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Predicting the weather on Titan?

Monday, January 30, 2006

False-colour Images of Titan
False-colour Images of Titan (obtained by the Cassini-Huygens Visual Infrared Mapping Spectrometer)
Credits: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

Using recent Cassini, Huygens and Earth-based observations, scientists have been able to create a computer model which explains the formation of several types of ethane and methane clouds on Titan.
Clouds have been observed recently on Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, through the thick haze, using near-infrared spectroscopy and images of the south pole and temperate regions near 40° South. Recent observations from Earth-based telescopes and the NASA/ESA/ASI Cassini spacecraft are now providing an insight into cloud climatology.

More:ESA Science-Predicting the weather on Titan

Discovery of Small, Rocky, Extrasolar World Suggests Such Planets May Be Common

Monday, January 30, 2006

Artists conception
Artist's concept of the newfound rocky planet circling a distant star.

Using a relatively new planet-hunting technique that can spot worlds one-tenth the mass of our own, researchers have discovered a potentially rocky, icy body that may be the smallest planet yet found orbiting a star outside our solar system.

The discovery suggests the technique, gravitational microlensing, may be an exceptional technology for finding distant planets with traits that could support life.

This important research, partly funded by NASA, is providing us the opportunity to search for planets in habitable environments," said Zlatan Tsvetanov, Terrestrial Planet Finder program scientist at NASA Headquarters, Washington. "The results successfully demonstrate the power of gravitational microlensing, currently the only ground-based technique with the sensitivity to detect extrasolar Earth-size planets on Earth-like orbits, and provide an important clue of the ubiquity of small planets."

More: NASA - Discovery of Small, Rocky, Extrasolar World

Disembodied Space Suit

Monday, January 30, 2006

Using a simple police scanner or ham radio, you can listen to a disembodied spacesuit circling Earth.

January 26, 2006: One of the strangest satellites in the history of the space age is about to go into orbit. Launch date: Feb. 3rd. That's when astronauts onboard the International Space Station (ISS) will hurl an empty spacesuit overboard.

SuitSat in Flight Configuaration

The spacesuit is the satellite -- "SuitSat" for short.

"SuitSat is a Russian brainstorm," explains Frank Bauer of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. "Some of our Russian partners in the ISS program, mainly a group led by Sergey Samburov, had an idea: Maybe we can turn old spacesuits into useful satellites." SuitSat is a first test of that idea.

"We've equipped a Russian Orlan spacesuit with three batteries, a radio transmitter, and internal sensors to measure temperature and battery power," says Bauer. "As SuitSat circles Earth, it will transmit its condition to the ground."

Unlike a normal spacewalk, with a human inside the suit, SuitSat's temperature controls will be turned off to conserve power. The suit, arms and legs akimbo, possibly spinning, will be exposed to the fierce rays of the sun with no way to regulate its internal temperature.

"Will the suit overheat? How long will the batteries last? Can we get a clear transmission if the suit tumbles?" wonders Bauer. These are some of the questions SuitSat will answer, laying the groundwork for SuitSats of the future.

Continue reading "Disembodied Space Suit"

Where Art Thou Mars?

Thursday, January 26, 2006

If you are looking for Mars, According to JPl, it is at 60 degrees above the horizon at dusk and sets near 1:30 a.m. On Februrary 5, 2006, you will find Mars near the first quarter Moon, and on February 16, 2006 near the Pleiades star cluster (M45).

More:NASA -Mars Viewing Tips for 2006

"Roving Mars" Coming to IMAX January 27, 2006/ Rated G.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

ROVING MARSIs there life on Mars? Robots are currently searching for an answer to that and other Posterquestions regarding Earth's closest neighbor. This IMAX documentary details the journies of Spirit and Opportunity, two rovers exploring the red planet, and promises to take us closer than ever before. It is directed by George Butler (Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry) and produced by Frank Marshall (who has produced blockbuster The Sixth Sense and the esteemed Back to the Future and Indiana Jones trilogies).

For a movie with major studio backing that will be released in less than two months, you'd be hard-pressed to find one with as little information dispatched and as little interest registered. Disney has found a niche market for co-produced IMAX films over the past few years, but despite its large-format photography, Roving Mars could be the smallest yet.

Coming to IMAX Theaters January 27, 2006 / Rated G
More: Disney Online: Roving Mars

See Saturn

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

February 19, 2006

lowell_logo_smWinterfest Star FestSaturn will be featured for this special Star Fest. Numerous telescopes will be set up for viewing throughout the Lowell campus, and indoor videos will also be available for viewing. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. For more information, contact Kevin Schindler (kevin(at)lowell(dot)edu or 928-233-3210.

Martian Valentine From Mars with Love

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Martian Valentine
Are Martians trying to tell us something? This image of an indentation on Mars resembles a heart, a common human symbol for love. Because intelligent Martians have never been known to exist, and because formations with similarities have been found that clearly result from natural phenomena, the pit shown above is thought not to be a form of interplanetary communication. Many scientists believe instead that the right-most wall of the two-kilometer wide heart-shaped pit was created by a naturally occurring graben, a surface drop caused by expansion along a fault-line.

Perhaps love is easier to find here on Earth.

Credit: Malin Space Science Systems, MGS, JPL, NASA

Roll on ROLO

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Rolo Image of the Moon
Some people imagine that the moon is made of cheese, and some think of ROLO as a kind of caramel candy, but in reality ROLO is the RObotic Lunar Observatory, an active project worked diligently by Tom Stone of the USGS Astrogeolgy team. A goal of the project is to determine the precise brightness of the Moon and use it as an absolute radiance calibration standard for Earth-orbiting satellite imaging instruments.

Earth-orbiting spacecraft and their instruments, such as the Sea-viewing Wide Field-of-view Sensor (SeaWiFS); Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS); Advance Land Imager (ALI); and Geostationary Environmental Satellites (GOES), use data provided by ROLO as part of a calibration reference to monitor the Earth’s brightness levels and its changes.

Twin Telescopes on Fork Mount
One might wonder why ROLO uses the Moon as a calibration source. “The surface of the moon has extremely stable reflectance, much more stable than any hardware that can be flown on an ‘on-board’ calibration system” says Tom Stone, Project Scientist.

On clear nights for more than 6 years, twin telescopes on a fork mount have recorded some 85,000 images of the Moon from first quarter to last quarter phase in 32 bands from 350-2500 nm. However, routine observations stopped in September 2003, and intermittent observations continue.

The ROLO project was started as a collaboration between Hugh Kieffer, formerly of the U.S. Geological Survey, who now serves as a consultant on the project, and Robert Wildey, who was then employed with Northern Arizona University (but came to work for U.S. Geological Survey). Robert Wildey developed the acronym ROLO and it is used in his memory; he was a critical part of ROLO from its inception until his death in 1998.

The ultimate goal of project ROLO is to establish the Moon as a spectral radiance standard with an accuracy of 1-2 % absolute, traceable to SI units (Système International d'unités). Another project goal to precisely measure satellite instrument changes has been achieved and is in use by satellite instrument teams.

Link: USGS Astrogeology - ROLO website

New Horizons Launch

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

New Horizons Launch
Liftoff of the Atlas V carrying NASA's New Horizons spacecraft to a distant date with Pluto!
Image credit: NASA/KSC

After launch aboard a Lockheed-Martin Atlas V rocket, the New Horizons spacecraft set out on a journey to the edge of the solar system. Liftoff occurred Jan. 19, 2006 at 2:00:00 p.m. EST from Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. New Horizons is headed for a distant rendezvous with the mysterious planet Pluto almost a decade from now.

As the first spacecraft to visit Pluto and its moon Charon, New Horizons looks to unlock one of the solar system's last, great planetary secrets. The New Horizons spacecraft will cross the entire span of the solar system and conduct flyby studies of Pluto and Charon in 2015. The seven science instruments on the piano-sized probe will shed light on the bodies' surface properties, geology, interior makeup and atmospheres.

More: NASA -New Horizons Heads for Pluto

Stardust Canister Opened: 'A Huge Success'

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Stardust Canister Opened
Credit: David

Fresh from its fall to Earth last weekend, the Stardust sample return capsule has been opened in a cleanroom at the NASA Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, Texas.

“It exceeds all expectations,” said Donald Brownlee, Stardust’s lead scientist from the University of Washington, Seattle. “It’s a huge success,” he explained in a University of Washington statement released today.

“We can see lots of impacts. There are big ones, there are small ones. The big ones you can see from 10 feet away,” Brownlee observed.

A preliminary estimation is that there might be more than a million microscopic specks of dust embedded in Stardust’s aerogel-laden collector. Furthermore, it appears—from the size of the carrot-shaped impact tracks in the aerogel—that there are about 10 particles of 100 microns in size.

More: - Stardust Canister Opened

Asteroid Collision Fueled Ancient Dust Storm on Earth

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Asteroid Collision Fueled Ancient Dust Storm on Earth
Credit: Roy Britt

One of the biggest cosmic dust storms of the past 80 million years left a blanket of material on Earth after an asteroid in space broke apart, researchers said today.

The conclusion is based on evidence in ocean sediments, which computer models have tied to an observed bevy of asteroid siblings still roaming the solar system.

The thinking is that the space rocks were once part of a larger asteroid, some 100 miles (160 kilometers) wide, that broke up – possibly in a collision – out in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. The drama took place 8.2 million years ago. That much has been reasoned before. The event would have created vast amounts of dust, some of which would have been scooped up by our planet.

More: - Asteroid Collision Fueled Ancient Dust Storm on Earth

MLK Star Fest

Thursday, January 12, 2006

January 15, 2006


MLK Star FestLowell Observatory celebrates the holiday weekend with a Star Party. For this special Sunday event, we'll have numerous telescopes set up for viewing, as well as indoor presentations. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. Regular nighttime admission fees ($5 per adult, $4 per senior, college student, AAA member; $2 per youth, ages 5-17). For more information, contact Kevin Schindler (kevin(at)lowell(dot)edu or 928-233-3210.

Fireball Alert!

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

FIREBALL ALERT: On Sunday morning, Jan. 15th, between 1:56 and 1:59 a.m. PST (0956 - 0959 UT), a brilliant fireball will streak over northern California and Nevada. It's NASA's Stardust capsule, returning to Earth with samples of dust from Comet Wild 2. The best observing sites: near Carlin and Elko, Nevada, (see map below) where the man-made meteor is expected to shine as much as 60 times brighter than Venus.

Map: Google maps
Credit: Image:courtesy P. Jenniskens/Seti Institute

If you're too far away to see the fireball, you might be able to hear it--on the radio. The technique is called "meteor scatter." Tune an FM radio to a silent spot between local stations and point the radio's antenna in the general direction of northern Nevada. When the Stardust capsule rips through the atmosphere, it will create an electrically ionized wake that reflects radio waves. You could suddenly pick up stations hundreds to thousands of miles away reflected in your direction from the fireball's tail. - Fireball Alert

An Explosion on the Moon

Friday, January 6, 2006

Explosion on Moon
The red dot marks the location of the Nov. 7, 2005, meteoroid impact.

Credit: NASA/MSFC/Bill Cooke
December 23, 2005: NASA scientists have observed an explosion on the moon. The blast, equal in energy to about 70 kg of TNT, occurred near the edge of Mare Imbrium (the Sea of Rains) on Nov. 7, 2005, when a 12-centimeter-wide meteoroid slammed into the ground traveling 27 km/s.

"What a surprise," says Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) researcher Rob Suggs, who recorded the impact's flash. He and colleague Wes Swift were testing a new telescope and video camera they assembled to monitor the moon for meteor strikes. On their first night out, "we caught one," says Suggs.

The object that hit the moon was "probably a Taurid," says MSFC meteor expert  

Bill Cooke. In other words, it was part of the same meteor shower that peppered Earth with fireballs in late October and early November 2005.

More: NASA -So you thought nothing ever happens on the moon?

New Discoveries at Uranus

Friday, January 6, 2006

Fully-labeled composite image
Fully-labeled composite image

Credit: NASA, ESA, and M. Showalter (SETI Institute)

Deep exposure of Uranus taken with the Hubble Space Telescope reveal two small moons and two faint rings. All orbit outside of Uranus's previously known (main) ring system, but interior to the large, classical moons. The outer new moon, U XXVI Mab, orbits at roughly twice the radius of the main rings and shares its orbit with a dust ring. The second moon, U XXVII Cupid, orbits just interior to the satellite Belinda. A second ring falls between the orbits of Portia and Rosalind, in a region with no known source bodies. Collectively, these constitute a densely-packed, rapidly varying and possibly unstable dynamical system.

More: SETI - New Discoveries at Uranus