31 Jan 2017

Walking the runway for its-nick-graham Mars collection WAS as easy as walking on the moon

C3g4AkIXUAAsLcyNEW YORK) -- Buzz Aldrin strutted his stuff on the catwalk as he modelled new designs during New York Fashion Week: Men's.

The shiny silver bomber jacket Aldrin donned for designer Nick Graham's show appeared akin to a futuristic spacesuit. The show's theme was “Life on Mars: Fall-Winter 2035," according to Women's Wear Daily, and featured Graham's take on fashion in outer space.

Aldrin appeared comfortable in his chic duds. On Twitter, the 87-year-old astronaut, who closed the show, wrote that walking the runway was "as easy as walking on the moon."

In his 2013 book, "Mission to Mars: My Vision for Space Exploration," Aldrin wrote that he envisions humans living on Mars by 2035.

"Nick’s collection is very Mars-friendly and every astronaut should look their best when they land there," he told WWD earlier this month.

Everyone's favourite "Science Guy," Bill Nye, made an appearance as well, serving as a show narrator. Nye wore a shiny charcoal tuxedo jacket adorned with an astronomy-inspired print. The outfit was not without personal touch; Nye donned his signature bow tie as well.

On Twitter, Nye wrote that he was "trying" his best at his new gig.

In 1969, Aldrin became the second man to ever walk the moon when he landed there on Apollo 11.

Aldrin's adventure-seeking ways have stayed with him long since his astronaut career ended, and he often documents his travels on social media.

In December, Aldrin was hospitalized after he was medically evacuated from the South Pole.

This super powerful telescope is helping astronomers understand the first black holes in the universe

ashampoo_snap_2017.01Astronomers are using the Chandra X-Ray observatory, a powerful, space-based telescope, to examine the first black holes. These black holes appeared in tech first one to two billion years after the Big Bang.

Astronomy statement on US ‘Muslim ban’

earth-space-1-e1485814498218The International Astronomical Union (IAU) is profoundly concerned by the impact the recent U.S. executive order, and possible reactions to it from other countries, could have on international collaboration in astronomy and the mobility of scientists.

The IAU’s mission is to promote and safeguard the science of astronomy in all its aspects through international cooperation. The organisation currently counts 79 countries among its National Members and includes members from a further 19 countries. With 2,841 professional astronomers in the IAU, the U.S. is the country with the largest number of IAU members, accounting for nearly a quarter of the total. Another 47 IAU members come from some of the seven countries affected by the recent executive order (Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen), and hundreds more come from other Muslim-majority countries.

The IAU considers that mobility restrictions imposed by any country, similar to the ones recently included in the U.S. executive order, run counter to its mission, which is inspired by the principles of the International Council for Science (ICSU) on the Freedom in the Conduct of Science. Such restrictions can have a direct impact on the astronomical communities of countries at both ends of the ban, as well as astronomy as a whole.

In 2015 the IAU held its General Assembly in Honolulu, Hawaii, USA, which hosted more than 3,000 astronomers from 74 countries all over the world, including some of the seven countries concerned by the US executive order. The meeting had an estimated economic benefit of around $10-20 million on the state.

The IAU urges U.S. officials to develop new screening measures to take into account the absolute necessity of mobility of scientists for the benefit of the USA, the rest of the world and science itself.

The IAU firmly opposes any discrimination based on factors such as ethnic origin, religion, citizenship, language, and political or other opinion and therefore expects U.S. officials to not discriminate on the basis of religion.

The IAU hopes that such actions from a country do not trigger a chain reaction in other countries around the globe, which would severely damage the science of astronomy, and encourages everyone to value cooperation, tolerance and peace.

The IAU General Secretary Piero Benvenuti expressed the concerns of many in the international astronomical community when he said:

The IAU hopes that any new or existing limitations to the free circulation of world citizens, deemed necessary for security reasons, take into account the necessary mobility of astronomers as well as human rights at large. We want to continue organising scientific meetings in the United States of America as well as anywhere else in the world. Scientific progress benefits all humankind and exchange meetings should include scientists from all countries.

What We Know About Space Is Wrong? The Universe Is Actually Flat, Scientists Say

The entire universe could be a "vast and complex hologram," scientists announced Monday after studying the cosmic microwave background, or the thermal energy leftover after the Big Bang, with powerful new telescopes. The novel theory claims that although we think the world around us is 3D it's actually flat.

"Imagine that everything you see, feel and hear in three dimensions (and your perception of time) in fact emanates from a flat two-dimensional field," said study co-author Kostas Skenderis of the U.K.'s University of Southampton. "The idea is similar to that of ordinary holograms where a three-dimensional image is encoded in a two-dimensional surface, such as in the hologram on a credit card. However, this time, the entire universe is encoded."

The theory looking at the universe in two-dimensional form could change the way we think about the universe and Albert Einstein, including what we know about how space and time exist. It's been around since the 1990s, but the latest study is the biggest push for it yet.

"Einstein's theory of general relativity explains almost everything large scale in the universe very well, but starts to unravel when examining its origins and mechanisms at quantum level," Skenderis said. "Scientists have been working for decades to combine Einstein's theory of gravity and quantum theory. Some believe the concept of a holographic universe has the potential to reconcile the two. I hope our research takes us another step towards this."

The study was published in the journal Physical Review Letters by scientists from Canada, England and the U.S. It didn't actually prove that the early universe was a hologram, but showed it was a possibility, Gizmodo reported.

“It’s holographic in the sense that there’s a description of the universe based on a lower dimensional system consistent with everything we see from the Big Bang,” Niayesh Afshordi, the study’s first author from the University of Waterloo in Canada, told Gizmodo.

30 Jan 2017

These Ultra Close-Up Images of Saturn's Rings Are Mind-Blowing

untitledThough NASA’s Cassini spacecraft is sadly nearing the end of its mission, the brave li’l orbiter is putting on quite the grand finale. Cassini, which is currently in its ring-grazing phase around Saturn, has just sent back some stunning images of the gas giant’s many rings.

According to NASA, the new pictures are some of the “closest-ever images of the outer parts of the main rings,” which is exciting for scientists and stargazers alike. Cassini has taken many images of the rings before, but they’ve never been anywhere close to this level of detail.

The new images reveal up-close views of “propellers,” or structures that look like gaps in the rings caused by one of Saturn’s 62 moons. Gravity wakes, also called “straws, ”are likewise very visible in the new photos.

untitled2“These close views represent the opening of an entirely new window onto Saturn’s rings, and over the next few months we look forward to even more exciting data as we train our cameras on other parts of the rings closer to the planet,” Matthew Tiscareno, a Cassini scientist and Saturn expert the SETI Institute, said in a press release.

Luckily for us Earthlings, we can expect way more cool images of Saturn’s rings in the coming months. But unfortunately for Cassini, her 20-year-long mission will end in April, when she plunges herself into Saturn’s atmosphere. Sad!

Possible sign of dark matter shows up again

012717_ec_chandra_freeA strange X-ray signal has popped up again in new measurements, raising hopes that it could be a sign of dark matter.

Data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory reveal an excess of X-rays at a particular energy, creating a bump on a plot, scientists report online at arXiv.org on January 29. The X-ray “line,” as it is known, could reveal the presence of dark matter — an unknown substance that scientists believe constitutes most of the matter in the cosmos.

While the X-ray line has been found previously using several different telescopes, some searches have come up empty. The new observation strengthens the case that the odd feature is real, and eliminates some possible mundane explanations.

“This is a very exciting thing,” says astrophysicist Nico Cappelluti of Yale University, a coauthor of the report. “This is another measurement that sees the line in another direction.”

The new analysis uses data taken when the telescope was observing deep space, rather than pointing at a particular cluster of galaxies. So if the signal indicated dark matter, it would be due to particles in the region surrounding the Milky Way, known as its halo. When hypothetical dark matter particles called sterile neutrinos decay, they could produce X-rays at the energy of the line, about 3,500 electron volts.

Cappelluti and colleagues found that the relative intensity of the line in the halo and the line previously found at the center of the Milky Way was consistent with the expected variation in concentration of dark matter in various parts the galaxy.

Dark matter isn’t the only possible explanation — standard physics might also be able to explain the line. “There’s definitely a lot of debate,” says Shunsaku Horiuchi, an astroparticle physicist at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg who was not involved with the new work. The line “looks like it’s real, but then I don’t know if it’s dark matter or some atomic physics.”

Although there’s still a small chance that the result could be a statistical fluke, the analysis eliminates some other possible explanations. Scientists had proposed that the line could be the result of sulfur ions grabbing an electron from hydrogen atoms in space, but that process couldn’t explain the new data, Cappelluti and colleagues concluded. Likewise, a quirk of the telescope itself couldn’t explain the line, they determined.

“It’s kind of getting other people excited,” says Horiuchi.

29 Jan 2017

‘Vampire’ star caught in the act by Indian space observatory ASTROSAT

star-l-reuIndia’s first dedicated space observatory, ASTROSAT, has captured the rare phenomenon of a small, 6-billion-year-old “vampire” star “preying” on a bigger celestial body. Scientists say the smaller star, also called a “blue straggler”, feeds off its companion star by sucking out its mass and energy, causing its eventual death.

“The most popular explanation is that these are binary systems in which the smaller star sucks material out of the bigger companion star to become a blue straggler, and hence is called a vampire star.

“The small star becomes bigger, hotter and bluer, which gives it the appearance of being young, while the ageing companion burns out and collapses to a stellar remnant,” said Annapurni Subramaniam, a Professor at the Indian Institute of Astrophysics.

Though this phenomenon is not unheard of, the observation of the entire process through the telescope will provide insights that will help scientists in studying the formation of ‘blue straggler’ stars.

This discovery also highlights the capabilities of the telescopes on ASTROSAT, a dedicated space observatory satellite launched in September 2015.

The study was recently published in Astrophysical Journal Letters by a team of scientists from IIA, Inter-University Centre of Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA), Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).

Scientists are now looking to understand the chemical composition of the ‘blue straggler’ using high resolution spectroscopy, which could reveal more about the evolution of these peculiar celestial objects.

The stars are part of a “cluster” called NGC 188 formed some 6 billion years ago, and are much older than the sun, which is believed to have come into existence nearly 4.5 billion years ago.

“As the sucked up material from the ageing star will be polluted with material processed within the ageing star, this blue straggler will throw light on the kind of nuclear processing that happens in ageing stars”, Subramaniam, also the Calibration Scientist of UVIT on board the ASTROSAT, said.

27 Jan 2017

Citizen scientists needed for new Mars project

the-planet-mars-afp-800x430New project seeks volunteers to examine Mars images and identify sites with polygonal ridges.

Click here to learn more and sign up. NASA needs your help !

Researchers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Zooniverse are asking for the public's help in learning more about Mars' ancient, watery past.

Through the Planet Four: Ridges project, armchair scientists can comb through images from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) to help find evidence of large polygonal ridges.

Why search for these ridges? For one, a network of these ridges has been found in the Medusae Fossae region. These thin, blade-like walls - some as tall as a 16-story building - have also been seen in other regions of the Red Planet.

For a comparison, the Gate Tower Building in Osaka, Japan, is 16 stories tall. It's even big enough to have a highway passing through it! Similar natural ridges also exist on Earth, such as Shiprock in north-western New Mexico, which is roughly 30 feet (about 10 meters) tall.

The simplest explanation for these impressive ridges, according to a NASA/JPL statement, is that lava flowed into pre-existing fractures in the ground and later resisted erosion better than material around them.

See Also: Get 'Spaced Out' During Your Lunch Break

"Finding these ridges in the Medusae Fossae region set me on a quest to find all the types of polygonal ridges on Mars," said Laura Kerber of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, lead author of a survey report published this month in the journal Icarus.


Sometimes referred to as boxwork ridges, these raised lines intersect as the outlines of multiple adjoining geometric shapes - such as rectangles, pentagons, triangles or other polygons. But despite the similarity in shape, these networks differ in origin and vary in scale from inches to miles.

Rovers have found smaller examples, such as those found by the Curiosity rover at "Garden City." These miniature versions are veins deposited by mineral-laden groundwater moving through underground fissures, long before erosion exposed the veins. Curiosity recently also imaged small boxwork ridges that likely originated as mud cracks.

Other, much larger ridges - each more than a mile (more than 2 kilometres) wide - have been also been documented at a location called "Inca City" near Mars' south pole. But these may have resulted from impact-related faults underground, with fractures filled by rising lava that hardened and was later exposed by erosion.

See Also: Mars Rover Sends Back Spectacular Images Of Layered Rock Formations

"Polygonal ridges can be formed in several different ways, and some of them are really key to understanding the history of early Mars," Kerber said. "Many of these ridges are mineral veins, and mineral veins tell us that water was circulating underground."

Further ridges in the Nilosyrtis Mensae region may also hold clues about Mars' ancient wet and possibly warm environment. So far, examples have tended to be in the same areas as water-related clues such as minerals that form in hot springs, clay-mineral layers and channels carved by ancient streams.

That's why the NASA/JPL scientists need our help. A larger sample is needed to test this hypothesis, and many hands make for lighter work - and a quicker solution.

The main goal is to map where these polygonal ridges occur. After you've joined the team, you will be asked to look for networks of ridges that intersect, making a characteristic polygonal, spider-web-like pattern. Additionally the locations you identify will serve as likely future targets for higher resolution observations.

26 Jan 2017

New Measurements of the Universe Expanding Tell a Confusing Story

Astro-pointillismHumans don’t know much about the universe, but we do know that most of the gravity holding it together—around 85 percent of it—comes from something we can’t see or touch called dark matter. And some other force we can’t see or touch, called dark energy, is simultaneously causing the universe to expand, at an ever-increasing rate. But our measurements that seek to nail down the effects of dark energy don’t seem to be adding up.

A team of NASA and European Space Agency (ESA) scientists have released several new measurements of the Hubble constant, the number that approximates how quickly the universe expands. These precise new measurements match up with recent ones taken with different instruments but not with other measurements taken of the furthest, oldest observable distances. The whole story together paints a frustrating picture of the way scientists must establish facts about our universe.

Scientists have long sought to measure the Hubble constant, and the expansion of the universe. Observations as far back as the 1950s have given values somewhere between 50 and 100 kilometers per second per megaparsec of space—meaning galaxies 3.3 million light years from us move away at anywhere from 50 to 100 kilometers per second. Last year, the ESA’s Planck satellite measured an expansion value around 68 km/s/Mpc by observing the cosmic microwave background, invisible light found everywhere in space that originates a few hundred thousand years after the Big Bang. But as Gizmodo reported previously, the Hubble Space Telescope also attempted to measure the Hubble constant last year, by looking at much closer stars and supernovae. It arrived at a value of around 73 km/s/Mpc, suggesting our universe is flying apart five to nine percent faster than we thought. That was a pretty crazy revelation to the physicists who discovered it, and it suggested that a deeper dive would be needed to reconcile the different measurements.

Now, another set of measurements taken by a completely different experiment seem to confirm the Hubble Space Telescope’s surprising measurement. Researchers from the H0LiCOW (short for H0 Lenses in COSMOGRAIL’s Wellspring, pronounced Holy Cow) collaboration measured the Hubble constant by looking at how gravity causes light from distant galaxies to bend around quasars, super bright high-energy objects that people think might be at the cores of galaxies. As the quasars flicker, so do the images of the galaxies behind them, which helps scientists determine the distance the light had to travel. The researchers published their results in a series of papers in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Even with the H0LiCOW data in the mix now, the new Hubble constant measurement and the one determined from the cosmic microwave background aren’t statistically separable to the very high degree of significance astrophysics demands, Anže Slosar, group leader of the Cosmology and Astrophysics Group at the Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York, who was not involved with the study, explained to Gizmodo. Physicists require overwhelming proof that something in the universe hasn’t happened by chance, far more than, say, doctors do when testing whether a medicine cures a disease.

Mind you, HoLiCOW’s data is very good. “I will need to commend them for doing the blind analysis, this beautiful method where they don’t look at the answer—they do the analysis and don’t see the final number until they’ve done everything the best they could,” said Slosar. “It gives trust to their measurements.”

So, if technically nothing is statistically different between the new HoLiCOW measurements and prior measurements of our universe’s expansion, why is this news? Well, a new experiment confirmed a completely different experiment. In science, that’s one of the most important things that can happen—two experiments verifying the same results in completely different ways.

Frustratingly enough, the new evidence in this case didn’t lead to a new physical discovery. Instead, we’ve got more evidence to prove that we might have two different values for the expansion of the universe, and we’re not yet sure why that would be.

25 Jan 2017

NuSTAR Finds New Clues to 'Chameleon Supernova'

PIA21089_fig1"We're made of star stuff," astronomer Carl Sagan famously said. Nuclear reactions that happened in ancient stars generated much of the material that makes up our bodies, our planet, and our solar system. When stars explode in violent deaths called supernovae, those newly formed elements escape and spread out in the universe.

One supernova in particular is challenging astronomers' models of how exploding stars distribute their elements. The supernova SN 2014C dramatically changed in appearance over the course of a year, apparently because it had thrown off a lot of material late in its life. This doesn't fit into any recognized category of how a stellar explosion should happen. To explain it, scientists must reconsider established ideas about how massive stars live out their lives before exploding.

"This 'chameleon supernova' may represent a new mechanism of how massive stars deliver elements created in their cores to the rest of the universe," says Raffaella Margutti, assistant professor of physics and astronomy at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. Margutti led a study about supernova SN 2014C published this week in The Astrophysical Journal. The findings are based on data from NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR.

"The notion that a star could expel such a huge amount of matter in a short interval is completely new," says Fiona Harrison, NuSTAR principal investigator and Kent and Joyce Kresa Leadership Chair of the Division of Physics, Mathematics and Astronomy at Caltech. "It is challenging our fundamental ideas about how massive stars evolve, and eventually explode, distributing the chemical elements necessary for life."

Astronomers classify exploding stars based on whether or not hydrogen is present in the event. While stars begin their lives with hydrogen fusing into helium, large stars nearing a supernova death have run out of hydrogen as fuel. Supernovae in which very little hydrogen is present are called “Type I.” Those that do have an abundance of hydrogen, which are rarer, are called “Type II.”

But SN 2014C, discovered in 2014 in a spiral galaxy about 36 million to 46 million light-years away, is different. By looking at it in optical wavelengths with various ground-based telescopes, astronomers concluded that SN 2014C had transformed itself from a Type I to a Type II supernova after its core collapsed, as reported in a 2015 study led by Dan Milisavljevic at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Initial observations did not detect hydrogen, but, after about a year, it was clear that shock waves propagating from the explosion were hitting a shell of hydrogen-dominated material outside the star.

In the new study, NASA’s NuSTAR (Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array) satellite, with its unique ability to observe radiation in the hard X-ray energy range — the highest-energy X-rays — allowed scientists to watch how the temperature of electrons accelerated by the supernova shock changed over time. They used this measurement to estimate how fast the supernova expanded and how much material is in the external shell.


To create this shell, SN 2014C did something truly mysterious: it threw off a lot of material — mostly hydrogen, but also heavier elements — decades to centuries before exploding. In fact, the star ejected the equivalent of the mass of the sun. Normally, stars do not throw off material so late in their life.

“Expelling this material late in life is likely a way that stars give elements, which they produce during their lifetimes, back to their environment,” said Margutti, a member of Northwestern’s Center for Interdisciplinary Exploration and Research in Astrophysics.

NASA’s Chandra and Swift observatories were also used to further paint the picture of the evolution of the supernova. The collection of observations showed that, surprisingly, the supernova brightened in X-rays after the initial explosion, demonstrating that there must be a shell of material, previously ejected by the star, that the shock waves had hit.

Challenging existing theories

Why would the star throw off so much hydrogen before exploding? One theory is that there is something missing in our understanding of the nuclear reactions that occur in the cores of massive, supernova-prone stars. Another possibility is that the star did not die alone — a companion star in a binary system may have influenced the life and unusual death of the progenitor of SN 2014C. This second theory fits with the observation that about seven out of 10 massive stars have companions.

The study suggests that astronomers should pay attention to the lives of massive stars in the centuries before they explode. Astronomers will also continue monitoring the aftermath of this perplexing supernova.

“The notion that a star could expel such a huge amount of matter in a short interval is completely new,” said Fiona Harrison, NuSTAR principal investigator based at Caltech in Pasadena. “It is challenging our fundamental ideas about how massive stars evolve, and eventually explode, distributing the chemical elements necessary for life.”

NuSTAR is a Small Explorer mission led by Caltech and managed by JPL for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. NuSTAR was developed in partnership with the Danish Technical University and the Italian Space Agency (ASI). The spacecraft was built by Orbital Sciences Corp., Dulles, Virginia. NuSTAR’s mission operations center is at UC Berkeley, and the official data archive is at NASA’s High Energy Astrophysics Science Archive Research Center. ASI provides the mission’s ground station and a mirror archive. JPL is managed by Caltech for NASA.

24 Jan 2017

Why Space Fanatics Are Freaking Out About SpaceX's Next Launch

4Following a successful Falcon 9 launch-and-barge-landing in California this month, SpaceX is now looking to get back in the swing of regular flight. But while the company’s next two flights seem fairly routine on the surface, they’re going to be historic in one very important aspect.

Two upcoming SpaceX launches—a commercial satellite on January 30th, and a commercial resupply mission to the International Space Station in February—will depart from the historic Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at Kennedy Space Center. It marks the first use of the pad that sent humans to the Moon since the Space Shuttle era, and the first rockets to fly from Kennedy, period, in over five years. Since the Shuttle program was mothballed in 2011, all rockets launches off Space Coast have flown from the adjacent Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

“This is important for Kennedy,” space historian Roger Launius, the former associate director for the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, told Gizmodo. “[Kennedy] has been spaceport USA throughout the space age, more than 60 years now. The fact that you’ve got a company [putting] money into rehabbing an existing facility means you’ve got work for the foreseeable future.”

2Built in the 1960s as part of President Kennedy’s Moon-shot program, LC-39A is legendary among rocket buffs. It was the site of 12 Saturn V rocket launches during the Apollo era, including the Apollo 11 mission which sent Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins to the Moon. After the Apollo program, LC-39A became the de facto launch pad for the Space Shuttle era. A full 80 Shuttle missions departing the Earth from this single piece of beachfront real estate between the early 1980s and the summer of 2011.

When the Shuttle program was finally shuttered, LC-39A and Kennedy Space Center at large grew quiet for a few years. But in 2014, NASA granted SpaceX a 20-year exclusive lease to the pad, under an agreement that the rocket company would take over pad operation and maintenance costs. Since then, SpaceX has been busy refurbishing LC-39A for the Falcon 9 rocket and the larger, not-yet-revealed Falcon Heavy model.

Originally, SpaceX intended to use LC-39A primarily for crewed launches to the International Space Station, which are expected to start flying in 2018. But when a Falcon 9 rocket exploded just down the road last September, destroying a chunk of Cape Canaveral’s Space Launch Complex 40, plans to re-open Kennedy for spaceflights both crewed and uncrewed were accelerated.

“Both pads are capable of supporting Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launches,” SpaceX told SpaceNews.com last September, speaking of LC-39A and the company’s launch site at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. “We are confident the two launch pads can support our return to flight and fulfil our upcoming manifest needs.”

3There are some key differences between how LC-39A was used in the past and how it will be used in 2017. Previously, the Shuttle was mated to its rocket boosters and external fuel tanks at the Vehicle Assembly Building a few miles away; it was then rolled down the road aboard a Crawler Transporter and loaded onto the Launchpad. Now, SpaceX rockets will be processed at a new “Horizontal Processing Facility” constructed adjacent to 39A. The pad itself has been physically modified to accommodate Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets, although SpaceX declined to comment on the technical details of the renovations.

“If you’ve got a building that has been a warehouse, and you want to turn it into a restaurant, you have to make modifications,” Roger Launius said. “This is an order of magnitude more sophisticated than that analogy, but nonetheless, it’s the same sort of thing.”

Are space buffs worried that LC-39A, a priceless legacy of the Moon-shot era, will lose some of its historic character as it gets upgraded to accommodate modern rockets? Not exactly. According to Chris Bergin, managing editor for NASASpaceflightInsider, the revival of a LC-39A is being greeted with unadulterated glee by most folks in the spaceflight community.

“Seeing a famous old pad come back to life will be a huge positive for those who feel we’re now over the post-Shuttle retirement hill and looking to the future again,” he told Gizmodo. “Also, it’s SpaceX, they are—without question—the rock stars of space flight these days. Combining the history of 39A with SpaceX is a perfect storm of joy for rocket fans.”

Earth Still Being Hit By Meteorites That Formed In An Outer Space Collision 466 Million Years Ago

asteroid-explosionThe planet we live on today has been shaped and moulded by collisions — both large and small. Although it’s next to impossible to determine the exact number, some estimates suggest that up to 84,000 celestial objects weighing more than 10 grams (0.35 ounces) may be entering Earth's atmosphere every year — most of which, thankfully, are too small to fall all the way to the surface.

One of the biggest explosions to have taken place in our cosmic neighbourhood in at least the past 3 billion years occurred roughly 466 million years ago, when an Asteroid Belt (between Mars and Jupiter) object collided with another body and broke apart, ejecting shrapnel that has since been falling on Earth as meteorites.

According to a new study published Monday in the journal Nature Astronomy, this event disproportionately skewed the type of meteorites that have been falling to Earth since much before the time of dinosaurs. So much so that the most of the meteorites we see today are, in the cosmic scale, rare, while many meteorites that are apparently rare today were common before the collision.

“Looking at the kinds of meteorites that have fallen to Earth in the last hundred million years doesn’t give you a full picture,” study lead author Philipp Heck, a scientist at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, said in a statement. “It would be like looking outside on a snowy winter day and concluding that every day is snowy, even though it’s not snowy in the summer.”

In order to get a picture of the composition of meteorites that struck Earth before the massive asteroid exploded 466 million years ago, the researchers hunted for micrometeorites — tiny specks of space-rock less than 2 millimetres in diameter. They found some in an ancient seafloor along the Lynna River in Russia that are roughly a million years older than the asteroid explosion.

“Chrome-spinels, crystals that contain the mineral chromite, remain unchanged even after hundreds of millions of years,” Heck said. “Since they were unaltered by time, we could use these spinels to see what the original parent body that produced the micrometeorites was made of.”

After analysing these micrometeorites, the researchers found that the celestial objects that fell to Earth earlier than 466 million years ago had a markedly different chemical makeup. More than a third of these bodies belonged to a type called primitive achondrites. Today, most meteorites that land on Earth are H and L type chondrites, and less than half a percent are primitive achondrites.

This means the asteroid explosion that took place during the Ordovician period has been masking the diversity of bodies that have impacted Earth through its 4.5 billion year history.

“Knowing more about the different kinds of meteorites that have fallen over time gives us a better understanding of how the Asteroid Belt evolved and how different collisions happened,” Heck said. “Ultimately, we want to study more windows in time, not just the area before and after this collision during the Ordovician period, to deepen our knowledge of how different bodies in Solar System formed and interact with each other.”

23 Jan 2017

Experiment resolves mystery about wind flows on Jupiter

170123115206_1_900x600One mystery has been whether the jets exist only in the planet's upper atmosphere -- much like Earth's own jet streams -- or whether they plunge into Jupiter's gaseous interior. If the latter is true, it could reveal clues about the planet's interior structure and internal dynamics.

Now, UCLA geophysicist Jonathan Aurnou and collaborators in Marseille, France, have simulated Jupiter's jets in the laboratory for the first time. Their work demonstrates that the winds likely extend thousands of miles below Jupiter's visible atmosphere.

This research is published online in Nature Physics.

"We can make these features in a computer, but we couldn't make them happen in a lab," said Aurnou, a UCLA professor of earth, planetary and space sciences, who has spent the past decade studying computer models of swirling winds. "If we have a theoretical understanding of a system, we should be able to create an analog model."

The challenge to re-creating swirling winds in the lab was building a model of a planet with three key attributes believed to be necessary for jets to form: rapid rotation, turbulence and a "curvature effect" that mimics the spherical shape of a planet. Previous attempts to create jets in a lab often failed because researchers couldn't spin their models fast enough or create enough turbulence, Aurnou said.

The breakthrough for Aurnou's team was a new piece of laboratory equipment. The researchers used a table built on air bearings that can spin at 120 revolutions per minute and support a load of up to 1,000 kilograms (about 2,200 pounds), meaning that it could spin a large tank of fluid at high speed in a way that mimics Jupiter's rapid rotation.

The scientists filled an industrial-sized garbage with 400 liters (about 105 gallons) of water and placed it on the table. When the container spun, water was thrown against its sides, forming a parabola that approximated the curved surface of Jupiter.

"The faster it went, the better we mimicked the massively strong effects of rotation and curvature that exists on planets," Aurnou said. But the team found that 75 revolutions per minute was a practical limit: fast enough to force the liquid into a strongly curved shape but slow enough to keep water from spilling out.


While the can was spinning, scientists used a pump below its false floor to circulate water through a series of inlet and outlet holes, which created turbulence -- one of the three critical conditions for the experiment. That turbulent energy was channelled into making jets, and within minutes the water flow had changed to six concentric flows moving in alternating directions.

"This is the first time that anyone has demonstrated that strong jets that look like those on Jupiter can develop in a real fluid," Aurnou said.

The researchers inferred that the jets were deep because they could see them on the surface of the water, even though they had injected turbulence at the bottom.

The researchers are looking forward to testing their predictions with real data from Jupiter, and they won't have to wait long: NASA's Juno space probe is orbiting Jupiter right now, collecting data about its atmosphere, magnetic field and interior. Initial results from the Juno mission were presented at the American Geophysical Union meeting in December in San Francisco, and Aurnou was there.

"The Juno data from the very first flyby of Jupiter showed that structures of ammonia gas extended over 60 miles into Jupiter's interior, which was a big shock to the Juno science team," Aurnou said. "UCLA researchers will be playing an important role in explaining the data."

This year, Aurnou and his team will use supercomputers at Argonne National Laboratory in Argonne, Illinois, to simulate the dynamics of Jupiter's interior and atmosphere. They'll also continue their work at the laboratory in Marseilles to make the spinning table simulation more complex and more realistic.

One goal is to add a thin, stable layer of fluid on top of the spinning water, which would function like the thin outer layer of Jupiter's atmosphere that's responsible for the planet's weather. The researchers believe this will help them simulate features like Jupiter's famous Great Red Spot.

A Mysterious Deadly Force Is Terrorizing Our Universe


In a paper recently published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, scientists led by astronomer and PhD candidate Toby Brown — of the Swinburne University of Technology and the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) — shared their findings on a phenomenon that has been happening all around the universe. It’s basically a rampant killing spree. And the victims are entire galaxies. Who’s doing the killing? Dark matter. Galaxies are being decimated by dark matter. It’s kind of poetic, isn’t it? But not in a good way.

Dark matter is one of those mysterious forces that belong to the ‘just because we can’t see it, it doesn’t mean it’s not there’ type. By observing roughly 11,000 galaxies, then combining data from Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) and Arecibo Legacy Fast ALFA survey, Brown’s team was able to confirm just how powerful dark matter is, and what it has been doing to the unsuspecting galaxies.

Galaxies are believed to be enveloped by clouds of dark matter called dark matter halos. And galaxies can’t stay still, so they move from one halo to another. When a galaxy falls into one of the larger halos, the ‘superheated intergalactic plasma’ between them sucks all the gas out in a process known as ‘ram-pressure stripping’. Without gas, a galaxy cannot form new stars. And old stars can’t last forever, they eventually cool down and die. So without new stars to replace the old stars, the galaxy eventually dies too.

Scientists have long been aware that ram-pressure stripping affects galaxies in large clusters, where dark matter exists in ginormous amounts. What’s new is finding out that the process also happens in smaller clusters where dark matter exists in lesser amounts.

As team leader Toby Brown explained in a statement they issued: “You can think of it like a giant cosmic broom that comes through and physically sweeps the gas from the galaxies… If you remove the fuel for star formation then you effectively kill the galaxy and turn it into a dead object.”

It’s not that it’s so uncommon for galaxies to die. In fact, scientists are aware of another galaxy-killing process. It’s called strangulation and it happens when the gas used to form stars is consumed faster than it can be replenished. So gas ultimately runs out, and the galaxy starves until dies. But this is a slow process, which makes it kind of natural and not-so alarming.

In contrast, ram-pressure stripping happens much quickly. Specifically, it takes around tens of millions of years to kill galaxies this way. It’s a bit hard to imagine but when it comes to astronomy, that time frame is extremely fast.

The idea that dark matter makes up approximately 80% of our universe is unsettling enough because we can’t help but be afraid of the unknown, right? If it’s just there to balance whatever needs balancing, then it’s fine. But knowing that it can exterminate galaxies in a hurry is an entirely different story. But then again, we’re talking about millions of years, so it would be an overreaction to think too much or in a panicky way about it. Besides, we’ve got enough problems on our plate as it is.

22 Jan 2017

Is New US President going to give funds to NASA/SpaceX to land an American on Mars before 2022?


President Donald Trump’s inauguration speech lends credence to reports that he discussed sending humans to Mars in a private meeting with billionaire Elon Musk earlier this week.

Trump directly vowed to “unlock the mysteries of space” during his inaugural address.

Musk, the founder of the private space company SpaceX, made two trips to Trump Tower during the transition period and discussed how NASA could be primed to send astronauts to Mars using public-private partnerships, according to The Washington Post. Trump also met this week with space program historian Douglas Brinkley about the Apollo program, which took NASA to the moon during the 1960s.

Experts have long suspected that Trump’s space program will likely be focused on exploration with robotic probes and later, sending humans to Mars, using money diverted from NASA’s global warming science programs — stripped from exploration programs under the previous administration. Another billionaire space entrepreneur, Robert Bigelow, thinks that Trump could potentially double NASA’s budget.

America is better prepared to visit Mars than it was to visit the Moon in the 1960s, according to a study by NASA’s Johnson Space Center. The total cost of current plans to send Americans to Mars comes out to roughly $35 billion spent by 2025 to arrive in 2030.

Industry analysts suspect that Trump will likely increase NASA’s overall budget while slashing many programs supported by President Barack Obama. Additional money for Mars exploration could potentially be diverted from NASA’s troubled Asteroid Redirect Mission, which was also heavily supported by Obama.

“A number of prominent Republicans on Capitol Hill think that NASA should not be involved to the degree that it is in Earth science,” Jeff Foust, a senior writer at the trade publication Space News, told Space.com. “I would certainly expect to see some sort of development in terms of potential reduction to NASA’s Earth science program.”


Experts previously blamed the agency’s problems on Obama focusing NASA on global warming. Obama repeatedly tried to slash space exploration funding and redirect it to Earth science programs, which include climate modelling initiatives designed to measure global warming. Obama increased NASA’s budget for environmental programs by 63 percent at the expense of its exploration budget.

Such delays and budget cuts have given China a lead in planning missions to Mars. The country is rapidly catching up to the space programs of NASA and the U.S. military, for which both congressional Republicans and Democrats blame President Barack Obama.

Trump could slash the more than $2 billion NASA spends on its Earth Science Mission Directorate, which covers global warming science, such as improved climate modelling and weather prediction. Other NASA functions, such as astrophysics and space technology, are currently only getting a mere $781.5 and $826.7 million, respectively.

“NASA should be focused primarily on deep-space activities rather than Earth-centric work that is better handled by other agencies,” Robert S. Walker and Peter Navarro, both senior advisers to the Trump campaign, wrote in an opinion piece published in Space News before the election. “Human exploration of our entire solar system by the end of this century should be NASA’s focus and goal.”

Trump’s vice president, former Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, pledged on Twitter in late October to head up a reinstated National Space Council, which would dictate much of U.S. space policy and coordinate civil and military space agencies. The Council is traditionally headed up by the sitting vice president. Obama promised to re-establish the organization before taking office, but never actually did it.

Don’t Judge an Asteroid by its Cover: Mid-infrared Data from SOFIA Shows Ceres’ True Composition

ceres-communique_img2BISNew observations show that Ceres, the largest body in the asteroid belt, does not appear to have the carbon-rich surface composition that space- and ground-based telescopes previously indicated.

Using data primarily from NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, SOFIA, a team of astronomers has detected the presence of substantial amounts of material on the surface of Ceres that appear to be fragments of other asteroids containing mostly rocky silicates. These observations are contrary to the currently accepted surface composition classification of Ceres as a carbon-rich body, suggesting that it is cloaked by material that partially disguises its real makeup.

“This study resolves a long-time question about whether asteroid surface material accurately reflects the intrinsic composition of the asteroid,” said Pierre Vernazza, research scientist in the Laboratoire d’Astrophysique de Marseille (LAM–CNRS/AMU). Our results show that by extending observations to the mid-infrared, the asteroid’s underlying composition remains identifiable despite contamination by as much as 20 percent of material from elsewhere,” said Vernazza.

Astronomers have classified the Ceres asteroid, as well as 75 percent of all asteroids, in composition class “C” based on their similar colours. The mid-infrared spectra from SOFIA show that Ceres differs substantially from neighbouring C-type asteroids, challenging the conventional understanding of the relationship between Ceres and smaller asteroids.

“SOFIA, with its airborne location and sensitive FORCAST instrument, is the only observatory, currently operating or planned, that can make these kind of observations,” said Franck Marchis, planetary astronomer at the SETI Institute and one of Vernazza’s co-authors. “These and future mid-infrared observations are key to understanding the true nature and history of the asteroids.”

Ceres and asteroids are not the only context where material transported from elsewhere has affected the surfaces of solar system bodies. Dramatic examples include Saturn’s two-faced moon Iapetus and the red material seen by New Horizons on Pluto’s moon Charon. Planetary scientists also hypothesize that material from comets and asteroids provided a final veneer to the then-forming Earth that included substantial amounts of water plus the organic substances of the biosphere.

“Models of Ceres based on data collected by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft plus ground-based telescopes indicated substantial amounts of water- and carbon-bearing minerals such as clays and carbonates,” explains Vernazza. “Only the mid-infrared observations made using SOFIA were able to show that both silicate and carbonate materials are present on the surface of Ceres.”

To identify where the pyroxene on the surface of Ceres came from, Vernazza and his collaborators, including researchers from the SETI Institute in Mountain View, and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, both in California, turned to interplanetary dust particles (IDPs) that form meteors when they are seen streaking through Earth’s atmosphere. The research team had previously shown that IDPs blasted into space by asteroid collisions are an important source of material accumulated on the surfaces of other asteroids. The implication is that a coating of IDPs has caused Ceres to take on the coloration of some of its dry and rocky neighbours.

This study was published January 16, 2017 in the Astronomical Journal.

19 Jan 2017

Does Proxima Centauri have two earth-like planets ?

STScI-H-p1703a-m2000x2000One of the great joys of science is taking something that seems beyond reach and figuring out a way to do it. We can use a coronagraph, for example, to screen out much of the light of a star to see planets around it, but coronagraphs can only do so much, as planets too near the star are still hidden from view. Now scientists have used an unusual observation to deduce information about one such hidden planet and its interactions with a circumstellar disk.

Announced at the recent meeting of the American Astronomical Society, the work involves 18 years of archival observations with the Hubble Space Telescope, which have yielded an intriguing shadow sweeping across the disk of the TW Hydrae system. We’re evidently looking at a young planetary system in formation, as the star — slightly less massive than the Sun and about 192 light years away in the constellation Hydra — is only about 8 million years old. Helpfully for our work, the TW Hydrae disk is seen face-on from our perspective.

Image: These images, taken a year apart by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, reveal a shadow moving counter clockwise around a gas-and-dust disk encircling the young star TW Hydrae. The two images at the top, taken by the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph, show an uneven brightness across the disk. Through enhanced image processing (images at bottom), the darkening becomes even more apparent. These enhanced images allowed astronomers to determine the reason for the changes in brightness. The dimmer areas of the disk, at top left, are caused by a shadow spreading across the outer disk. The dotted lines approximate the shadow’s coverage. The long arrows show how far the shadow has moved in a year (from 2015-2016), which is roughly 20 degrees. Credit: NASA, ESA, and J. Debes (STScI).

We have no other circumstellar disk with an archival dataset this rich, allowing the effect to be studied in depth. John Debes (Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore) was able to put observations from Hubble’s Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS) together with images from different observing runs, some of which included the Hubble Near Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer (NICMOS).

The STIS observations use the instrument’s coronagraph to look close to the star, but the coronagraph still can’t reveal an image of the planet itself. The shadow, however, is another matter. It has swept around the disk counter-clockwise until returning in 2016 to the same position it was in in 2000. The disk’s slow rotation ruled out a feature that was itself a part of the disk, implicating a shadow caused by a tilt to the inner disk relative to the outer. Observations from the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) at submillimetre wavelengths backed the idea.

Debes believes a hitherto unseen planet is the most likely cause of the twisted inner disk, pulling material out of the disk plane to block light from the star, thus producing the shadow sweeping across the outer disk. If this is the case, we are talking about a planet roughly 160 million kilometres from the star, too close to observe even with STIS, which can penetrate as close to the star as the orbit of Saturn (roughly 1.5 billion kilometres).


Image: This diagram reveals the proposed structure of a gas-and-dust disk surrounding the nearby, young star TW Hydrae. The illustration shows an inner disk that is tilted due to the gravitational influence of an unseen companion, which is orbiting just outside the disk. Credit: NASA, ESA, and A. Field (STScI).

To produce the effects Hubble has noted, the planet would need to be about the size of Jupiter. Recent work on TW Hydrae with ALMA has confirmed a gap in the disk about 14.5 million kilometres from the star, perhaps the signature of another planet clearing the inner disk. Thus we are working with a phenomenon that allows us to study early planet formation in an inner system that is otherwise inaccessible, simply by measuring these broad effects.

“What is surprising is that we can learn something about an unseen part of the disk by studying the disk’s outer region and by measuring the motion, location, and behaviour of a shadow,” Debes said. “This study shows us that even these large disks, whose inner regions are unobservable, are still dynamic, or changing in detectable ways which we didn’t imagine.”

Conditions right for complex life may have come and gone in Earth’s distant past


Conditions suitable to support complex life may have developed in Earth’s oceans — and then faded — more than a billion years before life truly took hold, a new University of Washington-led study has found.

The findings, based on using the element selenium as a tool to measure oxygen in the distant past, may also benefit the search for signs of life beyond Earth.

In a paper published Jan. 18 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, lead author Michael Kipp, a UW doctoral student in Earth and space sciences, analysed isotopic ratios of the element selenium in sedimentary rocks to measure the presence of oxygen in Earth’s atmosphere between 2 and 2.4 billion years ago.


Kipp’s UW co-authors are former Earth and space sciences postdoctoral researcher Eva Stüeken — now a faculty member at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland — and professor Roger Buick, who is also a faculty member with the UW Astrobiology Program. Their other co-author is Andrey Bekker of the University of California, Riverside, whose original hypothesis this work helps confirm, the researchers said.

“There is fossil evidence of complex cells that go back maybe 1 ¾ billion years,” said Buick. “But the oldest fossil is not necessarily the oldest one that ever lived – because the chances of getting preserved as a fossil are pretty low.

“This research shows that there was enough oxygen in the environment to have allowed complex cells to have evolved, and to have become ecologically important, before there was fossil evidence.” He added, “That doesn’t mean that they did — but they could have.”

Kipp and Stüeken learned this by analysing selenium traces in pieces of sedimentary shale from the particular time periods using mass spectrometry in the UW Isotope Geochemistry Lab, to discover if selenium had been changed by the presence of oxygen, or oxidized. Oxidized selenium compounds can then get reduced, causing a shift in the isotopic ratios which gets recorded in the rocks. The abundance of selenium also increases in the rocks when lots of oxygen is present.

Buick said it was previously thought that oxygen on Earth had a history of “none, then some, then a lot. But what it looks like now is, there was a period of a quarter of a billion years or so where oxygen came quite high, and then sunk back down again.”

The oxygen’s persistence over a long stretch of time is an important factor, Kipp stressed: “Whereas before and after maybe there were transient environments that could have occasionally supported these organisms, to get them to evolve and be a substantial part of the ecosystem, you need oxygen to persist for a long time.”


Stüeken said such an oxygen increase has been guessed at previously, but it was unclear how widespread it was. This research creates a clearer picture of what this oxygen “overshoot” looked like: “That it was moderately significant in the atmosphere and surface ocean – but not at all in the deep ocean.”

What caused oxygen levels to soar this way only to crash just as dramatically?

“That’s the million-dollar question,” Stüeken said. “It’s unknown why it happened, and why it ended.”

“It is an unprecedented time in Earth’s history,” Buick said. “If you look at the selenium isotope record through time, it’s a unique interval. If you look before and after, everything’s different.”

The use of selenium — named after the Greek word for moon — as an effective tool to probe oxygen levels in deep time could also be helpful in the search for oxygen — and so perhaps life — beyond Earth, the researchers said.

Future generations of space-based telescopes, they note, will give astronomers information about the atmospheric composition of distant planets. Some of these could be approximately Earth-sized and potentially have appreciable atmospheric oxygen.

“The recognition of an interval in Earth’s distant past that may have had near-modern oxygen levels, but far different biological inhabitants, could mean that the remote detection of an oxygen-rich world is not necessarily proof of a complex biosphere,” Kipp said.

Buick concluded, “This is a new way of measuring oxygen in a planet’s historical past, to see whether complex life could have evolved there and persisted long enough to evolve into intelligent beings.”

18 Jan 2017

Lomonosov Moscow State University to Launch 'Space Department' in 2017

Ashampoo_Snap_2017.01.18_12h13m25s_001_This year Lomonosov Moscow State University (MSU), named Russia’s best institution of higher education in 2016, will add a department of space sciences to its long list of 42 faculties to focus on mathematics, astronomy, biology, chemistry and informatics, the university’s rector Viktor Sadovnichy said.“The new department will deal with things we still know very little about – space, black holes, and people's behaviour in zero gravity. It will be training specialists in space-related fields with emphasis on fundamental sciences. Our potential here is second to none,” Sadovnichy said during an open-door meeting on Tuesday.

He added that with the construction of the Vostochny spaceport in the Far East Russia urgently needs specialists in various fields of space research and this is where Moscow State University can help.

The university has one of the most powerful supercomputers around which, besides catering to the needs of its more than 500 research teams, is also used by many institutes of the Russian Academy of Sciences and other scientific centres from across the country. Lomonosov Moscow State University has even launched six satellites of its own making. One of them, aptly named Lomonosov, became the first to be launched into space from the Vostochny space centre.

“We are maybe the only university around capable of building and launching its own satellites. The Lomonosov, which we launched from Vostochny in April 2016, is a space station bristling with dozens of instruments studying outer space and the Earth’s atmosphere. Since the start of the space era our students and post-graduates have designed and built over 400 instruments that have at various times worked in space,” Sadovnichi continued.

The new department will open in September as part of an agreement on joint research, educational and design work the university signed with Roscosmos space agency in 2015. The department will conduct fundamental and applied research, study the physical and psychological effects of long-time space travel on humans and develop computer software for intellectual aerospace trainers and many other things.

Unique 3D-Printed Siberian Satellite to Orbit EarthLomonosov Moscow State University is consistently the highest ranked Russian university in both the BRICS ranking and the QS World University Rankings, placing 7th in BRICS and 108th in the world. It’s the largest of all Russian universities and one of the oldest, founded in 1755 and currently educating around 47,000 students, the majority of which are studying at graduate level.

17 Jan 2017

Scientist who pioneered research on black holes leaves behind rich legacy

18BG_C_V__VISHVESHWARA_C.V. Vishveshwara, who pioneered Indian research on black holes and was the first director of the Jawaharlal Nehru Planetarium, passed away late on Monday night after a period of illness. He was 77.

As the first director of the planetarium, he was instrumental in taking astronomy to the masses, having been personally involved in every aspect of the creation of programmes that have enthralled thousands of visitors for over three decades.

“He was a good scientist and was taken on honorarium, essentially working for free there. He was very good at communicating science to the public and used his deep knowledge of Kannada to ensure locals were interested in astronomy,” said U.R. Rao, chairman of the governing council of the planetarium.

Academically, Prof. Vishveshwara leaves behind a rich legacy after having been associated with the Indian Institute of Science, the Raman Research Institute, and the Indian Institute of Astrophysics. In the 1970s, while at the University of Maryland, he was among the first to study black holes, even before they had been so named. His calculations gave a graphical form to the signal emitted from two merging black holes — which was finally detected in 2015 by the LIGO collaboration.

Prof. Vishveshwara, popularly called ‘Vishu’, was also known for his cartoons. Commenting on his style of lecturing, Prof. Bala Iyer, a long-time collaborator, said, “For me, it was a magical experience: an exotic cocktail of science, art, humour and caricature.”

Prof. Vishveshwara wrote several books, including ‘Einstein’s Enigma, or, Black Holes in My Bubble Bath’.

A new sky projector

Meanwhile, the Jawaharlal Nehru Planetarium entered the digital age with the launch of its new sky projector — which displays the primary programmes for thousands of visitors — on Tuesday.

The ₹12-crore hybrid projector was launched by Chief Minister Siddaramaiah. “Our old projector was over 25 years old and was completely analogous. The new machine was selected as it could play digitally. The images will be clearer and the projected programmes more powerful,” said U.R. Rao, chairman of the governing council of the planetarium.

NASA Passes on Asteroid-Detecting Telescope Program

Dwarf Planet MissionA high-telescope program that could have pinpointed the locations of thousands of asteroids orbiting near the Earth was recently rejected by NASA, the third time the mission has been shot down.

According to Business Insider, the Near-Earth Objects Camera (NEOCam) has the ability to find rocks in space as small as 140 meters in diameter. The program was partially funded for a year, but America's space agency did not commit to going at the program full speed.

There is worry a sizable asteroid could someday strike Earth and, in the worst-case scenario, destroy a city or more. The planet is pockmarked with old craters caused by asteroids, meteorites, and other space particles.

NASA's website claims an asteroid as big as a car enters the Earth's atmosphere once a year but burns up. More serious incidents take place less frequently.

"Every 2,000 years or so, a meteoroid the size of a football field hits Earth and causes significant damage to the area," NASA's website reads. "Only once every few million years, an object large enough to threaten Earth's civilization comes along. Impact craters on Earth, the moon, and other planetary bodies are evidence of these occurrences."

A 2005 law mandated NASA locate 90 percent of the near-Earth objects larger than 140 meters in diameter by 2020. According to Business Insider, the agency is well behind that goal.

Asteroids that large have the potential to pack a mean punch in the form of 60 megatons worth of TNT, according to the report.

"You do that over a city, and it's a very, very bad day," Mark Sykes, the director of the Planetary Science Institute and one of the scientists on the NEOCam team, told Business Insider. "It's important to look at your neighbourhood, from a planetary defence standpoint."

Earlier this month, NASA did opt to fund two missions that will explore asteroids in and around the main asteroid belt. The agency hopes the data from the mission will provide a glimpse into the early days of the solar system.

16 Jan 2017

An Enormous Atmospheric Anomaly Has Been Spotted On Venus


Using the Akatsuki spacecraft, Japanese scientists have detected a large, bow-shaped anomaly in the upper atmosphere of Venus. Strangely, the 6,200-mile-long structure is refusing to budge despite the 225 mile-per-hour winds that surround it.

Researchers from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Institute of Space and Astronautical Science believe the phenomenon is the largest stationary “gravity wave” ever recorded in the solar system. Emanating from the mountains below, the unusual weather phenomenon is strong enough to withstand ferocious background winds, causing an enormous bow-like structure to hang in the upper atmosphere like a gigantic scar.

Venus, that cloud-covered hellhole of a planet next door, is rife with exceptionally strange atmospheric behavior. Winds in its upper atmosphere howl at 223 miles per hour (359 kilometers per hour), a speed that’s considerably faster than the slowly-rotating planet pictured below (a single Venusian day lasts longer than an entire Venusian year). Thick clouds of sulfuric acid move in a westerly direction on account of the entire upper atmosphere rotating significantly faster than the planet itself.

In late 2015, JAXA’s Akatsuki orbiter—a spacecraft designed to investigate the atmospheric dynamics and cloud physics of Venus—made some strange observations over the course of several days. As described in a new study published in the journal Nature, the probe detected a stationary, bow-shaped structure in the upper Venusian atmosphere. A research team led by Rikkyo University astronomer Makoto Taguchi spotted the anomaly by analyzing images taken by Akatsuki in the middle infrared and ultraviolet spectrums.

After ruling out possibilities like a thermal tide (these are similar to ocean tides, but highly unlikely given that Venus has no moon) or an instrumental error (Akatsuki is in tip-top shape), the JAXA researchers concluded that the anomaly is likely caused by a gravity wave. Not to be confused with gravitational waves, gravity waves happen where mediums, like a fluid or gas, fight for a state of equilibrium under the force of gravity. Or as Taguchi explained to Gizmodo, “it’s an oscillation of density, pressure, velocity or temperature that propagates in an atmosphere by a balance of buoyancy and gravity forces as a restoring force.” On Earth, gravity waves produce waves on the ocean and airflow over mountains.

Scientists have observed small, transient gravity waves in Venus’s atmosphere before, a sign that mountain ranges are present below, but they’ve never seen anything quite like this one. On this scorched planet, gravity waves are generated near rugged, mountainous surface areas, and then drift upwards, lifting up into the sky and growing larger and larger in amplitude until they dissipate just below the cloud-tops. As the waves break in the upper atmosphere, they push back against fast-moving atmospheric winds with tremendous force, slowing those winds down.

Clouds Reveal Features on the Surface of Venus    

Venus’s unusually thick atmosphere is typically regarded as a barrier that prevents us from gazing…
Read more 

That’s the theory of how gravity waves typically work, at least, but this newly-observed anomaly suggests they also work on a near-planetary scale, affecting the cloud-tops for thousands of miles.

“Given the shape and the fast speed [of the surrounding winds] relative to the background super-rotation, the only reasonable interpretation of the stationary bow shape is that it is induced by an atmospheric gravity wave packet,” write the researchers. “The present study shows direct evidence of the existence of stationary gravity waves, and it further shows that such stationary gravity waves can have a very large scale—perhaps the greatest ever observed in the solar system.”

Using computer models, the researchers verified that large, stationary gravity waves are indeed possible. “Our simulations of gravity wave propagation showed a similar pattern of temperature distribution at the cloud-top altitudes as the observed one,” Taguchi told Gizmodo.

All this said, Taguchi’s team is not entirely certain if the gravity waves produced by the Venusian mountain ranges are capable of spreading upwards as far as the cloud-tops without a little help. The researchers speculate that winds in the deep atmosphere may be more variable in space and time than previously assumed, boosting the ability of gravity waves to propagate to the upper portion of Venus’s atmosphere.

Looking ahead, Taguchi would like to study variations in the atmosphere so he can compare the conditions when the bow is present to when it’s absent. “We also have to collect more data for statistical studies,” he said. “Ongoing computer simulations will be important to justify a hypothesis raised from the observational results.”

Become a subscriber to the 2017 Yearbook of Astronomy

2017yearbookIf you would like to learn more about becoming a Subscriber to the forthcoming 2017 Yearbook of Astronomy, read on . . .

It recently came to the notice of Richard Pearson and myself that the publishers of the Yearbook of Astronomy had taken the decision to cease production, and that the 2016 edition would be the last. Not wishing to see the Yearbook disappear from the bookshelves, we have taken over the task of editing it and have found a publisher for the 2018 edition onward. However, in order to maintain the continuity of the Yearbook – which first appeared way back in 1962 – we intend to self-publish a (shorter) edition for 2017, although because of the limited time we have available to produce this, we envisage that the 2017 edition will not be published until around late-March or early-April. We hope that the readers and devotees of the Yearbook will understand this and support our efforts by purchasing a copy for their library . . .

Becoming a Subscriber to the 2017 Yearbook of Astronomy will involve a nominal one-off payment of £21 in return for which you would receive a copy of the book on publication, along with an entry of your name under the List of Subscribers which will be printed in the book itself. Payments can be made via PayPal here.

When you make your payment, please include YOUR NAME (as you wish it to appear in the List of Subscribers) and YOUR FULL MAILING ADDRESS (so we can post a copy of the Yearbook to you on publication).

In addition, we have started a Facebook group devoted to the Yearbook where you will find further details of the forthcoming 2017 edition and we invite anyone who is interested to join. Please note that any postings added to the group must specifically relate to the Yearbook of Astronomy rather than just to astronomy and space in general. The group can be found here.