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Large Lake Surrounds an Island on Titan.

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Lake on Titan.
Lake on Titan. Image credit: NASA/JPL/SSI.

NASA's Cassini spacecraft has been turning up new images of features that look like lakes on the surface of Saturn's Moon Titan. This latest image shows a large lake that appears to be surrounding an island.

This radar image was captured during Cassini's most recent Titan flyby on February 22, 2007. The island is about 90 kilometers (62 miles) by 150 kilometers (93 miles) across, which is the same size as the Big Island of Hawaii.

Unlike the familar lakes here on Earth, this lake is likely filled with liquid hydrocarbons. You wouldn't want to go swimming there.

Original Source: NASA/JPL/SSI News Release

Chandra and Hubble Imaged Jupiter During New Horizons Flyby

X-rays from Jupiter's poles. Image credit: Chandra/Hubble.
March 1st, 2007: X-rays from Jupiter's poles. Image credit: Chandra/Hubble.

While NASA's New Horizon spacecraft was making its gravity assisted flyby past Jupiter, some friends back at home were watching to help give the science some perspective. NASA's Hubble Space Telescope and the Chandra X-Ray Observatory gathered images of Jupiter for several days before the flyby, and the combined photographs were released today.

New Horizons made its closest approach to Jupiter on February 28, 2007, getting as close as 2.3 million kilometers (1.4 million miles) from the great planet. In addition to receiving a speed boost, the spacecraft also gathered more than 700 scientific observations of Jupiter and its moons.

Scientists back on Earth combined images taken by Hubble and Chandra together into a single composite image that shows the planet in visible, ultraviolet and X-rays. When the data from New Horizons is analyzed, scientists will be able put them into perspective knowing what the entire planet's environment was like at the time.

New Horizons will meet up with Pluto in 2015.

Original Source: Chandra News Release - Hubble News Release

The Perfect Crater for a Moon Settlement?

SMART-1's view of the Moon. Image credit: ESA.
March 1st, 2007: SMART-1's view of the Moon. Image credit: ESA.

Although ESA's SMART-1 was smashed into the Moon in 2006, it had the opportunity to gather a tremendous amount of science. Its view of this crater in particular has given ESA scientists the feeling that they might be looking at the perfect spot for a future permanent base on the Moon.

Crater Plaskett sits very close to the Moon's north pole. This means it's bathed in eternal sunlight. This would provide plenty of solar energy for future explorers, and creates a predictable temperature - it's only hot, not hot and cold. Nearby craters bathed in eternal darkness might contain large stores of water ice that could be used for air, fuel and drinking water.

Crater Plaskett might provide a good first step for exploration of the Solar System. It's close enough that astronauts would still be able to see the Earth. Help could arrive within days, if necessary, and communications would be almost instantaneous. But it's remote enough to help mission planners understand what would be involved for future, longer duration missions on the Moon, and eventually to Mars.

SMART-1 ended its mission on September 3, 2006, when it ran out of fuel and crashed into the lunar surface. scientists will be studying its data and images for years.

Original Source: ESA News Release

NASA Cutbacks Will Delay Moon Missions

Artist impression of the Ares V launcher. Image credit: NASA.
March 1st, 2007: Artist impression of the Ares V launcher. Image credit: NASA.

The New York Times is reporting that recent cutbacks to NASA's budgets will probably push back the human return to the Moon. Instead of retiring the Space Shuttle and sending the first spacecraft back to the Moon in 2014, the first missions won't be until 2015 instead, according to NASA administrator Michael Griffin.

Griffin announced the delays during a recent US Senate hearing. He said that the budget cuts will require the agency to redirect its efforts away from the new Orion crew vehicle and the Ares I launch vehicle.

Although the Bush administration had proposed $17.5 billion for NASA funding, providing adequate resources to keep the project on schedule, congress froze any funding increases, keeping it at the previous year's levels. This will have the effect of reducing the Orion/Ares development budget by $577 million.

Once the shuttle is retired in 2010, there will be 4-5 years where the US won't be sending any humans into space. Griffin sees this as a shame, since other groups - China, Russia, and ESA - will be capable of launching manned missions.

Original Source: New York Times Story

Stephen Hawking Will Experience Zero Gravity

Stephen Hawking.
March 1st, 2007: Stephen Hawking.

Famed cosmologist Stephen Hawking is scheduled to take a ride on the vomit comet, and experience a bit of what it's like to fly in zero gravity.

He'll be flying aboard a specially configured Boeing 727 aircraft that travels a curving parabolic path. At the top part of each 'hump', passengers on board the plane will enjoy 25 seconds of weightlessness. Then the plane pulls out of the dive, and passengers experience 1.8 times the force of gravity. Then the plane performs the maneuver all over again.

Stephen Hawking has long been enthusiastic about human spaceflight, and has always wanted a chance to fly in space - maybe on Virgin Galactic's upcoming space plane. Let's see if he's still got the stomach for it after this experience. The $3,750 fee for the trip is being provided by the US firm Zero Gravity.

Original Source: BBC Article

Unique New Perspectives of Saturn

Top down view of Saturn. Image credit: NASA/JPL/SSI.
March 1st, 2007: Top down view of Saturn. Image credit: NASA/JPL/SSI.

Now flying in a polar orbit around Saturn, NASA's Cassini spacecraft is now sending back completely unique images of Saturn, seen from overhead. The photograph that I've attached to this story shows Saturn seen from almost directly overhead. The planet itself has been removed, so just the rings are visible. But there are other images taken over the last two months.

As part of this photo release, there are additional images showing the planet at a bit of a lower angle, but still almost looking detached from the rings. There's an animated sequences showing 34 frames when the spacecraft passed through the ring plane. And an overexposed view that shows the detailed structure of the rings themselves.

I really can't do this justice, check out the images and descriptions for yourself.

Original Source: SSI News Release

Another Reminder: Lunar Eclipse on March 3, 2007

Lunar eclipse diagram. Image credit: Jodrell Bank University.
February 28th, 2007: Lunar eclipse diagram. Image credit: Jodrell Bank University.

I don't want to sound like a broken record here, but I wanted to give you all another reminder that there's going to be a total lunar eclipse on March 3, 2007.

Observers in the Eastern North America, Europe, Africa and parts of Asia will be able to see the eclipse. For other parts of the Earth, the eclipse will already be underway when the Moon rises, or it'll complete after the Moon sets.

Here's a link to NASA's information page about the eclipse, so you can see maps of where the eclipse will be visible and calculate the best time to be watching for it.

Lunar eclipses absolutely my favourite astronomical events. They're safe to see with your eyes or binoculars. They unfold slowly enough to make an evening of it with your friends and family. Have a party, with the Moon reddening in the background.

Sadly, I'm over here on the West Coast of Canada, so we won't really be able to see much; however, there's another eclipse coming on August 28, 2007, where we'll get the best view. I can be patient.

Original Source: Jodrell Bank University News Release

Construction for the New Soyuz Launch Facility Begins

Artist impression of a Soyuz launch. Image credit: ESA.
February 28th, 2007: Artist impression of a Soyuz launch. Image credit: ESA.

Workers broke ground this week on a new construction site at the European Space Agency's new Soyuz launch base in French Guiana. Currently, Soyuz rockets only blast off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. But at the end of 2008, the rockets will roar from this facility as well.

ESA chose to bring Soyuz rockets to the French Guiana facility because it's close to the equator. Rockets launched from the equator get an additional speed boost from the Earth's rotation, and so they can carry heavier loads into orbit.

To help tie the facility back to Soyuz's origins, an original stone from the launch pad where Yuri Gagarin became the first human into space was brought over from Kazakhstan keep at the new facility.

Original Source: ESA News Release

A Solution for the black hole Information Paradox?

Illustration of a black hole. Image credit: Gallery of Tempolimit Lichtgeschwindigkeit.
February 28th, 2007: Illustration of a black hole. Image credit: Gallery of Tempolimit Lichtgeschwindigkeit.

One of the mysteries that has puzzled physicists has to do with black holes. When information goes into a black hole, is it completely destroyed, or is it maintained in some form? Physicist Stephen Hawking believes that black holes will evaporate over long periods of time, slowly releasing featureless particles. Whatever information went into the black hole would then be destroyed.

But new research for the University of York and Sainik School in India have developed a new experiment that might help shed light on this mystery. They found that if information at a quantum level appears to be destroyed, it's actually hiding, and can show up somewhere else.

Instead of completely destroying the information, there would remain some kind of connection between the evaporated particles and the black hole's internal state.

Original Source: University of York News Release

New Horizons Gets a gravity Boost From Jupiter

Jupiter. Image credit: NASA/JPL/JHUAPL.
February 28th, 2007: Jupiter. Image credit: NASA/JPL/JHUAPL.

NASA's New Horizons spacecraft got a big speed boost today, when it used Jupiter's gravity to give it a slingshot towards its final destination of Pluto. It didn't exactly skim the planet's surface, but New Horizons got as close as 2.3 million kilometers (1.4 million miles) to Jupiter.

Apart from the speed boost, this was an opportunity to do a little science as well. New Horizons took the opportunity to analyze several of Jupiter's moons, as well as the planet itself as it swept past. During its closest approach, New Horizons as out of contact with Earth, so it had to gather all its scientific data automatically. The spacecraft will make more than 700 science observations of Jupiter during the encounter; 50% of those were taken just on the day of the flyby.

As part of the maneuver, New Horizons gained 14,000 km/hour velocity (9,000 mph) from Jupiter's gravity, putting it on track to reach Pluto in 2015.

Original Source: New Horizons News Release

Hail Damages Space Shuttle Atlantis, Delays Launch

Hail damage on the shuttle. Image credit: NASA.
February 28th, 2007: Hail damage on the shuttle. Image credit: NASA.

A hail storm pounded the Space Shuttle Atlantis on Tuesday, chewing up foam at the top of the shuttle's external fuel tank. The damage was so significant that managers decided to delay the shuttle's launch until the damage can be repaired.

Atlantis was originally supposed to launch as early as March 15, but the golf ball-sized hail has helped push that back - workers found 1-2,000 divots in the foam, and several damaged heat tiles on the Shuttle's left wing.

The shuttle was rolled back from the launch pad to the Vehicle Assembly Building, to analyze the damage and begin repairs. Managers are currently hoping for a launch date starting as early as April 22.

Original Source: NASA News Release

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