SpaceJibe

June 28, 2012

1969 Fireball meteorite reveals new ancient mineral

Filed under: Asteroids, Big Bang, Cool, Cosmology, Exoplanets, Inner Solar System — bferrari @ 8:18 am
The new mineral, panguite, occurring with the scadium-rich silicate called davisite was found embedded in a piece of the Allende meteorite. (Caltech / Chi Ma)

The new mineral, panguite, occurring with the scadium-rich silicate called davisite was found embedded in a piece of the Allende meteorite. (Caltech / Chi Ma)

A fireball that tears across the sky is not just a one-time skywatching event — it can reap scientific dividends long afterward. In fact, one that lit up Mexico’s skies in 1969 scattered thousands of meteorite bits across the northern Mexico state of Chihuahua. And now, decades later, that meteorite, named Allende, has divulged a new mineral called panguite.

Panguite is believed to be among the oldest minerals in the solar system, which is about 4.5 billion years old. Panguite belongs to a class of refractory minerals that could have formed only under the extreme temperatures and conditions present in the infant solar system.

The name of the titanium dioxide mineral, which has been approved by the International Mineralogical Association, honors Pan Gu, said in Chinese mythology to be the first living being who created the world by separating yin from yang (forming the earth and sky).

“Panguite is an especially exciting discovery since it is not only a new mineral, but also a material previously unknown to science,” study researcher Chi Ma, a senior scientist at Caltech, said in a statement.

Until now, panguite had neither been seen in nature nor created in a lab. “It’s brand-new to science,” Ma told LiveScience in an interview.

The scientists used a scanning-electron microscope to view the panguite within a so-called ultra-refractory inclusion embedded within the meteorite. Inclusions are the minerals that get trapped inside meteorites as they are forming. The ultra-refractory type includes minerals that can resist high temperatures and other conditions in extreme environments, such as those thought to exist as our solar system was forming.

High-tech lab analyses revealed panguite’s chemical composition and crystal structure, which Ma said is new, and as such, could be explored for novel engineering materials.

The Allende meteorite, where the mineral was hidden, is the largest of a class of carbonaceous chondrites found on Earth. Chondrites are primitive meteorites that scientists think were remnants shed from the original building blocks of planets. Most meteorites found on Earth fit into this group. (When meteors hit the ground they are called meteorites.)

Before they reach terra firma, most meteorites are fragments of asteroids (space rocks that travel through the solar system), while others are mere cosmic dust shed by comets. Rare meteorites are impact debris from the surfaces of the moon and Mars. The Allende meteorite likely came from the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, scientists say.

Studying panguite and other components of the Allende meteorite are essential for understanding the origins of the solar system, Ma said. In fact, Ma’s team has discovered nine new minerals, including panguite, in the Allende space rock.

The new mineral is detailed in the July issue of the journal American Mineralogist.

Source

June 26, 2012

Inside Huge Mars Rover’s Sky Crane Landing (Infographic)

Once mated to its descent stage, the Mars Science Laboratory will be placed inside its aeroshell that will protect Curiosity during its deep space cruise to Mars. The hatchway opening in the aeroshell will allow engineers access a few days before launch to install the rover's power source, a radioisotope power system that generates electricity from the heat of plutonium's radioactive decay. This power source gives the mission an operating lifespan on Mars' surface of at least a full Martian year (687 Earth days, or 1.9 Earth years).

Curiosity’s Aeroshell – Once mated to its descent stage, the Mars Science Laboratory will be placed inside its aeroshell that will protect Curiosity during its deep space cruise to Mars. The hatchway opening in the aeroshell will allow engineers access a few days before launch to install the rover’s power source, a radioisotope power system that generates electricity from the heat of plutonium’s radioactive decay. This power source gives the mission an operating lifespan on Mars’ surface of at least a full Martian year (687 Earth days, or 1.9 Earth years).

 

 

NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory, also known as the Curiosity Mars rover, is a huge six-wheeled robot the size of a small car. The nuclear-powered rover won’t land using rockets or airbags like past Mars missions. Instead, NASA has built a rocket-propelled sky crane that will hover over the Martian surface and lower the $2.5 billion rover to the Red Planet’s surface. Learn all about how the Mars rover’s landing will work in the SPACE.com infographic above,then check out the following Mars rover mission features.

NASA's Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), named Curiosity, as seen fully deployed on Friday, Aug. 12, 2011 during a media photo opportunity inside Kennedy Space Center's Kennedy's Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility in Florida.

NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), named Curiosity, as seen fully deployed on Friday, Aug. 12, 2011 during a media photo opportunity inside Kennedy Space Center’s Kennedy’s Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility in Florida.

Source

Possible alien message to get reply from humanity

Filed under: Cool, Cosmology, Extraterrestrial Life, Gadgets, Life, Wierd — bferrari @ 1:14 pm
A scan of a color copy of the original computer printout bearing the Wow! signal, taken several years after the signal's 1977 arrival. (The Ohio State University Radio Observatory and the North American AstroPhysical Observatory (NAAPO))

A scan of a color copy of the original computer printout bearing the Wow! signal, taken several years after the signal’s 1977 arrival. (The Ohio State University Radio Observatory and the North American AstroPhysical Observatory (NAAPO))

If there’s something you’d like to say to aliens, now’s your chance. The Wow! signal, a mysterious radio transmission detected in 1977 that may or may not have come from extraterrestrials, is finally getting a response from humanity. Anyone can contribute his or her two cents — or 140 characters, to be exact — to the cosmic reply via Twitter.

All tweets composed between 8 p.m. EDT Friday (June 29) and 3 a.m. EDT Saturday (June 30) tagged with the hashtag #ChasingUFOs will be rolled into a single message, according to the National Geographic Channel, which is timing the Twitter event to coincide with the premiere of the channel’s new series, “Chasing UFOs.”

Then on Aug. 15, exactly 35 years after the Wow! signal was detected, humanity’s crowdsourced message will be beamed into space in the direction from which the perplexing signal originated.

“Earlier transmissions have focused on simplicity, whereas this one will rely more on creating a complex but noticeable pattern, hopefully standing out from other random, natural noise.”
– Kristin Montalbano, a spokeswoman for the National Geographic Channel

“We are working with Arecibo Observatory to develop the best way to encrypt the transmission,” said Kristin Montalbano, a spokeswoman for the National Geographic Channel. “Earlier transmissions have focused on simplicity, whereas this one will rely more on creating a complex but noticeable pattern, hopefully standing out from other random, natural noise.

“More than likely we will be using binary phase codes,” or sequences of 1s and 0s.

The Wow! signal is the only blip of incoming data to have stood out from the noise in the four decades that astronomers have been scouring the heavens for signs of life — an effort known as the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence, or SETI. The Big Ear radio observatory at Ohio State University picked up the intense 72-second radio transmission coming from the direction of the constellation Sagittarius. At its peak, the transmission was 30 times more powerful than ambient radiation from deep space, prompting the volunteer astronomer Jerry Ehman to scrawl “Wow!” next to the data on a computer printout, giving the signal its name.

No one knows whether the seemingly unnatural signal really was beamed toward us by aliens, and despite great effort, scientists have never managed to detect a repeat transmission from the same spot in the sky. Thirty-five years on, the Wow! signal remains a complete mystery.

It is hoped alien scientists — if they do, in fact, exist — will have better luck decoding humankind’s reply.

“After recognizing the pattern, the scientists on the other end would theoretically be challenged to find a way to decrypt the transmission and understand our language. No small feat, but surely finding a signal of intelligent origin from another planet would be a momentous and impactful find for them — assuming they don’t already know about us from past visits! Or already follow us on Twitter,” Montalbano told Life’s Little Mysteries.

And if they’re the aliens that sent the Wow! signal in the first place, they are likely to be an extremely advanced civilization. Scientists say the signal would have required a 2.2 gigawatt transmitter, vastly more powerful than any existing terrestrial radio station.

Source

June 25, 2012

Solar System Explained From the Inside Out (Infographic)

Filed under: Big Bang, Cool, Cosmology, Inner Solar System, Outer Solar System — bferrari @ 5:06 pm

June 21, 2012

Soviet military-surplus manned spacecraft to fly again

Filed under: Cool, Earth, Gadgets, Government Policies, Space Ships — bferrari @ 7:16 am

Company acquires armed orbital stations, capsules

Almaz – the Soviet Union’s secret armed space fleet of the 1970s

Almaz (or “Diamond”) was a secret Soviet military space programme of the 1970s, launched in response to a similar US effort. The idea was to conduct reconnaissance (spying) from space using manned platforms. The crews of the Almaz spy stations would travel up and down using fully-reusable capsules launched by conventional rockets, the RRVs referred to by EA.

Three Almaz stations were launched into space under the pretence that they were civilian Salyut research craft. (The US military spy-station project, which in the end never flew manned, was similarly dubbed the “Manned Orbiting Laboratory”).

“Salyut 2” suffered a disastrous breakdown shortly after reaching orbit and no crew was flown up to it, but “Salyut 3” and “Salyut 5” both spent substantial periods operational in orbit and were both crewed at times. Apart from spy scopes and such, credible sources (pdf page 11) suggest that the stations were equipped with a modified jet-fighter cannon. This was apparently test-fired by remote ground control during the “Salyut-3” mission. The cannon could have been used to defend the station against an anti-satellite attack.

In the late 1970s, the Soviets concluded that manned space reconnaissance offered no worthwhile advantages over unmanned spy satellites and the Almaz programme was shut down.

Almaz Cannon - Lifted from Soviet Jet fighters

Almaz Cannon – Lifted from Soviet Jet fighters

Now, however, EA intend to update and modernise their fleet of Almaz RRVs in cooperation with original Russian builders NPOM. They say that the refitted capsules will be mated to an expendable service module so as to offer a decent amount of space in orbit, and will be “compatible with a number of launch vehicles and capable of being launched from worldwide sites”. The firm believes that the first launch could come as soon as 2013.

After a sojourn in orbit lasting perhaps a week, the three-person crew of an EA mission would get into the RRV and undock from the service module, which could later be de-orbited and destroyed. The RRV would return to Earth, making a soft landing using its parachutes and retro-rockets, and then be prepared for another mission. Some of the RRVs have already been into space “several times” back in their Soviet military days, according to the company.

EA has thus far announced no plans to launch its stock of ex-Soviet space stations. If it does, it’s to be presumed that the firm will remove the armament, which could get the company into hot water under the Outer Space Treaty.

Source

Ex-Soviet space gunboats to be FOUND ON MOON

Filed under: Cool, Gadgets, Military, Space Ships — bferrari @ 7:07 am

Just £150m to join 2015 lunar invasion in 1970s ship

Isle of Man based space tourism firm Excalibur Almaz has said that it will be ready to rocket the rich to the Moon by 2015.

The company told a space tourism conference that it was planning the first test flight of its fleet of second-hand ex Soviet capsules and space stations in 2014 and would be ready to send a well-off civilian on a lunar trip the following year, The Telegraph reports.

The company has so far purchased four capsules and two disused space stations – once part of the Soviet era “Almaz” (“Diamond”) programme – from the Russians, and plans to get launch rockets from the same source.

Excalibur Almaz is that same firm that said back in 2009 that it would be offering week-long tourist trips in space from 2013 for $35m. So clearly, it’s moved a deadline or two before, and the price has also gone up by quite a lot. The firm reckons the first few trips to the Moon will cost £150m, falling to £50m over the next ten years of trips.

As well as forking out the whopping trip fees, the would-be space tourist will also have to give up around a year-and-a-half of their lives to fly the thing themselves.

Company founder Art Dula framed the possible journey as a scientific exploration rather than space tourism per se.

“We want to have the same kind of tradition that Britain had in the 16th and 17th centuries when its explorers went to the ends of the Earth seeking knowledge and information and bringing back wealth,” he said.

“I don’t know how much wealth they will bring back, but the first person to fly it will earn a place in the history books.”

Space tourists/explorers with Excalibur will have to go up three to a capsule, undergoing a year in training before the launch. Once they make it into orbit, they would dock with the refitted space station, which will then thrust its way to the moon quite slowly, making the round trip in four to six months.

Because of the low-thrust engines, Dula figures that highly-trained astronauts won’t be needed.

“Frankly, this type of space flight is so different to anything that has been before that there is no advantage in having someone that has a steely eye and can make a decision in half a second,” he said. “With the kind of equipment we have, you could make a decision overnight and sleep on it.”

The capsules are reusable re-entry vehicles (RRVs). Some were sent up and brought down in the 1970s, but never with any people inside. The two space stations are refitted Almaz orbiter spacecraft, which were manned surveillance mini-stations designed to spy on the Soviet Union’s cold-war enemies while pretending to be research platforms. The Almaz spy-craft which went into space spent most of their time operating unmanned under remote ground control, though crews did visit at times aboard Soyuz capsules.

Fearing a possible space battle with the Americans, Soviet space chiefs actually fitted at least one Almaz platform with a powerful cannon which was test-fired in orbit, though no doubt any gun turrets have been removed from the modern examples. All of the Excalibur fleet has been upgraded by bolting on “off the shelf” modern systems.

The firm will be looking as much at sovereign governments as at wealthy individuals, since the timescale means science experiments could be conducted on the trips.

June 16, 2012

Unmanned Air Force space plane lands in California following 15-month mission

Filed under: Cool, Gadgets, Inner Solar System, Military, Space Exploration, Space Ships — bferrari @ 6:03 pm
This undated file image provided by the U.S. Air Force shows the X-37B spacecraft. (AP2010)

This undated file image provided by the U.S. Air Force shows the X-37B spacecraft. (AP2010)

An unmanned Air Force space plane steered itself to a landing early Saturday at a California military base, capping a 15-month clandestine mission.
The spacecraft, which was launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida in March 2011, conducted in-orbit experiments during the mission, officials said.
It was the second such autonomous landing at the Vandenberg Air Force Base, 130 miles northwest of Los Angeles. In 2010, an identical unmanned spacecraft returned to Earth after seven months and 91 million miles in orbit.
The latest homecoming was set in motion when the stubby-winged robotic X-37B fired its engine to slip out of orbit, then pierced through the atmosphere and glided down the runway like an airplane.
“With the retirement of the Space Shuttle fleet, the X-37B OTV program brings a singular capability to space technology development,” said Lt. Col. Tom McIntyre, the X-37B’s program manager.
“The return capability allows the Air Force to test new technologies without the same risk commitment faced by other programs. We’re proud of the entire team’s successful efforts to bring this mission to an outstanding conclusion.”
With the second X-37B on the ground, the Air Force planned to launch the first one again in the fall. An exact date has not been set. The twin X-37B vehicles are part of a military program testing robotically controlled reusable spacecraft technologies.
Though the Air Force has emphasized the goal is to test the space plane itself, there’s a classified payload on board — a detail that has led to much speculation about the mission’s ultimate purpose.
Some amateur trackers think the craft carried an experimental spy satellite sensor judging by its low orbit and inclination, suggesting reconnaissance or intelligence gathering rather than communications.
Harvard astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell, who runs Jonathan’s Space Report, which tracks the world’s space launches and satellites, said it’s possible it was testing some form of new imaging. The latest X-37B was boosted into orbit atop an Atlas 5 rocket.
It was designed to stay aloft for nine months, but the Air Force wanted to test its endurance. After determining the space plane was performing well, the military decided in December to extend the mission.
Little has been said publicly about the second X-37B flight and operations. At a budget hearing before the Senate Armed Services subcommittee in March, William Shelton, head of the Air Force Space Command, made a passing mention.
That the second X-37B has stayed longer in space than the first shows “the flexibility of this unique system,” he told lawmakers.
Defense analysts are divided over its usefulness. Joan Johnson-Freese, professor of national security affairs at the Naval War College, said such a craft could give the U.S. “eyes” over conflict regions faster than a satellite.
“Having a vehicle with a broad range of capabilities that can get into space quickly is a very good thing,” she said. Yousaf Butt, a nuclear physicist and scientific consultant for the Federation of American Scientists, thinks the capabilities of the X-37B could be done more cheaply with a disposable spacecraft.
“I believe one of the reasons that the mission is still around is institutional inertia,” he said. The arc of the X-37 program spans back to 1999 and has changed hands several times.
Originally a NASA project, the space agency in 2004 transferred it to the Pentagon’s research and development arm, DARPA, and then to the secretive Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been poured into development, but the current total spent remains a secret.
Built by Boeing Co.’s Phantom Works, the 11,000-pound space plane stands 9 1/2 feet tall and is just over 29 feet long, with a wingspan of less than 15 feet.
It possesses two angled tail fins rather than a single vertical stabilizer. Once in orbit, it has solar panels that unfurl to charge batteries for electrical power. McDowell of the Jonathan’s Space Report sees a downside. He noted it’ll be tough for the Air Force to send up such planes on short notice if it has to rely on the Atlas V rocket, which requires lengthy preparations.
“The requirement to go on Atlas V is a problem; they may need to look at a new launch vehicle that would be ready to go more quickly,” he said.

Source

Massive solar flare in March broke sun storm records

Filed under: Cool, The Sun — bferrari @ 9:13 am
NASA's SDO spacecraft caught this image of an X-class solar flare on March 7, 2012. (NASA/SDO)

NASA’s SDO spacecraft caught this image of an X-class solar flare on March 7, 2012. (NASA/SDO)

A massive flare that exploded from the solar surface in March unleashed the highest-energy light ever seen during a sun eruption, scientists say.

On March 7, the sun let loose a massive X5.4 solar flare during its biggest outburst in five years. NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope saw an unusually long-lasting pulse of gamma rays — a form of light with even greater energies than X-rays — produced by the flare.

At the flare’s peak, the gamma rays that were emitted from the sun were 2 billion times more energetic than visible light, making it a record-setting detection during or immediately after any previously seen solar flare, researchers said. In fact, as the flare erupted, the sun briefly became the brightest object in the gamma-ray sky.

“The sun is [usually] not a very bright source in gamma rays,” said Nicola Omodei, an astrophysicist at Stanford University in California. “We don’t detect the sun on a daily basis. On the other hand, on March 7, the sky looked completely different, as the sun became an intense, bright source of high-energy gamma rays.” [The Sun’s Wrath: Worst Solar Storms in History]

Omodei presented the findings Monday (June 11) here at the 220th meeting of the American Astronomical Society.

Long and intense eruption
In addition to the intensity of the gamma-ray emissions, astronomers were surprised by the outburst’s length. Fermi’s Large Area Telescope (LAT) observed high-energy gamma rays for approximately 20 hours, which is 2 1/2 times longer than any event ever recorded, Omodei said.

‘Some of these particles were accelerated to two-thirds of the speed of light in as little as three seconds.’
– University of Alabama scientist Michael Briggs

Fermi’s observations also enabled astronomers to pinpoint the source of the gamma rays on the sun’s disk, making it the first time that such a feat has been accomplished for a gamma-ray source with energies beyond 100 million electron volts (MeV), researchers said.
“Thanks to the LAT’s improved angular resolution, [we’re] able to localize the region of the high-energy gamma ray emission,” Omodei said. “The location of the high-energy gamma rays is consistent with the region of the X-ray flare.”

Solar flares and other emissions from the sun produce gamma rays by accelerating charged particles, which then collide and interact with matter in the sun’s atmosphere and visible surface.

Learning about solar flares
Fermi’s LAT combs the sky for highly energetic gamma rays every three hours. This instrument, along with Fermi’s Gamma-ray Burst Monitor (GBM), detected a strong but less powerful solar flare on June 12, 2010, scientists said.

“Seeing the rise and fall of this brief flare in both instruments allowed us to determine that some of these particles were accelerated to two-thirds of the speed of light in as little as three seconds,” Michael Briggs, a member of the GBM team at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, said in a statement.

The sun’s activity waxes and wanes on a roughly 11-year cycle. Currently, the sun is ramping up in its current Solar Cycle 24 toward an expected activity maximum in mid-2013.
“As the solar cycle progresses toward maximum, new Fermi observations of solar flares will help us in understanding how flares accelerate particles and where gamma rays are produced,” Omodei said.

The highly sensitive LAT, with its wide field of view, makes Fermi a valuable tool for observing the sun, researchers said, and could revolutionize the field of solar physics.
“Merged with available theoretical models, Fermi observations will give us the ability to reconstruct the energies and types of particles that interact with the sun during flares, an understanding that will open up whole new avenues in solar research,” Gerald Share, an astrophysicist at the University of Maryland in College Park, said in a statement.

Source

June 13, 2012

World’s largest telescope project gets green light

Filed under: Cool, Cosmology, Gadgets — bferrari @ 8:04 am
Artist's impression of the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT). (ESO)

Artist’s impression of the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT). (ESO)

A European project to build the largest optical telescope on Earth took a big step closer to becoming reality Monday (June 11), when final approval came from the scientific consortium backing the new observatory.

Plans for the mega-telescope, appropriately called the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT), were approved by the governing council of the European Southern Observatory (ESO), officials announced Monday.

“This is an excellent outcome and a great day for ESO,” ESO Director General Tim de Zeeuw said in a statement. “We can now move forward on schedule with this giant project.”

The E-ELT will be a 129-foot (39-meter) segmented-mirror telescope sited atop a mountain called Cerro Armazones in northern Chile, close to ESO’s Paranal Observatory. It will be many times more sensitive than any other instrument of its kind, researchers said.

The huge telescope will collect at least 12 times more light than today’s largest optical telescopes, allowing astronomers to probe a variety of high-priority cosmic questions.

Scientists will use it to help search for habitable alien planets, for example, and to study the nature and distribution of dark matter and dark energy, the mysterious stuff thought to make up most of our universe but which astronomers have yet to detect directly.

“The telescope is set to revolutionize optical and infrared astronomy,” said Isobel Hook of the University of Oxford, the United Kingdom’s E-ELT project scientist, in a statement. “Its unique combination of sharp imaging and huge light collecting area will allow us to observe some of the most exciting phenomena in the universe in much better detail.”

The E-ELT project is not quite ready to break ground yet, however. Construction cannot begin until provisional votes from four more of the ESO’s 15 member states have been confirmed and 90 percent of the required funding has been secured, officials said.

Building the E-ELT is expected to cost 1.083 billion euros, or roughly $1.35 billion at current exchange rates. ESO officials have said that construction is expected to begin sometime this year, with the telescope becoming operational in the early 2020s.

Source

June 11, 2012

Universe’s 1st Objects After Big Bang Possibly Seen by NASA Telescope

Filed under: Big Bang, Cool, Cosmology, Wierd — bferrari @ 1:37 pm
Astronomers have uncovered patterns of light that appear to be from the first stars and galaxies that formed in the universe. The light patterns were hidden within a strip of sky observed by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. (NASA/JPL)

Astronomers have uncovered patterns of light that appear to be from the first stars and galaxies that formed in the universe. The light patterns were hidden within a strip of sky observed by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope. (NASA/JPL)

New observations from a NASA space telescope have spotted what may be the very first objects created in the universe in unprecedented detail, scientists say.

The faint objects, imaged in infrared light by NASA’s Spitzer space telescope, might be hugely massive stars or black holes, but are too distant to see individually….

The Big Bang is thought to have kick-started the universe about 13.7 billion years ago. At first, the universe was too hot and dense for particles to be stable, but then the first quarks formed, which then grouped together to make protons and neutrons, and eventually the first atoms were created. After about 500 million years, the first stars, galaxies and black holes began to take shape.

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