SpaceJibe

January 30, 2013

Missile Defense Agency successfully tests ‘kill vehicle’ to block ICBMs

Filed under: Cool, Gadgets, Military — bferrari @ 7:54 am

Jan. 26, 2013: The Missile Defense Agency successfully conducted a flight test of a three-stage Ground-Based Interceptor from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. (Missile Defense Agency)

The Missile Defense Agency quietly tested a “kill vehicle” over the weekend, successfully showing that the nation’s first line of defense can block the threat of ballistic missiles.

At hypersonic speeds, the Raytheon-made warhead — a 120-pound spacecraft that has been described as “a telescope mounted on a pack of propane cylinders” — operates at the edge of space to seek out and ram into threats, ultimately destroying them.

On the afternoon of Sat., Jan. 26, the Agency successful launched and tested the craft, which they call an Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle or EKV, from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. It’s a key element of Boeing’s Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system, which acts as the nation’s shield.

GMD is the first and only operationally deployed missile defense program to defend against long-range ballistic missile attacks, such as inbound ICBMs.

And that shield is apparently sturdy.

Instead of using a traditional warhead, EKV destroys the threat by colliding with it using only the force of impact — a process known as “hit-to-kill.”

At ramming speed
GMD has sensors on land, sea and space to detect threats. Once a threat is detected, a three-stage solid rocket booster blasts the EKV into space. Once outside the Earth’s atmosphere, it uses advanced multi-color sensors to detect the incoming warheads.

The EKV has its own propulsion, communications link, discrimination algorithms, guidance and control system. It also has its own computers and a rocket motor to steer in space.

In the tests over the weekend, the three-stage booster shot this kill vehicle to a designated point in space, where it separated from its booster and executed a variety of pre-planned maneuvers in space.

A target missile launch was not included in this flight test, but the Missile Defense Agency says all components performed as designed. The program will assess and evaluate system performance in a flight environment using data the agency gathered during this test.

Engineering data from this test will also be used to improve confidence for future intercept missions.

The test is the latest in an extensive series ordered after the Flight Test Ground-Based Interceptor (FTG)-06 system failure in December 2010 — and a critical first step in returning GMD to successful intercept testing.

The EKV has already had eight successful intercepts throughout the life of the program

Source

The Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle is made in Raytheons Space Factory located in Tucson, Arizona. (Raytheon)

‘Extrasolar cartography’ could provide rough pictures of alien worlds

Filed under: Exoplanets, Extraterrestrial Life, Gadgets, Life, Space Exploration — bferrari @ 7:44 am

This EPOXI mission image shows what an Earth-like exoplanet might look like from afar. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/UMD/GSFC)

Astronomers could one day create rough maps of far-away planets using information taken from starlight reflection, determining the balance of oceans, lands and overhanging clouds.

The software can take a point of reflected starlight from an exoplanet to tease apart the unique signals required to form a rough map. Developed by planetary scientist Nicolas Cowan and presented this month at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Long Beach, Calif., it is inspired by a technique originally developed to distinguish between natural surfaces – such as forests – and unnatural ones like military bunkers in satellite images of Earth.

Because there is currently no telescope powerful enough to directly photograph a faraway rocky planet, Cowan tested the software on images of Earth taken from a distant vantage point in space by NASA’s Deep Impact spacecraft as part of the EPOXI mission.

‘There were three important features, and their spectra look an awful lot like land, ocean, and clouds.’

– Planetary scientist Nicolas Cowan

“The object of this experiment was to see whether we could identify the colors of surfaces on Earth, [and tell] how many major surfaces are there, and what they look like,” said Cowan, who works at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill.

Cowan’s technique – called “rotational unmixing” – analyzes the changing color of starlight reflecting off a distant, spinning exoplanet to calculate the mix of planetary features – such as land or ocean – that might combine to create a specific hue.

The technique is similar to being in an otherwise dark room with a muted television and analyzing the light reflected on the opposite wall to figure what is playing on the TV.

“You’re not seeing the picture, but you’re seeing the reflection of the picture and learning something about what’s going on there,” said Eric Ford, an astronomer at the University of Florida in Gainesville, who was not involved in the study.

When Cowan’s software was applied to EPOXI images of Earth, it was able to extract reflectance signatures corresponding to three major surface types.

“The analysis told us there were three important features,” Cowan said, “and their spectra look an awful lot like land, ocean, and clouds.”

Lisa Kaltenegger, an exoplanet researcher at the Max-Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, Germany, said Cowan’s technique was very interesting– but with a few caveats. For example, the exoplanet must have highly contrasting surfaces, such as ocean and land, or ocean and clouds, for this technique to work well.

“If you have an ocean planet or a planet that is all land, it would be very challenging because you don’t have different surfaces,” said Kaltenegger, who also did not participate in the study.

Another challenge would be distinguishing between clouds and ice on a planet’s surface, according to Aomawa Shields, an astrobiologist at the University of Washington in Seattle who was not involved in the study.

“Being able to tell whether a planet is simply undergoing significant cloud cover, or is in the midst of a global glaciation is important from the standpoint of habitability,” Shields said.

If the right planet could be found, however, the rotational unmixing technique could give astronomers a rough idea of the ocean-to-land ratio of an exoplanet, or provide a sense of what the climate is like by analyzing cloud cover and cloud movement.

The resulting picture would not be a map in the traditional sense.  “It’s not like a map that you can use to land a spacecraft on a planet … but it’s better than nothing,” Cowan said.

Before astronomers can apply the technique to a real exoplanet, they will first need a telescope with a lens that is not only big enough to resolve the pinprick of reflected light from a distant world, but powerful enough to extract meaningful data from short-period observations lasting only hours – the time it takes for an Earth-like planet to make a complete turn.

“You need a next-gen telescope,” Cowan said. “We’re talking like early 2020s realistically.”

The task could be simplified if a target exoplanet rotated slower than Earth, or if it was located relatively close to us, so that it appeared bigger than it would otherwise.

Fortunately, recent discoveries by NASA’s Kepler mission suggest the galaxy is teeming with planets. Astronomers estimate the Milky Way contains at least 100 billion planets, and that at least 1-in-17 sunlike stars have Earth-sized, rocky worlds circling around them.

“The good news is it’s not like we’re going to have to look halfway across the galaxy to find some cool planets to study,” Ford said.

January 27, 2013

What Did The Air Force Just Launch Into Space?

Filed under: Cool, Earth, Gadgets, Inner Solar System, Military, Space Ships — bferrari @ 10:53 am
The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle in its encapsulation cell on April 13, 2010, in Titusville, Florida. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle in its encapsulation cell on April 13, 2010, in Titusville, Florida. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At 1:03 p.m. eastern time on Tuesday afternoon, the U.S. Air Force launched an unmanned Atlas 5 rocket into space from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The rocket’s cargo, a small shuttle called the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle, is an autonomous spacecraft that’s been under development by the U.S. government for over a decade –though very few people know exactly what it’s supposed to do.

Depending on who you ask, speculation on the X-37B’s purpose ranges from an orbital fighter plane meant to destroy enemy satellites; a bomber capable of dropping nukes from outer space; a giant spy camera array; or just a simple science project, meant to prove the viability of a new generation of reusable spacecraft.

The U.S. government freely acknowledges the existence of the orbiter, but is deliberately vague about its purpose: “The focus of the program remains on testing vehicle capabilities and proving the utility and cost-effectiveness of a reusable spacecraft,” Air Force spokeswoman Tracy Bunko told Reuters before today’s launch.

What we do know for sure is that X-37B is about 29 feet long with a wingspan of 15 feet, about a quarter of the size of NASA’s now retired space shuttles. It’s solar powered and can remain in orbit for a year or more. And there’s no crew –it’s completely autonomous, capable of completing its mission and even returning to Earth and landing on its own.

The X-37B is the result of a quasi-secret program, started in 1999 by NASA, Boeing and the Air Force, but later transferred to the  Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Since taking over in 2004, DARPA has kept the vehicles development and budget under wraps.

This is the third flight of the Orbital Test Vehicle; the same ship circled earth for 224 days beginning in 2010, and a sister ship blasted off in 2011 and spent 469 days in space. Both shuttles were built by Boeing’s advanced R&D division, Boeing Phantom Works, based inHuntington Beach, California.

Source

Star Trek ‘tractor beam’ created by scientists

Filed under: Cool, Gadgets, Military, Space Ships — bferrari @ 10:48 am
In

In “Stak Trek,” Federation starships relied upon tractor beams to hold and tow other vessels. Scientists may not be there yet, but they have managed to tow a small particle using light beams.

A team of scientists has created a real-life miniature “tractor beam” – as featured in the Star Trek series – in a development which may lead to more efficient medical testing.

The microscopic beam – created by scientists from Scotland and the Czech Republic – allows a source of light to attract objects.

Light manipulation techniques have existed since the 1970s, but researchers say the experiment is the first instance of a beam being used to draw objects towards light.

Researchers from the University of St Andrews and the Institute of Scientific Instruments (ISI) in the Czech Republic say development of the beam may be an aid to medical testing, such as in the examination of blood samples.

A tractor beam was used to pull in spaceships and other large objects in the popular US science fiction show.

Normally, when matter and light interact, a solid object is pushed by the light and carried away in a stream of photons.

However, in recent years, researchers have realised that there is a space of parameters when this force reverses.

The scientists have now demonstrated the first experimental realisation of the concept.

Professor Pavel Zemanek of the ISI said: “The whole team have spent a number of years investigating various configurations of particles delivery by light.

“I am proud our results were recognised in this very competitive environment and I am looking forward to new experiments and applications. It is a very exciting time.”

Dr Oto Brzobohaty, also of the ISI, said: “These methods are opening new opportunities for fundamental phonics as well as applications for life-sciences.”

Source

January 26, 2013

NASA tests vintage Apollo 11 rocket engine for ideas for new US missions

Filed under: Uncategorized — bferrari @ 11:18 am

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. –  Like vinyl records and skinny ties, good things eventually come back around. At NASA, that means looking to the Apollo program for ideas on how to develop the next generation of rockets for future missions to the moon and beyond.

Smoke and flames signal the opening of a historic journey as the Saturn V clears the launch pad. (NASA)

Smoke and flames signal the opening of a historic journey as the Saturn V clears the launch pad. (NASA)

Young engineers who weren’t even born when the last Saturn V rocket took off for the moon are testing a vintage engine from the program.

The engine, known to NASA engineers as No. F-6049, was supposed to help propel Apollo 11 into orbit in 1969, when NASA sent Neil Armstrong and two other astronauts to the moon for the first time. The flight went off without a hitch, but no thanks to the engine — it was grounded because of a glitch during a test in Mississippi and later sent to the Smithsonian Institution, where it sat for years.

Now engineers are learning to work with technical systems and propellants not used since before the start of the space shuttle program, which first launched in 1981.

Nick Case, 27, and other engineers at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center on Thursday completed a series of 11 test-firings of the F-6049’s gas generator, a jet-like rocket which produces 30,000 pounds of thrust and was used as a starter for the engine. They are trying to see whether a second-generation version of the Apollo engine could produce even more thrust and be operated with a throttle for deep-space exploration.

There are no plans to send the old engine into space, but it could become a template for a new generation of motors incorporating parts of its design.

In NASA-speak, the old 18-foot-tall motor is called an F-1 engine. During moon missions, five of them were arranged at the base of the 363-foot-tall Saturn V system and fired together to power the rocket off the ground toward Earth orbit.

Thursday’s test used one part of the engine, the gas generator, which powers the machinery to pump propellant into the main rocket chamber. It doesn’t produce the massive orange flame or clouds of smoke like that of a whole F-1, but the sound was deafening as engineers fired the mechanism in an outdoor test stand on a cool, sunny afternoon.

The device produced a plume that resembled a blow torch the size of two buses and set fire to a grassy area, which was quickly extinguished.

Jan. 24, 2012: An F-1 Engine gas generator is tested at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. The test, with parts taken from an engine intended to fly in the Apollo program, is being studied my Marshall engineers in developing the next generation of rocket engines for NASA's Space Launch System (SLS). (AP Photo/Eric Schultz. AL.com)

Jan. 24, 2012: An F-1 Engine gas generator is tested at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. The test, with parts taken from an engine intended to fly in the Apollo program, is being studied my Marshall engineers in developing the next generation of rocket engines for NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS). (AP Photo/Eric Schultz. AL.com)

“It’s not small,” Case said. “It’s pretty beefy on its own.”

And just like during the Apollo days, people in north Alabama heard rockets thundering in the distance during tests at Marshall.

“My wife and daughter were in our front yard and she said they could hear it, which was pretty cool,” Case said after an earlier test. “We live about 15 miles away.”

A single F-1 engine can produce 1.5 million pounds of thrust using a fuel composed of liquid oxygen and refined kerosene, which was not used in the space shuttle.

The tests were conducted at Marshall in a project conducted with Dynetics Inc. and Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, which are studying NASA’s possibilities for deep-space missions years from now. The space agency plans to use commercial launches to reach low Earth orbit; larger rockets are required to escape the planet’s gravity.

R.H. Coates, an engineer who works with Case in Marshall’s liquid propulsion office, said young engineers can learn a lot from the work done by predecessors using slide-rules in the 1960s, but no one wants to simply rebuild the old Saturn V engine.

“This wouldn’t be your daddy’s F-1,” Coates said. “We’d use new materials and try to simplify it, update it.”

Case started at Marshall as a high school intern in 2002 and has been working there since graduating from the University of Alabama in Huntsville in 2008. He said today’s technology allows things that weren’t possible during the 1960s, but he has been impressed by what he learned taking apart the unused Apollo 11 engine.

Engine No. F-6049 didn’t fit properly on the Apollo 11 rocket, but it is invaluable now as a testing tool. Coates said a total of 85 F-1 engines were used on 17 Apollo flights without a single failure.

About a dozen F-1 engines remain in Huntsville, Ala., home of NASA’s main propulsion center, and others are located elsewhere. Most are on display. Case said engineers used engine No. F-6049 for the tests because it was the most complete.

“It is really an excellent booster,” he said. “The guys in Apollo had it right.”

Source

January 24, 2013

Still going: Long-lived NASA rover Opportunity commencing tenth year of exploration on Mars

MARS –  Opportunity, NASA’s other Mars rover, has tooled around the red planet for so long it’s easy to forget it’s still alive.

The late-afternoon shadow cast by the Mars rover Opportunity at Endeavour Crater. The six-wheel rover landed on Mars in January 2004 and is still going strong. (AP Photo/NASA)

The late-afternoon shadow cast by the Mars rover Opportunity at Endeavour Crater. The six-wheel rover landed on Mars in January 2004 and is still going strong. (AP Photo/NASA)

Some 5,000 miles away from the limelight surrounding Curiosity’s every move, Opportunity this week quietly embarks on its tenth year of exploration — a sweet milestone since it was only tasked to work for three months.

“Opportunity is still going. Go figure,” said mission deputy principal investigator Ray Arvidson of Washington University in St. Louis.

True, it’s not as snazzy as Curiosity, the most high-tech interplanetary rover ever designed. It awed the world with its landing near the Martian equator five months ago.

After so many years crater-hopping, Opportunity is showing its age: It has an arthritic joint in its robotic arm and it drives mostly backward due to a balky front wheel — more annoyances than show-stoppers.

For the past several months, it has been parked on a clay-rich hill along the western rim of Endeavour Crater that’s unlike any scenery it encountered before. It plans to wrap up at its current spot in the next several months and then drive south where the terrain looks even riper for discoveries.

Long before Curiosity became everybody’s favorite rover, Opportunity was the darling.

The six-wheel, solar-powered rover parachuted to Eagle Crater in Mars’ southern hemisphere on Jan. 24, 2004, weeks after its twin Spirit landed on the opposite side of the planet.

‘Opportunity is still going. Go figure.’

– Mission deputy principal investigator Ray Arvidson of Washington University

During the first three months, there were frequent updates about the twin rovers’ antics. The world, it seemed, followed every trail, every rock touched and even kept up with Spirit’s health scare that it eventually recovered from.

Opportunity immediately lived up to its name, touching down in an ancient lakebed brimming with minerals that formed in the presence of water, a key ingredient for life. After grinding into rocks and sifting through dirt, Opportunity made one of the enduring finds on Mars: Signs abound of an ancient environment that was warmer and wetter than today’s dusty, cold desert state.

Spirit, on the other hand, landed in a less interesting spot and had to drive some distance to find geologic evidence of past water. After six productive years wheeling around, it fell silent in 2010, forever stuck in Martian sand.

Opportunity went on to poke into four other craters, uncovering even more hints that water existed on Mars long ago.

The rover “is not like a lander staring at the same real estate. We’ve gone to different terrains, explored different geology and answered different questions on Mars,” said project manager John Callas of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which runs the $984 million project.

What’s still unknown is whether Mars ever had the right environmental conditions to support microscopic organisms — something Curiosity is trying to answer during its two-year mission. Besides water, it’s generally agreed that a power source like the sun and carbon-based compounds are essential for life.

Unlike the flashier Curiosity, armed with the latest tools, Opportunity is not equipped with a carbon detector. Its latest crater destination, which it arrived at last year after an epic three-year journey, contains sections rich in clay deposits. Clays typically form in the presence of water and can be a fine preserver of carbon material. But scientists will never know.

As it enters its tenth year on Mars, Opportunity will continue studying the chemical makeup and pinning down the ages of several interesting rocks at its location for several more months before adding more mileage to the 22 miles it has logged since landing.

As for the hunt for carbon, all eyes are on Curiosity, set to drive later this year to the base of a mountain where rock layers containing clay minerals have been detected.

Callas, the JPL project manager, said Curiosity has a long way to go to catch up with Opportunity, which has nearly a decade head start on the Martian surface.

“Mars is big enough for more than two rovers to explore,” he said.

Source

January 18, 2013

Astrophysicist ‘Discovers’ Superman’s Krypton

Filed under: Cool, Extraterrestrial Life, Wierd — bferrari @ 9:37 am

Neil deGrasse Tyson was invited by DC Comics to look for the superhero’s home world. He found it.

Astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson helped DC Comics, home of the Superman comics, find a plausible star to be the host of the superhero's home planet, Krypton. Click to enlarge this image. DC Comics

Astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson helped DC Comics, home of the Superman comics, find a plausible star to be the host of the superhero’s home planet, Krypton. Click to enlarge this image. DC Comics

A prominent astrophysicist has pinned down a real location for Superman’s fictional home planet of Krypton.

Krypton is found 27.1 light-years from Earth, in the southern constellation Corvus (The Crow), says Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of the American Museum of Natural History’s Hayden Planetarium in New York City. The planet orbits the red dwarf star LHS 2520, which is cooler and smaller than our sun.

NUGGET: Superman Quits Daily Planet

Tyson performed the celestial sleuthing at the request of DC Comics, which wanted to run a story about Superman’s search for his home planet.

The new book — Action Comics Superman #14, titled “Star Light, Star Bright” — comes out Wednesday (Nov. 7). Tyson appears within its pages, aiding the Man of Steel on his quest.

“As a native of Metropolis, I was delighted to help Superman, who has done so much for my city over all these years,” Tyson said in a statement. “And it’s clear that if he weren’t a superhero he would have made quite an astrophysicist.”

ANALYSIS: Vaporizing Planets in the Name of Science

You’ll have to read “Star Light, Star Bright” to find out just how Superman and Tyson pinpoint Krypton. For amateur astronomers who want to spot the real star LHS 2520 in the night sky, here are its coordinates:

Right Ascension: 12 hours 10 minutes 5.77 seconds

Declination: -15 degrees 4 minutes 17.9 seconds

Proper Motion: 0.76 arcseconds per year, along 172.94 degrees from due north

Superman was born on Krytpon but was launched toward Earth as an infant by his father, Jor-El, just before the planet’s destruction. After touching down in Kansas, Superman was raised as Clark Kent by a farmer and his wife.

Now Superman will apparently know exactly where he came from.

VIDEO: Hollywood Superman Exposed

“This is a major milestone in the Superman mythos that gives our super hero a place in the universe,” DC Entertainment co-publisher Dan DiDio said in a statement. “Having Neil deGrasse Tyson in the book was one thing, but by applying real-world science to this story he has forever changed Superman’s place in history. Now fans will be able to look up at the night’s sky and say, ‘That’s where Superman was born.'”
Source

January 16, 2013

NASA, Europeans uniting to send space capsule to moon, flights targeted for 2017 and 2021

Filed under: Cool, Gadgets, Inner Solar System, Moons, Space Ships — bferrari @ 3:58 pm

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. –  NASA is teaming up with the European Space Agency to get astronauts beyond Earth’s orbit.

Jan. 16, 2013: An artist's concept of the Orion Service Module. When the Orion spacecraft blasts off atop NASA's Space Launch System rocket in 2017, attached will be the ESA-provided service module the powerhouse that fuels and propels the Orion spacecraft. (NASA)

Jan. 16, 2013: An artist’s concept of the Orion Service Module. When the Orion spacecraft blasts off atop NASA’s Space Launch System rocket in 2017, attached will be the ESA-provided service module the powerhouse that fuels and propels the Orion spacecraft. (NASA)

Europe will provide the propulsion and power compartment for NASA’s Orion crew capsule, officials said Wednesday. This so-called service module will be based on Europe’s supply ship used for the International Space Station.

Orion’s first trip is an unmanned mission in 2017. Any extra European parts will be incorporated in the first manned mission of Orion in 2021.

“Space has long been a frontier for international cooperation as we explore,” said Dan Dumbacher, deputy associate administrator for Exploration System Development at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “This latest chapter builds on NASA’s excellent relationship with ESA as a partner in the International Space Station, and helps us move forward in our plans to send humans farther into space than we’ve ever been before.”

NASA’s human exploration chief, Bill Gerstenmaier, said both missions will be aimed at the vicinity of the moon. The exact details are being worked out; lunar fly-bys, rather than landings, are planned.

NASA wants to ultimately use the bell-shaped Orion spacecraft to carry astronauts to asteroids and Mars. International cooperation will be crucial for such endeavors, Gerstenmaier told reporters.

The United States has yet to establish a clear path forward for astronauts, 1 1/2 years after NASA’s space shuttles stopped flying. The basic requirements for Orion spacecraft are well understood regardless of the destination, allowing work to proceed, Gerstenmaier said.

“You don’t design a car to just go to the grocery store,” he told reporters.

Getting to 2017 will be challenging, officials for both space programs acknowledged. Gerstenmaier said he’s not “100 percent comfortable” putting Europe in such a crucial role. “But I’m never 100 percent comfortable” with spaceflight, he noted. “We’ll see how it goes, but we’ve done it smartly.”

The space station helped build the foundation for this new effort, he said.

Former astronaut Thomas Reiter, Europe’s director of human spaceflight, said it makes sense for the initial Orion crew to include Europeans. For now, though, the focus is on the technical aspects, he said. NASA will supply no-longer-used space shuttle engines for use on the service modules.

“NASA’s decision … is a strong sign of trust and confidence in ESA’s capabilities, for ESA it is an important contribution to human exploration,” said Thomas Reiter, ESA director of Human Spaceflight and Operations.

Reiter put the total European contribution at nearly $600 million.

Orion originally was part of NASA’s Constellation program that envisioned moon bases in the post-shuttle era. President Barack Obama canceled Constellation, but Orion was repurposed and survived.

A test flight of the capsule is planned for next year; it will fly 3,600 miles away and then return.

Source

January 12, 2013

Largest structure in universe discovered

Filed under: Big Bang, Black Holes, Cool, Cosmology, Gamma Ray Bursts — bferrari @ 12:07 pm
Light from the most distant quasar yet seen reveals details about the chemistry of the early universe. (ESO/M. Kornmesser)

Light from the most distant quasar yet seen reveals details about the chemistry of the early universe. (ESO/M. Kornmesser)

Astronomers have discovered the largest known structure in the universe, a clump of active galactic cores that stretches 4 billion light-years from end to end.

The structure is a large quasar group (LQG), a collection of extremely luminous galactic nuclei powered by supermassive central black holes. This particular group is so large that it challenges modern cosmological theory, researchers said.

“While it is difficult to fathom the scale of this LQG, we can say quite definitely it is the largest structure ever seen in the entire universe,” lead author Roger Clowes, of the University of Central Lancashire in England, said in a statement. “This is hugely exciting, not least because it runs counter to our current understanding of the scale of the universe.”

 

‘This is hugely exciting, not least because it runs counter to our current understanding of the scale of the universe.’

– Roger Clowes, of the University of Central Lancashire in England

 

Quasars are the brightest objects in the universe. For decades, astronomers have known that they tend to assemble in huge groups, some of which are more than 600 million light-years wide.

But the record-breaking quasar group, which Clowes and his team spotted in data gathered by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, is on another scale altogether. The newfound LQC is composed of 73 quasars and spans about 1.6 billion light-years in most directions, though it is 4 billion light-years across at its widest point.

 

To put that mind-boggling size into perspective, the disk of the Milky Way galaxy — home of Earth’s solar system — is about 100,000 light-years wide. And the Milky Way is separated from its nearest galactic neighbor, Andromeda, by about 2.5 million light-years.

The newly discovered LQC is so enormous, in fact, that theory predicts it shouldn’t exist, researchers said. The quasar group appears to violate a widely accepted assumption known as the cosmological principle, which holds that the universe is essentially homogeneous when viewed at a sufficiently large scale.

Calculations suggest that structures larger than about 1.2 billion light-years should not exist, researchers said.

“Our team has been looking at similar cases which add further weight to this challenge, and we will be continuing to investigate these fascinating phenomena,” Clowes said.

The new study was published Jan. 11 in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Source

January 9, 2013

Asteroid Apophis to whiz past Earth tonight — and return for more in 2036

An artist's rendering of the asteroid Apophis. (European Space Agency)

An artist’s rendering of the asteroid Apophis. (European Space Agency)

A European space telescope has captured new images of the huge asteroid Apophis, revealing that the potentially hazardous object is actually bigger than previously thought — and you have a chance to see the space rock yourself in two free webcasts tonight.

Asteroid Apophis has long been billed as a “doomsday asteroid” because of a 2004 study that predicted a 2.7 percent chance of the space rock hitting Earth when it passes within 22,364 miles of the planet in April 2029, European Space Agency officials said. Later studies proved, however, that the asteroid poses no threat to Earth during that flyby, but astronomers continue to track the object since it will make another pass near Earth in 2036.

 

Today, ESA officials announced that its infrared Herschel Space Observatory has discovered that Apophis is about 1,066 feet wide, nearly 20 percent larger than a previous estimate of 885 feet.

“The 20 percent increase in diameter … translates into a 75 percent increase in our estimates of the asteroid’s volume or mass,” study leader Thomas Müller of the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Garching, Germany, said in a statement. [Photos of Near-Earth Asteroid Apophis]

‘Alone among all these near-Earth asteroids that have passed our way in recent years, Apophis has generated the most concern worldwide.’

– Slooh president Patrick Paolucci

Tonight’s two free webcasts will stream live views of Apophis from telescopes in Italy and the Canary Islands tonight (Jan. 10). The webcasts, offered by the stargazing websites Slooh Space Telescope and Virtual Telescope Project, will show Apophis as a bright light moving across the night sky. The asteroid is too small to be seen through small backyard telescopes.

The Slooh Space Camera webcast will begin at 7 p.m. EST (0000 Jan. 10 GMT). The Virtual Telescope webcast will begin an hour later at 8 p.m. EST (0100 GMT). You can watch both live webcasts of asteroid Apophis here on SPACE.com tonight.

Apophis will be just under 9.3 million miles from Earth at the time of tonight’s webcasts, amateur astronomer Gianluca Masi of the Virtual Telescope Project told SPACE.com.

“Alone among all these near-Earth asteroids that have passed our way in recent years, Apophis has generated the most concern worldwide because of its extremely close approach in 2029 and [chances of a] potential impact, albeit small, in 2036,” Slooh president Patrick Paolucci said in a statement.

In addition to asteroid Apophis, astronomers regularly scan the night sky for asteroids  that may pose a potential impact threat to Earth. NASA’s Near-Earth Object Office and Asteroid Watch program is based at the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

You can track Apophis directly via the Virtual Telescope Project here: http://www.virtualtelescope.eu/webtv/

The webcast from the Slooh Space Camera can also be seen here: http://events.slooh.com/
Source

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