Earth--Day and Night Regions

Earth--Day and Night Regions

Planetary Positions

Friday, December 30, 2011

The Night Sky This Month (January 2012)

From nightskyinfo.com:

The Night Sky This Month (January 2012)




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Key Stars



Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky, glitters in the south

this month. Red Betelgeuse is to its upper right, while white Procyon

stands above and to its left. Capella appears directly overhead this

month at 10 P.M. local time from mid-northern latitudes. Observers

below latitude 35 degrees north will find Canopus due south around 10

P.M. local time, just beneath Sirius.



The Planets



Mercury



Innermost Mercury shines at magnitude -0.4 and can be spotted 10

degrees above the southeastern horizon a half-hour before sunrise.

Your best chance to see the planet is in early January, as Mercury

sinks toward the horizon with each passing morning and will disappear

by the middle of the month. Through a telescope, Mercury shows a

6"-diameter disk that is 80-percent illuminated.



Venus



Venus is often considered the Evening Star or the Morning Star,

depending on which time of day it is up and dominating the twilight.

For example, until late May 2012, Venus will appear as a brilliant

yellow star in the evening sky, right after sunset. Located 25

degrees above the southwestern horizon half an hour after sundown, it

remains on view until after 8 P.M. local time.



Mars



Mars pokes above the eastern horizon around 10 P.M. local time and is

well up in the south before dawn. The planet is on its way to

opposition next March, when it will be at its closest approach to

Earth and will reach a width of 14". Right now, the disk is less than

10"-wide, too small to show features in most instruments.



Jupiter



Jupiter reached opposition to the Sun in late October, 2011, when it

was closest to Earth and at its largest and brightest. Although

Jupiter is now slowly receding from our home planet, it remains

visible well after midnight and looks stunning through a telescope.

The gas giant shines at magnitude -2.6 and lies in a star-barren

region near the border between Aries and Cetus.



Saturn



Throughout January, Saturn is 40 degrees high in the south as dawn

begins, and gets a little higher every morning. The ringed planet

resides among the background stars of Virgo the Maiden and remains

within 5 degrees of the blue-white star Spica all month.



Uranus



Uranus lies in the same binocular field of view as Lambda Piscium,

the star that forms the southeast corner of the "Circlet" in Pisces,

and is itself an easy binocular target. The planet glows at magnitude

+5.9 and looks just like a star of that brightness. A telescope easily

reveals its 3.4"-diameter disk, which has a distinct blue-green color.



Neptune



Seek out Neptune in western Aquarius, 1.5 degrees north of the

4th-magnitude star Iota Aquarii. The distant world lies 2.8 billion

miles from Earth and glows dimly at magnitude +7.9. A 4-inch diameter

telescope is probably the minimum required to see the planet and

resolve its disk, only 2.4" across.



Pluto



The dwarf planet is barely emerging from the glow of dawn, so it will

be obscured for many observers. It will not be high enough above the

horizon for telescopic viewing until about mid-February.



Bright Asteroids



4 Vesta



The best time to observe Vesta is in the early evening, when Aquarius

the Water Bearer - the constellation through which the asteroid tracks

- is highest above the southwestern horizon. Delta Aquarii serves as a

good guidepost for following the slow nightly motion of 8th-magnitude

Vesta, but it may take a few nights of telescopic observing before

you notice the asteroid's movement.



15 Eunomia



Asteroid 15 Eunomia provides an opportunity to test your observing

skills - spotting it requires a lot of patience and a dark-sky

observing site, far from city lights. The asteroid shines at

magnitude +9 and can be found in Taurus, close to the Pleiades. The

best time to search for it is in the evening, when Taurus is highest

above the horizon.



Bright Comets



C/2009 P1 Garradd



Comet Garradd can be found among the background stars of the

constellation Hercules, a few degrees east of the globular cluster

M13, and according to recent reports, it should glow at 7th

magnitude. The key to finding C/2009 P1 Garradd is to start about one

hour before sunrise from a site that has an unobstructed view of the

eastern horizon.



P/2006 T1 Levy



Comet P/2006 T1 Levy was discovered in 2006 and takes slightly longer

than five years to orbit the Sun on a track that brings it from

Earth's neighborhood out to Jupiter's. The comet is expected to reach

about 7th-magnitude sometime around mid-January and moves quickly

across the evening sky. It starts the month in Pegasus and traverses

both Pisces and Cetus before winding up in Eridanus.



Meteor Showers



The Quadrantids



The Quadrantids, a major annual meteor shower, are visible from

December 28 through January 12. The peak of activity is much sharper

than that of most showers, lasting only a few hours; this year the

peak should arrive around 7:00 UT (2:00 A.M. EST) on Wednesday

morning, January 4th. At best over one hundred Quadrantids an hour

can be seen, although the meteors of this shower are not as bright as

other great displays such as the Perseids and Geminids.



The Coma Berenicids



Coma Berenicid meteors come from a radiant very easy to locate, near

the large naked eye star cluster designated Melotte 111. In early

January, the radiant rises about 11 P.M. local time and is nearly

overhead at predawn. This weak shower has no definite peak and lasts

approximately from December 12 to January 23. Although activity is

low (with an average fall rate of three meteors per hour), this

shower still warrants study.



Sky Events



January 1 - First Quarter Moon at 1:15 A.M. EST.



January 2 - The Moon is at apogee, the point in its orbit when it is

farthest from Earth.



January 4 - The Quadrantid meteor shower is at peak activity. The

Earth is at perihelion, its annual closest approach to the Sun.



January 5 - The Moon is 3.1 degrees south of the Pleiades star

cluster at 4:17 A.M. EST.



January 9 - Full Moon at 2:30 A.M. EST.



January 16 - The Moon is 2 degrees south of Spica (Alpha Virginis) at

2:21 A.M. EST. Last Quarter Moon at 4:08 A.M. EST.



January 17 - The Moon is at perigee, the point in its orbit when it

is nearest to Earth.



January 23 - New Moon at 2:39 A.M. EST.



January 30 - The Moon is at apogee, the point in its orbit when it is

farthest from Earth. First Quarter Moon at 11:10 P.M. EST.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Night Sky This Month--December

The Night Sky This Month (December 2011)




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Key Stars



For observers at mid-northern latitudes, the Pleiades star cluster is

due south around 10 P.M. local time. Above it is Perseus, flanked by

Auriga and Cassiopeia. Orion can be found above the southeastern

horizon, and between it and the celestial pole glitters Capella. High

in the east are Castor and Pollux, the brightest stars of Gemini, and

below them Leo the Lion is rising. In the southwest is the Square of

Pegasus and Vega shines low above the northwestern horizon.



The Planets



Mercury



Mercury moves to December's morning sky, but will be hard to spot for

the first half of the month. By the end of the month, however, it will

rise almost ninety minutes before the Sun and will be easily

identified sitting 10 degrees to the lower left of the 1st-magnitude

star Antares (Alpha Scorpii).



Venus



Until late May 2012, Venus will appear as a brilliant yellow star in

the evening sky, right after sunset. This month the planet is located

15 degrees above the southwestern horizon half an hour after sundown,

and it remains on view until after 6 P.M. local time.



Mars



Mars pokes above the eastern horizon around midnight local time and

is well up in the south before dawn. The planet is on its way to

opposition next March, when it will be at its closest approach to

Earth and will reach a width of 14". Right now, the disk is less than

9"-wide, too small to show features in most instruments.



Jupiter



Jupiter reached opposition to the Sun in late October, when it was

closest to Earth and at its largest and brightest. Although Jupiter

is now slowly receding from our home planet, it remains visible well

after midnight and looks stunning through a telescope. The gas giant

shines at magnitude -2.7 and lies in a star-barren region near the

border between Aries and Pisces.



Saturn



Throughout December, Saturn is low in the southeast as dawn begins,

but gets a little higher every morning. The ringed planet resides

among the background stars of Virgo the Maiden and remains within 5

degrees of the blue-white star Spica all month. Through a telescope,

Saturn sports an angular size of 16", while the rings span 37".



Uranus



Uranus lies in the same binocular field of view as Lambda Piscium,

the star that forms the southeast corner of the "Circlet" in Pisces,

and is itself an easy binocular target. The planet glows at magnitude

+5.8 and looks just like a star of that brightness. A telescope easily

reveals its 3.4"-diameter disk, which has a distinct blue-green color.



Neptune



Seek out Neptune in western Aquarius, 1.5 degrees northwest of the

4th-magnitude star Iota Aquarii. The distant world lies 2.8 billion

miles from Earth and glows dimly at magnitude +7.9. A 4-inch diameter

telescope is probably the minimum required to see the planet and

resolve its disk, only 2.4" across.



Pluto



The dwarf planet is too deep in the evening twilight and cannot be

observed until mid-February 2012, when it will reappear in the

morning sky.



Bright Asteroids



Vesta



8th-magnitude Vesta is an easy find in small telescopes. Look for it

just after dusk, when Aquarius the Water-Bearer - the constellation

through which the asteroid tracks - is highest above the southern

horizon.



Amphitrite



This space rock wends its way through the rather faint constellation

Aries the Ram, which is nearly overhead for observers at mid-northern

latitudes around 8 P.M. local time. The asteroid glows at magnitude

+9.6 - outside the range of binoculars from a suburban backyard, but

well within the reach of a 3-inch scope.



Bright Comets



C/2009 P1 Garradd



Comet Garradd can be found among the background stars of the

constellation Hercules, a few degrees east of Delta Herculis, and

according to recent reports, it should glow at 7th magnitude. This

"dirty ice ball" appears as a bright, round fuzz ball roughly 10'

across, with little hint of a tail. The key to finding C/2009 P1

Garradd is to start half an hour after sunset from a site that has an

unobstructed view of the western horizon.



C/2010 G2 Hill



This comet was discovered on April 10, 2010, in the course of the

Catalina Sky Survey, and astronomers expect it to glow around 10th

magnitude throughout December. Search for it around 10 P.M. local

time, when it lies high in the south within the borders of the

constellation Taurus.



Meteor Showers



The Geminids are active from December 7 to 17th and peak very quickly

on the night of December 13 - 14. Most activity occurs after midnight

on the 14th, when as many as one hundred slow, graceful Geminids

might be seen per hour under ideal conditions. This year, however,

the Moon rises at mid-evening and shines all the way until daybreak,

so bright moonlight will wash out most meteors.



The Ursid shower is active from December 17 to December 26, and peaks

on the morning of December 23. The Moon is New on the 24th - which

means no moonlight, dark skies and perfect observing conditions! The

radiant lies near the bright star Kochab (Beta Ursae Minoris), which

appears below the Pole Star in the evening and above it before dawn.

The radiant is circumpolar from most of the Northern Hemisphere, so

viewing can last all night.



Sky Events



December 1 - Venus is at greatest eastern elongation, 27.3 degrees

east of the Sun in the evening sky.



December 2 - First Quarter Moon at 4:52 A.M. EST.



December 4 - Mercury is in inferior conjunction with the Sun.



December 5 - The Moon is at apogee, the point in its orbit when it is

farthest from Earth.



December 8 - The Moon is 3.1 degrees south of the Pleiades at 8:26

P.M. EST.



December 10 - Full Moon at 9:37 A.M. EST. A total lunar eclipse is

visible from western North America and across the Pacific Ocean to

Australia and Asia.



December 14 - The Geminid meteor shower is at peak activity.



December 17 - Last Quarter Moon at 7:48 P.M. EST.



December 21 - The Moon is at perigee, the point in its orbit when it

is nearest to Earth.



December 22 - The winter solstice occurs at 12:30 A.M. EST. Mercury

is at greatest western elongation, 21.8 degrees west of the Sun in

the morning sky.



December 23 - The Ursid meteor shower is at peak activity.



December 24 - Mercury is 6.6 degrees north of Antares (Alpha Scorpii)

at 5:36 A.M. EST. New Moon at 1:06 P.M. EST.



December 27 - The Moon is 6.7 degrees north of Venus at 5:52 A.M.

EST.



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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Photographs Of The Night Sky

From Yahoo News and Space.com:

Aurora over Iceland

Starry sky over the Alps

The Milky Way over Iran

Milky Way over Australia

Moontrails over Lisbon

The Milky Way over Reunion

Night Sky over the Great Wall of China

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Space Shuttle Photos

From NASA:

NASA releases first photo of shuttle docked in ...

This image provided by NASA shows the six photographs ...

This unique image provided by NASA Friday June ...

File photo of space shuttle Endeavour landing ...

Space Shuttle Atlantis, STS-135

Endeavour comes home

Final landing

Astronauts of STS-134 pose for a group photograph ...

Shuttle Endeavour lands after its last mission

Shuttle Endeavour lands after its last mission

Backdropped by a night time view of the Earth ...

Space Shuttle Atlantis, STS-135   Space Shuttle Atlantis, STS-135

Space shuttle Atlantis sits on launch pad 39A ...  Space Shuttle Endeavour (STS-134) makes its final ...

Space shuttle Endeavour is towed to the Orbiter ...

Shuttle Endeavour lands after its last mission

Space shuttle Endeavour lands at the Kennedy ...

Space shuttle Endeavour lands at the Kennedy ...

Space shuttle Endeavour lands at the Kennedy ...

Space shuttle Endeavour lands at the Kennedy ...



Dramatic Solar Flare Could Disrupt Earth Communications

From Yahoo News and Space.com:

..




'Dramatic' solar flare could disrupt Earth communications

By Kerry Sheridan
AFP – Tue, Jun 7, 2011...

This 2006 Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) Extreme ultraviolet Imaging Telescope (EIT) image shows a flare on the Sun. An unusual solar flare observed by a NASA space observatory on Tuesday could cause some disruptions to satellites, communications and power on Earth over the next day or so, officials said. An eruption of similar magnitude has not been witnessed since 2006

This 2006 Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) Extreme ultraviolet Imaging Telescope …


An unusual solar flare observed by a NASA space observatory on Tuesday could cause some disruptions to satellite communications and power on Earth over the next day or so, officials said.



The potent blast from the Sun unleashed a firestorm of radiation on a level not witnessed since 2006, and will likely lead to moderate geomagnetic storm activity by Wednesday, according to the National Weather Service.



"This one was rather dramatic," said Bill Murtagh, program coordinator at the NWS's Space Weather Prediction Center, describing the M-2 (medium-sized) solar flare that peaked at 1:41 am Eastern time in the United States, or 0541 GMT.



"We saw the initial flare occurring and it wasn't that big but then the eruption associated with it -- we got energy particle radiation flowing in and we got a big coronal mass injection," he said.



"You can see all the materials blasting up from the Sun so it is quite fantastic to look at."



NASA's solar dynamics observatory, which launched last year and provided the high-definition pictures and video of the event, described it as "visually spectacular," but noted that since the eruption was not pointed directly at Earth, the effects were expected to remain "fairly small."



"The large cloud of particles mushroomed up and fell back down looking as if it covered an area of almost half the solar surface," said a NASA statement.



Murtagh said space weather analysts were watching closely to see whether the event would cause any collision of magnetic fields between the Sun and Earth, some 93 million miles (150 million kilometers) apart.



"Part of our job here is to monitor and determine whether it is Earth-directed because essentially that material that is blasting out is gas with magnetic field combined," he told AFP.



"In a day or so from now we are expecting some of that material to impact us here on Earth and create a geomagnetic storm," he said.



"We don't expect it to be any kind of a real severe one but it could be kind of a moderate level storm."



The Space Weather Prediction Center said the event is "expected to cause G1 (minor) to G2 (moderate) levels of geomagnetic storm activity tomorrow, June 8, beginning around 1800 GMT."



Any geomagnetic storm activity will likely be over within 12-24 hours.



"The Solar Radiation Storm includes a significant contribution of high energy protons, the first such occurrence of an event of that type since December 2006," the NWS said.



As many as 12 satellites and spacecraft are monitoring the heliosphere, and one instrument in particular on board NASA's lunar reconnaissance orbiter is measuring radiation and its effects.



"Certainly over the (two-year) lifetime of the mission this is the most significant event," said Harlan Spence, principal investigator for the cosmic ray telescope for the effects of radiation, or CRaTER.



"This is really exciting because ironically when we were developing the mission initially we thought we would be launching closer to a solar maximum when these big solar particle events typically occur," Spence told AFP.



"Instead we launched into a historic solar minimum that took a long, long time to wake up," he said.



"This is interesting and significant because it shows the Sun is returning to its more typical active state."



The resulting geomagnetic storm could cause some disruption in power grids, satellites that operate global positioning systems and other devices, and may lead to some rerouting of flights over the polar regions, Murtagh said.



"Generally it is not going to cause any big problems, it will just have to be managed," he said.



"If you fly from the United States to Asia, flying over the North Pole, there are well over a dozen flights every day," he added.



"During these big radiation storms some of these airlines will reroute the flights away from the polar regions for safety reasons to make sure they can maintain communications.



"People operating satellites would keep an eye on this, too, because geomagnetic storming can interfere with satellites in various ways whether it is the satellite itself or the signal coming down from the receiver."



The aurora borealis (Northern Lights) and aurora australis (Southern Lights) will also likely be visible in the late hours of June 8 or 9, NASA said.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Nix NASA Completely, Apollo Astronaut Says

From Yahoo News and Space.com:


Nix NASA Completely, Apollo Astronaut Says


Space.com

– Wed May 25, 7:29 pm ET





NASA should be scrapped in favor of a new agency, one with the sole objective of furthering America's exploration of deep space. So says Harrison Schmitt, the last man to set foot on the moon, in a proposal published online today (May 25).



Schmitt, a member of Apollo 17 in 1972 and later a one-term U.S. senator, proposed that the new space agency be called the National Space Exploration Administration.



Fifty years after John F. Kennedy's famous speech that set America on its glorious path to the moon, Schmitt, 75, said NASA has lost its focus. The Apollo program helped win the Cold War, strengthened national unity and set up the United States to take control of lunar resources, but NASA has withered under later presidencies, including Barack Obama's, Schmitt said.



"I don't blame NASA as much as I blame various administrations for not recognizing the geopolitical importance of space," he told SPACE.com. [Video: President Kennedy's Moonshot Moment]



Schmitt's call for overhauling the space program is partly a response to Obama's 2012 budget, which critics say increased the funding for space technology research at NASA but did not provide adequate funding for deep-space exploration.



Other Apollo astronauts have lamented the lack of focus on exploration.



In a May 24 op-ed in USA Today, Apollo mission commanders Neil Armstrong, Jim Lovell and Gene Cernan wrote, "After a half-century of remarkable progress, a coherent plan for maintaining America's leadership in space exploration is no longer apparent."



Apollo 17 crewmates Cernan and Schmitt were the world's last moonwalkers.



If formed in 2013, the proposed NSEA could send Americans back to the moon by 2020, Schmitt says, and establish lunar settlements and Mars exploration and settlements in the decades after that. It also would develop the ability to deflect Earth-bound asteroids. All of NASA's current scientific endeavors would be within the purview of the National Science Foundation and other government-funded science organizations.



The significance of space



Schmitt believes refocusing on space exploration is crucial for the United States to maintain its status as a superpower. [Photos: John F. Kennedy's NASA Legacy]



"This is not just a competition between nations; it's a competition between freedom and tyranny," Schmitt said. "The United States is the only power on Earth today that has in its DNA a protection of liberty, and if we decide to back off from space or any other major human endeavor, then we put that liberty in jeopardy.



"The Obama administration has basically said that they won't pursue an exceptional space program for the United States and that they're just as happy to have China move forward into deep space, and be dependent on Russia for transport to the International Space Station."



Schmitt, who was elected to the Senate in 1976 as a Republican from New Mexico, says China's domination of deep space and Russia's domination of near-Earth space would lower America's international standing of the U.S. in the same way the Soviet Union winning the space race would have changed the outcome of the Cold War.



On top of the perceptions and politics, Schmitt argues that deep-space exploration is necessary for controlling space resources ? in particular, a fusion fuel called helium-3 that comes from the sun and is preserved in lunar soils. "Under certain financial constraints, helium-3 can be economically viable as a fuel for fusion power reactors here on Earth, and to have that dominated by another power such as China I think would be very dangerous for us. That's just another aspect of the geopolitical significance of exploration," Schmitt said.



National identity



In the 1960s, pride in the Apollo program strengthened national unity and rejuvenated science and math education in schools. Schmitt believes the same things could happen — and need to happen — again.



Funding the NSEA (as well as increasing the funding of the other programs that would take over NASA's science departments) would cost $2 billion to $3 billion more than NASA currently costs taxpayers, Schmitt estimated. He believes taxpayers would be willing to foot the bill.



"I think the American public is very, very supportive of vigorous American activities in space," Schmitt said. "Survey after survey has shown that."



This story was provided by Life's Little Mysteries, a sister site to Space.com. Follow Natalie Wolchover on Twitter @nattyover and follow SPACE.com for the latest in space science and exploration news on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

USAF Officers Inducted Into Astronaut Hall Of Fame

From USAF News and Military.com:


AF Officers Inducted Into Astronaut Hall of Fame





May 17, 2011

Air Force News
by Brad A. Swezey











KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. -- Two Air Force officers who served as astronauts with NASA were inducted into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame at Kennedy Space Center, Fla., May 14.



Lt. Gen. Susan Helms, the 14th Air Force commander, and retired Col. Karol Bobko were inducted in a ceremony at KSC a little less than an hour after an Atlas V launched from neighboring Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., carrying the first satellite in the Space Based Infrared System.



Before a crowd in the hundreds, the two Air Force Academy graduates were welcomed into the Hall by fellow Astronaut Hall of Famers.











The first inductee, Colonel Bobko, was also part of the first class to graduate from the Air Force Academy in 1959. He flew on three space shuttle missions and logged more than 386 hours in space, to include piloting the first flight of the space shuttle Challenger in 1983.



On his second space shuttle flight in 1985 on space shuttle Discovery, which he commanded, he participated in something for which his crew never trained for before the flight. When one of the satellites they deployed malfunctioned, they decided to do a spacewalk and use the robotic arm to activate the satellite. Also, despite having a blown main landing gear tire, he successfully landed the space shuttle.



Colonel Bobko's last flight was on space shuttle Atlantis, which was a Department of Defense mission. Since his retirement from NASA and the Air Force in 1988, he has stayed connected with space and is currently the president of the U.S. chapter of the Association of Space Explorers.



A few years after Colonel Bobko finished up his astronaut career, General Helms, a member of the first class of the Air Force Academy to include women, was beginning the astronaut portion of her career in 1991.



The former commander of the 45th Space Wing had her first shuttle flight in 1993 aboard space shuttle Endeavor. During this mission, the crew deployed a $200 million satellite.



General Helms' second flight happened in 1994 aboard space shuttle Discovery; she served as a flight engineer and primary remote manipulator system operator.



On her third space shuttle flight in 1996, General Helms was the payload commander and flight engineer on space shuttle Columbia. This flight was the first to combine both a full microgravity studies agenda and a comprehensive life science investigation.



The former director of plans and policy for U.S. Strategic Command had her fourth space shuttle flight aboard Atlantis in 2000.



General Helms' prime responsibilities during this mission were to perform critical repairs to extend the life of the International Space Station.



In addition, she was responsible for the onboard computer network and served as the mission specialist for rendezvous with the ISS.



General Helms returned to the ISS on space shuttle Discovery in 2001. She, along with a Russian cosmonaut and another astronaut, retired Army Col. James Voss, were aboard the ISS from March until August of that year. It was during this time that General Helms and Colonel Voss set a world record for the longest spacewalk, which lasted 8 hours and 56 minutes.



She returned to Earth on space shuttle Discovery in August; this mission capped off 211 days she had spent in space during her career.



As the current joint functional component commander for space at U.S. Strategic Command, General Helms still is involved with the nation's space program, though in a different capacity than as an astronaut.



Both inductees received standing ovations numerous times throughout the ceremony and praised the people who made both of their journeys possible.



"I drew more from them than they ever drew from me," General Helms said.











© Copyright 2011 Air Force News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Friday, May 6, 2011

NASA Gravity Probe Confirms Two Einstein Theories

From Space.com and Yahoo News:


NASA Gravity Probe Confirms Two Einstein Theories



























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Play VideoSpace Video:NASA Chasing Storms From OffuttKETV Omaha.

Play VideoSpace Video:North Korea jail camps 'growing'Reuters.

Play VideoSpace Video:Mark Kelly on Endeavour LaunchFOX News.



SPACE.com Staff,

Space.com

– Thu May 5, 10:45 am ET





A NASA probe orbiting Earth has confirmed two key predictions of Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity, which describes how gravity causes masses to warp space-time around them.



The Gravity Probe B (GP-B) mission was launched in 2004 to study two aspects of Einstein's theory about gravity: the geodetic effect, or the warping of space and time around a gravitational body, and frame-dragging, which describes the amount of space and time a spinning objects pulls with it as it rotates.



"Imagine the Earth as if it were immersed in honey," Francis Everitt, GP-B principal investigator at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., said in a statement. "As the planet rotates, the honey around it would swirl, and it's the same with space and time. GP-B confirmed two of the most profound predictions of Einstein's universe, having far-reaching implications across astrophysics research." [6 Weird Facts About Gravity]



Gravity Probe B used four ultra-precise gyroscopes to measure the two gravitational hypotheses. The probe confirmed both effects with unprecedented precision by pointing its instruments at a single star called IM Pegasi.



If gravity did not affect space and time, GP-B's gyroscopes would always point in the same direction while the probe was in polar orbit around Earth. However, the gyroscopes experienced small but measurable changes in the direction of their spin while Earth's gravity pulled at them, thereby confirming Einstein's theories.



"The mission results will have a long-term impact on the work of theoretical physicists," said Bill Danchi, senior astrophysicist and program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. "Every future challenge to Einstein's theories of general relativity will have to seek more precise measurements than the remarkable work GP-B accomplished." [Top 10 Strangest Things in Space]



A long time coming



These results conclude one of the longest-running projects in NASA history. The space agency became involved in the development of a relativity gyroscope experiment in 1963.



Decades of research and testing led to groundbreaking technologies to control environmental disturbances that could affect the spacecraft, such as aerodynamic drag, magnetic fields and thermal variations. Furthermore, the mission's star tracker and gyroscopes were the most precise ever designed and produced.



The GP-B project has led to advancements in GPS technologies that help guide airplanes to landings. Additional innovations were applied to NASA's Cosmic Background Explorer mission, which accurately determined the universe's background radiation left over from shortly after the Big Bang.



The drag-free satellite concept pioneered by GP-B made a number of Earth-observing satellites possible, including NASA's Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment. These satellites provide the most precise measurements of the shape of the Earth, which are critical for navigation on land and sea, and understanding the relationship between ocean circulation and climate patterns.



Gravity Probe B's wide reach



The GP-B mission also acted as a training ground for students across the United States, from candidates for doctorates and master's degrees to undergraduates and high school students. In fact, one undergraduate who worked on GP-B went on to become the first female astronaut in space, Sally Ride.



"GP-B adds to the knowledge base on relativity in important ways and its positive impact will be felt in the careers of students whose educations were enriched by the project," said Ed Weiler, associate administrator for the science mission directorate at NASA headquarters.



GP-B completed its data collection operations and was decommissioned in December 2010. The probe's findings were published online in the journal Physical Review Letters.



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Psychedelic Photo Of A Stellar Nursery

From Yahoo News and The Lookout:

Fri May 6, 11:24 am ET


‘Psychedelic’ photo of a stellar nursery

By Liz Goodwin




Ever wonder what a star "nursery" looks like?



Two Argentine astronomers using a powerful Gemini South telescope in Chile produced this dramatic and colorful image that shows newly born stars in the beautiful Lagoon nebula, located in the Sagittarius constellation in the southern Milky Way.



The Gemini Observatory describes the image as a "psychedelic flashback" because the Lagoon nebula's photons had to travel a stunning 5,000 lightyears to reach the astronomers' telescope.







With an amateur telescope, the Lagoon nebula just looks like a pretty, slightly pink glowing patch. Contrast that to the above picture, which is a composite of images taken by two "narrow-band optical filters sensitive to hydrogen (red) and ionized sulfur (green) emission and another that transmits far red light (blue)." The merged images highlight the dramatic beauty of newly born stars, which you can see embedded in the thick clouds.



The astronomers are studying Herbig-Haro objects, which form when young, growing stars emit lots of fast-moving gas.



(Image: Julia I. Arias and Rodolfo H. Barbá Departamento de Física, Universidad de La Serena, and ICATE-CONICET)

Moon Microbe Mystery Finally Solved

From Yahoo News:


Moon Microbe Mystery Finally Solved







Apollo 12 mission Commander Charles P. 'Pete' Conrad is shown on the moon's surface in this Nov. 1969 photo. (AP/NASA)



















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Space.com– Fri May 6, 10:45 am ET





There has been a long-lived bit of Apollo moon landing folklore that now appears to be a dead-end affair: microbes on the moon.



The lunar mystery swirls around the Apollo 12 moon landing and the return to Earth by moonwalkers of a camera that was part of an early NASA robotic lander – the Surveyor 3 probe.



On Nov. 19, 1969, Apollo 12 astronauts Pete Conrad and Alan Bean made a precision landing on the lunar surface in Oceanus Procellarum, Latin for the Ocean of Storms. Their touchdown point was a mere 535 feet (163 meters) from the Surveyor 3 lander -- and an easy stroll to the hardware that had soft-landed on the lunar terrain years before, on April 20, 1967. [Video: Apollo 12 Visits Surveyor 3 Probe]



The Surveyor 3 camera was easy pickings and brought back to Earth under sterile conditions by the Apollo 12 crew. When scientists analyzed the parts in a clean room, they found evidence of microorganisms inside the camera.



In short, a small colony of common bacteria -- Streptococcus Mitis -- had stowed away on the device.



The astrobiological upshot as deduced from the unplanned experiment was that 50 to 100 of the microbes appeared to have survived launch, the harsh vacuum of space, three years of exposure to the moon's radiation environment, the lunar deep-freeze at an average temperature of minus 253 degrees Celsius, not to mention no access to nutrients, water or an energy source. [Photos: Our Changing Moon]



Now, fast forward to today.



NASA's dirty little secret?



A diligent team of researchers is now digging back into historical documents -- and even located and reviewed NASA's archived Apollo-era 16 millimeter film -- to come clean on the story.



As it turns out, there's a dirty little secret that has come to light about clean room etiquette at the time the Surveyor 3 camera was scrutinized.



"The claim that a microbe survived 2.5 years on the moon was flimsy, at best, even by the standards of the time," said John Rummel, chairman of the Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) Panel on Planetary Protection. "The claim never passed peer review, yet has persisted in the press -- and on the Internet -- ever since." [Coolest New Moon Discoveries]



The Surveyor 3 camera-team thought they had detected a microbe that had lived on the moon for all those years, "but they only detected their own contamination," Rummel told SPACE.com.



A former NASA planetary protection officer, Rummel is now with the Institute for Coastal Science & Policy at East Carolina University in Greenville, N.C.



Rummel, along with colleaguesJudith Allton of NASA’s Johnson Space Center and Don Morrison, a former space agency lunar receiving laboratory scientist, recently presented their co-authored paper: "A Microbe on the Moon? Surveyor III and Lessons Learned for Future Sample Return Missions."



Poor space probe hygiene



Their verdict was given at a meeting on "The Importance of Solar System Sample Return Missions to the Future of Planetary Science," in March at The Woodlands,Texas, sponsored by the NASA Planetary Science Division and Lunar and Planetary Institute.



"If 'American Idol' judged microbiology, those guys would have been out in an early round," the research team writes of the way the Surveyor 3 camera team studied the equipment here on Earth. Or put more delicately, "The general scene does not lend a lot of confidence in the proposition that contamination did not occur," co-author Morrison said.



For example, participants studying the camera were found to be wearing short-sleeve scrubs, thus arms were exposed. Also, the scrub shirt tails were higher than the flow bench level … and would act as a bellows for particulates from inside the shirt, reports co-author Allton.



Other contamination control issues were flagged by the researchers.



In simple microbiology 101 speak, "a close personal relationship with the subject ... is not necessarily a good thing," the research team explains.



All in all, the likelihood that contamination occurred during sampling of the Surveyor 3 camera was shown to be very real.



A cautionary tale



On one hand, Rummel emphasized that today’s methods for handling return samples are much more effective at detecting microbes.



However, the Surveyor 3 incident back then raises a cautionary flag for the future.



"We need to be orders of magnitude more careful about contamination control than was the Surveyor 3 camera-team. If we aren't, samples from Mars could be drowned in Earth life upon return, and in all of that 'noise' we might never have the ability to detect Mars life we may have brought back, too," Rummel said. "We can, and we must, do a better job with a Mars sample return mission."



Winner of this year's National Space Club Press Award, Leonard David has been reporting on the space industry for more than five decades. He is past editor-in-chief of the National Space Society's Ad Astra and Space World magazines and has written for SPACE.com since 1999.





Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Asteroid Or Planet? NASA Aims To Settle Vesta Debate

From Space.com and Yahoo News:


Asteroid or Planet? NASA Aims to Settle Vesta Debate



SPACE.com Staff,

Space.com

– Tue Apr 26, 3:44 pm ET

NASA Gears Up for Big Asteroid Encounter

Asteroid Vesta

As the Asteroid Turns: Hubble Records New Video of 2nd Biggest Space Rock






Scientists still aren't sure what to make of Vesta, a small body that orbits the sun. Is it an asteroid or a planet?



NASA's Dawn spacecraft could settle the matter.



Vesta was spotted 200 years ago and is officially a "minor planet" — a body that orbits the sun but is not a proper planet or comet. Yet, many astronomers call Vesta an asteroid because it lies in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.



But Vesta is not a typical member of that orbiting rubble patch. The vast majority of objects in the main belt are relative lightweights, 62 miles(100 kilometers) wide or smaller, compared with Vesta, which is 329 miles(530 km) wide.



If Vesta is an asteroid, it would be the second-largest in the solar system. Some scientists, however, are skeptical about that designation. [5 Reasons to Care About Asteroids]



"I don't think Vesta should be called an asteroid," said Tom McCord, a Dawn team member at the Bear Fight Institute in Winthrop, Wash. "Not only is Vesta so much larger, but it's an evolved object, unlike most things we call asteroids."



The evolution of Vesta



The onion-like structure of Vesta (core, mantle and crust) is the key trait that makes Vesta more like planets such as Earth, Venus and Mars than the other asteroids, McCord said.



Like the planets, Vesta had sufficient radioactive material inside when it formed, releasing heat that melted rock and enabled lighter layers to float to the outside. Signatures of a type of volcanic rock called basalt were detected in 1972, which meant that the body had to have melted at one time.



Bu calling Vesta a 'minor planet' is not distinctive enough, since there are more than 540,000 minor planets in our solar system. Dwarf planets — which include Ceres, the second destination of NASA's Dawn mission — are another category, but Vesta doesn't qualify as one of those. For one thing, Vesta isn't quite large enough to be considered a dwarf planet.



Dawn scientists prefer to think of Vesta as a protoplanet because it is a dense, layered body that orbits the sun and formed in the same fashion as Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars, but somehow never fully developed.



Early planet formation



In the early history of the solar system, objects became planets by merging with other objects the size of Vesta. But Vesta never found a partner during the big dance, and the critical time passed. It may have had to do with the nearby presence of Jupiter, the gravitational superpower in the neighborhood, disturbing the orbits of nearby objects and hogging the dance partners.



Still, Vesta saw its fair share of action.



Other space rocks have collided with Vesta and knocked off bits of it. This debris in the asteroid belt became known as Vestoids, and hundreds of these types of meteorites have ended up on Earth.



Vesta never collided with an object of sufficient size to disrupt it, however, which is why it has remained intact. As a result, Vesta is like a time capsule from that earlier era.



"This gritty little protoplanet has survived bombardment in the asteroid belt for over 4.5 billion years, making its surface possibly the oldest planetary surface in the solar system," said Christopher Russell, a Dawn team member, based at UCLA. "Studying Vesta will enable us to write a much better history of the solar system's turbulent youth."



Dawn's game plan



Dawn's scientists and engineers have designed a master plan to investigate Vesta's special features.



When Dawn arrives at Vesta in July, the south pole will be in full sunlight, giving scientists a clear view of a huge crater there. The crater may reveal the layer cake of materials inside Vesta, which could help scientists understand how the body evolved after its formation.



The way scientists have designed Dawn's orbit will also allow the spacecraft to map new terrain as the seasons progress during its 12-month visit.



The spacecraft will take many measurements, including high-resolution data of Vesta's surface composition, topography and texture. Dawn will also measure the tug of Vesta's gravity to learn more about its internal structure.



"Dawn's ion thrusters are gently carrying us toward Vesta, and the spacecraft is getting ready for its big year of exploration," said Marc Rayman, Dawn's chief engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "We have designed our mission to get the most out of this opportunity to reveal the exciting secrets of this uncharted, exotic world."



Follow SPACE.com for the latest in space science and exploration news on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Spotting The Space Shuttle And The International Space Station (ISS)

From Space.com:



NASA's space shuttle Discovery and the International Space Station are seen in this time-lapse image as they fly over Leiden, The Netherlands, just before the two spacecraft docked on March 17, 2009 during the STS-119 mission. The shuttle is the object slightly fainter and lower in the sky. Movement is from right to left


CREDIT: Marco Langbroek



View full size image

Skywatchers across parts of the United States and Canada have a chance tonight (Feb. 25) to spot NASA's space shuttle Discovery – on its last-ever mission – as it chases the International Space Station across the night sky.



The shuttle and space station will be visible to the unaided eye as separate entities, appearing as bright "stars" sailing across this evening's twilight sky. Skywatchers with clear skies in the northern U.S. and southern Canada have the best chances of seeing the two spacecraft. [Photos of Space Shuttles and Stations from Earth]



The International Space Station is can be easily seen on clear nights without a telescope because of its huge size and solar arrays. It is as long as a football field and has enough living space for astronauts as a Boeing 747 jumbo jet.





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On good passes, the space station is so bright it can rival the planet Venus in the sky and appears more than 25 times brighter than Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky.



Discovery launched into space Thursday and is scheduled to dock at the space station on tomorrow (Feb. 26) at 2:16 p.m. EST (1919 GMT). So by Saturday evening, both will appear as a singular bright moving object.



The International Space Station makes one full orbit around Earth about once every 91.5 minutes. Initially, after Thursday's launch from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Discovery trailed the space station across the sky by about 37 minutes.



By tonight, that gap will have diminished to about 15 minutes. That means it will not be possible to see both space vehicles in the sky at the same time; rather Discovery would appear first, followed less than a half hour later by the space station traveling along basically the same path.



Discovery is flying an 11-day mission to deliver a new storage room and humanoid robot to the International Space Station. This is the final flight of shuttle Discovery since NASA plans to retire the orbiter along with the rest of the shuttle fleet later this year.



Discovery is NASA's most-flown shuttle and is making its 39th trip into space.



Region of visibility



So far as visibility is concerned, it appears that skywatchers living in the southern and central United States may be out of luck for seeing Discovery or the space station. This is because the trajectories of the spacecraft will send them on paths that are either too low or overhead during daylight hours, rendering them invisible.



In the northern United States, there is a chance of spotting Discovery and the station on paths that will begin in the western sky then skim on a low arc in a direction toward the north and east.



In most cases, the highest that either the shuttle or space station will get above the northern horizon, will be about 15 degrees. Your clenched fist held at arm's length measures approximately 10 degrees. So a 15 degree pass would be equal to about one and a half fists up from the horizon.



From southern Canada, the two space vehicles will make an even higher arc across the sky. From Montreal and Calgary, for example, there are predicted passes that are more than 40 degrees above the horizon – nearly halfway from the horizon to the overhead point (called the zenith).



How bright will they be?



Most satellites become visible only when they are in sunlight and the observer is in deep twilight or darkness. This usually means shortly after dusk or before dawn.



Because of the International Space Station's massive size and configuration of highly reflective solar panels, it is the brightest man-made object currently in orbit around the Earth.



Some have even caught a glimpse of the space station just prior to sunset or shortly after sunrise. And as a bonus, sunlight glinting directly off the solar panels can sometimes make the ISS appear to briefly flare to super-brilliance.



The space shuttle also appears as a very bright (magnitude 0 to -1) object; almost matching Sirius, though nowhere near as dazzling as the ISS.



When and where to look



So what are the chances of spotting Discovery and the space station from your particular hometown?



You can easily find out by searching for one of these four popular Web sites: Chris Peat's Heavens Above, Science@NASA's J-Pass, NASA's SkyWatch and Spaceweather.com.



Each will ask for your zip code or city, and respond with a list of suggested spotting times. Predictions computed a few days ahead of time are usually accurate within a few minutes. However, they can change due to the slow decay of the space station's orbit and periodic reboosts to higher altitudes.



Another great site is this one, which provides real-time satellite tracking and shows you at any given moment during the day or night over what part of the Earth the ISS or shuttle happens to be.



Check the websites frequently for updates as viewing conditions can sometimes change due to mission developments.



Joe Rao serves as an instructor and guest lecturer at New York's Hayden Planetarium. He writes about astronomy for The New York Times and other publications, and he is also an on-camera meteorologist for News 12 Westchester, New York. Click here for shuttle mission updates and a link to NASA TV.

Sun Whips Out Massive Flare

From Space.com:

http://www.space.com/10960-sun-whips-massive-flare.html

On February 24, 2011, the Sun blasted a titanic M class flare; but not aimed at Earth. This time-lapse video displays about 90 minutes of activity; one frame taken every 24 seconds by the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO).
Credit: NASA

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Space Shuttle Discovery Launches On Final Voyage

From the AP and Yahoo News:

Space shuttle Discovery launches on final voyage


Space shuttle Discovery lifts off from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida 

Space shuttle Discovery lifts off from the Kennedy ...

A long range tracking camera gives a view of ... Space shuttle Discovery lifts off from the Kennedy ...

Discovery  Discovery STS-133

TThe underbelly of the space shuttle Discovery ... Space Shuttle

STS-133 Discovery

Space Shuttle

Discovery   Space shuttle Discovery lifts off from the Kennedy ...

Space shuttle Discovery lifts off from the Kennedy ... Space Shuttle Discovery

Discovery  Discovery

Space Shuttle

Space Shuttle







Reuters – Space shuttle Discovery lifts off from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, February …

By MARCIA DUNN, AP Aerospace Writer Marcia Dunn, Ap Aerospace Writer – 35 mins ago

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – Discovery, the world's most traveled spaceship, thundered into orbit for the final time Thursday, heading toward the International Space Station on a journey that marks the beginning of the end of the shuttle era.



The six astronauts on board, all experienced space fliers, were thrilled to be on their way after a delay of nearly four months for fuel tank repairs. But it puts Discovery on the cusp of retirement when it returns in 11 days and eventually heads to a museum.



Discovery is the oldest of NASA's three surviving space shuttles and the first to be decommissioned this year. Two missions remain, first by Atlantis and then Endeavour, to end the 30-year program.



Launch director Mike Leinbach anticipated it would be "tough" to see Discovery take off for the 39th and final time, and even harder when it returns March 7.



"It's a very, very personal thing that we love to do," Leinbach explained. "It's a lot more than just our livelihood. It gets in our soul."



Emotions ran high as Discovery rocketed off its seaside pad into a late afternoon clear blue sky, and arced out over the Atlantic on its farewell flight. There were a tense few minutes before liftoff when an Air Force computer problem popped up. The issue was resolved and Discovery took off about three minutes late, with just a few seconds left.



"The venerable veteran of America's human spaceflight fleet," as the launch commentator called it earlier in the day, will reach the space station Saturday, delivering a small chamber full of supplies and an experimental humanoid robot. The orbiting lab was soaring over the South Pacific when Discovery blasted off under the command of retired Air Force Col. Steven Lindsey.



NASA is under presidential direction to retire the shuttle fleet this summer, let private companies take over trips to orbit and focus on getting astronauts to asteroids and Mars.



An estimated 40,000 guests gathered at Kennedy Space Center to witness history in the making, including a small delegation from Congress and Florida's new Gov. Rick Scott. Discovery frenzy took over not only the launch site, but neighboring towns.



Roads leading to the launching site were jammed with cars parked two and three deep; recreational vehicles snagged prime viewing spots along the Banana River well before dawn. Businesses and governments joined in, their signs offering words of encouragement. "The heavens await Discovery," a Cocoa Beach church proclaimed. Groceries stocked up on extra red, white and blue cakes with shuttle pictures. Stores ran out of camera batteries.



Click image to see photos of Discovery launch, NASA





Reuters/Joe Skipper

The launch team also got into the act. A competition was held to craft the departing salutation from Launch Control; Kennedy's public affairs office normally comes up with the parting line. Souvenir photos of Discovery were set aside for controllers in the firing room. Many posed for group shots.



Lindsey and his crew paused to take in the significance of it all, before boarding Discovery. They embraced in a group hug at the base of the launch pad.



Unlike the first try back in November, no hydrogen gas leaked during Thursday's fueling.



NASA also was confident no cracks would develop in the external fuel tank; nothing serious was spotted during the final checks at the pad. Both problems cropped up during the initial countdown in early November, and the repairs took almost four months. The cracks in the midsection of the tank, which holds instruments but no fuel, could have been dangerous.



The lengthy postponement kept one of the original crew from flying.



Astronaut Timothy Kopra, the lead spacewalker, was hurt when he wrecked his bicycle last month. Experienced spacewalker Stephen Bowen stepped in and became the first astronaut to fly back-to-back shuttle missions.



Packed aboard Discovery is Robonaut 2, or R2, set to become the first humanoid robot in space. The experimental machine — looking human from the waist up — will remain boxed until after Discovery departs. Its twin was at the launch site, perched atop a rover, waving goodbye.



Discovery already has 143 million miles to its credit, beginning with its first flight in 1984. By the time this mission ends, the shuttle will have tacked on another 4.5 million miles. And it will have spent 363 days in space and circled Earth 5,800 times.



No other spacecraft has been launched so many times.



Discovery's list of achievements include delivering the Hubble Space Telescope to orbit, carrying the first Russian cosmonaut to launch on a U.S. spaceship, performing the first rendezvous with the Russian space station Mir with the first female shuttle pilot in the cockpit, returning Mercury astronaut John Glenn to orbit, and bringing shuttle flights back to life after the Challenger and Columbia accidents.



Discovery is expected to be eventually put on display by the Smithsonian Institution.



___



Online:



NASA: http://www.nasa.gov/shuttle



Friday, February 18, 2011

Six Solar System Planets Shine In One New Photo

From Space.com:

Article:

Wow! 6 Solar System Planets Shine in One New Photo

Date: 18 February 2011 Time: 03:20 PM ET




The MESSENGER spacecraft, which is in orbit around Mercury, collected this series of images to complete a "family portrait" of our Solar System as seen from the inside looking out. The majority of this mosaic was obtained on 3 November 2010. Uranus and Ne


The MESSENGER spacecraft, which is headed for orbit around Mercury, collected this series of images to complete a "family portrait" of our Solar System as seen from the inside looking out. The majority of this mosaic was obtained on 3 November 2010. Uranus and Neptune remained too faint to detect with even the longest camera exposure time, but their positions are indicated.


CREDIT: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington



View full size image

A NASA spacecraft heading for Mercury has beamed to Earth an amazing space photo: A family portrait of six major planets in our solar system.



To make the planet photo mosaic, NASA's Messenger spacecraft snapped 34 individual images over a two-week period last November. Messenger mission scientists took those images and stitched them together into a single mosaic to build a view of our solar system as it appears from the center. [See the solar system planets portrait]



"This snapshot of our neighborhood also reminds us that Earth is a member of a planetary family that was formed by common processes four and a half billion years ago," said Messenger mission principal investigator Sean Solomon, of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, in a statement. "Our spacecraft is soon to orbit the innermost member of the family, one that holds many new answers to how Earth-like planets are assembled and evolve."





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The Messenger spacecraft has flown by Mercury three times since its launch in 2004 and will arrive in orbit around the planet on March 18. Messenger's name is short for MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging.



In the new photo, Messenger's cameras were able to spot all the major planets except Uranus and Neptune, which were too faint to detect, mission scientists said. Earth's moon and several of Jupiter's big moons – the Galilean satellites Callisto, Ganymede, Europa and Io – were also visible, and are highlighted in insets.



Bright Venus starts the portrait off at the far left, followed by Earth and its moon, and Jupiter. Messenger scientists then indicate where Uranus and Neptune were in their orbits at the time, and move on to show Mars, Mercury and Saturn.



The planets appear in a narrow S-shaped belt due to the tilted orbit of the Messenger spacecraft with respect to the ecliptic – or general plane – of the solar system.



That made it a challenge to point Messenger's cameras in the right place to capture as many planets as it did. Scientists used a narrow-angle camera and a wide-angle camera on the spacecraft to make the planet portrait.



"It’s not easy to find a moment when many of the planets are within a single field of view from that perspective, and we have strong sun-pointing constraints on our ability to image in some directions," Solomon said.



The scientists used software to simulate the Messenger spacecraft's location to see which planets might be visible to its cameras. They also had to tweak some of Messenger's photos in order to bring out their planet targets. [Our Solar System from the Inside Out]



"The images are stretched to make it easier to detect the planets, though this stretch also highlights light scattered off of the planet limbs, and in some cases creates artifacts such as the non-spherical shape of some planets," explained Messenger imaging team member Brett Denevi of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md.



Messenger mission scientists said the new planet portrait offers a reverse view of the solar system. In 1990, NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft snapped a photo of the solar system as seen from the region of Neptune looking in.



"Seeing our solar system as just these little specks of light, it reminds you of how lucky we are that we've had the chance, through so many missions, to get up close and explore the incredible diversity and geology that each planet and moon displays," Denevi said. "Mercury has been just a dot on the horizon for most of history, and we get to fill in the details and know it as a real world. What an amazing opportunity!"



Follow SPACE.com on Twitter @Spacedotcom for the latest news from space.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Largest Planet In The Solar System Could Be About To Be Discovered--And It's Up To Four Times The Size Of Jupiter

From The Daily Mail (U.K.): 

Largest planet in the solar system could be about to be discovered - and it's up to four times the size of Jupiter


By Daily Mail Reporter

Last updated at 9:52 AM on 14th February 2011

Comments (148) Add to My Stories

Scientists believe they may have found a new planet in the far reaches of the solar system, up to four times the mass of Jupiter.

Its orbit would be thousands of times further from the Sun than the Earth's - which could explain why it has so far remained undiscovered.

Data which could prove the existence of Tyche, a gas giant in the outer Oort Cloud, is set to be released later this year - although some believe proof has already been garnered by Nasa with its pace telescope, Wise, and is waiting to be pored over.

A new world? Astronomers believe a huge gas giant may be within the remote Oort Cloud region

Prof Daniel Whitmire from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette believes the data may prove Tyche's existence within two years.

He told the Independent: 'If it does, [fellow astrophysicist Prof John Matese] and I will be doing cartwheels. And that's not easy at our age.'



More...Radiation particles will sterilize any baby girl being conceived in deep space, say scientists



He added he believes it will mainly be made of hydrogen and helium, with an atmosphere like Jupiter's, with spots and rings and clouds, adding: 'You'd also expect it to have moons. All the outer planets have them.'

He believes the planet is so huge, it will ahve a raised temperature left from its formation that will make it far higher than others, such as Pluto, at -73C, as 'it takes an object this size a long time to cool off'.


Isolated: The Oort Cloud, where Tyche is believed to be, is a sphere with a radius of one light year
Isolated: The Oort Cloud, where Tyche is believed to be, is a sphere with a radius of one light year

He and Prof Matese first suggested Tyche existed because of the angle comets were arriving, with a fifth of the expected number since 1898 entering higher than expected.

However, Tyche - if it exists - should also dislodge comets closer to home, from the inner Oort Cloud, but they have not been seen.

If confirmed, the status and name of the new planet - which would become the ninth and potentially the largest - would then have to be agreed by the International Astronomical Union.



Currently named Tyche, from the Greek goddess that governed the destiny of a city, its name may have to change, as it originated from a theory which has now been largely abandoned.







Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1356748/Search-Tyche-believed-largest-planet-solar-system.html#ixzz1EG5jcnBR