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The Spitzer Space Telescope Sun orbit.

Ten Years Since The Revolution at Amazon.

SAS Black Ops at Amazon.
Amazon Kindle EBook Reader: Click For More Information.

Lunar phases.
Lunar phases.

Here’s what’s happening in the astrosphere...

Alan Boyle has some stories of harrowing space scares. Space madness for real?

astropixie explains why some people had a blue Moon yesterday, others will have one in June, and still others will have one in July.

The Space Elevator Reference describes Liftport’s difficult attempts to stay in business.

Space Prizes points the way towards http://spaceprizes.blogspot.com/2007/05/lunarpedia.html, a place for all things lunar.

A Babe in the universe talks http://riofriospacetime.blogspot.com/2007/05/rides_31.html about some new rides; a Space Shuttle simulator and a forthcoming Harry Potter ride.

Atlantis is Go for Launch, June 8

Space Shuttle Atlantis. Image credit: NASA.
May 31st, 2007: Space Shuttle Atlantis. Image credit: NASA.

NASA announced today that it has decided on June 8 as the official launch date for the Space Shuttle Atlantis, for mission STS-117. Barring any weather or technical delays, the shuttle will blast off at 2338 UTC (7:38 pm EDT), beginning its journey to the International Space Station.

Atlantis was originally supposed to launch back in March, but a hailstorm hammered the shuttle’s external fuel tank, requiring repairs. The shuttle was returned to its hanger and the foam insulation was repaired, pushing the launch back several months. This repair time made the tight launch schedule even tighter.

The shuttle will deliver a new set of solar powered wings to the station, increasing its electrical generating capacity. It will also deliver astronaut Clayton Anderson to the station for an extended stay, and return Sunita Williams back to Earth. Williams has been on board the station since December.

Original Source: http://www.nasa.gov/home/hqnews/2007/may/HQ_07127_Atlantis_launch_date.html

Spitzer Locates a Binary Pair of Black Holes

Artist impression of the Spitzer Space Telescope. Image credit: NASA/JPL/R. Hurt.
May 31st, 2007: Artist impression of the Spitzer Space Telescope. Image credit: NASA/JPL/R. Hurt.

A clever trick has enabled NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope to calculate the distance to a distant object, confirming that it’s part of our Milky Way. An even more intriguing finding is that the object is probably a binary pair of black holes, orbiting one another - an extremely rare thing to see.

The Spitzer Space Telescope is the only space telescope that orbits the Sun behind the Earth. It’s already 70 million km (40 million miles), and it’s drifting further away every year. This distance between Spitzer and the Earth allows Astronomers to look at an object from two different perspectives. Just like our two eyes give us depth perception, two telescopes can measure the distance to an object.

Astronomers noticed that something was causing a star to brighten. The speed and intensity of this brightening matched a gravitational lensing event, where a foreground object’s gravity focuses the light from a more distant star. They imaged the lensing event from here on Earth, but they also called Spitzer into duty to watch as well. Data from the two sources were combined together to determine that the lensing object is inside our galactic halo, and therefore part of its mass.

The light curve of the gravitational lens has led the researchers to believe that they’re looking at two compact objects orbiting one another, quite possibly a binary pair of black holes. It’s also possible that it’s just a pair of regular stars in a neighbouring, satellite galaxy.

Original Source: http://www.spitzer.caltech.edu/Media/releases/ssc2007-11/release.shtml

XMM-Newton Analyzes a Huge Collection of Newly Forming Stars

Artist impression of star formation. Image credit: ESA.
May 31st, 2007: Artist impression of star formation. Image credit: ESA.

After surveying more than 200 stars in various stages of formation, ESA’s XMM-Newton X-ray Observatory has revealed a dramatically different picture than what Astronomers were predicting. Specifically, the observatory helped show how streams of matter fall down onto the stars’ magnetic atmosphere, cooling the atmosphere, and absorbing X-rays.

XMM-Newton targeted new star formation in the Taurus Molecular Cloud; a vast star formation region located only 400 light-years from Earth. Many of these stars are still accumulating new material through a process called accretion. As new matter strikes the star, it heats up, blasting out ultraviolet radiation.

Astronomers expected that the infalling material would heat the stellar envelop so much that it should produce an excess of X-rays as well. But that wasn’t happening. Instead, it appears that the streams of material are so dense, they actually cool the outer atmosphere, and absorb most of the X-rays being emitted.

There should also be large quantities of dust falling into the star that should obscure it from our view, but the stars are seen burning brightly. It must be that the star’s radiation is actually vapourizing the dust before it can reach the star, giving us a clear view.

Original Source: http://www.esa.int/esaCP/SEMX379RR1F_index_0.html

Amateurs Help Discover a Planet that Might be a Brown Dwarf

Artist impression of XO-1b, a similar planet. Image credit: NASA/ESA/HST.
May 31st, 2007: Artist impression of XO-1b, a similar planet. Image credit: NASA/ESA/HST.

Another new planet has been announced this week that crosses the line between planet and brown dwarf. This time, the planet is called XO-3b, and it was discovered through a collaboration between amateur and professional astronomers.

XO-3b contains 13 times the mass of Jupiter, and orbits its parent star every 4 days. It was first discovered using a low budget telescope, part of the XO project, located on the Haleakala summit on Maui, Hawaii. The telescope is actually made up of two commercially available 200-millimetre telephoto lenses which watch stars for the characteristic dimming as a planet passes in front. When a suspected transit is seen, larger telescopes are brought in to confirm the findings.

Brown dwarfs are failed stars, lacking the mass to ignite fusion, but they do have enough mass to fuse deuterium. Astronomers categorized them as any object between 13 and 80 times the mass of Jupiter. With 13-Jupiter masses, XO-3b sits right at the dividing line between planet and brown dwarf.

Original Source: http://www.media.rice.edu/media/NewsBot.asp?MODE=VIEW&ID=9633&SnID=1113995712

Astronomers See the Face of Altair

Artist impression of Altair. Image credit: Zina Deretsky, NSF.
May 31st, 2007: Artist impression of Altair. Image credit: Zina Deretsky, NSF.

One of the brightest, closest stars to the Earth is Altair, located about 15 light-years away. For the first time, Astronomers have imaged its surface, getting a better look at this bizarre neighbour.

Unlike the red giant stars that have been imaged to date, Altair is relatively tiny. It only has 1.7 times the mass of our own Sun. It rotates at an amazing speed, with its equator turning at about 300 km/s (186 miles/s), and completing a full revolution in under 10 hours. This high rate of rotation flattens the star out so that it’s 22% wider than it is tall.

These new observations were made using four of the six telescopes at a facility on Mt. Wilson, Calif., operated by the Center for High Angular Resolution astronomy (CHARA). They have a special instrument that allows them to clean up the distortions created by the Earth’s atmosphere. By using the four telescopes together, they acted as a single instrument with 25 times the resolution of the Hubble Space Telescope.

Original Source: http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=109612&org=OLPA&from=news

Astrosphere for May 31, 2007

The Drake Equation.
May 31st, 2007:.

First, I’m happy to report that the 5th Carnival of Space is up, including a post from universe Today. Check it out, and participate next week.

Pity poor Pluto, kicked out of the planet club.

Seed Magazine has an interesting article from Chris Mooney about how science needs to be able to get its message across effectively.

And Deborah Byrd from Earth Sky Blogs explains why people resist science.

Astroprof has an analysis of space tourism safety.

Sentient Development thinks the Drake equation is obsolete.

Grapple Attachment May Be Added to the James Webb Telescope

Artist impression of the James Webb telescope. Image credit: NASA.
May 31st, 2007: Artist impression of the James Webb telescope. Image credit: NASA.

When the James Webb telescope launches in 2013, it’ll be the most powerful telescope ever deployed in space. To the get the best view, using the least fuel, it’ll sit in a stable orbit about 1.6 million km (1 million miles) from Earth. Unlike Hubble, it was never meant to be repaired. But NASA announced that it’s considering installing a grapple attachment anyway, just to be safe.

Since the new Orion spacecraft will be capable of taking astronauts to the Moon and back, NASA is investigating how feasible it’ll be to send astronauts to the James Webb telescope to perform emergency servicing operations. Although the observatory is meant to never be serviced, it’s good to keep your options open.

Engineers are currently working out what would be the best kind of hardware they could add to the telescope, so that future astronauts or robotic missions could link up with the telescope and perform repairs.

Original Source: http://www.nasa.gov/centers/goddard/news/topstory/2007/jwst_grapple.html

NASA Administrator Isn’t Sure Global Warming is a Problem

NASA Administrator Michael Griffin.
May 31st, 2007: NASA Administrator Michael Griffin.

I’ve got to say, I nearly fell out of my chair when I read this today. NASA Administrator Mike Griffin was interviewed on NPR about the threat of global warming. Apparently, he’s not convinced it’s a problem.

When it comes to the science on global warming, NASA is one of the good guys. They’ve got a fleet of spacecraft and aircraft analyzing every aspect of the planet. They measure ice levels, global temperatures, cloud cover, ocean levels, snow melt, rainfall patterns, dust storms, desertification and more. It’s amazing how many scientific instruments they have working on this project. They have luminaries from the scientific community working for them, like Dr. James Hansen.

And they release a hail of press releases. Just from the last week, we’ve got a story about how they detected increased snow melt in Antarctica, measuring Greenland’s glaciers, and a new release about how the Earth’s climate is approaching the point of no return.

Here’s what Griffin said on NPR:

I have no doubt that ... a trend of global warming exists. I am not sure that it is fair to say that it is a problem we must wrestle with.

So he’s convinced that global warming is happening and it’s man made. But he thinks it’s arrogant for humans to decide what the perfect climate is.

... I would ask which human beings - where and when - are to be accorded the privilege of deciding that this particular climate that we have right here today, right now is the best climate for all other human beings. I think that’s a rather arrogant position for people to take.


Sure, there’s a possibility that dramatic Climate change could end up being better overall for the majority of humans on Earth, on average.

But there’s also a possibility that it’s not the case. That severe climate disruption will be terrible for a huge percentage of the population of the Earth. That the wrenching effects of change will hit the people least able to defend against it, and will suffer the most: the poor in undeveloped countries. Griffin thinks it’s okay to roll the dice. That’s it’s arrogant to not roll the dice.

If it’s okay to take that chance; if it’s arrogant to err on the side of caution, why bother investing in climate science at all? Just cut the funding, and take your chances.

NASA went into damage control mode today after Griffin’s statement, and posted a statement on its website.

"NASA is the world’s preeminent organization in the study of Earth and the conditions that contribute to Climate change and global warming. The agency is responsible for collecting data that is used by the science community and policy makers as part of an ongoing discussion regarding our planet’s evolving systems. It is NASA’s responsibility to collect, analyze and release information. It is not NASA’s mission to make policy regarding possible Climate change mitigation strategies. As I stated in the NPR interview, we are proud of our role and I believe we do it well."

But this statement doesn’t really take back what Griffin said. I suspect he’s going to have an uncomfortable few weeks.

Cosmonauts Install Debris Panels on the Station

Spacewalkers outside the station. Image credit: NASA TV.
May 30th, 2007: Spacewalkers outside the station. Image credit: NASA TV.

The International Space Station is getting an upgrade today. Cosmonauts Fyodor Yurchikhin and Oleg Kotov stepped outside the station this afternoon, to begin a 6-hour spacewalk to install a debris protection system to the Zvezda module. The station’s 3rd resident, US astronaut Sunita Williams, remained inside.

If everything goes according to schedule, the two men will install the Service Module Debris Protection (SMDP) panels onto the Zvezda module, and reroute a Global Positioning System antenna cable.

While station operators are able to detect larger chunks of space debris and move the station, the smaller pieces are almost impossible to detect, and could punch through the station. These 17 protective panels will give an additional layer of protection to the station’s inhabitants.

They’re scheduled another spacewalk next Wednesday, where they’ll perform similar tasks.

Original Source: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/expeditions/expedition15/exp15_eva18.html

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