Monday, February 28, 2011

NASA SDO Video: Massive Solar Flare

This huge solar flare certainly lives up to its name. It's called the Monster Prominence, and was filmed by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory when it exploded on 24 February. The magnetic eruption has been sped up here (see video) but in reality it twisted and flared for 90 minutes.

It's not the largest flare ever recorded on the sun, and luckily it was facing away from the Earth's surface, says news channel CNN so it won't disrupt satellites or radio communications.

Last week, Jane Lubchenco, chief of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, warned of the potential disruption of solar activity to power grids and networks.

To find out more about solar flares, check out this recent video and blog post about how seemingly independent solar flares are connected.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Four Candidates Selected For ESA's Cosmic Vision

The four proposals chosen to proceed for assessment are EChO, LOFT, MarcoPolo-R and STE-QUEST.

The Exoplanet Characterisation Observatory (EChO) would be the first dedicated mission to investigate exoplanetary atmospheres, addressing the suitability of those planets for life and placing our Solar System in context.

Orbiting around the L2 Lagrange point, 1.5 million km from Earth in the anti-sunward direction, EChO would provide high resolution, multi-wavelength spectroscopic observations. It would measure the atmospheric composition, temperature and albedo of a representative sample of known exoplanets, constrain models of their internal structure and improve our understanding of how planets form and evolve.

The Large Observatory For X-ray Timing (LOFT) is intended to answer fundamental questions about the motion of matter orbiting close to the event horizon of a black hole, and the state of matter in neutron stars, by detecting their very rapid X-ray flux and spectral variability.

LOFT would carry two instruments: a Large Area Detector with an effective area far larger than current spaceborne X-ray detectors, and a Wide Field Monitor that would monitor a large fraction of the sky. With its high spectral resolution, LOFT would revolutionise studies of collapsed objects in our Galaxy and of the brightest supermassive black holes in active galactic nuclei.

MarcoPolo-R is a mission to return a sample of material from a primitive near-Earth asteroid (NEA) for detailed analysis in ground-based laboratories.

The scientific data would help to answer key questions about the processes that occurred during planet formation and the evolution of the rocks which were the building blocks of terrestrial planets.

The mission would also reveal whether NEAs contain pre-solar material not yet found in meteorite samples, determine the nature and origin of the organic compounds they contain, and possibly shed light on the origin of molecules necessary for life.

The Space-Time Explorer and Quantum Equivalence Principle Space Test (STE-QUEST) is devoted to precise measurement of the effects of gravity on time and matter.

Its main objective would be to test the Principle of Equivalence, a fundamental assumption of Einstein's Theory of General Relativity. STE-QUEST would measure space-time curvature by comparing the tick rate of an atomic clock on the spacecraft with other clocks on the ground.

A second primary goal is a quantum test of the Universality of Free Fall - the theory that gravitational acceleration is universal, independent of the type of body.

The missions flown as part of ESA's Cosmic Vision 2015-2025 plan will tackle some of the major outstanding scientific questions about the Universe and our place in it:

+ What are the conditions for planet formation and the emergence of life?

+ How does the Solar System work?

+ What are the fundamental physical laws of the Universe?

+ How did the Universe originate and what is it made of?

There are currently three missions - Euclid, PLATO and Solar Orbiter - which are undergoing competitive assessment for selection as the first and second medium class missions under Cosmic Vision. The final selection for M1 and M2 will be made later this year, with launches expected in 2017-18.

Four Candidates Selected For ESA's Cosmic Vision

Candidates Selected For ESA's Cosmic Vision

Looking ahead to the next decade of scientific exploration, ESA selected Friday four candidates for a medium-class mission that will launch in the period 2020-22. The candidates cover very different areas of scientific research, ranging from investigations of black holes and general relativity to near-Earth asteroid sample return and studies of planets orbiting distant stars.

"There was huge interest in this flight opportunity from right across the scientific community," said Fabio Favata, Head of ESA's Science Planning and Community Coordination Office. "The competition for this launch opportunity is the strongest to date for the ESA Science Programme."

ESA issued a call to the scientific community on 29 July 2010, soliciting proposals for a third medium-class mission (M3) within the long-term science plan known as Cosmic Vision 2015-2025. A total of 47 proposals was submitted and then peer reviewed by the Advisory Structure to the Science Programme.

As a result of this review process, recommendations based on the scientific excellence of the missions were forwarded by the Space Science Advisory Committee to David Southwood, ESA's Director of Science and Robotic Exploration.

The Director has now selected four missions to undergo an initial Assessment Phase. Once this is completed, a further down-selection will be performed, leading to a decision on which mission will be finally implemented.

"This selection of medium-class mission candidates is a major milestone in the definition of ESA's future science programme," said Professor Southwood.

"All of the missions selected for the Assessment Phase promise exciting scientific breakthroughs and choosing the mission that will be implemented will be a difficult process."

The four proposals chosen to proceed for assessment are EChO, LOFT, MarcoPolo-R and STE-QUEST.

Four Candidates Selected For ESA's Cosmic Vision

NASA ISS Camera Club Meeting

Astronauts queue up for an opportunity to snap the NASA Shuttle Discovery's last docking manoeuvre with the ISS.

Looking at the camera is ESA Astronaut Paolo Nespoli and NASA Astronaut Cady Coleman.

Both astronauts are enthusiastic photographers and have posted an enormous amount of pictures on Flickr, allowing the world a glimpse of what it's like to be an astronaut in orbit around our beautiful world.

NASA Shuttle Discovery approaching ISS for docking

Discovery approaches ISS prior to docking

Saturday, February 26, 2011

NASA Shuttle Discovery docks with ISS - Last Shuttle ride out

The NASA Shuttle discovery docked with the ISS on schedule

View of Shuttle docking mechanism
View of ISS docking mechanism
ISS Commander beside the SHuttle docking hatch, measuring the gravity gradient. Waiting for forces to reach equilibrium before opening the hatch between the ISS and the Shuttle Discovery.

NASA ISS Video: Shuttle Discovery Inspection Maneuvre

Click on the picture to play the NASA video

Sotheby's To Auction Soviet Space Capsule

Sotheby's auction house announced on Thursday that it will auction a 1961 Soviet space capsule on April 12, the 50th anniversary of the first manned mission to space.

The Vostok 3KA-2 spacecraft is the twin of the Vostok 3KA-3, which carried Yuri Gagarin into space.

The 3KA-2 model lifted off 20 days before Gagarin's momentous flight carrying a cosmonaut mannequin (Ivan Ivanovich) and a live dog (Zvezdochka, or little star.)

The capsule, which was scorched during its re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere, went on display at the gallery of the auction house on Thursday. It is expected to sell for between $2 million and $10 million, the Associated Press reported.

The interior of the space ship, which contained 815 kg of instruments classed as "secret" until 1986, has been stripped for security reasons.

The owner of the capsule, who wished to remain anonymous, bought it privately from the Russians years ago and felt the 50th anniversary was an appropriate time to sell.

ESA ATV - Johannes Kepler: A perfect choreography

Johannes Kepler has reached today the International Space Station under the watchful eye of the large and devoted team that made it possible.

The complex challenge of operating ATV was not just technical: the mission succeeded thanks to the perfect choreography among dozens of companies and thousands of technicians and engineers across Europe.

They represent a highly skilled workforce ready to face the future of space transportation, and a great asset to the European aerospace industry.

Like the ATV-2 itself, they have showed to be flexible, tough, versatile, open to continuous improvements and extremely efficient.

I would like to thank all the people involved in this vital mission for their commitment, professionalism and hard work as part of an integrated team. This success belongs to you.

My sincere congratulations to all ESA teams involved all over the world in this endeavour. The list is long: from the ATV-2 Operations team in Toulouse (ATC-CC) and the various divisions in ESTEC to the trainers at the European Astronaut Centre (EAC); from the staff in Kourou, French Guiana, to the astronauts on the International Space Station, and especially to Paolo Nespoli.

This achievement is for the European Space Agency, and for the Human Spaceflight directorate in particular, a reason of pride and joy.

NASA ISS Astronaut Cady uses the syringe!

Astronaut Cady uses the syringe for calibrating the instrumentation of the Pulmonary Function System. She means business!

ISS Images: Opening the ATV-Johannes Kepler’s hatch

Friday, February 25, 2011

NASA STS-133 Mission - Shuttle Discovery Lift-off

Rising on twin columns of fire and creating rolling clouds of smoke and steam, space shuttle Discovery lifted off Launch Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on a picturesque, warm, late February afternoon.

Launch of the STS-133 mission was at 4:53 p.m. EST on Feb. 24.

Discovery and its six-member crew are on a mission to deliver the Permanent Multipurpose Module, packed with supplies and critical spare parts, as well as Robonaut 2, the dexterous humanoid astronaut helper, to the International Space Station. Discovery is making its 39th mission and is scheduled to be retired following STS-133. This is the 133rd Space Shuttle Program mission and the 35th shuttle voyage to the space station.

Image Credit: NASA

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Space Shuttle Discovery is Prepared for Launch

The space shuttle Discovery is seen shortly after the Rotating Service Structure was rolled back at launch pad 39A, at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, on Friday, Feb. 23, 2011.

Discovery, on its 39th and final flight, will carry the Italian-built Permanent Multipurpose Module (PMM), Express Logistics Carrier 4 (ELC4) and Robonaut 2, the first humanoid robot in space to the International Space Station.

Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

Boeing Invests in India Space Efforts

Boeing has offered to partner with India on manned space missions, including on the very significant "composite cryogenic tanks" for the launch and propulsion control of rockets.

The development is apparently a fallout of US President Barack Obama's visit here last November and the recent removal of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) from the so-called US Commerce Entities list which prohibited the transfer of dual use high technology to them.

According to Vivek Lall, Boeing's Defence, Space and Security vice president in India, the company had an established and leading role in US space missions, including in the space shuttle programme, and that with the experience built over decades, "we believe we can provide value-added assistance to India's space programme".

He told India Strategic defence magazine that Boeing had the necessary clearance to initiate discussions with India, "but how forward the two countries go would depend upon what India wants and the bilateral agreements between the two governments".

"At the moment, we have indicated the intent to cooperate. It is up to ISRO now to tell us what it wants, and we will do our best," Lal said, adding that he had recently called on ISRO chairman K. Radhakrishnan to make the offer.

Any specifics however would have to be cleared procedurally by the US government (Departments of State, Defence and Commerce), he said but pointed out: "We have submitted a formal request to the US Department of State to enable us to proceed down this path should our services be accepted. Our initial discussions focus on ISROs requirements for the future."

The soft-spoken US-educated Lall, who has successfully spearheaded the Boeing campaign for military aircraft and systems in India for the past few years, said that while the levels of technologies to be transferred from the US to India was between the two governments, Boeing was willing to share its expertise in "Launch Escape System (LES), Vehicle Health Monitoring System and Abort Triggers (VHMSAT), Life Support System, Crew Accommodations and other areas such as reusable space systems and composite cryogenic tanks".

Boeing Offers India Significant Space Cooperation

Supermassive Black Hole

Artist's concept of the environment around the supermassive black hole at the centre of Mrk 231.

The broad outflow seen in the Gemini data is shown as the fan-shaped wedge at the top of the accretion disk around the black hole.

This side-view is not what is seen from the Earth where we see it 'looking down the throat' of the outflow.

A similar outflow is probably present under the disk as well and is hinted at in this illustration.

The total amount of material entrained in the broad flow is at least 400 times the mass of the Sun per year.

Note that a more localised, narrower jet is shown, this jet was known prior to the Gemini discovery of the broader outflow featured here.

Credit:Gemini Observatory/AURA, artwork by Lynette Cook

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

NASA James Webb Telescope: 3D Portal

Click on the picture to go to the JWST 3D Portal

Apollo and Soyuz KV-2 Space Suits for Sale

More space history will go on sale in New York on May 5 when Bonhams will commemorate the 50th Anniversary of Alan Shepard's historic mission in Freedom 7 with a Space Sale.

Some early highlights of the sale include a Sokol K spacesuit worn by cosmonaut Alexei Leonov during the historic 1975 Apollo-Soyuz Project (the symbolic end to the Space Race) and a Sokol KV-2 spacesuit worn by Gennadi Strekalov during a 1990 mission to the Mir space station.

Can you tell which is which?

Lots are still being sought for the space history auction, but the two cosmonaut outfits will no doubt be amongst the stand-out items.

The historic Apollo-Soyuz Test Project was flown from July 15-19, 1975 was a sign of détente, the last Apollo mission, the first joint U.S./Soviet space flight, and the last manned US space mission until the first Space Shuttle flight in April 1981.

It set the tone for the of joint U.S.-Russian space flights such as the Shuttle-Mir Program and the International Space Station, and effectively ended the Space Race.

Cosmonaut Alexei Leonov was on his second space flight and the Commander of the Soyuz 19 Spacecraft. His Russian Sokol K spacesuit is estimated to fetch between US$100,000-150,000.

The Sokol KV-2 spacesuit used by cosmonaut Gennadi Strekalov on the Soyuz 10, flew in space from August 1 to December 10, 1990, during a mission to the Mir space station. It is expected to fetch between US$60,000-80,000.

The catalogue entry for the 1990 suit makes for interesting reading: "Sokol KV-2" pressure suit, white nylon canvas, royal blue trim. Attached pressurized hood, hinged plastic visor securing to blue-anodized aluminum clavicle flange. Sleeves with adjustable articulating cables in upper arm, webbed belt lashings. Pressure gauge on left sleeve, mirror affixed to right sleeve with elastic strap. Detachable gloves. V-shaped double-zip front closure, lace-up crotch covered by triangular Velco-affixed placket. Anodized aluminum umbilical interfaces on body for electrical, air and coolant supplies, with related cables and hoses. Anodized aluminum pressure equalization valve at center of chest. Support sling wrapping round chest and back, consisting of webbed belts and metal clips; adjustable webbed straps calibrated in metric attaching to metal rings on side-seams and at crotch. Pleated knees, cargo pocket on each thigh and each shin, integral boots with soles. Rubberized cloth lining. Patches of the Soviet standard on left sleeve and State Seal of the Soviet Union on right; Zvezda logo on chest, name label on chest-webbing.

Watch Out Virgin Galactic and Space Adventures Here Comes The Lynx

Mitchell J. Schultz, space tourism specialist and managing director of Xtraordinary Adventures, recently published several articles about the possiblities of a mishap in early private space flight.

He also issued a list of 1,000 of the most successful athletes, businesspeople, models, comedians, authors, movie, TV and music personalities that should become more aware now of taking a suborbital space flight.

"All these super personalities have a following and peers who will go wild when they hear that their STAR is going on a space trip," Schultz said. "With Dr Hsu's risk assessment of all vehicles and companies available for suborbital space flight, Xtraordinary Adventures can make this available for all who wish to know more.

Regardless of which vehicle they wish to fly in, this is their opportunity to be listed and forever recognized as one of the earliest civilian space pioneers."

Within the last five years, more than 500 worldwide adventures have already pre-registered for a suborbital space flight. SpaceShipTwo and Lynx are scheduled to be test flown this summer in Mojave, California.

Costs remain between $95,000 and $200,000 and all future participants must be qualified and pre-instructed on flight expectations.

It has been almost 50 years since man's first space flight, that of Yuri Gagarin on April 12, 1961, and with the success in 2004 of SpaceShipOne, several private space companies are vying capture of the major market for this once-in-a-lifetime adventure.

Due to the timeliness of expanded space travel opportunities, it is important to carefully assess both the risks and benefits this new experience offers. The challenge is here for those who dare to take it on. In the words of Dr. Wernher Von Braun, father of human space flight, "I reach for the stars."

Dr. Feng Hsu is a U.S. expert with several decades of experience in the field of Risk Analysis, Safety and Mission Assurance (SMA) assessment for complex engineering systems.

Formerly a staff research engineer at world renowned Brookhaven National Laboratory, Dr. Hsu has worked extensively on reliability, probabilistic risk assessment (PRA) and management theory and methodology research for nuclear reactor safety since the 1980s.

He became senior staff engineer/scientist and joined NASA's SAIC team in the Shuttle and Exploration Analysis Department at Johnson Space Center in Houston in 2000.

Watch Out Virgin Galactic and Space Adventures Here Comes The Lynx

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

2 Volcanos in Andes

The Milky Way

The centre of our Galaxy is a busy place. In visible light, much of the Galactic Center is obscured by opaque dust.

In infrared light, however, dust glows more and obscures less, allowing nearly one million stars to be recorded in the above image.

The Galactic Centre itself appears glowing on the lower left and is located about 30,000 light years away towards the constellation of Sagittarius.

The Galactic Plane of our Milky Way Galaxy, the plane in which the Sun orbits, is identifiable by the dark diagonal dust lane.

The absorbing dust grains are created in the atmospheres of cool red-giant stars and grow in molecular clouds.

The region directly surrounding the Galactic Centre glows brightly in radio and high-energy radiation. The Galactic Centre is thought to house a large black hole.

ESA Herschel: Finds less dark matter but more stars

ESA’s Herschel space observatory has discovered a population of dust-enshrouded galaxies that do not need as much dark matter as previously thought to collect gas and burst into star formation.

The galaxies are far away and each boasts some 300 billion times the mass of the Sun. The size challenges current theory that predicts a galaxy has to be more than ten times larger, 5000 billion solar masses, to be able form large numbers of stars.

The new result is published today in a paper by Alexandre Amblard, University of California, Irvine, and colleagues.

Most of the mass of any galaxy is expected to be dark matter, a hypothetical substance that has yet to be detected but which astronomers believe must exist to provide sufficient gravity to prevent galaxies ripping themselves apart as they rotate.

ESA Portal - Herschel finds less dark matter but more stars

ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano assigned to 2013 Space Station mission

ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano has been assigned to fly on the International Space Station from May to November 2013, serving as a flight engineer for Expeditions 36 and 37.

Recently qualified as a European astronaut, Luca will head into orbit aboard a Soyuz TMA spacecraft and will work on the Station for over six months.

This will be his first spaceflight and the fifth long-duration mission for an ESA astronaut.

NASA has announced the crewmembers to fly to the International Space Station (ISS) for Expeditions 36–39. Now part of a six-astronaut international ISS crew, Luca was selected as an ESA astronaut in 2009 and was proposed by the Italian space agency, ASI, for this mission. The flight opportunity has been provided by ASI in agreement with NASA.

Aged 34 and a Captain in the Italian Air Force, Luca Parmitano has logged more than 2000 hours of flying time, is qualified on more than 20 types of military aircraft and has flown over 40 aircraft types. He will be the fourth Italian citizen to fly to the Space Station.

Monday, February 21, 2011

A Bicycle that purifies Drinking Water

Bicycling is a great way to burn calories and get fit. But a new kind of bike may improve the health of entire communities in an entirely different way.

Nippon Basic, a start-up based in Japan, has plans to scale up production of a bicycle that purifies water for those living in remote villages or disaster areas.

Cycloclean functions just like any other bicycle, except that the addition of a water filtering system allows bikers to crank out drinking water using the same pedaling motion that propels bikers forward.

The rotation of the bike chain helps to remove impurities by driving a motor that pumps water through a system of filters, pumps and hoses located near the rear wheel. But just how much drinking water are we talking about here?

The company touts on their website that during the course of a 10 hour biking trip, the technology will generate about three tons of clean water, enough to quench the thirst of 1,500 people.

The modified bicycle also features puncture-proof tires and the capacity to suck up water at a depth of five meters.

Originally developed in 2005, the company has since sold 200 bikes to countries like for the Japanese equivalent of 6,600 dollars per unit.

Although the bikes are considerably more expensive than ordinary bicycles, company president Yuichi Katsuura says that the bikes can actually be a form of revenue for businesses that sell water and create new opportunities for the millions of rickshaw drivers in Bangladesh who stand to lose their jobs as the economy grows.

“You go to where water is, put your bicycle on a stand, drop a pump and peddle for clean water, which can then be sold elsewhere,” he told Agence France-Presse.

The company hopes to have 100-200 units available for purchase annually, with production slated to ramp up around April.

Photo: Nippon Basic

Spycam Attached to Peregrine Falcon, World’s Fastest Animal

Witness the speed and vectors of a diving peregrine falcon from the falcon’s view is mindblowing. And though it can get a little repetitive, it’s well worth sticking around until the end, when the bird flies through a forest.

NASA Cassini Solstice Mission: Thin Line, Broad Shadows

Saturn's rings appear as only a thin line seen edge-on in the middle of this Cassini view, but the rings cast broad shadows on the southern hemisphere of the planet in the lower left of the image.

This view looks toward the southern, unilluminated side of the rings from just below the ringplane.

The image was taken with the Cassini spacecraft wide-angle camera on Jan. 9, 2011 using a spectral filter sensitive to wavelengths of near-infrared light centered at 728 nanometers. The view was acquired at a distance of approximately 796,000 kilometers (494,000 miles) from Saturn and at a Sun-Saturn-spacecraft, or phase, angle of 147 degrees. Image scale is 44 kilometers (27 miles) per pixel.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Cassini orbiter and its two onboard cameras were designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The imaging team is based at the Space Science Institute, Boulder, Colo.

For more information about the Cassini-Huygens mission visit or . The Cassini imaging team homepage is at .

Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

Sunday, February 20, 2011

NASA ALI Image: Sea Ice Surrounds Shikotan

Ostrov Shikotan (or Shikotan-to) is a volcanic island at the southern end of the Kuril chain. At about 43 degrees North—more than halfway to the Equator—Shikotan lies along the extreme southern edge of winter sea ice in the Northern Hemisphere.

The Advanced Land Imager (ALI) on NASA’s Earth Observing-1 (EO-1) satellite captured this natural-color image of Shikotan on February 14, 2011. The island is surrounded by sea ice—swirling shapes of ghostly blue-gray. Although sea ice often forms around Shikotan, the extent varies widely from year to year, and even day to day.

The ice in this image may have formed in a matter of several days, and it is prone to moving with currents. North of the western end of Shikotan, eddies have shaped the ice into rough circles. The eddies may result from opposing winds—winds from the north pushing the ice southward, and winds from the southwest pushing the ice toward the northeast.

Uneven snow cover exaggerates the island’s rugged appearance. Multiple forces have shaped Shikotan over millions of years. Geologic studies indicate that it has been battered by multiple tsunamis, although wind, rain, and tectonic forces likely play a greater role in shaping the surface. Part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, the island is seismically active.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

NASA WISE Image: Lagoon Nebula in Centre of Action

This colourful picture is a mosaic of the Lagoon nebula taken by NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE.

Normally, you would expect a lagoon to be filled with water, but this nebula is composed of clouds of gas and dust in which new stars are forming.

Also known as Messier 8, or simply M8, the Lagoon nebula is seen here as a large circular cloud in the centre of the image, surrounded by innumerable stars.

This view is looking toward the centre of the Milky Way, which is our home galaxy. Our solar system is located on one of the spiral arms, about halfway out from the centre of the disk-shaped Milky Way galaxy.

When we view the Milky Way from Earth, we are looking into the disk of the galaxy where stars are so numerous that they appear to us as a cloudy band of light stretching across the sky.

The centre of the Milky Way is located in the constellation Sagittarius, which is where the Lagoon nebula can be found. M8 is a favourite target for amateur astronomers because it can be easily seen with binoculars or a small telescope.

Astronomers have identified several different parts of the Lagoon nebula, including M8E, a young stellar object, and the star clusters NGC 6523 and NGC 6530 (sometimes the designation of NGC 6523 is used interchangeably with M8).

At the centre of the Lagoon nebula is the star Herschel 36. Distance measurements to this nebula vary widely, from 4,000 to 6,500 light-years away from Earth. Also included in this image but not classified as part of M8, is another cloud of warm dust and gas, located up and to the right of M8. This cloud is emitting infrared radiation.

All four of WISE's infrared detectors were used to take this image. The colours used represent specific wavelengths of infrared radiation. Blue and blue-green (cyan) represent 3.4- and 4.6-micron light, respectively. These wavelengths are mainly emitted by hot stars within the Milky Way.

Green represents 12-micron light, which is emitted by the warm gas of the nebulae. Red represents the longest-wavelenth, 22-micron light emitted by cooler dust within the nebulae.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA

Kepler. A Search for Habitable Planets.

Kepler. A Search for Habitable Planets.

JAXA: Sending Twitter Humanoid Bot to ISS 2013

Robonaut2 NASA
When the humanoid Robonaut takes off for the ISS next week aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery, his days as the sole humanoid in orbit may already be numbered. JAXA, the Japanese space agency, has announced that it plans to send its own humanoid ‘bot to the ISS in 2013.

In proper Japanese style, their robot won’t just be aimed at maintenance tasks and other menial jobs; JAXA envisions their humanoid being a companion to the astronauts aboard the ISS, conversing with them, watching over the mission while the flesh-and-blood astronauts sleep, and helping them remain healthy.

It will also phone home via Twitter, and not in the slightly puppetlike way that R-2 does. NASA’s Robonaut tweets, but it generally just regurgitates messages given to it by NASA spokespeople. JAXA wants its robot to carry on an original and genuine dialog with its adoring fans back on Earth.

JAXA also envisions its robot being more human-like than R-2. Its ‘bot will be part of a larger effort in Japan to create robots capable of assisting that country’s aging population. As such, JAXA wants it to exhibit facial expressions, communicate effectively, and otherwise become a friend and colleague to the astronauts aboard the ISS.

Cue the comparisons to HAL 9000, or even Kevin Spacey’s smiley moon base ‘bot in Moon. But given the hostile environment that begins not so very far above our heads, having robots that can do some of the heavy lifting in space is more or less key to expanding our presence in orbit and beyond. If robots are smart enough to beat us at Jeopardy, there’s really no reason they shouldn’t be helping us conduct our scientific missions in space.

Friday, February 18, 2011

NASA - Send a Birthday Greeting to Scott Kelly

NASA - Send a Birthday Greeting to Scott Kelly

ESA Earth from Space: Italy 'The Boot'

The diverse and picturesque contours of southern Italy, known for its boot-like shape, take centre stage in this Envisat image, acquired on 25 January 2011.

This part of the Italian Peninsula is surrounded by the Tyrhennian (centre left), Ionian (bottom right) and Adriatic (top) Seas.

The light green colour of the water along the Adriatic is caused by sediments being carried into the sea by rivers and then being distributed along the coast by currents. Stretching the entire length of the peninsula, the Apennine Mountains are visible under a dusting of snow.

Mount Vesuvius is visible as a white circle inland from the Bay of Naples on the west coast, and the larger Mount Etna is visible in Sicily.

Credits: ESA

NASA Hubble Image: Spiral Galaxy NGC 2841

NASA's Hubble Space Telescope reveals a majestic disk of stars and dust lanes in this view of the spiral galaxy NGC 2841.

A bright cusp of starlight marks the galaxy's center. Spiraling outward are dust lanes that are silhouetted against the population of whitish middle-aged stars. Much younger blue stars trace the spiral arms.

Notably missing are pinkish emission nebulae indicative of new star birth. It is likely that the radiation and supersonic winds from fiery, super-hot, young blue stars cleared out the remaining gas (which glows pink), and hence shut down further star formation in the regions in which they were born. NGC 2841 currently has a relatively low star formation rate compared to other spirals that are ablaze with emission nebulae.

NGC 2841 lies 46 million light-years away in the constellation of Ursa Major (The Great Bear). This image was taken in 2010 through four different filters on Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3. Wavelengths range from ultraviolet light through visible light to near-infrared light.

There's Metal In Moon Water

Bring a filter if you plan on drinking water from the moon.

Water ice recently discovered in dust at the bottom of a crater near the moon's south pole is accompanied by metallic elements like mercury, magnesium, calcium, and even a bit of silver.

Now you can add sodium to the mix, according to Dr. Rosemary Killen of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

Recent discoveries of significant deposits of water on the moon were surprising because our moon has had a tough life.

Intense asteroid bombardments in its youth, coupled with its weak gravity and the Sun's powerful radiation, have left the moon with almost no atmosphere. This rendered the lunar surface barren and dry, compared to Earth.

However, due to the moon's orientation to the Sun, scientists theorized that deep craters at the lunar poles would be in permanent shadow and thus extremely cold, and able to trap volatile material like water as ice if such material were somehow transported there, perhaps by comet impacts or chemical reactions with hydrogen, a major component of the solar wind.

The October 9, 2009 impact of NASA's Lunar CRater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) spacecraft into the permanently shadowed region of the Cabeus crater confirmed that a surprisingly large amount of water ice exists in this region, along with small amounts of many other elements, including metallic ones.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

NASA SDO Image: Solar Flares in UV

A pair of active regions on the Sun put on quite a show over a three-day period (February 7-10, 2011), as seen in extreme ultraviolet light from the Solar Dynamic Observatory (SDO) spacecraft.

The magnetic field lines above the regions produced fluttering arcs waving above them as well as a couple of flares.

Another pair of smaller active regions emerges and trails behind the larger ones.

Picture: NASA/SDO

ESA ATV-2 Launch as seen from ISS

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

ESA Mission Director Kris Capelle on ATV launch

NASA MARS Image: Blue Rabe crater on Mars

This image shows part of the floor of Rabe Crater, a large impact crater in Mars' southern highlands.

Dark dunes--accumulations of wind blown sand--cover part of crater's floor, and contrast with the surrounding bright-colored outcrops.

The extreme close-up view reveals a thumbprint-like texture of smaller ridges and troughs covering the surfaces of the larger dunes.

These smaller ripples are also formed and shaped by blowing wind in the thin atmosphere of Mars.

One puzzling question is why the dunes are dark compared with the relative bright layered material contained within the crater. The probable answer is that the source of the dark sand is not local to this crater; rather, this topographic depression has acted as a sand trap.

This image was originally released Oct. 24, 2007.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

NASA Aqua Image: Extreme Snow in Korea

This image taken from NASA's Aqua satellite shows heavy snowfall all along the eastern side of the Korean Peninsula. Parts of Gangwon province have also been hit by the heaviest snowfalls since record-keeping began a century ago.

Picture: AFP / NASA

Glacier Bleeding

What looks like blood gushes from a glacier in the McMurdo Dry Valleys in Antarctica. The five-storey, red waterfall known as the Blood Falls got its name after explorer and geologist Griffith Taylor stumbled across it in 1911 and thought it resembled blood pouring from a wound.  Scientists have found that the natural phenomenon occurs when iron oxide, trapped deep beneath the glacier in a hidden lake, reacts with living microbes in the water.
What looks like blood gushes from a glacier in the McMurdo Dry Valleys in Antarctica.

The five-storey, red waterfall known as the Blood Falls got its name after explorer and geologist Griffith Taylor stumbled across it in 1911 and thought it resembled blood pouring from a wound. Scientists have found that the natural phenomenon occurs when iron oxide, trapped deep beneath the glacier in a hidden lake, reacts with microbes in the water.


ESO Image Mirror Nebula: Reflected Glory

The nebula Messier 78 takes centre stage in this image taken with the Wide Field Imager on the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at the La Silla Observatory in Chile, while the stars powering the bright display take a backseat. 

The brilliant starlight ricochets off dust particles in the nebula, illuminating it with scattered blue light. Igor Chekalin was the overall winner of ESO’s Hidden Treasures 2010 astrophotography competition with his image of this stunning object.

Messier 78 is a fine example of a reflection nebula. The ultraviolet radiation from the stars that illuminate it is not intense enough to ionise the gas to make it glow — its dust particles simply reflect the starlight that falls on them. Despite this, Messier 78 can easily be observed with a small telescope, being one of the brightest reflection nebulae in the sky. It lies about 1350 light-years away in the constellation of Orion (The Hunter) and can be found northeast of the easternmost star of Orion’s belt.

This new image of Messier 78 from the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at the La Silla Observatory is based on data selected by Igor Chekalin in his winning entry to the Hidden Treasures competition [1].

The pale blue tint seen in the nebula in this picture is an accurate representation of its dominant colour. Blue hues are commonly seen in reflection nebulae because of the way the starlight is scattered by the tiny dust particles that they contain: the shorter wavelength of blue light is scattered more efficiently than the longer wavelength red light.

This image contains many other striking features apart from the glowing nebula. A thick band of obscuring dust stretches across the image from the upper left to the lower right, blocking the light from background stars.

In the bottom right corner, many curious pink structures are also visible, which are created by jets of material being ejected from stars that have recently formed and are still buried deep in dust clouds.

ESO - eso1105 - Reflected Glory

Thick Stellar Disk Isolated in Andromeda

A team of astronomers from the UK, the US and Europe have identified a thick stellar disk in the nearby Andromeda galaxy for the first time.

The discovery and properties of the thick disk will constrain the dominant physical processes involved in the formation and evolution of large spiral galaxies like our own Milky Way.

By analysing precise measurements of the velocities of individual bright stars within the Andromeda galaxy using the Keck telescope in Hawaii, the team have managed to separate out stars tracing out a thick disk from those comprising the thin disc, and assess how they differ in height, width and chemistry.

Spiral structure dominates the morphology of large galaxies at the present time, with roughly 70% of all stars contained in a flat stellar disc.

The disk structure contains the spiral arms traced by regions of active star formation, and surrounds a central bulge of old stars at the core of the galaxy.

“From observations of our own Milky Way and other nearby spirals, we know that these galaxies typically possess two stellar disks, both a ‘thin’ and a ‘thick’ disc,” explains the leader of the study, Michelle Collins, a PhD student at Cambridge’s Institute of Astronomy.

The thick disk consists of older stars whose orbits take them along a path that extends both above and below the more regular thin disk.

“The classical thin stellar discs that we typically see in Hubble imaging result from the accretion of gas towards the end of a galaxy’s formation, whereas thick discs are produced in a much earlier phase of the galaxy’s life, making them ideal tracers of the processes involved in galactic evolution.”

Currently, the formation process of the thick disc is not well understood. Previously, the best hope for comprehending this structure was by studying the thick disc of our own Galaxy, but much of this is obscured from our view.

The discovery of a similar thick disk in Andromeda presents a much cleaner view of spiral structure. Andromeda is our nearest large spiral neighbour, close enough to be visible to the unaided eye, and can be seen in its entirety from the Milky Way.

Astronomers will be able to determine the properties of the disk across the full extent of the galaxy and look for signatures of the events connected to its formation. It requires a huge amount of energy to stir up a galaxy’s stars to form a thick disk component, and theoretical models proposed include accretion of smaller satellite galaxies, or more subtle and continuous heating of stars within the galaxy by spiral arms.

Thick Stellar Disk Isolated in Andromeda

ESA Ariane 5 with the Automated Transfer Vehicle Is Postponed

Ariane 5 mission with Europe's second Automated Transfer Vehicle has been postponed following a hold during the final countdown at the Spaceport in French Guiana.

A "red" indication for the launch site stopped the countdown at just prior to 4 minutes before the scheduled liftoff.

Arianespace Chairman and CEO Jean-Yves Le Gall said that according to initial indications, there was erroneous data concerning the launcher's fueling, which resulted in the hold.

As this mission has a precise launch slot, the hold forced tonight's postponement.

Another attempt will likely be made on Wednesday, Arianespace Chairman Jean-Yves Le Gall said from the launch site in Kourou, French Guiana via an Internet videocast immediately after the aborted lift-off.

"There's a 90-percent chance we'll try again tomorrow," Le Gall later told journalists.

The mission was halted when a red warning light indicated a problem the fueling system.

Designed to supply mankind's nearly 400-tonne outpost in orbit, the Johannes Kepler - the largest payload ever taken aloft by the ESA - will bring water, air, food, spare parts and experimental hardware to the ISS.

If successful, the launch will be the 200th in the European space programme.

NASA JPL - Comet Tempel-1 Image Gallery

This image obtained by NASA's Stardust spacecraft shows a side of the nucleus of comet Tempel 1 that has never been seen before.

In the image, three terraces of different elevations are visible, with dark, banded scarps, or slopes, separating them.

The widest of the banded slopes is about 2 kilometers (1 mile). The lowest terrace has two circular features that are about 150 meters (500 feet) in diameter.

This image was taken on February 14, 2011, at 8:39:21 p.m. PST. The spatial resolution is about 15 meters (50 feet) per pixel.

NASA's Deep Impact spacecraft visited this same comet in July 2005 and also observed the presence of layers on the other side of the comet.

This image shows at least 90 percent new territory.

Stardust-NExT is a low-cost mission that will expand the investigation of comet Tempel 1 initiated by NASA's Deep Impact spacecraft. JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages Stardust-NExT for the NASA Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C. Joe Veverka of Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., is the mission's principal investigator. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, built the spacecraft and manages day-to-day mission operations.

For more information about Stardust-NExT, please visit .

ESA Cupola and an Astronaut's view from space: “It’s amazing!”

Paolo Nespoli, ESA’s astronaut working and living on the Space Station, is sharing his experience with the world via a constant flow of beautiful photos and tweets. Let’s hear from Paolo what he thinks about the photos, Twitter and being in space.

Paolo has been in space now for almost two months on his MagISStra mission, with a hectic schedule of working on experiments, doing International Space Station (ISS) housekeeping and maintenance, supporting the docking of two cargo craft and conducting robotic work, as well as daily training. But he has still found time to tweet from space.

ESA Astronaut Paolo Nespoli at the ISS food warmer!

ESA Astronaut Paolo Nespoli using the ISS Food Warmer, in the ISS 'kitchen'

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Johannes Kepler | Follow ESA's Automated Transfer Vehicle on its mission to the ISS

Johannes Kepler | Follow ESA's Automated Transfer Vehicle on its mission to the ISS

NASA JPL Image: Comet Tempel 1

Comet Tempel 1 as Seen by NASA

NASA's Stardust-NExT mission took this image of comet Tempel 1 at 8:38 p.m. PST (11:38 p.m. EST) on Feb 14, 2011, from a distance of approximately 946.05 trillion kilometers (587.85 trillion miles). 

The comet was first visited by NASA's Deep Impact mission in 2005. Stardust-NExT is a low-cost mission that will expand the investigation of comet Tempel 1 initiated by NASA's Deep Impact spacecraft. JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages Stardust-NExT for the NASA Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C. 

Joe Veverka of Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., is the mission's principal investigator. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, built the spacecraft and manages day-to-day mission operations. For more information about Stardust-NExT, please visit

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell

NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory California Institute of Technology

First Image tempel 1 - NASA JPL Live, Ustream.TV: Feb. 14, 2011 DATE WITH A COMET

Click on this link to visit JPL image site

NASA JPL Live, Ustream.TV: Feb. 14, 2011 DATE WITH A COMET Watch live commentary from mission control at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory as the Stardus...

Monday, February 14, 2011

ESA Ariane 5 - 'Johannes Kepler' space freighter ready for launch

Europe's unmanned space freighter is on the launch pad in French Guiana, ready to begin its voyage into orbit.

At more than 20 tonnes, the truck will be the heaviest payload an Ariane 5 rocket has ever lifted into the sky.

The robotic ship, dubbed Johannes Kepler, will be delivering food, air, fuel, experiments and other equipment to the International Space Station.

Another key task for the freighter in the coming months will be to push the station to a higher altitude.

The ISS has a tendency to lose height over time as it brushes through the residual atmosphere still present 350km above the Earth.

Johannes Kepler will dock with the rear of the platform and use its propulsive might to boost the station's orbit.

Lift-off for the freighter and its carrier Ariane from the Kourou spaceport is timed for 1913 local time (2213 GMT) on Tuesday.

The launch is doubly significant because it marks also the 200th mission of an Ariane rocket since the vehicle series was introduced in 1979.

"Kepler's mass at lift off will be 20,062kg. This is a record for the launcher and for the European Space Agency (Esa)," said Nico Dettmann, who runs the freighter programme at Esa.

"The integration and launch campaign have been very smooth, but still we have to be thorough and careful," he told BBC News.

An artist's impression of ATV2 Johannes Kepler flying over France

Kepler is due to make a docking with the orbiting platform next Wednesday.