Earth--Day and Night Regions

Earth--Day and Night Regions

Planetary Positions

Friday, May 28, 2010

Earth Photographed From Deep Space By Japanese Probes


Pale Blue Crescent: Earth Photographed from Deep Space

By Tariq Malik Managing Editor

posted: 28 May 2010

12:06 pm ET

Two Japanese spacecraft, one headed to Venus and another limping home from an asteroid, have beamed home snapshots of Earth that reveal our planet in different hues amid a sea of stars.

The latest photos of Earth come from Japan's brand new Venus Climate Orbiter Akatsuki and the Hayabusa asteroid probe.

Akatsuki launched May 20 alongside a novel solar sail vehicle and other smaller payloads to begin a six-month trek toward the second planet from the sun. Hayabusa is returning to Earth from the asteroid Itokawa, which it visited in late 2005 and is due to land in Australia in June.

The photos of Earth from space by Akatsuki reveal a stunning crescent as the planet appeared to the probe's ultraviolet and infrared cameras.

In ultraviolet, the Earth appears as a dazzling blue sliver, while the same crescent has a vibrant orange hue in infrared. Akatsuki (which means "Dawn" in Japanese) was flying about 155,342 miles (250,000 km) from Earth when it photographed the planet.

Akatsuki also used its long-wave infrared camera to take a snapshot of the entire Earth, though the planet may be unrecognizable to the uninitiated. Earth's trademark blue oceans and white clouds are rendered only in black and white.

Japan's Akatsuki mission is expected to observe Venus in unprecedented detail to study its ever-present clouds and hidden surface. The spacecraft is expected to reach Venus in December and spent two years studying the planet.

The IKAROS solar sail vehicle also launched with the Akatsuki probe and will make a pit stop at Venus before heading off to the far side of the sun. Both spacecraft are doing well, JAXA officials said.

Asteroid probe spies Earth

The other view of Earth is an ultra-long shot that came earlier this month from Japan's beleaguered asteroid probe Hayabusa, which means "Falcon" in Japanese.

Hayabusa photographed Earth and the moon, from a distance of nearly 8.4 million miles (13.5 million km) on May 12.

"The Earth was seen so brightly that the image contained [a] strong smear in it, but the image clearly separates the Moon from the Earth," officials with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) said in a statement.

Hayabusa used the CCD sensor on its star tracker device to take the portrait of Earth and the moon as they hovered between the constellations Sagittarius and Capricornus.

In the photo, the moon is clearly seen as a separate bright object to the left of Earth, which is so bright it overwhelmed Hayabusa's sensor. Many stars, which Hayabusa's star tracker also picked up, are visible and can be identified in the image.

Homebound Hayabusa

Hayabusa launched in 2003 to visit the asteroid Itokawa and snatch samples of the space rock so they could be returned to Earth.

But the 950-pound (430-kg) spacecraft has suffered a series of setbacks.

Telemetry has shown it did not fire the projectile device intended to kick up material from Itokawa's surface after it landed. Mission scientists hope that some material managed to enter Hayabusa's sample container despite the glitch.

A fuel leak, power outage and communications drop out beset the probe during its seven-year voyage. Its ion engines have also suffered multiple failures, though JAXA engineers managed to revive some systems and send the probe on a long detour through space in order to return it to Earth.

Hayabusa is currently on track to land in the Australian outback sometime in June, about three years later than its original scheduled return.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

NASA Revives Voyager 2 Probe


NASA Revives Voyager 2 Probe at Solar System's Edge

By Zoe Macintosh Contributor

posted: 27 May 2010

03:28 pm ET

NASA engineers have fully revived the far-flung Voyager 2 probe on the edge of the solar system after fixing a computer glitch that scrambled its messages home for nearly three weeks.

A single bit flip in one location in the 33-year-old probe's memory storage caused the problem, and was remotely reset Sunday by engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. After a computer reset, the Voyager 2 is back on track, they said.

The malfunction began April 22 while Voyager 2 was flying 8.6 billion miles (13.8 billion km) from Earth in the heliosphere, the magnetic bubble that surrounds our solar system. Mission scientists could not decipher the probe's science data messages and put the spacecraft in an engineering mode to just send health updates to Earth.

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www.eMemoryFoam.comThe actual cause of the computer glitch is still unknown, NASA's Voyager 2 project manager Ed Massey told

Voyager 2 hiccup in deep space

Memory bit flips and other electronic problems have affected spacecraft, and even Voyager 2 and its twin Voyager 1, in the past. But they occurred when the spacecraft were much closer to Earth, around 1 or 2 astronomical units (AU).

One AU is the distance between the Earth and the sun, about 93 million miles (151 million km). That's close enough for their onboard systems to be affected by the electric charge of the sun's solar wind, Massey said.

"In some spacecraft that are closer to the sun one could think of single event upsets caused by solar activity. But we're so far away, it's hard to say that's what caused it," he added. "We're like 93, 94 AU out."

Way, way out there

The two Voyager probes are currently the farthest human-built objects from Earth. Voyager 1 is about 10.5 billion miles (16.9 billion km) away from Earth and in perfect health. Their signals take nearly 13 hours to travel to NASA's worldwide Deep Space Network of listening antennas and back.

After detecting the problem on Voyager 2, engineers ordered Voyager 2 on May 6 to only send engineering data to Earth until they could solve the glitch. That occurred on May 12, when engineers realized that a single memory location had been changed from a 0 to a 1.

By May 19, commands to reset the bit were sent to Voyager 2 and the probe resumed sending science data to Earth on May 22. NASA announced the deep space operation's success this week.

NASA launched Voyager 2 in 1977 primarily aimed at studying Saturn, though the spacecraft gained fame for its so-called "grand tour" of the solar system that also included flybys Jupiter, Uranus and Neptune thanks to a planetary alignment that only occurs once every 176 years.

Now, both Voyager 2 and Voyager 1 are headed out of the solar system entirely. Scientists hope the data they are sending back will help answer questions surrounding the magnetic bubble around the solar system.

No known source of magnetic or electric field exists in the membrane which separates the heliosphere from interstellar space, said Massey. Voyager 2 has occupied this region since 2007, said Massey, and has not seen any problems.

"The real question is whether we'll ever know," He said.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Atlantis Could Still Fly At Least One More Mission


Shuttle Atlantis Could Still Fly One More Mission Before Retiring

By Clara Moskowitz Senior Writer

posted: 26 May 2010

02:26 pm ET

This story was updated at 3:25 p.m. EDT.

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – The Wednesday landing of NASA's space shuttle Atlantis may have capped a successful mission slated to be the spaceship's last trek to space, but the orbiter's immediate future is not yet set in stone. Debate is still underway to determine whether the shuttle should get one more flight or be sent straight to a museum.

As Atlantis' most recent mission demonstrated, the orbiter is in good shape, NASA shuttle officials said today just after the shuttle landed here at the agency's Kennedy Space Center.

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www.RedBullStratos.comArtery Clearing SecretHugh Downs reports on breakthrough artery clearing secret."Not only is this mission fantastic, but the entire life of Atlantis, the folks who built it, all the missions it's flown over its career have been just amazing," shuttle launch integration manager Mike Moses said. "I can't even begin to talk about how proud I am of Atlantis and the whole team that put it together."

The shuttle finished a 12-day mission to the International Space Station to deliver a new Russian room and outfit the station with spare parts for the era after NASA's three-orbiter space shuttle fleet retires.

"She's a great ship and it was a real honor to be on the last flight, if this turns out to be the last flight," Atlantis mission specialist Michael Good said after landing. "Atlantis treated us very well. She was just an incredible ship, she just worked perfectly."

Two more shuttle missions are currently planned – one each for Atlantis' sister ships Discovery and Endeavour.

But what about Atlantis?

Whether or not the STS-132 mission will actually be the orbiter's last spaceflight has not been decided. Starting tonight, Atlantis will be processed and refurbished just in case it has to fly again.

The orbiter is on call to serve as the emergency rescue ship to be on reserve in case of a serious problem with NASA's final planned shuttle flight, the STS-134 mission of Endeavour slated for no earlier than late November. If something goes awry on that flight, shuttle Atlantis could be readied to retrieve Endeavour's astronauts from the station and return them back to Earth.

However, NASA and lawmakers are also considering whether to shift this so-called "launch on need" mission to a full-fledged final shuttle flight. The hardware, including an expendable external fuel tank, is already in place to fly one more mission. But that plan would require more funding to retain space shuttle workers for longer than currently planned.

It costs NASA about $200 million a month to keep its space shuttle program running, program managers have said.

One more mission, which NASA would likely launch with a crew of four in June 2011, would allow the agency to stock up on more supplies for the space station since the outpost is slated to continue running through at least 2020. Beyond the shuttle era, the station will be serviced by manned Russian Soyuz vehicles and unmanned Russian, Japanese, European and American commercial cargo-carrying spacecraft.

Eventually, U.S. President Barack Obama and NASA hope private companies can build spaceships to ferry astronauts to the orbiting laboratory, too.

In the meantime, NASA simply doesn't have the funds to continue flying the space shuttle and work on developing next-generation rockets and vehicles at the same time.

"I think we'd all love to have kept flying shuttle while we set up the new system ... we just don't have the budget to do that, and that's the reality of the world we live in," Moses said.

Yet just because the shuttles are headed for retirement doesn't mean they're not in good health and capable of flying at least one more flight, he said.

"It's true they are 30 years old but they are not old at all," Moses said. "They're in fantastic shape, they fly perfectly and they do exactly what we mean them to."

Whenever it finally comes, the retirement of the space shuttle fleet will be a bittersweet time for NASA.

"It's just an amazing machine, and it's a testament to America's prowess in space that we're able to reuse the spacecraft over and over," shuttle launch director Mike Leinbach said. "I'm going to hate to see that go away."

Gallery - Photos From the Last Launch of Atlantis

Space Shuttle Atlantis By the Numbers: A 25-Year Legacy

What Will NASA Do With the Retired Space Shuttles is providing complete coverage of Atlantis' STS-132 mission to the International Space Station with Senior Writer Clara Moskowitz in Cape Canaveral, Fla., and Managing Editor Tariq Malik based in New York. Click here for shuttle mission updates and a link to NASA TV.

Monday, May 24, 2010

NASA Declares Mars Lander Broken and Dead


NASA Declares Mars Lander Broken and Dead

By Staff

posted: 24 May 2010

03:38 pm ET

NASA's long-dormant Phoenix Mars Lander is broken and officially down for the count, with new images taken by an orbiting probe showing severe damage to the spacecraft's solar panels due to the harsh Martian winter.

Repeated attempts by NASA in recent months to reestablish contact with Phoenix following its winter hibernation were unsuccessful, with no peeps coming from the lander.

The new photos of Phoenix, sent by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, indicate that the lander has suffered severe ice damage to at least one of its solar panels, NASA officials said Monday.

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www.BootsontheRoof.comThe discovery led NASA to declare that its Phoenix's mission has officially ended its prolonged mission. [Dead spacecraft on Mars.]

"The Phoenix spacecraft succeeded in its investigations and exceeded its planned lifetime," said Fuk Li, manager of the Mars Exploration Program at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "Although its work is finished, analysis of information from Phoenix's science activities will continue for some time to come."

Phoenix touched down in the arctic plains of Vastitas Borealis in Mars' northern hemisphere on May 25, 2008 and spent several months digging up the Martian soil, confirming the presence of water ice beneath the surface.

Last week, NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter flew over the Phoenix landing site 61 times during a final attempt to communicate with the lander. No transmission from the lander was detected. Phoenix also did not communicate during 150 flights in three previous listening campaigns earlier this year.

Slim chance of resurrection

Phoenix was not designed to survive the dark, cold, icy winter of the Martian arctic and mission managers were not optimistic they would hear from the spacecraft again after it fell silent in November 2008, when the sun dipped too low in the sky for Phoenix to get enough sunlight to power itself and temperatures plummeted.

At the time, the $475 million lander had already survived two months longer than planned. However, the slim possibility Phoenix survived could not be eliminated without listening for the lander after abundant sunshine returned.

The new photo of Phoenix taken this month by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment, or HiRISE, camera on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter suggests the lander no longer casts shadows the way it did during its working lifetime.

"Before and after images are dramatically different," said Michael Mellon of the University of Colorado in Boulder, a science team member for both Phoenix and HiRISE. "The lander looks smaller, and only a portion of the difference can be explained by accumulation of dust on the lander, which makes its surfaces less distinguishable from surrounding ground."

Apparent changes in the shadows cast by the lander are consistent with predictions of how Phoenix could be damaged by harsh winter conditions. It was anticipated that the weight of a carbon-dioxide ice buildup could bend or break the lander's solar panels. Mellon calculated hundreds of pounds of ice probably coated the lander in mid-winter.

Phoenix's icy success

During its mission, Phoenix confirmed and examined patches of the widespread deposits of underground water ice detected by Odyssey and identified a mineral called calcium carbonate that suggested occasional presence of thawed water.

The lander also found soil chemistry with significant implications for life and observed falling snow.

The mission's biggest surprise was the discovery of perchlorate, an oxidizing chemical on Earth that is food for some microbes and potentially toxic for others.

"We found that the soil above the ice can act like a sponge, with perchlorate scavenging water from the atmosphere and holding on to it," said Peter Smith, Phoenix principal investigator at the University of Arizona in Tucson. "You can have a thin film layer of water capable of being a habitable environment. A micro-world at the scale of grains of soil -- that's where the action is."

The perchlorate results are shaping subsequent astrobiology research, as scientists investigate the implications of its antifreeze properties and potential use as an energy source by microbes.

Comet's Collision With Sun Captures in 3D

Comet's Collision with the Sun Captured in 3-D

By Denise Chow Staff Writer

posted: 24 May 2010

05:56 pm ET

MIAMI – A comet plunging into the sun has been captured in 3-D as it hurtled along its kamikaze path for the first time, solar physicists announced Monday.

"We believe this is the first time a comet has been tracked in 3-D space this low down in the solar corona," said solar physicist Claire Raftery, a post-doctoral fellow at UC Berkeley.

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Four post-doctoral researchers at UC Berkeley's Space Science's Laboratory used instruments aboard NASA's Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO) spacecraft to track the so-called sun-grazing comet as it approached the sun. They were able to estimate an approximate time and place of impact.

NASA's STEREO mission, which launched in 2006, is actually made up of twin spacecraft that orbit the sun, one ahead of the Earth and one behind it, and provide stereo views of the sun.

Close to the sun

Sun-grazing comets are made up of dust, rock and ice. These comets are rarely tracked as they speed toward the sun because their brightness is overwhelmed by the solar disk.

But every now and then, a comet stands out in views from sun-watching spacecraft like STEREO and the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO).

The comet seen by Raftery and her fellow researchers apparently survived the intense heat of the sun's outer atmosphere – called the corona – and disappeared in the chromosphere, which is a thin layer of plasma found between the visible surface of the sun and the corona.

The comet eventually evaporated in the scorching heat that reaches almost 180,000 degrees Fahrenheit (close to 100,000 degrees Celsius).

Raftery and her colleagues, Juan Carlos Martinez-Oliveros, Samuel Krucker and Pascal Saint-Hillaire, concluded that the comet was probably from the Kreutz family of comets, a group of Trojan or Greek comets that were ejected from their orbit in 2004 by the gas giant Jupiter.

The researchers also concluded that the sun-grazing comet made its first and only loop around the sun before crashing and burning.

The research team presented their findings today at the 216th meeting of the American Astronomical Society.

Tracking a comet

The comet first caught Martinez-Oliveros' attention after it was mentioned in a summary of observations by SOHO and STEREO in March.

The comet's long, bright tail of dust and ions distinguished it as a sun-grazing comet, and assuming that it was going to loop around the sun, the researchers decided to monitor it and see whether the STEREO data were good enough to allow them to accurately calculate its trajectory.

They found that the data was so precise that they were able to chart the comet's approach for two days prior to impact.

The researchers were able to estimate the impact zone within a circle about 620 miles (1,000 km) in diameter. They then pored through online data from the Mauna Loa Solar Observatory to determine if they could spot the comet next to the sun's edge in the ultraviolet region of the spectrum.

What they found was a short trail that lasted about six minutes and was only a few thousand miles above the solar surface in the sweltering corona and chromosphere.

Since the comet had a relatively short tail – about 1.86 million miles (about 3 million km) in length – the researchers believe that the comet contained heavier elements that do not evaporate as easily.

This would also help explain how the comet was able to penetrate so deeply into the sun's chromosphere, not only surviving the extreme temperatures but the strong solar winds as well, before finally evaporating.

For their study, the team used the two coronagraphs on STEREO A and B and multiple instruments on SOHO, "demonstrating the importance of multi-view observations of non-solar phenomena," the researchers wrote in the presentation of their research.

The researchers also used data from the ground-based Mauna Loa Solar Observatory, located on the flank of the Mauna Loa volcano in Hawaii, and found images of the spot they had predicted the comet to impact at, whichappeared to show a comet approaching the edge of the sun from behind the solar disk.


The members of the research team, who all normally study explosive events on the sun, said that their foray into cometary physics was unplanned.

"It was supposed to be an exercise, but it took over our lives," Raftery said.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Astronauts Split Over Future of Manned Spaceflight


Apollo Astronauts Split Over Obama's Space Policy

By Leonard David's Space Insider Columnist

posted: 17 May 2010

07:23 pm ET

A former Apollo astronaut is upset with recent Congressional testimony by fellow space travelers – including the first and last men to walk on the moon – that derided President Barack Obama's new space agenda.

Apollo 9 astronaut Russell Schweickart, a long-time supporter of asteroid research and mitigation, has taken issue comments from the world's first moonwalker Neil Armstrong, of Apollo 11 fame, and Apollo 17 commander Eugene Cernan, the last human to step off the lunar surface.

On May 12, both Armstrong and Cernan told a Senate committee that U.S. President's Obama's vision for space – which aims to send humans to an asteroid by 2025, but would cancel NASA's most recent moon-oriented effort – is faulty, absent of details and is in need of proper review.

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www.2012officialcountdown.comSchweickart, however, strongly disagrees.

"I write this letter, as an Apollo astronaut, to state my strong support for the proposed NASA space program as modified by President Obama," Schweickart wrote in a May 16 letter to Sen. John D. Rockefeller, IV (D-West Virginia), who chairs the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation that hosted Armstrong and Cernan.

"With what I believe to be the coming loss of U.S. leadership in human space exploration in mind, the question of how best to regain that leadership breaks into two fundamental elements; our current situation and our direction going forward. In terms of relative importance I weigh these at 80 percent and 20 percent respectively," Schweickart writes in open testimony provided to by the former astronaut.

Schweickart has requested that Senator Rockefeller add his letter to the testimony record of the May 12 hearing on the future of U.S. human space flight.

Dead end road

In February, President Obama unveiled a 2011 budget proposal for NASA that, if approved, would cancel the agency's Constellation program developing new Orion spacecraft and Ares rockets. Those vehicles were slated to replace NASA's aging space shuttle fleet, which is due to retire this year after three final flights (one of which is under way today aboard the shuttle Atlantis).

On April 15, President Obama outlined a sweeping new space vision for NASA that aims to send humans to visit a nearby asteroid and aim for Mars in the 2030s. A heavy-lift rocket design – vital for any interplanetary missions – would be selected by 2015, Obama said.

Buzz Aldrin, Apollo 11 lunar module pilot and Armstrong's fellow moonwalker, supports the plan. But Armstrong, Cernan and many lawmakers – among others – have spoken out against its shift away from the moon and the Constellation, which NASA has spent more than $9 billion on since it began in 2004.

Armstrong warned senators last week that the looming gap between the retirement of NASA's shuttle's this year and the rise of new commercial spacecraft which NASA would seek out for flying astronaut risks ceding U.S. dominance in human spaceflight over to other countries. "Other nations will surely step in where we have faltered," he said.

But Schweickart said a radical change is needed if the United States is to make any progress.

"Our current situation is akin to being on a dead end road," he noted in his letter to Senator Rockefeller.

"Instead of being on a path toward the goal we all seek, i.e. to regain our leadership position in human space exploration, we must recognize that we are (and have been) on a path to nowhere. We are confronted with arguments to ignore the clear signs of this sad situation and even encouraged to accelerate along this futile path," Schweickart said.

Schweickart observes that the alternative to this is support for President Obama's proposed space agenda.

From the former astronaut's viewpoint, the Obama plan "recognizes and eliminates the waste of precious resources in the current program and heads us in a productive direction toward our desired destination. In other words, when you recognize you are on a dead end road, stop, turn around, and head in a direction more useful to your goal."

While Armstrong found utility in a return to the moon, as he expressed during his recent Senate testimony, that view is not supported by Schweickart.

"Why, after 60 years, should we be devoting incredible resources and effort to going back to the Moon instead of to a challenging, pioneering new goal?" he said. "No one is comfortable with the fact that we've gotten so far down the road on the Constellation program before realizing the depth of the hole we're in. 'When in a hole' as the saying goes, first stop digging!"

The right answer, according to Schweickart, is to "stop, turn around, and figure out the best new path to regain our leadership in human spaceflight... and toward our agreed long term goal of the human exploration of Mars."

That new path begins with the intermediate goal of to sending astronauts on a mission into deep space, to a near-Earth asteroid, he added.

Intermediate Mars trajectory

In Schweickart's view, sending astronauts to explore an asteroid should actually be less expensive than a return to the moon's surface.

"This is therefore, both an imaginative, new, and logical goal, and a natural step in developing the capability for the human exploration of Mars. Furthermore the public interest and support for U.S. astronauts exploring an asteroid, a new and very different 'world', would be strong, Schweickart said.

As a well-versed advocate of dealing with Earth-threatening asteroids through his Association of Space Explorers affiliation, United Nations position papers, as well as the B612 Foundation –a group dedicated to thwarting hazardous objects to our planet – Schweickart points out that space rocks occasionally threaten life on Earth as the result of an impact.

Furthermore, Schweickart suggests, they are fascinating scientific objects, and they contain -- relative to the moon's surface - a wealth of valuable resources which may one day minimize the cost of space operations.

Shift in launch services

In a related space matter, as addressed in last week's Senate hearing, Schweickart said that without a commitment to a NASA shift in acquisition of launch services, the space agency and the U.S. Government "will be locked into developing and providing well understood transportation services which should rightly be relinquished to private enterprise."

Schweickart said that "NASA should, as proposed by the new space program, continue to encourage and assist U.S. enterprise in meeting the performance and safety requirements inherent in flying both cargo and people to low Earth orbit without absorbing all of the cost. This cooperative effort would both minimize the existing gap and bring into being an exciting, new US industrial capability, replete with industrial innovation and job creation."

However, Schweickart does concede that the endeavor – as critics have pointed out – is a risky one.

"Of course it's risky. All space activity is risky. But wisely accepting and managing this risk will ultimately lead to a new and exciting U.S. business capability which will be the envy of the world," Schweickart said. "The alternative is for NASA to continue to divert its precious human and economic capital to a challenging but very well understood transportation service rather than toward pioneering new and more advanced technology."

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


The Constellation Orion has by far always been my favorite and most comforting constellation.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

New Star Formation Observed

The following article appeared on

This image, in the constellation of Vulpecula, shows an entire assembly line of newborn stars. The diffuse glow reveals the widespread cold reservoir of raw material that our Galaxy has in stock for building stars. Credit: ESA/Hi-GAL Consortium

Birth of 'Impossible' Star Seen by European Space Telescope

By Staff

posted: 06 May 2010

02:33 pm ET

New cosmic observations from the European-built Herschel infrared space observatory have revealed previously hidden details of star form tucked away in distant galaxies. One snapshot reveals what researchers called an 'impossible' star caught in the act of forming.

The new images show thousands of these galaxies and beautiful star-forming clouds draped across the Milky Way.

These images were part of the presentation of the first results from Herschel, which was launch on May 14 of last year, today during a major scientific symposium held at the European Space Agency (ESA), which runs the observatory, in Noordwijk, Netherlands. These results challenge old ideas of star birth, and open new roads for future research.

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In a statement, European scientists said Herschel has discovered an "impossible" star so massive it would dwarf our own sun, but they are perplexed as to how it came to be. Herschel found the embryonic star in the star-forming cloud RCW 120.

The newborn star looks set to turn into one of the biggest and brightest stars in our galaxy within the next few hundred thousand years. It already contains eight to 10 times the mass of the sun and is still surrounded by an additional 2000 solar masses of gas and dust from which it can feed further.

"This star can only grow bigger," said Annie Zavagno, of the Laboratoire d'Astrophysique de Marseille in France.

Massive stars are rare and short-lived. To catch one during formation presents a golden opportunity to solve a long-standing paradox in astronomy.

"According to our current understanding, you should not be able to form stars larger than eight solar masses," Zavagno said.

This is because the fierce light emitted by such large stars should blast away their birth clouds before any more mass can accumulate. But somehow they do form.

Many of these "impossible" stars are already known, some containing up to 150 solar masses, but now that Herschel has seen one near the beginning of its life, astronomers can use the data to investigate how it is defying their theories.

Star birth up close and far away

Herschel can see the stellar birth process because as stars begin to form, the dust and gas surrounding them is warmed up and starts to emit light in the far-infrared wavelengths, which Herschel measures. The diameter of Herschel's main mirror is four times larger than any other infrared space telescope and 1.5 times larger than the Hubble Space Telescope.

This size gives Herschel enough resolution and sensitivity to conduct a census of star-forming regions in our galaxy.

"Before Herschel, it was not clear how the material in the Milky Way came together in high enough densities and at sufficiently low temperatures to form stars," said Sergio Molinari, Istituto di Fisica dello Spazio Interplanetario in Rome, Italy.

Another new space photo released today from the Herschel observatory covers a number of the Milky Way's stellar nurseries and show how stars form in these environments.

Stellar embryos first appear inside filaments of glowing dust and gas draped across the galaxy. These form chains of stellar nurseries, tens of light-years long, wrapping the galaxy in a web of star birth.

Herschel has also been surveying deep space beyond our galaxy, and has measured the infrared light from thousands of other galaxies, spread across billions of light-years of the universe. Each galaxy appears as just a pinprick but its brightness allows astronomers to determine the rate of star birth within it — roughly speaking, the brighter the galaxy the more stars it is forming.

Herschel has also challenged conventional wisdom in this area by showing that galaxies have been evolving over cosmic time much faster than previously thought. Astronomers believed that galaxies have been forming stars at about the same rate for the last three billion years.

But Herschel shows this is not true.

In the past, there were many more so-called 'starburst' galaxies forming stars at 10 to 15 times the rate we see in the Milky Way today. But what triggered this frantic activity is not completely understood.

"Herschel will now let us investigate the reasons for this behavior," said Steve Eales of Cardiff University in Wales.

Problem Detected With Voyager 2

The following article appeared on

Problem Detected with Voyager 2 Spacecraft at Edge of Solar System

By Tariq Malik Managing Editor

posted: 06 May 2010

04:12 pm ET

NASA has commanded the famed Voyager 2 probe to send only information on its health and status after spotting a puzzling change in the spacecraft's pattern of communication from the edge of the solar system.

The 33-year-old Voyager 2 spacecraft, which is currently 8.6 billion miles (13.8 billion km) from Earth, is apparently still in good health, according to the latest engineering data received on May 1. But Voyager 2's flight data system, which formats information before beaming it back to Earth, has experienced a hiccup that altered the pattern in which it sends updates home.

Because of that pattern change, mission managers can no longer decode the science data beamed to Earth from Voyager 2. The space probe and its twin Voyager 1 are flying through the bubble-like heliosphere, created by the sun, which surrounds our solar system.

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www.LearnRemoteViewing.comFLIR Voyager IIFLIR Voyager II Thermal Cameras GSA and Federal Discounts first hint of a problem came on April 22, when engineers first spotted the data pattern change. Since then, they've been working to fix the glitch and began sending commands back to Voyager 2 on April 30.

Because Voyager 2 is so far from Earth, it takes 13 hours for a message to reach the spacecraft and another 13 hours for responses to come back to NASA's Deep Space Network of listening antennas around the world.

"Voyager 2's initial mission was a four-year journey to Saturn, but it is still returning data 33 years later," said Voyager project scientist Ed Stone of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. "It has already given us remarkable views of Uranus and Neptune, planets we had never seen close-up before. We will know soon what it will take for it to continue its epic journey of discovery."

Voyager 2 took a so-called "grand tour" of the solar system when it visited the gas giant planets Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune in the 1980s by taking advantage of a rare planetary alignment that occurs once every 176 years.

The two space probes were built primarily to study Jupiter and Saturn, but Voyager 2 also swing by Uranus in 1986 and Neptune in 1989 during its extended mission.

NASA launched Voyager 2 on Aug. 20,1977, just two weeks before Voyager 1. Together, the two spacecraft are the most distant human-built objects in space. Voyager 1 is about 10.5 billion miles (16.9 billion km) away from Earth and in perfect health, mission managers said.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

New space Telescope Passes Test (from

NASA's Ambitious New Space Telescope Passes Critical Test

By Staff

posted: 01 May 2010

01:33 pm ET

NASA's hotly-anticipated new space observatory has passed its most significant mission milestone yet – a critical design review that sets the stage for a planned 2014 launch.

This means that the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) a huge infrared telescope designed to peer farther back into the universe's history than ever before, has met all science and engineering requirements for its upcoming mission, NASA scientists said.

"I'm delighted by this news and proud of the Webb program's great technical achievements," said Eric Smith, the new telescope's program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. "The independent team conducting the review confirmed [that] the designs, hardware and test plans for Webb will deliver the fantastic capabilities always envisioned for NASA's next major space observatory."

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www.Telescopes.comMeet the James Webb Space Telescope

The James Webb Space Telescope, pegged as the successor to the 20-year-old Hubble Space Telescope, is a next-generation space observatory for exploring deep space phenomena from distant galaxies to nearby planets and stars.

The new observatory is named after the late former NASA administrator James Webb, who led the space agency from 1961 to 1968. The telescope's entire mission, which has cost about $ 1 billion more than expected and taken a few years longer than planned, is estimated to cost about $5 billion.

But scientists have said the delays and overruns pale in comparison to the secrets of the universe the James Webb Space Telescope is expected to unlock.

The telescope is dedicated to studying the universe in infrared, rather than the optical light wavelengths dominated by Hubble. That means that while Webb telescope won't take the traditional photos Hubble has made popular, it will be able to observe older light and see deeper into the universe.

The telescope is designed to provide important clues about the formation of the universe and the evolution of our own solar system, from the first light after the Big Bang to the formation of star systems capable of supporting life on planets like Earth.

The review brought together multiple modeling and analysis tools. Because the observatory is too large for validation by actual testing, complex models are created to show how it will behave during launch and in the space environments in which it will be integrated.

These models are then evaluated against prior test and review results of the observatory's components.

More milestones ahead

The Mission Critical Design Review (MCDR) encompassed all previous design reviews, including the Integrated Science Instrument Module review in March 2009, the Optical Telescope Element review completed in October 2009, and the sun shield review completed in January 2010.

Next, the project schedule will undergo a review within the next few months. Final approval for the spacecraft design, which passed a preliminary review in 2009, is slated for next year.

"This program landmark is the capstone of seven years of intense, focused effort on the part of NASA, Northrop Grumman and our program team members," said David DiCarlo, sector vice president and general manager of Northrop Grumman Space Systems, located in Redondo Beach, Calif. "We have always had high confidence that our observatory design would meet the goals of this pioneering space mission."

While the MCDR approved the telescope design and gave the official go-ahead for manufacturing, hardware development on the mirror segments has been in progress for several years.

This month, ITT Corp. in Rochester, N.Y., demonstrated robotic mirror installation equipment designed to position segments on the backplane. The segments' position will be fine-tuned to tolerances of a fraction of the width of a human hair.

Additionally, the telescope's sun shield moved into its fabrication and testing phase earlier this year.

The three major elements of Webb – the Integrated Science Instrument Module, Optical Telescope Element and the spacecraft itself – will proceed through hardware production, assembly and testing prior to delivery for observatory integration and testing that is currently scheduled to begin in 2012.

The JWST is a joint project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency. The mission is managed by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.