interfax news agency reported. New commands would be sent to the spacecraft from Perth and Baikonur, apparently as one-way communications, in the hope that Phobos-Grunt would listen and execute the orbit-boosting maneuver. Odds of success of the latest effort were apparently very low, however, mission specialists decided to try this last-ditch effort in order to prolong the life of the spacecraft before its deorbiting.


Medvedev furious with failures in the Russian space program

The President of Russia, Dmitri Medvedev, is angry at the failures of its space program.

Medvedev cites Stalin to say will not resort to firing squads, as did the former Soviet leader in 30 years of the last century, but defends tough sanctions for those responsible for the failures of the space program and gave an example: fines to recover all the money spent .

Medvedev raised the prospect of criminal prosecution for space mishaps on Saturday following a series of failed launches that have embarrassed Russia.

The Russian space program has seen a dark period since losing its geolocation system last year. The latest blow was the problems  with Phobos Grunt probe that it intended to reach Mars.

The probe failure came less than three months after a cargo ship carrying food and fuel to the International Space Station burned up in the atmosphere shortly after launch.

"Recent failures are a strong blow to our competitiveness. It does not mean that something fatal has happened, it means that we need to carry out a detailed review and punish those guilty," Medvedev told reporters in televised comments.

"I am not suggesting putting them up against the wall like under Josef Vissarionovich (Stalin), but seriously punish either financially or, if the fault is obvious, it could be a disciplinary or even criminal punishment," he said.


Phobos-Grunt update

File:Cebit 2011-fobos-grunt together with upper stage.jpg
Russian Fobos-Grunt probe with the upper stage Fregat-SB.

November 25 developments

When the first opportunity of the day to downlink telemetry from Phobos-Grunt came to ESA's station in Perth, nothing was heard from the spacecraft. According to ESA, the slots for communication, timed to coincide when Phobos–Grunt was passing over in direct line-of-sight with the station, began at 20:12 GMT and ran until 04:04 GMT. Each lasted just 6–8 minutes, providing very limited windows for sending commands and receiving a response.

Mars Rover Curiosity Takes Off

NASA began a historic voyage to Mars with the Nov. 26 launch of the Mars Science Laboratory, which carries a car-sized rover named Curiosity. Liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station aboard an Atlas V rocket occurred at 10:02 a.m. EST (7:02 a.m. PST).

"We are very excited about sending the world's most advanced scientific laboratory to Mars," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. "MSL will tell us critical things we need to know about Mars, and while it advances science, we'll be working on the capabilities for a human mission to the Red Planet and to other destinations where we've never been."

New Mars Rover Successfully Launches (splash)
The United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket carrying NASA's Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) spacecraft, including the new rover, Curiosity, lifted off on time on the first opportunity at 10:02 a.m. EST on Nov. 26.
 The mission will pioneer precision landing technology and a sky-crane touchdown to place Curiosity near the foot of a mountain inside Gale Crater on Aug. 6, 2012. During a nearly two-year prime mission after landing, the rover will investigate whether the region has ever offered conditions favorable for microbial life, including the chemical ingredients for life.


Asteroid 433 Eros (1898 DQ) visit in 2012

On January 31, 2012, Eros will pass the Earth at 0.17867 with a visual magnitude of 8.1 , Eros was discovered in 1898, and the first asteroid to be orbited by a probe (Near Schomacker) in the year 2000 and on February 12, 2001, at the end of its mission, it landed on the asteroid's surface using its maneuvering jets.
When NEAR Shoemaker made its controlled descent to the surface of Eros on February 12, 2001. The  image shows the touchdown site (yellow circle) on the edge of the saddle-shaped feature Himeros. credit: NASA/The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory

It is unique in being one of the few asteroids that actually crosses the orbit of Mars. The asteroid is named after Eros the God of love and the son of Mars and Venus in Greek and Roman mythology. The official name of the asteroid is 433 Eros Asteroid.

Eros asteroid has dimensions of 34.4 by 11.2 by 11.2 km and a mean diameter of 16.84 km. The mass of the asteroid is 6.69 X 10^15 kg.

Final Images from Near Shoemaker.

credit: NASA/The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory


Mars Rover Well-Equipped for Studies

The Mars Science Laboratory is taking a toolbox to Mars that any researcher would be proud of. A drill, metallic brush and even a laser are part of the gear set the Mars Science Laboratory called Curiosity is taking to the red planet in the most ambitious effort yet to discern exactly what is on the surface.

Image above: Technicians look over the MSL Curiosity during inspections at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. Phot credit: NASA


Saturn Colossal Storm

New images and animated movies from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft chronicle the birth and evolution of the colossal storm that ravaged the northern face of Saturn for nearly a year.

This false-color mosaic from NASA's Cassini spacecraft shows the tail of Saturn's huge northern storm. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
These new full-color mosaics and animations show the storm from its emergence as a tiny spot in a single image almost one year ago, on Dec. 5, 2010, through its subsequent growth into a storm so large it completely encircled the planet by late January 2011.


NASA Probe Data Show Liquid Water Evidence on Europa

Europa's "Great Lake." Researchers predict many more such lakes are scattered throughout the moon's icy shell. Image credit: Britney Schmidt/Dead Pixel VFX/Univ. of Texas at Austin.
  Data from a NASA planetary mission have provided scientists evidence of what appears to be a body of liquid water, equal in volume to the North American Great Lakes, beneath the icy surface of Jupiter's moon, Europa.

The data suggest there is significant exchange between Europa's icy shell and the ocean beneath.
This information could bolster arguments that Europa's global subsurface ocean represents a potential habitat for life elsewhere in our solar system. The findings are published in the scientific journal Nature.


Updated Radar Movie of Asteroid 2005 YU55

NASA Scientists working with the 230-foot-wide (70-meter) Deep Space Network antenna at Goldstone, Calif., have released a second, longer, and more refined, movie clip of asteroid 2005 YU55. The images were generated from data collected at Goldstone on Nov. 7, 2011.


The New NASA Giant Rocket . Upper Stage Engine Passes Test.

NASA conducted a successful 500-second test firing of the J-2X rocket engine on Wednesday, Nov. 9, marking another important step in development of an upper stage for the heavy-lift Space Launch System (SLS).

Nasa is working to avoid Armageddon? Are we at risk?

NASA has been given a presidential directive to land astronauts on an asteroid by 2025. Is a human mission to an asteroid possible in this time-frame, and what benefits will such a mission provide for the future of space exploration?

This artist's concept shows NASA's giant rocket, the Space Launch System, soaring off a launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The rocket is NASA's new booster for deep space missions to an asteroid and ultimately Mars.

Why is so urgent  that endeavor that the development and training attaining that goal is as hard as the apollo programme on the 60s?


Phobos-Grunt failed to fire Its booster

The Zenit-2 launch vehicle carrying the Phobos-Grunt probe lifted off from the Baikonur space center at 00.16 a.m. Moscow time (20:16 GMT on Tuesday). The spacecraft was supposed to use its own booster to reach the designated flying trajectory, but failed to do so.

“It has been a tough night for us because we could not detect the spacecraft [after the separation],” Vladimir Popovkin said. “Now we know its coordinates and we found out that the [probe's] engine failed to start.”


NASA Captures New Images of Large Asteroid 2005YU55

NASA's Deep Space Network antenna in Goldstone, Calif. has captured new radar images of Asteroid 2005 YU55 passing close to Earth.

This radar image of asteroid 2005 YU55 was obtained on Nov. 7, 2011, at 11:45 a.m. PST (2:45 p.m. EST/1945 UTC), when the space rock was at 3.6 lunar distances, which is about 860,000 miles, or 1.38 million kilometers, from Earth. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
The asteroid safely will safely fly past our planet slightly closer than the moon's orbit on Nov. 8. The last time a space rock this large came as close to Earth was in 1976, although astronomers did not know about the flyby at the time. The next known approach of an asteroid this size will be in 2028.


Phobos-Grunt Readied for Launch

Russia’s first interplanetary mission in nearly two decades, has now been encapsulated inside the payload fairing and sealed to the payload adapter for mating to the upper stage of the Zenit booster rocket that will propel the probe to Mars orbit and carry out history’s first ever landing on the petite martian moon Phobos and eventually return pristine samples to Earth for high powered scientific analysis.

“Phobos-Grunt will launch on November 9, 2011 at 00:26 a.m. Moscow time,” said Alexey Kuznetsov, Head of the Roscosmos Press Office in an exclusive interview with Universe Today. Roscosmos is the Russian Federal Space Agency, equivalent to NASA and ESA.

more: here


Huge sunspot, Huge Flare

AR1339, is one of the biggest sunspots in many years. The active region rotated over the sun's eastern limb two days ago and now it is turning toward Eart

Sunspot 1339 poses a growing threat for X-class solar flares. Credit: SDO/HMI

The sunspot has already unleashed one X-flare on Nov. 3rd around 2027 UT. A movie from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory shows the extreme ultraviolet flash: 

A cloud of plasma or "CME" raced away from the blast site at 1100 km/s. The CME is not heading for Earth. It is, however, heading for Mercury and Venus.


Asteroid 2005YU55

NASA scientists will be tracking asteroid 2005 YU55 with antennas of the agency's Deep Space Network at Goldstone, Calif., as the space rock safely flies past Earth slightly closer than the moon's orbit on Nov. 8. Scientists are treating the flyby of the 1,300-foot-wide (400-meter) asteroid as a science target of opportunity – allowing instruments on "spacecraft Earth" to scan it during the close pass.

A Star with Spiral Arms

For more than four hundred years, astronomers have used telescopes to study the great variety of stars in our galaxy. Millions of distant suns have been catalogued. There are dwarf stars, giant stars, dead stars, exploding stars, binary stars; by now, you might suppose that every kind of star in the Milky Way had been seen.
That's why a recent discovery is so surprising.  Researchers using the Subaru telescope in Hawaii have found a star with spiral arms.

A Star with Spiral Arms (spiral splash, 558px)
Two spiral arms emerge from the gas-rich disk around SAO 206462, a young star in the constellation Lupus. This image, acquired by the Subaru Telescope and its HiCIAO instrument, is the first to show spiral arms in a circumstellar disk. The disk itself is some 14 billion miles across, or about twice the size of Pluto's orbit in our own solar system. (Credit: NAOJ/Subaru)


Discovery of Three New Planets, Plus a Mystery Object

Astronomers have discovered three new planets orbiting giant, dying stars. One of the stars also has a mystery object in orbit. The new data provides information about the evolution of extrasolar planetary systems.

The Sun as a red Giant.

Three planets -- each orbiting its own giant, dying star -- have been discovered by an international research team led by a Penn State University astronomer. Using the Hobby-Eberly Telescope, astronomers observed the planets' parent stars -- called HD 240237, BD +48 738, and HD 96127 -- tens of light years away from our solar system.



According to Germany's space agency (the DLR), ROSAT re-entered Earth's atmosphere on Oct. 23rd sometime between 1:45 UT and 2:15 UT. So far, no credible sightings of the fireball have been reported, and officials don't know how much debris might have reached the ground

Check the DLR's Facebook page for updates.


Watching a Young Planet Being Born

The first direct image of a planet in the process of forming around its star has been captured by astronomers who combined the power of the 10-meter Keck telescopes with a bit of optical sleight of hand.

Left: The transitional disk around the star LkCa 15. All of the light at this wavelength is emitted by cold dust in the disk. the hole in the center indicates an inner gap with radius of about 55 times the distance from the Earth to the Sun. Right: An expanded view of the central part of the cleared region, showing a composite of two reconstructed images (blue: 2.1 microns, from November 2010; red: 3.7 microns) for LkCa 15. The location of the central star is also marked. Credit: Kraus & Ireland 2011

What astronomers are calling LkCa 15 b, looks like a hot “protoplanet” surrounded by a swath of cooler dust and gas, which is falling into the still-forming planet. Images have revealed that the forming planet sits inside a wide gap between the young parent star and an outer disk of dust.


Seeds of life in an alien solar system!

Artist's conception illustrates a storm of comets around a star
This artist's conception illustrates a storm of comets around a star near our own, called Eta Corvi. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has detected signs of icy bodies raining down in an alien solar system. The downpour resembles our own solar system several billion years ago during a period known as the "Late Heavy Bombardment," which may have brought water and other life-forming ingredients to Earth.

During this epoch, comets and other frosty objects that were flung from the outer solar system pummeled the inner planets. The barrage scarred our moon and produced large amounts of dust.


ROSAT reentry update

The massive ROSAT X-ray space telescope continues to descend toward Earth. Latest estimates place the re-entry around noon Universal Time on Oct. 23rd. Uncertainties exceed 10 hours, which makes it impossible to say exactly where ROSAT will re-enter.

600 Mysteries in the Night Sky

NASA's Fermi team recently released the second catalog of gamma-ray sources detected by their satellite's Large Area Telescope (LAT). Of the 1873 sources found, nearly 600 are complete mysteries. No one knows what they are. "Fermi sees gamma rays coming from directions in the sky where there are no obvious objects likely to produce gamma rays," says David Thompson, Fermi Deputy Project Scientist from Goddard Space Flight Center.

600 Mysteries (sky map, 558px)
An all-sky map of gamma-ray emissions made by the Fermi Space Telescope. Hundreds of the sources in the map are complete mysteries.

Gamma rays are by their very nature heralds of great energy and violence. They are a super-energetic form of light produced by sources such as black holes and massive exploding stars. Gamma-rays are so energetic that ordinary lenses and mirrors do not work. As a result, gamma-ray telescopes can't always get a sharp enough focus to determine exactly where the sources are.


One more Satellite coming down

Rosat. Credit: NASA

If in the case of UARS, the NASA satellite, the probability of one of the fragments  survive re-entry into Earth's atmosphere to reach a person was one in 3,200. In the case of ROSAT, the chance-though equally remote - increase to one in 2000  .


Venus has an Ozone Layer

ESA’s Venus Express spacecraft has discovered an ozone layer high in the atmosphere of Venus. Comparing its properties with those of the equivalent layers on Earth and Mars will help astronomers refine their searches for life on other planets. The results were presented at the Joint Meeting of the European Planetary Science Congress and the American Astronomical Society’s Division for Planetary Sciences.

Artist’s impression of the detection of ozone on Venus’ night side. Credit: ESA/AOES Medialab

Venus Express made the discovery while watching stars seen right at the edge of the planet set through its atmosphere. Its SPICAV instrument analyzed the starlight, looking for the characteristic fingerprints of gases in the atmosphere as they absorbed light at specific wavelengths.


Auroras from Space

Credit:Mike Fossum / NASA

Two Russian spacecraft stand out against the background of the southern lights in this picture taken from the International Space Station on Sept. 17. Click to Enlarge

Astronomers Find Planets in Old Hubble Data

 The left image shows the star HR 8799 as seen by Hubble's Near Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer (NICMOS) in 1998. The center image shows recent processing of the NICMOS data with newer, sophisticated software. The processing removes most of the scattered starlight to reveal three planets orbiting HR 8799. Based on the reanalysis of NICMOS data and ground-based observations, the illustration on the right shows the positions of the star and the orbits of its four known planets. (Credit: NASA; ESA; STScI, R. Soummer)Click on image for more detailed caption
In a painstaking re-analysis of Hubble Space Telescope images from 1998, astronomers have found visual evidence for two extrasolar planets that went undetected back then.

Finding these hidden gems in the Hubble archive gives astronomers an invaluable time machine for comparing much earlier planet orbital motion data to more recent observations. It also demonstrates a novel approach for planet hunting in archival Hubble data.


An Unusual Multi-Planet System

Astronomers have discovered a multi-planet system containing a super-Earth and two Neptune-sized planets. Uniquely, the planets orbit in resonance with each other and around a star similar to the Sun.

The top graphic shows the orbits of the three known planets orbiting Kepler-18 as compared to Mercury's orbit around the Sun. The bottom graphic shows the relative sizes of the Kepler-18 and its known planets to the Sun and Earth. Credit: Tim Jones/McDonald Obs./UT-Austin

A team of researchers led by Bill Cochran of The University of Texas at Austin has used NASA’s Kepler spacecraft to discover an unusual multiple-planet system containing a super-Earth and two Neptune-sized planets orbiting in resonance with each other. They announced the find in Nantes, France, at a joint meeting of the American Astronomical Society’s Division of Planetary Science and the European Planetary Science Conference. The research will be published in a special Kepler issue of The Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series in November.


Epic volcanic activity flooded Mercury’s north polar region

Planetary scientists at Brown University and participating institutions have discovered vast, smooth plains around Mercury’s north pole that were created by volcanic activity more than 3.5 billion years ago. The lava flows were epic: They filled craters more than a mile deep and cover 6 percent of Mercury’s surface, an area that would cover nearly 60 percent of the continental United States, the scientists write in the journal Science
Giant lava flows on Mercury Lava flows on Mercury more than 3.5 billion years ago — a mile deep in places — would have covered nearly 60 percent of the continental United States. The discovery was made by data returned from NASA’s MESSENGER mission to Mercury.

Ever since the Mariner 10 mission in 1974 snapped the first pictures of Mercury, planetary scientists have been intrigued by smooth plains covering parts of the surface. Some suspected past volcanic activity, but there were no telltale signs like protruding volcanoes. Also, Mercury’s northern plains are the same brightness as its cratered highlands, yet different from volcanic deposits on the Moon, which are darker than the highlands.

First Image of the space radio telescope Spektr-R

Spectrum-R, developed under Radioastron project in the framework of Russian Federal Space Program, is intended to study the Universe. The aim of the mission is to use the space telescope to conduct interferometer observations in conjunction with the global ground radio telescope network in order to obtain images, coordinates, motions and evolution of angular structure of different radio emitting objects in the Universe.

Scientists also expect to obtain more information about pulsars and interstellar plasma, black holes and neutron stars in the Milky Way. The spacecraft's operational lifetime will be no less than five years.

On September 27, 2011, the first light from Cassiopeia A was detected with the space radio telescope Spektr-R of the Radioastron mission. The telescope scanned across the supernova remnant in two perpendicular directions. Signal in two bands of 92 and 18 cm (two circular polarization per band) was successfully detected in the total power mode. Enjoy the first light picture.

First observation of the space object, supernova remnant Cassiopeia A, by the space radio telescope Radioastron in a scanning mode.Copyright: ASC Lebedev


Another close Asteroid, 2011 SM173

A recent discovered asteroid, 2011 SM173, about 17 meters size will be coming close to earth today 30 th September at 17:01 UTC . The distance that he will come close will be about 0.8 Lunar distances. No risk of impact exists, however if it came to that it would pose no treath to our world. It would desintigrate on entry .

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Wise Finds Fewer Asteroids Near Earth

NEOWISE observations
NEOWISE observations indicate that there are at least 40 percent fewer near-Earth asteroids in total that are larger than 330 feet, or 100 meters. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

New observations by NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, show there are significantly fewer near-Earth asteroids in the mid-size range than previously thought. The findings also indicate NASA has found more than 90 percent of the largest near-Earth asteroids, meeting a goal agreed to with Congress in 1998.