Monday, December 31, 2012

NASA ISS IV-TEPC Instrument: Tissue-equivalent proportional counter

The Tissue Equivalent Proportional Counter (TEPC), in situ on the ISS, consists of a spectrometer and cylindrical detector with which to measure external radiation doses.

The purpose of the TEPC is to collect a record of the International Space Station (ISS) environment to construct exposure history records for the crew.

Credit: NASA, JPL

The Tissue Equivalent Proportional Counter (TEPC) is a gas proportional counter used to characterize the radiation environment.

TEPC will also provide near real-time measurements to ground personnel during radiation events and make survey measurements in different parts of the ISS for shield verifications.

TEPC collects data as a function of time to measure the dose and estimate the dose equivalent by making spectral measurements of the lineal energy loss of the radiation as it passes through the detector volume.

The omni-directional detector is surrounded by a tissue equivalent plastic and the internal gas (propane) provides an energy deposition response similar to human tissue. The detector gas is at a very low pressure such that the mass of the gas is approximately that of a cell.

The 512 channel spectrometer stores the lineal energy data in energy bins ranging from approximately 25 keV/micron through channels exceeding 1000 keV/micron. The crew is able to read the current level through an electronic display and has the capability to telemeter data to the ground every 10 seconds.

TEPC is a portable piece of equipment, integrated with numerous ports in various modules to support the survey function of the equipment.

TEPC is an automatic micro-dosimetry system. Each TEPC consists of two main components, the spectrometer unit and the detector unit.

The spectrometer unit contains a powerful computer that allows real-time analysis of the data and provides calculations of total dose, total dose equivalent and incremental dose, as a function of linear energy transfer (LET) and time, for penetrating radiation in space.

The detector unit is attached directly to the multi-channel analyzer (MCA) card in the spectrometer.

Different size detectors can be attached to the TEPC depending on the desired task.

The radiation data that is measured can be stored inside the spectrometer unit for later analysis or communicated via RS-232 to a host computer.

The TEPC is calibrated in terms of lineal energy, by exposing it to fission neutrons and 137Cesium sources.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

NASA Chandra Image: Spiral galaxy NGC 3627

The spiral galaxy NGC 3627 is located about 30 million light years from Earth. 

This composite image includes X-ray data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory (blue), infrared data from the Spitzer Space Telescope (red), and optical data from the Hubble Space Telescope and ESA's ESO Very Large Telescope (yellow).

Credits: NASA/CXC/Ohio State Univ./C.Grier et al.; Optical: NASA/STScI, ESO/WFI; Infrared: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The inset shows the central region, which contains a bright X-ray source that is likely powered by material falling onto a supermassive black hole.

A search using archival data from previous Chandra observations of a sample of 62 nearby galaxies has shown that 37 of the galaxies, including NGC 3627, contain X-ray sources in their centers.

Most of these sources are likely powered by central supermassive black holes. The survey, which also used data from the Spitzer Infrared Nearby Galaxy Survey, found that seven of the 37 sources are new supermassive black hole candidates.

Confirming previous Chandra results, this study finds the fraction of galaxies found to be hosting supermassive black holes is much higher than found with optical searches.

This shows the ability of X-ray observations to find black holes in galaxies where relatively low-level black hole activity has either been hidden by obscuring material or washed out by the bright optical light of the galaxy.

ESA ISS Cupola: A view of the ISS from inside

Looking through one of the unshuttered windows of the ESA Cupola at the solar arrays and the Earth below.

Credit: ESA, NASA

Friday, December 28, 2012

China Launches their own GPS satellites with Military Capability

China has launched commercial and public services across the Asia-Pacific region on its domestic satellite navigation network built to rival and negate their dependency on the US global positioning system (GPS).

The Beidou, or compass, system started providing services to civilians in the region on Thursday and is expected to provide global coverage by 2020, state media reported.

Ran Chengqi, spokesman for the China Satellite Navigation Office said the system's performance was "comparable" to GPS, the China Daily reported.

"Signals from Beidou can be received in countries such as Australia," he said. It is the latest accomplishment in space technology for China, which aims to build a space station by the end of the decade and eventually send a manned mission to the moon.

China sees the multi-billion-dollar programme as a symbol of its rising global stature, growing technical expertise and a further step on their expansion plans towards global domination.

The Beidou system comprises 16 navigation satellites and four experimental satellites, the paper said. Ran added that the system would ultimately provide global navigation, positioning and timing services.

The start of commercial services comes a year after Beidou began a limited positioning service for China and adjacent areas.

Scotland's Clyde Space: Preparing for Soyuz-2 Launch, Baikonur

Scotland's first satellite will be launched from a Russian Soyuz-2 rocket in March 2013. UKube-1, built by Clyde Space in Glasgow, is now completing final testing at the company's headquarters before making the journey to the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan for the launch.

Confirming that agreement had been reached for the Russian rocket to carry UKube- 1, Clyde Space CEO Craig Clark, said: "UKube-1 aims to be the first of many nanosatellites produced at Clyde Space, and is a fantastic mission for us to demonstrate our capabilities as a spacecraft mission lead.

"I'm proud of the team here at Clyde Space in achieving such a critical milestone in the mission."

The UKube-1 nanosatellite has been designed and manufactured by Clyde Space at their high-tech facility on the West of Scotland Science Park in Glasgow.

The nanosatellite is one of the most advanced of its kind, the complexity of the spacecraft highlighted by the nature of the 6 independent, advanced payloads being flown by the mission.

NBThe UK Space agency has renamed the Clyde Space CubeSat product to make it sound politically more nationalistic and collaborative.

The satellite is one of the most advanced of its kind and the mission is the pilot for a collaborative, national CubeSat programme bringing together UK industry and academia to fly educational packages, test new technologies and carry out new space research quickly and efficiently.

Payloads in UKube-1 include the first GPS device aimed at measuring plasmaspheric space weather, a camera that will take images of the Earth and test the effect of radiation on space hardware using a new generation of imaging sensor and an experiment to demonstrate the feasibility of using cosmic radiation to improve the security of communications satellites and to flight test lower cost electronic systems.

In line with the Scottish philosophy of education, enlightenment and their historical technical heritage, the company has engaged with students, colleges and universities to involve them in the design of future payloads.

Therefore, the Clyde Space CubeSat (UKube-1) will also carry a payload made up of five experiments that UK students and the public can interact with and an outreach programme that also allows school children to interact with the spacecraft.

Scientists: Evidence for Speed of Gravity

Scientists have found evidence supporting the hypothesis that gravity travels at the speed of light based on data gleaned from observing Earth tides.

Scientists have been trying to measure the speed of gravity for years through experiments and observations, but few have found valid methods.

By conducting six observations of total and annular solar eclipses, as well as Earth tides, a team headed by Tang Keyun, a researcher with the Institute of Geology and Geophysics under the CAS, found that the Newtonian Earth tide formula includes a factor related to the propagation of gravity.

"Earth tide" refers to a small change in the Earth's surface caused by the gravity of the moon and sun.

Based on the data, the team, with the participation of the China Earthquake Administration (CEA) and the University of the CAS (UCAS), found that gravitational force released from the sun and gravitational force recorded at ground stations on Earth did not travel at the same speed, with the time difference exactly the same as the time it takes for light to travel from the sun to observation stations on Earth.

The scientists admitted that the observation stations are located near oceans, indicating that the influence of ocean tides might have been strong enough to interfere with the results.

Consequently, the team conducted separate observations of Earth tides from two stations in Free Tibet and China's Xinjiang, two inland regions that are far away from all four oceans, as well as took measures to filter out other potential disturbances.

By applying the new data to the propagation equation of gravity, the team found that the speed of gravity is about 0.93 to 1.05 times the speed of light with a relative error of about 5 percent, providing the first set of strong evidence showing that gravity travels at the speed of light.

Their findings have been published online in English by German science and technology publishing group Springer.

Antarctic: Ice Sheet warming Faster

The West Antarctic Ice Sheet, whose melt may be responsible for 10 percent of the sea-level rise caused by climate change, is warming twice as quickly as previously thought, a recent study shows.

A re-analysis of temperature records from 1958 to 2010 revealed an increase of 2.4 degrees Celsius (36.3 degrees Fahrenheit) over the period -- three times the average global rise.

The increase was nearly double what previous research had suggested, and meant this was one of the fastest-warming regions on Earth, according to paper co-author David Bromwich of the Byrd Polar Research Center.

"Our record suggests that continued summer warming in West Antarctica could upset the surface balance of the ice sheet, so that the region could make an even bigger contribution to sea-level rise than it already does," he said.

Scientists believe the shrinking of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is responsible for about 10 percent of global warming-related sea-level rise, which if unchecked threatens to flood many coastal cities within a few generations.

The sheet, a huge mass of ice up to four kilometres (2.5 miles) thick that covers the land surface and stretches into the sea, is melting faster than any other part of Antarctica.

Energia Complete tech Design of Lunar Spacecraft - Soyuz TMA-16

Russian space company Energia has completed the technical design of the TMA-16, a manned spacecraft whose flight tests would be initiated in 2017, company officials say.

"We have completed the technical design project taking into account the fact that the new spaceship is to fly to the moon, among other places," Energia President Vitaly Lopota said Wednesday.

"If we get normal financing, we will start flight tests of the spaceship in 2017," he said.

Energia was awarded the spaceship design contract in April 2009, RIA Novosti reported.

Federal space agency Roscosmos head Vladimir Popovkin has said the new spaceship is intended to fly not only to the International Space Station but also to the moon.

A number of configurations of the spacecraft have been developed depending on mission requirements and whether a mission is to a terrestrial or lunar orbit, Energia said.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

CSA astronaut Chris Hadfield strums his guitar

Canadian Space Agency astronaut Chris Hadfield strums his guitar in the International Space Station's Cupola on Dec. 25, 2012.

Hadfield, a long-time member of an astronaut band called Max Q, later joined with the other five Expedition 34 crew members in a more spacious location to provide an assortment of Christmas carols for the public.

Whilst on the ISS, Cmdr. Hadfield finished off his own songwriting creation "Jewel in the night!"

Credit: Nasa

Xmas decorations in the ISS Soviet Module

Ornaments adorn the Russian segment of the International Space Station in preparation for Christmas.

Credit: Nasa

The Christmas Tune, Written By An Astronaut and Recorded in the ISS

Commander Chris Hadfield controls the Canadarm from the Space Shuttle Atlantic.

Photo: Col. Chris Hadfield

Commander Chris Hadfield, a Canadian astronaut, arrived at the International Space Station on December 19 for a planned five month stint aboard the orbiting platform.

The trip is Hadfield’s third and longest jaunt into space, and as a way to kill some downtime, says the Canadian Space Agency, Hadfield—an accomplished musician—has plans to record himself strumming and singing away.

The first fruits of that labour are now ready, says Rebecca Rosen, marking “the first original song written for and performed on the International Space Station."

Christmas may be over, but Hadfield’s first performance, an original song released on December 24 and dubbed “Jewel in the Night,” could be a good way to hold on the season’s spirit a little longer.

“Listen closely,” says Nancy Atkinson, “and you can hear the slight buzz of the [international space] station’s fans in the background.”

The song was not the first to ever be recorded in space, says Rosen, but rather the first to be written specifically for a zero-gravity performance.

NASA Evolutionary Xenon Thruster (NEXT) Project sets new record

While the Dawn spacecraft is visiting the asteroids Vesta and Ceres, NASA Glenn has been developing the next generation of ion thrusters for future missions.

NASA's Evolutionary Xenon Thruster (NEXT) Project has developed a 7-kilowatt ion thruster that can provide the capabilities needed in the future.
Schematic of a Hall effect thruster electric propulsion device
An ion thruster produces small levels of thrust relative to chemical thrusters, but does so at higher specific impulse (or higher exhaust velocities), which means that an ion thruster has a fuel efficiency of 10-12 times greater than a chemical thruster.

The higher the rocket's specific impulse (fuel efficiency), the farther the spacecraft can go with a given amount of fuel.

Given that an ion thruster produces small levels of thrust relative to chemical thrusters, it needs to operate in excess of 10,000 hours to slowly accelerate the spacecraft to speeds necessary to reach the asteroid belt or beyond.

Diagram of how a gridded electrostatic ion engine (Kaufman type)
The NEXT ion thruster has been operated for over 43,000 hours, which for rocket scientists means that the thruster has processed over 770 kilograms of xenon propellant and can provide 30 million-newton-seconds of total impulse to the spacecraft.

This demonstrated performance permits future science spacecraft to travel to varied destinations, such as extended tours of multi-asteroids, comets, and outer planets and their moons.

Image Credit: NASA

NASA Mars Rover Curiosity: Self portrait at Rocknest

On the 84th and 85th Martian days of the NASA Mars rover Curiosity's mission on Mars (Oct. 31 and Nov. 1, 2012), NASA's Curiosity rover used the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) to capture dozens of high-resolution images to be combined into self-portrait images of the rover.

The mosaic shows the rover at "Rocknest," the spot in Gale Crater where the mission's first scoop sampling took place. 

Four scoop scars can be seen in the regolith in front of the rover. A fifth scoop was collected later.

Self-portraits like this one document the state of the rover and allow mission engineers to track changes over time, such as dust accumulation and wheel wear. 

Due to its location on the end of the robotic arm, only MAHLI (among the rover's 17 cameras) is able to image some parts of the craft, including the port-side wheels.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

NASA Mars Curiosity Rover: Next Destination - Grandma's House

Credit: Nasa

Machias Seal Island: Identity Crisis!

Machias Seal Island lies between the coast of Maine and Grand Manan Island, New Brunswick.

Photo: Google Earth

Ten miles off the coast of Maine, Machias Seal Island is one of the last holdouts of the centuries-long process of ironing out the U.S.–Canadian border.

A 17th century British land grant underpins the Canadian land claim, arguing the island was a part of the province of Nova Scotia.

The establishment of a lighthouse on the island in 1832 by the British serves as the supposed final stake in the Canadian perspective on the debate, says Stephen R. Kelley, the former U.S. ambassador to Canada.

From the American perspective, however, the 1783 Treaty of Paris (the document that ended the Revolutionary War between the British and the U.S.) gives the island to America.

Though the island’s home country has never been resolved, the two countries don’t seem to be particularly miffed by the discrepancy.

Kelley thinks he knows why: there’s nothing really valuable to drive the contention. While abundant legal arguments surround Machias Seal Island, natural resources are far less evident.

"No oil or natural gas has been discovered in the area, nor has it had any strategic significance since it served as a lookout for German U-boats during World War I."

Lighthouse Keeper
Even the lighthouse’s keeper isn’t too bothered either:

For Ralph Eldridge, a Canadian who has been a lightkeeper on the island for the last 16 years, the question of who owns Machias Seal Island is a “non-issue,” something that is never a question from the visitors who travel to the island each summer.

Eldridge says he doesn’t have to produce his passport to go there. “But neither does someone from the United States or China or Japan or Spain have to when they come to the island,” he said.

NOAA GOES Satellite Image: Storm front

A storm front is pictured over the east coast of the United States in this NASA satellite image. 


Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Antartica BLAST sub-millimeter Telescope: Balloon-mounted

NASA's balloon-carried BLAST sub-millimeter telescope is hoisted into launch position on Dec. 25, 2012, at McMurdo Station in Antarctica on a mission to peer into the cosmos.

CREDIT: NASA/Wallops Flight Facility

A giant helium balloon is slowly drifting above Antarctica, about 22 miles (36 kilometers) up.

Launched on Tuesday (Dec. 25) from the National Science Foundation's Long Duration Balloon (LDB) facility on Earth's southernmost continent, it carries a sensitive telescope that measures sub-millimeter light waves from stellar nurseries in our Milky Way.

"Christmas launch!" wrote officials with NASA's Wallops Flight Facility, which oversees the agency's balloon research program, in a Twitter post yesterday. "BLAST launched today from McMurdo Station, Antarctica."

This is the fifth and final mission for BLAST, short for the Balloon-borne Large-Aperture Submillimeter Telescope, and mission designers hope it will reveal why so few stars are born in our galaxy.

The Oak Moon

The full moon of December is called the oak moon. 

Other names are frost moon, winter moon, long night’s moon, and moon before Yule.

In Hindi it is known as margashirsha poornima. Its Sinhala (Buddhist) name is unduvap. 

The full moon rises around sunset and sets around sunrise, the only night in the month when the moon is in the sky all night long. 

The rest of the month, the moon spends at least some time in the daytime sky. 

CREDIT: Starry Night Software

NASA ISS Xmas: One day Off then back to work!

Expedition 34 is back to work after celebrating Christmas in space. 

The station’s newest trio is getting up to speed on station systems having been aboard the orbital laboratory for five days now.

Volcanic eruption: Stromboli Lava Flow on Sciara del Fuoco

The activity at Stromboli has lately increased, over the holidays. Since 23 December small lava overflows occurred from the eastern crater area and produced lava flows with varying length on the upper part of the Sciara del Fuoco (360deg view).

Yesterday afternoon and evening, it looked as if the lava flow had increased and extended on a good portion of the Sciara where lava blocks detaching from the flow rolling down created a dense incandescent stream.

It is still unclear whether the flows come from a new vent at the eastern crater terrace or whether they are overflows of lava from an existing vent.

The seismic activity has increased and in addition to the tremor, explosion and rockfall, signals are elevated as well.

Such lava (over-)flows from the crater are usually relatively short-lived, but come often in phases.

All news about: Stromboli volcano

NASA’s new Buzz-Lightyear-inspired spacesuit.

NASA’s new Buzz-Lightyear-inspired spacesuit. Complement with the fascinating design history of the first Apollo spacesuit

Rare Earth Minerals Chart - China seeks World Domination

Rare Earth Minerals Chart.

China's largest rare earths producer said Tuesday it would suspend output at some plants for another month, extending a halt started in late October to try and stem falling prices.

Baotou Steel Rare-Earth will halt firing, smelting and separation of rare earths at its factories in Baotou in the northern region of Inner Mongolia for one more month, it said in a statement filed with the Shanghai bourse.

"The rare earth market recovered slightly in the two months when production ... was suspended. But there has been no fundamental turnaround," it said.

The firm, also called Inner Mongolia Baotou Steel Rare-earth (Group) Hi-tech, on October 23 started halting production at almost all of its plants, including two in the eastern province of Jiangxi.

China produces more than 95 percent of the world's rare earths, 17 elements crucial for making a range of hi-tech products including iPads and wind turbines.

The country's control over the sought-after resources -- through production caps and export quotas -- has sparked a dispute with major trading partners.

The price of praseodymium-neodymium oxide, a rare earths compound used for ceramics and magnetic materials, has slid to around 300,000 yuan ($48,000) per tonne, less than one fourth the level at the highest point last year, the official Xinhua news agency said Tuesday.

Baotou Steel Rare-Earth implemented a similar month-long production halt in October last year, but failed to reverse the downtrend in global and domestic prices of rare earths.

Eighth Landsat LDCM Satellite Arrives At Launch Site

An oversized semi-trailer truck carrying NASA's Landsat Data Continuity Mission (LDCM) has arrived at its launch site at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California in preparation for launch. 

This NASA and U.S. Geological Survey mission will continue a 40-year record of measuring change on the planet from space.

LDCM is the eighth satellite in the Landsat series, which began in 1972. It will extend and expand global land observations that are critical in many sectors, including energy and water management, forest monitoring, human and environmental health, urban planning, disaster recovery and agriculture.

Following final tests, the LDCM satellite will be attached to an Atlas V rocket and launched into space Feb. 11, 2013. Built and tested by Orbital Sciences Corp., LDCM left their Gilbert, Ariz., facility on Dec. 17.

"LDCM builds on and strengthens a key American resource: a decades-long, unbroken Landsat-gathered record of our planet's natural resources, particularly its food, water and forests," said Jim Irons, Landsat project scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

LDCM carries two instruments, the Operational Land Imager (OLI) built by Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corp. in Boulder, Colo., and the Thermal Infrared Sensor (TIRS) built by NASA Goddard.

"Both of these instruments have evolutionary advances that make them the most advanced Landsat instruments to date and are designed to improve performance and reliability to improve observations of the global land surface," said Ken Schwer, LDCM project manager at NASA Goddard.

OLI will continue observations in the visible, near infrared, and shortwave infrared portions of the electromagnetic spectrum and includes two new spectral bands, one of which is designed to support monitoring of coastal waters and the other to detect previously hard to see cirrus clouds that can otherwise unknowingly impact the signal from the Earth's surface in the other spectral bands.

TIRS will collect data in two thermal bands and will thus be able to measure the temperature of the Earth's surface, a measurement that's vital to monitoring water consumption, especially in the arid western United States.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

NASA MARS Curiosity Rover Image

The region surrounding the reflection nebula Messier 78

This image of the region surrounding the reflection nebula Messier 78, just to the north of Orion’s belt, shows clouds of cosmic dust threaded through the nebula like a string of pearls.

The submillimeter-wavelength observations, made with the Atacama Pathfinder Experiment (APEX) telescope and shown here in orange, use the heat glow of interstellar dust grains to show astronomers where new stars are being formed.

They are overlaid on a view of the region in visible light.

Image: ESO/APEX (MPIfR/ESO/OSO)/T. Stanke et al./Igor Chekalin/Digitized Sky Survey 2

NASA Hubble Image: Planetary Nebula NGC 5189

This object is an expanding cloud of gas rushing away from a dying star. Right in the very center you can see the star itself, a tiny blue dot whose appearance belies its power.

Once a star like the Sun, the central star of NGC 5189 is now a dense, extremely hot cinder called a white dwarf.

It’s probably only the size of the Earth but is 100,000 times denser than our planet.

A few thousand years ago this star was dying.

It had swollen into a red giant, a huge, bloated thing that was expelling a strong, thick wind of gas into space.

Over time the star shrank and heated up, turning bluish and starting to blow a thinner but much faster wind.

The fast wind caught up with and slammed into the older, slower, thicker wind, carving out a cavity in it.

We call these kinds of clouds planetary nebulae, becasue through small telescopes some of them look round and green, like planets.

2012 Xmas Greetings from ISS Expedition 34 Crew

Expedition 34 is the latest crew to spend Christmas aboard the International Space Station. 

The six-member crew, Commander Kevin Ford and Flight Engineers Chris Hadfield, Tom Marshburn, Roman Romanenko, Oleg Novitskiy and Evgeny Tarelkin, will spend a light-duty day relaxing, sharing a traditional meal, opening gifts and talking to family members.

Ford sent holiday greetings to the world from the Destiny laboratory in early December. 

Hadfield and Marshburn offered their holiday wishes from Russia before launching Dec. 19 to join Ford and his crewmates.

Space Debris: Space Fence to be extended

The Raytheon designed Air Force Space Surveillance System, also  known as Space Fence.

The incremental reviews included overall system design and architecture, radar hardware and software configuration items, allocated baseline, logistics, facilities, test, modeling and simulation along with the radar prototype demonstration.

Following the reviews, the contractors worked on risk reduction activities and design maturation.

The Air Force Life Cycle Management Center here recently put out a request for proposal to move the Space Fence program forward.

Space Fence will be a system of up to two land-based radars, the first site located at Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands, to track objects entering Earth's orbit.

According to program officials, it will form the foundation of improved space situational awareness by expanding the ability to detect, track, identify and characterize orbiting objects such as commercial and military satellites, smaller objects, maneuvering satellites, break-up events and lower inclination objects.

"Space situational awareness is a continual concern and challenge for U.S. and ally nations," said Ken Francois, Space Fence program manager. 

"The Space Fence program will increase the capability to provide predictability in reducing the chance of a collision or attack."

During a Defense Acquisition Board held in August, some changes were made to the program's acquisition strategy.

"The most significant change is that we are moving to an incremental approach. Increment 1 includes the Space Operations Center and Site 1 facilities construction and radar build," said Francois.

"Increment 2 includes Site 2 and system integration. This approach maximizes our efficient use of resources and will allow us to reduce costs to the Defense Department and the Air Force, ultimately saving money for the taxpayer."

Large, Fast and Rare Meteorite hits the Earth

Geology professor Qing-zhu Yin holds a fragment of the Sutter Mill meteorite that exploded over the Sierra foothills this past spring. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis photo).

A meteorite that exploded as a fireball over California's Sierra foothills this past spring was among the fastest, rarest meteorites known to have hit the Earth, and it traveled a highly eccentric orbital route to get here.

An international team of scientists presents these and other findings in a study published Friday, Dec. 21, in the journal Science.

The 70-member team included nine researchers from UC Davis, along with scientists from the SETI Institute, NASA and other institutions.

The researchers found that the meteorite that fell over Northern California on April 22 was the rarest type known to have hit the Earth - a carbonaceous chondrite. It is composed of cosmic dust and presolar materials that helped form the planets of the solar system.

The scientists learned that the meteorite formed about 4.5 billion years ago was knocked off its parent body, which may have been an asteroid or a Jupiter-family comet, roughly 50,000 years ago.

Once it left the comet, it began its journey to Earth and exploded over Sutter's Mill, the gold discovery site that sparked the California Gold Rush.

As it flew toward Earth, it traveled an eccentric course through the solar system, flying from an orbit close to Jupiter toward the sun, passing by Mercury and Venus, and then flying out to hit Earth.

The high-speed, minivan-sized meteorite entered the atmosphere at about 64,000 miles per hour.

The study said it was the fastest, "most energetic" reported meteorite that's fallen since 2008, when an asteroid fell over Sudan.

"If this were a much bigger object and had landed in a more populated area, then this could have been a disaster," said co-author and UC Davis geology professor Qing-zhu Yin. "But, in this case, it is a happy."

Before entering Earth's atmosphere, the meteorite is estimated to have weighed roughly 100,000 pounds but most of that mass burned away when the meteorite exploded. Scientists and private collectors have recovered about 2 pounds remaining.

India buys 42 Russian Su30MKI Flanker-H fighter aircraft

Russian Su-30MKI Flanker Aircraft
Russia is to sell India dozens of combat helicopters and warplanes under two $2.9 billion contracts signed on Monday.

Under one part of the contract Russia provides for the delivery of assembly kits for 42 Su-30MKI Flanker fighters, worth $1.6 billion.

Russian Mi-17 in Operation - Afghanistan
In the second part India will buy 71 Mi-17B-5 Hip helicopters worth $1.3 billion, while the other .

The two countries also signed a number of cooperation agreements in the defense and technology sector, notably between Russian Helicopters and Elcom Systems Pvt Ltd.

A memorandum of understanding between Russia’s FarmEco and India’s Elder Pharmaceuticals Ltd and a strategic partnership agreement between Russia’s OAO NIS and India’s TATA Consultancy Services were also signed.

ROSCOSMOS: Russia's Eneregia to build Oka-T-MKS Space Station

Russia's Energia Corp. space manufacturer has won an $11 million contract to design an orbital space laboratory, the national procurement agency says.

Energia was the only bidder when Russia's Federal Space Agency, Roscosmos announced a tender for the contract in mid-October 2012.

The proposed multipurpose Oka-T-MKS space lab will operate autonomously in orbit, periodically docking with the International Space Station for the ISS crew to service its scientific research equipment and conduct refueling and other operations.

Capable of carrying 1,800 pounds of equipment, the space lab will perform research in space materials study, plasma physics, biology and medicine.

Oka-T-MKS will be able to work autonomously for as long as 180 days between required dockings with the ISS, officials said.

The space lab was to have been ready for a 2015 launch but that has been put back by two to three years "due to the lack of concrete scientific research projects, as well as clients," Roscosmos deputy head Vitaly Davydov said.

Boeing makes Breakthrough in Aeroplane WiFi Connectivity

Boeing has developed an advanced method to test wireless signals in airplane cabins, making it possible for passengers to enjoy more reliable connectivity when using networked personal electronic devices in the air.

Boeing engineers created a new process for measuring radio signal quality using proprietary measurement technology and analysis tools. 

This enables engineers to more efficiently measure how strong a signal is and how far it spreads, ensuring safe yet powerful signal penetration throughout an airplane cabin.

Once the new method was established, testing that previously took more than two weeks to conduct was reduced to 10 hours.

"Every day we work to ensure that Boeing passengers are travelling on the safest and most advanced airplanes in the world," said Dennis O'Donoghue, vice president of Boeing Test and Evaluation. 

"This is a perfect example of how our innovations in safety can make the entire flying experience better."

This technology was first developed to more thoroughly and efficiently ensure that signal propagation met the regulatory safety standards that protect against interference with an aircraft's critical electrical systems.

Initially using a de-commissioned airplane, the team from Boeing Test and Evaluation laboratories conducted a series of such tests.

The team determined that potatoes were ideal stand-ins for passengers, given their similar physical interactions with electronic signal properties.

Much of the testing was conducted on the grounded airplane with the seats filled with 20,000 pounds of potato sacks. The test data was then validated on the ground with human stand-ins for passengers.

A wireless signal inside an airplane can deviate randomly when people move around. Boeing's new test process takes advantage of state-of-the-art technology and ground-breaking statistical analysis to identify strong and weak signal areas and balance them by adjusting the connectivity system accordingly.

The result is increased safety and reliability.

NASA Saturn Cassini VIMS Instrument re-assigned to Venus watching

This image shows the visual and infrared mapping spectrometer instrument (VIMS) just before it was attached to NASA's Cassini spacecraft. 

Cassini launched in 1997 and has been exploring the Saturn system since 2004.

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

For seven years, a mini-fridge-sized instrument aboard NASA's Cassini spacecraft reliably investigated;
  • weather patterns swirling around Saturn; 
  • the hydrocarbon composition of the surface of Saturn's moon Titan;
  • the aerosol layers of Titan's haze; and 
  • dirt mixing with ice in Saturn's rings. 
But this year the instrument - the visual and infrared mapping spectrometer - has been testing out some new telescopic muscles.

This Friday, Dec. 21, the spectrometer will be tracking the path of Venus across the face of the sun from its perch in the Saturn system.

Earthlings saw such a transit earlier this year, from June 5 to 6, but the observation in December will be the first time a spacecraft has tracked a transit of a planet in our solar system from beyond Earth orbit.

Cassini will collect data on the molecules in Venus's atmosphere as sunlight shines through it.

But learning about Venus actually isn't the point of the observation. Scientists actually want to use the occasion to test the VIMS instrument's capacity for observing planets outside our solar system.

"Interest in infrared investigations of extra-solar planets has exploded in the years since Cassini launched, so we had no idea at the time that we'd ask VIMS to learn this new kind of trick," said Phil Nicholson, the VIMS team member based at Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., who is overseeing the transit observations. "But VIMS has worked so well at Saturn so far that we can start thinking about other things it can do."

VIMS will be able to complement exoplanet studies by space telescopes such as NASA and ESA's Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes. VIMS scientists are particularly interested in investigating atmospheric data - such as signatures of methane - from far-off star systems in near-infrared wavelengths.

The pointing has to be very accurate to get one of those extrasolar planets in VIMS's viewfinder, but the instrument has had lots of practice pointing at other stars.

Earlier this year, VIMS obtained its first successful observation of a transit by the exoplanet HD 189733b. Scientists want to improve these observations by reducing the amount of noise in the signal.

Monday, December 24, 2012

NASA Cassini: Saturn's Moons Janus and Mimas

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Janus is spotted over Saturn's north pole in this image while Mimas' shadow glides across Saturn.

Janus is the faint dot that appears just above Saturn's north pole. Mimas' shadow can be seen in the southern hemisphere of Saturn, south of the rings' shadow. 

This view looks toward the unilluminated side of the rings from about 25 degrees below the ringplane. 

The image was taken in visible light with the Cassini spacecraft wide-angle camera on Aug. 24, 2012.

The view was obtained at a distance of approximately 1.6 million miles (2.6 million kilometers) from Saturn and at a Sun-Saturn-spacecraft, or phase, angle of 80 degrees.

Image scale is 94 miles (152 kilometers) per pixel. Janus has been brightened by a factor of 1.3 relative to Saturn to enhance its visibility.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency.

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

Human SpaceFlight: Radiation is the Greatest Danger

Artist's rendering of the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle on a deep space mission. CREDIT: NASA

High radiation levels beyond Earth orbit pose the biggest challenge to human exploration of deep-space destinations, experts say.

With current spacecraft technology, astronauts can cruise through deep space for a maximum of one year or so before accumulating a dangerously high radiation dose, researchers say.

As a result, many intriguing solar system targets remain off-limits to human exploration at the moment.

"There is an equivalent of a Mach 1 — a sound barrier — that exists, in terms of galactic cosmic radiation," Alvin Drew, manager of NASA's Deep Space Habitat Project, during a presentation with the agency's Future In-Space Operations working group.

"Until we solve that, we are still in the age of wooden ships and canvas sail for going out in space," added Drew, an astronaut who has flown on two space shuttle missions.

"Until we get to a point where we are looking at steam engines and ships of iron, we may be very limited in how far we can go."

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Chris Hadfield in the ISS Food Pantry

Expedition 34, Nasa Astronaut, Chris Hadfield in the ISS Food Pantry on Space Station - Packets full of goodness, ready to rehydrate and eat.

Credit: NASA, ESA,