Saturday, October 20, 2012

ESA CheOps: European satellite's mission to study exoplanets

Artist's impression of Cheops. Credit: University of Bern

The European Space Agency (ESA) has announced plans for a new mission to study exoplanets.

ESA hopes to launch the satellite in 2017. It comes as it was announced this week that a planet with a similar mass to Earth was detected in our nearest star system, Alpha Centauri.

The mission, called Cheops - CHaracterising ExOPlanets Satellite - will target nearby bright stars which are already known to have planets.

It's the first of a series of smaller missions developed as part of the space agency's Science Programme.

Cheops will monitor the brightness of our nearest stars to look for signs of transits, where planets cross in front of the star.

In turn, this will allow an accurate measurement of the radius of a transitting planet. Scientists then hope to calculate the density of these planets where the mass is already known. This will then help to provide information about the internal structure.

According to Professor Alvaro Giménez-Cañete, ESA Director of Science and Robotic Exploration "by concentrating on specific known exoplanet host stars, Cheops will enable scientists to conduct comparative studies of planets down to the mass of Earth with a precision that simply cannot be achieved from the ground."

The idea is to help scientists understand the formation of planets, up to the size of the planet Neptune. The mission also aims to identify planets with significant atmospheres.

Information from Cheops will then be used to provide targets for further detailed studies of exoplanet atmospheres by the future telescopes such as the James Webb Space Telescope, which is targeted to launch in 2018, and the European Extremely Large Telescope, which should be ready for use by 2022.

Friday, October 19, 2012

NASA MODIS Image: Sea Ice Off Eastern Greenland

The MODIS instrument on NASA's Aqua satellite captured this visible image of Sea Ice off eastern Greenland on October 16, 2012.

Image Credit: NASA/GSFC/Jeff Schmaltz/MODIS Land Rapid Response Team

Terra (formerly known as EOS/AM-1) is a joint Earth observing mission within NASA's ESE (Earth Science Enterprise) program between the United States, Japan, and Canada. 

The US provided the spacecraft, the launch, and three instruments developed by NASA (CERES, MISR, MODIS). 

Japan provided ASTER and Canada MOPITT. 

The Terra spacecraft is considered the flagship of NASA's EOS (Earth Observing Satellite) program. In February 1999, the EOS/AM-1 satellite was renamed by NASA to “Terra”.

NASA Mars Rover Curiosity: First Sample Collection - Video

Rover Curiosity carries 10 instruments to help it determine whether its Gale Crater landing site has ever been capable of supporting microbial life. But CheMin and another instrument on the 1-ton rover's body, known as Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM), are the rover's core scientific gear.

SAM is a chemistry laboratory that can identify organic compounds — the carbon-containing building blocks of life as we know it. The instrument has been sniffing the Martian air already, but it has yet to analyze its first soil sample. That should change in a week or so, Grotzinger said, after further cleaning of the rover's sampling system.

Curiosity continues to be in good health, researchers said. After the six-wheeled robot finishes testing out its scooping and sampling systems at Rocknest, mission scientists will begin searching for a spot to break out the rover's rock-boring drill. The first drill activity will be a complicated affair that could take month or so all up, Grotzinger said.

Curiosity is currently checking out deposits near a site called "Glenelg," where three interesting types of Martian terrain come together. But its ultimate destination is the base of Mount Sharp, the 3.4-mile-high (5.5 kilometers) mountain rising from Gale Crater's center.

Mount Sharp's foothills show signs of long-ago exposure to liquid water. Curiosity could be ready to start rolling toward the mountain's interesting deposits — which lie about 6 miles (10 km) away — in a couple of months.

"I would hope we'd be on our way by the end of the year," Grotzinger said.

NASA Mars Rover Curiosity Bites and Swallows First Soil Sample

Three bite marks left in the Martian ground by the scoop on the robotic arm of NASA's Mars rover Curiosity are visible in this image taken by the rover's right Navigation Camera during the mission's 69th Martian day, or sol (Oct. 15, 2012). 

The third scoopful, collected on that sol, left the bite or pit farthest to the right. Each of the three bites is about 2 inches (5 centimeters) wide.


NASA's Mars rover Curiosity has swallowed its first tiny bite of Martian soil, after standing down for a spell while scientists checked out some strange bright bits in the dirt.

The $2.5 billion Curiosity rover ingested the minuscule sample. which contains about as much material as a baby aspirin.

The soil has been successfully delivered to the rover's Chemistry and Mineralogy instrument, or CheMin, mission scientists announced.

"We are crossing a significant threshold for this mission by using CheMin on its first sample," Curiosity lead scientist John Grotzinger, of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, said in a statement.

This image shows part of the small pit or bite created when NASA's Mars rover Curiosity collected its second scoop of Martian soil at a sandy patch called "Rocknest."

This image was taken by the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) camera on Curiosity's arm during the 69th Martian day, or sol, of the mission (Oct. 15, 2012).


ESA Herschel Image: Large Dusty Magellanic Space Cloud

This image shows the Large Magellanic Cloud galaxy in infrared light as seen by ESA's Herschel Space Observatory, a mission with important NASA contributions, and NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope.

In the instruments' combined data, this nearby dwarf galaxy looks like a fiery, circular explosion.

Rather than fire, however, those ribbons are actually giant ripples of dust spanning tens or hundreds of light-years.

Significant fields of star formation are noticeable in the centre, just left of center and at right.

The brightest centre-left region is called 30 Doradus, or the Tarantula Nebula, for its appearance in visible light.

Credit: NASA/ JPL-Caltech

SpaceX to Launch Dragon Capsules carrying Human Cargo - Astronauts

The SpaceX Dragon commercial cargo craft is grappled by the International Space Station's Canadarm2 robotic arm.

This manouvre was carried out on Oct. 10, 2012 during the spacecraft's first cargo delivery mission for NASA, under a $1.6 billion deal for commercial cargo delivery.


Representatives from the three different companies chosen by NASA to develop private space taxis to carry astronauts to orbit say their vehicles are making substantial progress toward launching people into orbit within the next few years.

Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX), The Boeing Company, and Sierra Nevada Corp., are competing to fill the gap left by NASA's retired space shuttles for the launching of cargo and crews to the International Space Station.

Each private space taxi firm has received funding from NASA under the Commercial Crew integrated Capability program (CCiCap) to complete a series of development milestones with the goal of taking over transportation to low-Earth orbit from the Russians.

"We're going great guns, we're working very hard, and we hope to have people flying very soon inside the Dragon," SpaceX's commercial crew project manager Garrett Reisman said at the International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight.

Scientists hope to find Life on Mars it by decoding Martian DNA

There are not enough genomes for Craig Venter to sequence here on Earth, so he's making plans to send a DNA sequencer to Mars.

"There will be life forms there," Venter said, with his usual confidence, at a Wired Health conference this week in New York.

If he can build a machine to find it, the next steps would be to decode its DNA, beam it back to Earth, put those genetic instructions into a cell and then boot up a Martian life form in a biosecure lab.

Assuming that there is DNA to be found on the Red Planet, the notion of equipping a future Mars rover to sequence the DNA isn't so crazy.

Venter has already sent his yacht around the globe to scoop up seawater and sequence whatever DNA it found in marine microbes.

He has also been working on technology to create small genomes from scratch and insert them into living cells to bring these organisms to life.

The difference now is that all of this technology would be applied to Mars. It's highly unlikely that any DNA-based life forms could survive on the Martian surface, so Venter's "biological teleporter" would dig under the surface for samples to sequence.

If they find anything, "it would take only 4.3 minutes to get the Martians back to Earth," he said. "Now we can rebuild the Martians in a P4 spacesuit lab."

Venter isn't the only one looking for Martian DNA. According to a report in the MIT Technology Review, so is Jonathan Rothberg, founder of the genome sequencing company Ion Torrent.

Rothberg is working with NASA-funded scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard to adapt his company's Personal Genome Machine for use on Mars, the report says.

It's part of a NASA astrobiology project known as the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Genomes, or SETG.

MIT research scientist Christopher Carr is part of a group that's "building a miniature RNA/DNA sequencer to search for life beyond Earth," according to his website.

"Top places to look include Mars, Enceladus (a moon of Saturn), and Europa (a moon of Jupiter)." Carr told Tech Review that one of the biggest challenges is shrinking Ion Torrent's 30-kilogram machine down to a mere 3 kg - light enough to fit on a Mars rover.

That's just one of the hurdles. NASA has no firm plans for a rover to succeed Curiosity, the lab-on-wheels that reached the Red Planet in August.

Even if a new rover gets the green light, there's no guarantee that a gene sequencer would get one of the coveted spots for research instruments.

Bloodhound SSC: Australian crew bid to break the land speed record

Australian crew bid to break the land speed record by unveiling the first parts of their rocket-powered bullet car.
The current land speed record stands at 763 mph, which was set back in 1997 by Brit Andy Green driving the jet-powered ThrustSSC.

However, there’s a new race on to see who can beat that time, and this time challengers are hoping to crack a top speed of 1,000 mph.

So far, most of our coverage has centered on Andy Green’s latest endeavor, the Bloodhound SSC, a rocket-powered car that’s already well into testing and has a targeted top speed of 1,050 mph.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

ESA Hubble: Elusive Giant Dark Matter Filament in MACS J0717 - 3D Video

This enormous image shows Hubble’s view of massive galaxy cluster MACS J0717.

The large field of view is a combination of 18 separate Hubble images.

The location of the dark matter is revealed in a map of the mass in the cluster and surrounding region, shown here in blue.

The filament visibly extends out and to the left of the cluster core.

CREDIT: NASA, ESA, Harald Ebeling (University of Hawaii at Manoa) & Jean-Paul Kneib (LAM)

Astronomers have taken their first 3D look at a gigantic filament of dark matter, an invisible cosmic structure that can only be detected by its gravitational effects it has on its surroundings.

The universe is thought to be structured like a tangled web, with long strings of mostly dark matter intersecting at giant galaxy clusters.

Since dark matter cannot be seen directly, these filaments are difficult to observe. But using the Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers have managed to probe one of the elusive cosmic strands in 3D.

The researchers sought out a 60 million light-year strand of dark matter around the massive galaxy cluster MACS J0717. The galaxy cluster is one of the largest yet seen and is about 5.4 billion light-years from Earth.

"From our earlier work on MACS J0717, we knew that this cluster is actively growing, and thus a prime target for a detailed study of the cosmic web," study researcher Harald Ebeling, of the University of Hawaii at Manoa, said in a statement Tuesday (Oct. 16).

 [Hubble's Dark Matter Strand View in 3D (Video)]

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

NASA MARS HiRise Video: What Is It? - YouTube

This image reveals some very curious topography. (Audio by Tre Gibbs).

NASA ISS EVAs: Repair P6 Truss Radiator and Microbe-III Experiment

Commander Suni Williams and Flight Engineer Aki Hoshide configure spacewalk equipment in the Quest airlock. 

Credit: NASA TV

The Expedition 33 crew members living and working aboard the International Space Station made preparations for an upcoming spacewalk and worked with a variety of science experiments Wednesday.

Commander Suni Williams and Flight Engineer Aki Hoshide reviewed procedures with flight control teams and prepared equipment in the Quest airlock for an upcoming spacewalk.

During the EVA, Williams and Hoshide will venture out of the Quest airlock on to the exterior of the station to repair an ammonia leak in the P6 truss radiator.

Hoshide worked with the Microbe-III experiment, which monitors the abundance and diversity of fungi and bacteria in the Kibo module.

The results will be used to produce a microbiologically safe environment which is essential for a long-time stay in space.

› Read more about Microbe-III

NASA: Boeing Supersonic Model Points to Fast Future

If human beings are ever to fly faster than the speed of sound from one side of the country to another, we first have to figure out how to reduce the level of sonic boom generated by supersonic flight.

Earlier this fall, a subscale model of a potential future low-boom supersonic aircraft designed by The Boeing Company was installed for testing in the supersonic wind tunnel at NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland.

This model is a larger of two models used in the test.

The model contains a force measurement balance used to capture force measurements (lift, drag).

Depending on the type of test and on the tunnel, the model can be oriented any way. The picture model is actually upside down.

Another smaller model was used to capture measurements of the off-body pressures that create a sonic boom.

The tests are among those being conducted by NASA and its partners to identify technologies and designs to achieve a level of sonic boom so low that it barely registers on buildings and people below.

Image Credit: NASA/Michelle M. Murphy

Uranus: Keck observations brings weather into sharp focus

A paired picture of Uranus, the sharpest, most detailed picture of the distant planet to date, reveals a raft of new details about the planet's enigmatic atmosphere. 

The north pole of Uranus (to the right in the picture) is characterised by a swarm of storm-like convective features, and an unusual scalloped pattern of clouds encircles the planet's equator. 

The infrared image was taken using the Keck II telescope in Hawaii. 

Credit: Lawrence Sromovsky, Pat Fry, Heidi Hammel, Imke de Pater

In 1986, when Voyager swept past Uranus, the probe's portraits of the planet were "notoriously bland," disappointing scientists, yielding few new details of the planet and its atmosphere, and giving it a reputation as the most boring planet of the solar system.

Now, however, thanks to a new technique applied at the Keck Observatory, Uranus is coming into sharp focus through high-resolution infrared images, revealing in incredible detail the bizarre weather of the seventh planet from the sun.

The images were released in Reno, Nev. today (Oct. 17, 2012) at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society's Division of Planetary Sciences and provide the best look to date of Uranus's complex and enigmatic weather.

The planet's deep blue-green atmosphere is thick with hydrogen, helium and methane, Uranus's primary condensable gas.

Larry Sromovsky
Winds blow mainly east to west at speeds up to 560 miles per hour, in spite of the small amounts of energy available to drive them.

Its atmosphere is almost equal to Neptune's as the coldest in our solar system with cloud-top temperatures in the minus 360-degree Fahrenheit range, cold enough to freeze methane.

Large weather systems, which are probably much less violent than the storms we know on Earth, behave in bizarre ways on Uranus, explains Larry Sromovsky, a University of Wisconsin-Madison planetary scientist who led the new study using the Keck II telescope.

"Some of these weather systems," Sromovsky notes, "stay at fixed latitudes and undergo large variations in activity. Others are seen to drift toward the planet's equator while undergoing great changes in size and shape. Better measures of the wind fields that surround these massive weather systems are the key to unraveling their mysteries."

Imke de Pater
To get a better picture of atmospheric flow on Uranus, Sromovsky and colleagues Pat Fry, also of UW-Madison, Heidi Hammel of the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA), and Imke de Pater of the University of California at Berkeley, used new infrared techniques to detect smaller, more widely distributed weather features whose movements can help scientists trace the planet's pattern of blustery winds.

"We're seeing some new things that before were buried in the noise," says Sromovsky, a senior staff scientist at UW-Madison's Space Science and Engineering Center.

Heidi Hammel
"My first reaction to these images was 'wow' and then my second reaction was WOW," says AURA's Heidi Hammel, a co-investigator on the new observations and an expert on the atmospheres of the solar system's outer planets.

"These images reveal an astonishing amount of complexity in Uranus's atmosphere. We knew the planet was active, but until now much of the activity was masked by noise in our data."

The complexity of Uranus's weather is puzzling, Sromovsky explains. The primary driving mechanism must be solar energy because there is no detectable internal energy source.

"But the sun is 900 times weaker there than on Earth because it is 30 times further from the sun, so you don't have the same intensity of solar energy driving the system," explains Sromovsky.

"Thus the atmosphere of Uranus must operate as a very efficient machine with very little dissipation. Yet the weather variations we see seem to defy that requirement."

The new Keck II pictures of the planet, according to Sromovsky, are the "most richly detailed views of Uranus yet obtained by any instrument on any observatory.

No other telescope could come close to producing this result." Sromovsky and his colleagues used Keck II, located on the summit of Hawaii's 14,000-foot extinct volcano Mauna Kea, to capture a series of images that, when combined, help increase the signal to noise ratio and thus tease out weather features that are otherwise obscured.

In two nights of observing under superb conditions, Sromovsky's group was able to obtain exposures of the planet that provide a clear view of the planet's cloudy features, including several new to science.

The group used two different filters in an effort to characterize cloud features at different altitudes. "The main objective was to find a larger number of cloud features by detecting those that were previously too subtle to be seen, so we could better define atmospheric motions," Sromovsky notes.

New features found by the Wisconsin group include a scalloped band of clouds just south of Uranus's equator and a swarm of small convective features in the north polar regions of the planet, features that have never been seen in the southern polar regions.

"This is a very asymmetric situation," says the Wisconsin scientist. "There is certainly something different going on in those two polar regions." One possible explanation, is that methane is pushed north by an atmospheric conveyor belt toward the pole where it wells up to form the convective features observed by Sromovsky's group.

"The 'popcorn' appearance of Uranus's pole reminds me very much of a Cassini image of Saturn," adds de Pater.

Read more here

NASA Jupiter Images: Turmoil From Below, Battering From Above

Images in the visible-light and infrared parts of the spectrum highlight the massive changes roiling the atmosphere of Jupiter.

Image credit: NASA/IRTF/JPL-Caltech/NAOJ/A. Wesley/A. Kazemoto/C. Go

Jupiter, the mythical god of sky and thunder, would certainly be pleased at all the changes afoot at his namesake planet.

As the planet gets peppered continually with small space rocks, wide belts of the atmosphere are changing colour, hotspots are vanishing and reappearing, and clouds are gathering over one part of Jupiter, while dissipating over another.

The results were presented today by Glenn Orton, a senior research scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., at the American Astronomical Society's Division for Planetary Sciences Meeting in Reno, Nev.

"The changes we're seeing in Jupiter are global in scale," Orton said. "We've seen some of these before, but never with modern instrumentation to clue us in on what's going on."

"Other changes haven't been seen in decades, and some regions have never been in the state they're appearing in now."

"At the same time, we've never seen so many things striking Jupiter. Right now, we're trying to figure out why this is all happening."

The Jupiter team have been taking images and maps of Jupiter at infrared wavelengths from 2009 to 2012 and comparing them with high-quality visible images from the increasingly active amateur astronomy community.

Read the full article here

NASA - Jupiter Shakes it off

Jupiter has been suffering more impacts over the last four years than ever previously observed, including this meteoroid impact on Sept. 10, 2012.

The left-hand image was taken from a red-filtered video by amateur astronomer George Hall of Dallas, Texas, on Sept. 10 and processed by Ricardo Hueso (University of the Basque Country, Bilbao, Spain).

The right-hand image is an infrared image from NASA’s Infrared Telescope Facility on Mauna Kea, Hawaii, taken on Sept. 11.

Scientists compare the visible-light images to the infrared images to learn about the fireball's disruption of the Jovian atmosphere.

In this case, the infrared view reveals no long-term disturbance. The circles in the annotated version indicate where the impact occurred.

Scientists think the fireball was caused by an object less than 45 feet (15 meters) in diameter.

Image credit: NASA/IRTF/JPL-Caltech/G. Hall/University of the Basque Country

Anomalies amongst Geological Features and Dried Up Lakes on Titan

Radar images from NASA's Cassini spacecraft reveal some new curiosities on the surface of Saturn's mysterious moon Titan, including a nearly circular feature that resembles a giant hot cross bun and shorelines of ancient seas.

The results were presented today at the American Astronomical Society's Division of Planetary Sciences conference in Reno, Nev.

Steam from baking often causes the top of bread to lift and crack. Scientists think some similar process involving heat may be at play on Titan.

The image showing the bun-like mound was obtained on May 22, 2012, by Cassini's radar instrument.

Scientists have seen similar terrain on Venus, where a dome-shaped region about 20 miles (30 kilometers) across has been seen at the summit of a large volcano called Kunapipi Mons.

They theorise that the Titan cross, which is about 40 miles (70 kilometers) long, is also the result of fractures caused by uplift from below, possibly the result of rising magma.

"The 'hot cross bun' is a type of feature we have not seen before on Titan, showing that Titan keeps surprising us even after eight years of observations from Cassini," said Rosaly Lopes, a Cassini radar team scientist based at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

"The 'bun' may be the result of what is known on Earth as a laccolith, an intrusion formed by magma pushing up from below. The Henry Mountains of Utah are well-known examples of this geologic phenomenon."

Another group of Cassini scientists, led by Ellen Stofan, who is based at Proxemy Research, Rectortown, Va., has been scrutinizing radar images of Titan's southern hemisphere.

Titan is the only place other than Earth that has stable liquid on its surface, though the liquids on Titan are hydrocarbon rather than water. So far, vast seas have only been seen in Titan's northern hemisphere.

A new analysis of Cassini images collected from 2008 to 2011 suggests there were once vast, shallow seas at Titan's south pole as well. Stofan and colleagues have found two good candidates for dry or mostly dry seas.

One of these dry seas appears to be about 300 by 170 miles (475 by 280 kilometers) across, and perhaps a few hundred feet (meters) deep.

Ontario Lacus, the largest current lake in the south, sits inside of the dry shorelines, like a shrunken version of a once-mighty sea.

Storm Intensity at Ikaria Island

Storm Intensity at Ikaria Island, Greece.

Credit: Chris Kotsiopoulos

NASA Mars MRO Image: Ice Flows in Crater Greg

Computer models used to forecast climate change on Earth have been validated on Mars, astronomers reported.

In this orbital photo from Nasa's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter show ice flow features in ancient riverbeds on the south wall of crater Greg.

These computer programs accurately predicted Martian glaciers and other features on Earth's next-door planetary neighbour.


Earth Type planet in Alpha Centauri system

An Earth-mass planet has been found orbiting a star in the Alpha Centauri system, the Sun's next door neighbour in space.

This is an artist's impression of a planet orbiting the star Alpha Centauri B.

Picture: AFP/Getty Images

NASA Apollo Lunar Rover Haynes Manual

The practical guide, in traditional Haynes Manual style, is being published to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the final Lunar Rover drive on the Moon on December 14, 1972.

The Lunar Rover Manual will be available from all good bookshops and direct from Haynes priced £21.99.

(Right) Apollo 15 astronaut Jim Irwin with the lunar rover.

Picture: Haynes/Rex/Nasa

ESA Meteron: Using space internet to control ISS robots

As part of the Meteron project – Multi-purpose End-To-End Robotic Operations Network – astronauts will control the Mocup test robot from ESA’s European Space Operations Centre, Darmstadt, Germany.

Mocup is an acronym of Meteron Operations and Communications Prototype.

Credits: ESA

ESA and NASA have tested a communications protocol that will allow astronauts to control robots from space stations orbiting planets or asteroids.

The test marks the way for a trial-run with an astronaut on the International Space Station next week.

Last week a Space Station user centre at the University of Boulder, USA sent a command to a NASA laptop on the International Space Station to start a script that controlled the Mocup robot at ESA’s ESOC operations centre in Darmstadt, Germany. 

The robot was commanded to move forward and take pictures, which it performed as planned.

Mocup is one of the robots in ESA’s Meteron – Multi-purpose End-To-End Robotic Operations Network – initiative for future missions to the Moon, Mars and other celestial bodies.

Space exploration will most likely involve sending robotic explorers to test the waters on uncharted planets before sending humans to land.
In the case of distant planets, these robots could be controlled by astronauts in spacecraft orbiting the planet.

“In these tests we are pretending that Earth is the Moon or Mars,” says Kim Nergaard, Meteron Ground Segment and Operations Manager. (@Kimsy)

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

'Danger Mice' bred to detect landmines

US scientists have bred mice that they think could be used to detect landmines.

The mice have an increased sense of smell and a chip planted under their skin to alert humans when they come across TNT.

Although using rodents to detect landmines is nothing new, the rats that currently help in Tanzani and Mozambique take nine months to train and cost significantly more than mice to keep.

These mice have been genetically modified so that their sense of smell is five times stronger than normal and when they sniff TNT the chip under their skin will alert professionals who can step in and disarm the explosives.

With more than seventy countries thought to be contaminated by landmines, the mice could provide a huge help with eradicating these mementos of war.

Moon Water: Scientists Consider Solar Wind as Origin

Glass beads within moon rocks suggest that water seen on the lunar surface originates from the solar wind, researchers say.

These findings suggest that other airless bodies in the solar system may also possess water on their surfaces, investigators added.

Arguments raged for years as to whether the moon harboured frozen water or not.

Recent findings confirmed that water does wet the moon, although its surface remains drier than any desert on Earth.

"With the cost of $25,000 for taking one pint of water to the moon, it is essential that we develop processes of producing water from the materials on the moon," said the study's lead author, Yang Liu, at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. "This is paramount to human settlement of the moon in the near future."

"This water would be of most value as rocket fuel — liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen," Liu added.

"Until the recent discovery of water in and on the moon, this was going to be a very energy-intensive endeavor to separate these elements from the lunar rocks and soil."

"Now we have ready sources of water that can be consumed by plants and humans, but also broken up into its constituent elements — oxygen and hydrogen. Thus, we could use the moon as a jump-board for missions to Mars and beyond."

NASA Signs Agreement to Develop Nasal Spray for Motion Sickness

NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston and Epiomed Therapeutics Inc. of Irvine, Calif., have signed an agreement to develop and commercialize a NASA-crafted, fast-acting nasal spray to fight motion sickness.

Under the Space Act Agreement, Epiomed will formulate the drug, called intranasal scopolamine, or INSCOP. Astronauts often experience motion sickness in space.

As a result, NASA has conducted extensive research into the causes and treatments for the condition.

Scopolamine is effective and can be administered as a tablet or injected. With a precise dosage, the NASA spray formulation has been shown to work faster and more reliably than the oral form.

"NASA and Epiomed will work closely together on further development of INSCOP to optimize therapeutic efficiency for both acute and chronic treatment of motion sickness which can be used by NASA, the Department of Defense and world travelers on land, in the air and on the seas," said Lakshmi Putcha, developer of the innovative treatment strategy at Johnson.

A gel formulation of INSCOP was developed and tested under a Space Act Agreement between Johnson and the Naval Aerospace Medical Research Laboratory in Pensacola, Fla.

Results from that trial were published in the journal Aviation, Space and Environmental Medicine in April 2010 that suggest INSCOP is a fast-acting and reliable way to prevent and treat motion sickness.

The U.S. Navy is working on an agreement with Epiomed to test the nasal spray. NASA and Epiomed will collaborate on clinical trials related to the Federal Drug Administration requirements.

NASA is transferring sponsorship of future clinical trials and FDA approvals to Epiomed, which will supply the product for use by NASA and others.

Read more here

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Art Deco Swedish Poster

To see more of these wonderful old Swedish Deco posters click here

Chronic stress during pregnancy prevents brain benefits of motherhood

A new study in animals shows that chronic stress during pregnancy prevents brain benefits of motherhood, a finding that researchers suggest could increase understanding of postpartum depression.

Rat mothers showed an increase in brain cell connections in regions associated with learning, memory and mood.

In contrast, the brains of mother rats that were stressed twice a day throughout pregnancy did not show this increase.

The researchers were specifically interested in dendritic spines – hair-like growths on brain cells that are used to exchange information with other neurons.

Previous animal studies conducted by lead author Benedetta Leuner of Ohio State University showed that an increase of dendritic spines in new mothers’ brains was associated with improved cognitive function on a task that requires behavioral flexibility – in essence, enabling more effective multitasking.

The dendritic spines increased by about 20 percent in these brain regions in new mothers, according to her findings.

The stress in this new study negated those brain benefits of motherhood, causing the stressed rats’ brains to match brain characteristics of animals that had no reproductive or maternal experience.

The stressed rats also had less physical interaction with their babies than did unstressed rats, a behaviour observed in human mothers who experience postpartum depression.

“Animal mothers in our research that are unstressed show an increase in the number of connections between neurons. Stressed mothers don’t,” said Leuner, assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience at Ohio State.

“We think that makes the stressed mothers more vulnerable. They don’t have the capacity for brain plasticity that the unstressed mothers do, and somehow that’s contributing to their susceptibility to depression.”

Previous research has suggested that there are a number of risk factors for postpartum depression, including hormone fluctuations, prior history of mental illness and environmental factors such as smoking or low socioeconomic status.

One of the strongest predictors, however, is chronic stress during pregnancy, so Leuner sought to create an animal model that could help explain brain changes linked to postpartum depression.

“It’s devastating not only for the mother, because it affects her well-being, but previous research also has shown that children of depressed mothers have impaired cognitive and social development, may have impaired physical development, and are more likely as adults to have depression or anxiety,” she said.

“A better understanding of postpartum depression is important to help the mother but also to prevent some of the damaging effects that this disorder can have on the child.”

The researchers exposed pregnant rats to stress twice a day by limiting their mobility on some days and on other days placing them in water. For three weeks after the rats gave birth, Leuner and colleagues monitored the rats.

The animals showed classic signs of the effects of stress, including lower than normal weight gain and enlarged adrenal glands, a sign of high stress-hormone production. The mothers stressed during pregnancy also gave birth to smaller pups.

“And they were not very good mothers,” Leuner said. After separation from pups for 30 minutes, unstressed mothers would gather up their babies, put them in the nest and nurse them. Stressed mother rats left the pups scattered around, wandered around the cage and fed the babies less frequently.

The stressed mother rats also exhibited more floating than unstressed rats in a water test; animals that float rather than swim are showing depressive-like symptoms.

“These findings in rats mimic some of the symptoms that are seen in women with postpartum depression,” Leuner said.

An examination of the animals’ brains showed that the rats exposed to chronic stress did not grow the additional dendritic spines in the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex that the unstressed mother rats did.

The stressed rats’ brains more closely resembled the brains of control rats that had never been mothers.

“We don’t yet know what the exact trigger is for the increase in spines in motherhood, but we know that the increase goes away with stress,” Leuner said.

She is continuing the work by investigating whether the beneficial effects of motherhood on cognitive functions are also blocked in mothers who are exposed to pregnancy stress as well as whether hormonal factors play a role.

Boeing CST-100 Mock-Up Undergoes Airbag Stabilisation Test - Video

The Boeing Company's mock-up CST-100 spacecraft was put through water landing development tests Oct. 1-5, 2012, at Bigelow Aerospace's headquarters outside of Las Vegas.

Engineers with Bigelow have dropped the capsule-shaped spacecraft into an outdoor pool from a crane more than four times to assess whether the airbags will stabilize the capsule during landings as planned.

The tests are part of Boeing's ongoing work supporting its funded Space Act Agreement (SAA) with NASA's Commercial Crew Program (CCP) during the agency's Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) development phase.

Program Contact: Candrea Thomas, 321-867-2468 HQ Contact: Trent Perrotto, 202-358-0321

NASA Spitzer: Scientists refine measurement of Universe's expansion rate

The Spitzer Space Telescope has measured the universe's expansion rate with one of the most precise instruments yet, according to NASA.

The edge of space is blasting outwards at the rate of around 74.3 kilometres per second per megaparsec; a megaparsec is about three million light-years in length.

NASA initially announced the results October 3, but clarified it a few days later to include mention of an independent study from the United States' Space Telescope Science Institute (STSCI) in Baltimore, Maryland.

"Spitzer is yet again doing science beyond what it was designed to do," stated JPL project scientist Michael Werner in a recent press release.

"First, Spitzer surprised us with its pioneering ability to study exoplanet atmospheres, and now, in the mission's later years, it has become a valuable cosmology tool."

Spitzer Space Telescope
The Spitzer Space Telescope (SST), formerly the Space Infrared Telescope Facility (SIRTF) is an infrared space observatory launched in 2003. It is the fourth and final of the NASA Great Observatories program.

The Hubble Constant
The universe's expansion rate is known as the Hubble Constant, and it has been revised several times over the years as the technology to measure it has improved.

Measuring Cepheids
Astronomers used the Spitzer telescope to observe Cepheids, which are stars that pulse at a regular rate.

Since observed Cepheids pulse at a rate that is relative to their brightness, these provide a useful measuring stick for astronomers seeking to measure the expanse of the universe.

Standard Candles
Cepheids are also known as "standard candles" because the principle to measuring the universe with them is similar to a person trying to measure his surroundings by observing candles.

Spitzer watched 10 Cepheids in the Milky Way and another 80 in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a galaxy that is relatively close to Earth.

Because Spitzer can peer through cosmic dust that obscures starlight, the measurements of brightness it came up with were more precise than previous observations.

This measurement led to the calculation of a more precise Hubble Constant.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

ESA Cassini Huygens: Titan Descent Movie (2005.01.14) - YouTube

This movie was built thanks to the data collected by ESA's Huygens Descent Imager/Spectral Radiometer (DISR) on 14 January 2005, during the 147-minutes plunge through Titan's thick orange-brown atmosphere to a soft sandy riverbed.

In 4 minutes 40 seconds, the movie shows what the probe 'saw' within the few hours of the descent and the eventual landing.

At first the Huygens camera just saw haze over the distant surface. The haze started to clear only at about 60 kilometers altitude, making it possible to resolve surface features as large as 100 meters.

Only after landing could the probe's camera resolve little grains of sand millions and millions times smaller than Titan. The movie provides a glimpse on such a huge change of scale.

Credit: ESA/NASA/JPL/University of Arizona


ESA Huygens Probe's bounce-landing reveals Titan's surface - YouTube

The Huygens probe, brought to Saturn's moon Titan by NASA's Cassini spacecraft, bounced, slid, and wobbled to rest in the 10 seconds after it touched down on Titan.

The first 10 seconds of Huygens' touchdown on Titan in January 2005 are relived in this animation.

The motion was reconstructed by combining accelerometer data from the Huygens Atmospheric Structure Instrument and the Surface Science Package with photometry data from the Descent Imager/Spectral Radiometer.

After descending through the thick atmosphere, the probe landed on the moon's surface, creating a hole around 12 cm deep.

It then bounced out onto a flat surface and slid 30-40 cm to its final resting place, before wobbling back and forth at least five times.

Vibrations in the probe's instruments were recorded for nearly 10 seconds after impact.

Credits: ESA--C. Carreau)

Solar Prominence - Image

A section of the solar disk. The massive detached prominence was visible for hours.

Friday, October 12, 2012

NASA Aqua /Terra Satellite Image: Sicily and Mount Etna volcanic eruption

Credit: NASA

Italy's Mount Etna, one of the most active volcanoes on Earth, is spewing out plumes of bluish volcanic gas, as revealed in a recent satellite image.

The restive peak, located on the island of Sicily, has been erupting in spectacular fashion on and off since it ramped up activity in January 2011.

The mountain last spewed out fountains of glowing lava on April 24, and has been relatively quiet ever since.

A Cycle Helmet That Calls for Help When You’ve Crashed

ICEdot, the company that makes the smartest helmet out there, says that its little helper will only send out a signal if you’ve been hit hard enough to have to replace the helmet.

So every time you come to a skidding stop or clumsily dismount or fall on your face, the paramedics won’t show up. You can fund this little device at Indiegogo.

The Atlantic Cities has the one caveat:
There is one big catch to this potentially life-saving device: Should you be in a location with no cellphone service, it doesn’t work. So don’t go around crashing into fir trees just because you think somebody will carry you to the hospital.

ESA Galileo: Soyuz Rocket lift off with 2 DLR Satellites on board

NASA Shuttle Endeavour Crossing

The space shuttle Endeavour is seen atop the Over Land Transporter (OLT) after exiting the Los Angeles International Airport on its way to its new home at the California Science Center in Los Angeles, Friday, Oct. 12, 2012.

Endeavour, built as a replacement for space shuttle Challenger, completed 25 missions, spent 299 days in orbit, and orbited Earth 4,671 times while traveling 122,883,151 miles.

Beginning Oct. 30, the shuttle will be on display in the CSC’s Samuel Oschin Space Shuttle Endeavour Display Pavilion, embarking on its new mission to commemorate past achievements in space and educate and inspire future generations of explorers.

Photo Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

ESA Galileo: In Orbit Validation Phase - Video

NASA Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) Nested Close-Ups of Rock 'Jake Matijevic'

This image combines photographs taken by the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) at three different distances from the first Martian rock that NASA's Curiosity rover touched with its arm. 

The three exposures were taken during the 47th Martian day, or sol, of Curiosity's work on Mars (Sept. 23, 2012).

The team has named the target rock "Jake Matijevic." The scale bar is 4 centimeters (1.6 inches).

MAHLI imaged Jake Matijevic from distances of about 10 inches, or 25 centimeters (context image); about 2 inches, or 5 centimeters (larger white box); and about 1 inch, or 2.5 centimeters (smaller white box).

The series nested into this one image takes advantage of MAHLI's adjustable focus.

MAHLI reveals that the target rock has a relatively smooth, gray surface with some glinty facets reflecting sunlight and reddish dust collecting in recesses in the rock.

Jake Matijevic is a dark, apparently uniform rock that was selected as a desirable target because it allowed the science team to compare results of the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) instrument and the Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instrument, both of which provide information about the chemical elements in a target.

APXS, like MAHLI, is on the turret at the end of Curiosity's robotic arm. It is placed in contact with a rock to take a reading. ChemCam shoots laser pulses at a target from the top of the rover's mast.

Jake Matijevic was also the first rock target for MAHLI, which was deployed to document the APXS and ChemCam analysis areas.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

NASA Mars Rover Curiosity Image: Rock named 'Jake Matijevic' Holds Surprises

This image shows where NASA's Curiosity rover aimed two different instruments to study a rock known as "Jake Matijevic" in late September 2012. 

The red dots indicate where Curiosity fired its laser at the rock. 

The circular black and white images are ChemCam images to examine the laser burns. 

Purple circles show spots where Curiosity used its Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer (APXS) to study the rock.


DLR Galileo: Two more satellites for the Galileo GPS system

The first two satellites for the European Galileo navigation system have been orbiting Earth since 21 October 2011. 

Now, two more are about to follow; on 12 October 2012 at 20:15 CEST, a Soyuz rocket will launch satellites three and four into their position in space. 

Four satellites will then be flying in their orbits at an altitude of 23,000 kilometres. 

For Walter Päffgen, Director of the DLR Space Applications Company (Gesellschaft für Raumfahrtanwendungen; GfR), this is a highpoint of the programme thus far: "With signals from four Galileo satellites, we can determine a location on Earth for the first time."

The satellites are controlled from the Galileo Control Centre at the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) site in Oberpfaffenhofen.

To be well prepared for the next challenging phase of implementing the satellite navigation system, during the last few weeks his staff were put to the test with simulated failures during rehearsals for satellite operations.

"Everyone needs to be trained to respond quickly and safely in an emergency." Additional intensive training programmes were also part of the work of the crew in the control room.

The compatibility of the two satellites – named David and Sif after two children from the Czech Republic and Denmark – has also been tested at the Control Centre while they were on the ground.

Nuclear fusion-generated electricity: Is safer, more efficient energy on the horizon?

Fusion-fueled power generation has been the energy of the future for several decades.

"There's always been this sense that fusion is fifty years away," Saskia Mordijck says, but she adds that the horizon for safer and more efficient fusion-based electricity in our homes is really, truly getting closer.

Mordijck, a research assistant professor based in the Computer Science Department at William & Mary (with adjunct positions in physics and applied science), has received funding from the U.S. Department of Energy to continue her investigation of fusion energy.

She says most people are only vaguely aware of how fusion works and therefore have little idea of the advantages is offers over "traditional" nuclear power.

Fusion Energy
"Fusion energy is the exact opposite of what we have across the river in Surry where we have a nuclear power plant," she explained.

"In a nuclear power plant they actually bombard their material with small particles so it splits apart so there is energy released—that's fission."

To accomplish fusion, she says, you take two very small particles and heat them at high enough temperatures so that they fuse together.

"As a result of their fusing together they actually will release energy, as per Einstein's famous equation E=mc2.," Mordijck explained.

That's one most people recognize even if they have not had any physics."

Many advantages over fission 
When it comes to power generation, fusion has a number of advantages over fission and many of them relate to safety.

Mordijck says that the usual causes of anxiety over nuclear power generation just don't exist with fusion. Fukushima/Chernobyl-type incidents are not part of the equation.

"The nice thing about a fusion reaction is that if somehow it would go out of control, it would just stop itself automatically. If a fission reaction goes out of control, it can really go out of control," Mordijck explained.

"You can't stop it and it actually might go into a nuclear meltdown." The second set of fusion-over-fission benefits centers around radioactive waste.

Dealing with Nuclear waste
Mordijck acknowledges that certain amount of waste is inescapable, but a fusion power plant would generate only a fraction of the amount of nuclear waste that even the most efficient fission plants produce.

Not only is the amount smaller, but waste from a fusion plant also stays dangerous for much shorter periods of time.

"In a fission power plant we create a lot of radioactive waste which lasts for a very long time. It lasts longer than most things that we have here on Earth, and so we have to store it somewhere.

We cannot clean it any way or form," Mordijck explained. "Whereas in a fusion power plant, the lifetime of this waste is very short.

After 50 to 100 years, it will be completely gone and it will not be more radioactive than the surrounding environment and it won't be able to contaminate anything."

Funding cuts hinder progress
Fusion energy has been working in the sun, where the fusion of hydrogen nuclei into helium has been keeping us warm for years.

Despite all the potential advantages, fusion remains an experimental technology and an underfunded one at that, Mordijck says.

 "When people say that fusion always seems to be perpetually fifty years off, we fusion scientists point out that our funding has been cut every single year, so it's hard to make any progress," she noted.

Scientists Discover Planet with Diamond Mantle - Twice The Size Of Our Sun

Scientists have announced the discovery of a planet made almost entirely of diamonds.

The planet, called 55 Cancri e, is located in a solar system inside the constellation of Cancer, reports NBC News.

It was discovered in 2004, and scientists have been working since then to determine its mass and radius, as well as study its host star’s composition.

The planet is called a “super-Earth,” and scientists believe that the rocky world is composed mostly of carbon (in the form of either graphite or diamond). It also includes iron, silicon carbide, and possibly silicates.

Scientists also believe, based on their research, that at least one-third of the planet’s mass is pure diamond. Lead researcher Nikku Madhusudhan of Yale University stated:

“This is our first glimpse of a rocky world with a fundamentally different chemistry from Earth. The surface of this planet is likely covered in graphite and diamond rather than water and granite.”

While worlds like the “diamond planet” of 55 Cancri e have been theorized before, and at least one has been discovered before now, it is the first of its kind to be identified orbiting around a sun-like star.

Madhusudhan’s study on the planet was published in the journal Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Princeton University astronomer David Spergel stated that it is relatively easy to find out a star’s basic structure and history once its age and mass have been discovered. He added:

“Planets are much more complex. This ‘diamond-rich super-Earth’ is likely just one example of the rich sets of discoveries that await us as we begin to explore planets around nearby stars.”

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Tissint meteorite fragment may contain Martian gas.

A fragment of the Tissint meteorite. Regions of black glass are thought to contain gas, rock and traces of Martian soil. 

Photograph: Natural History Museum, London

A lump of space rock that shattered the predawn calm of the Moroccan desert with a fireball and double sonic boom last year was knocked off Mars in a cosmic collision roughly 700,000 years ago.

The date of the Martian impact means the rock was flung into space and began its journey to Earth when the shared ancestor of modern humans and Neanderthals was still alive and well in Africa.

Scientists dated the collision through a fresh analysis of the remains of the meteorite, based on the exposure of its elements to intense cosmic rays during its journey through space.

The Tissint meteorite, as it is known, is particularly valuable because it was recovered before it had suffered any weathering on Earth.

Witnesses said it split in two as it fell to Earth and landed in the desert near Tata, south-east Morocco, at 2am local time on 18 July last year.

Pieces weighing between 100g and 2kg have been recovered, along with thousands of smaller fragments. The intact meteorite is estimated to have weighed 17kg.

Researchers at the Hassan II University of Casablanca found regions of black glass inside the meteorite that are thought to contain gas, rock and traces of Martian soil.

Hasnaa Chennaoui Aoudjehane
"What is really exciting in this meteorite is that it has this black glass trapped inside," said Hasnaa Chennaoui Aoudjehane, who worked on the specimen.

Further analysis of the glass and the gas locked up in its tiny bubbles may help scientists reconstruct the conditions on Mars when the rock was blasted into space.

"Those bubbles are interesting because they trapped Martian conditions at the moment the meteorite formed, and it hasn't had any exchange with other materials," Chennaoui Aoudjehane said.

The research appears in the latest issue of Science.