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NASA shuttle to launch Luke's lightsaber

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

When the space shuttle Discovery launches the STS-120 crew in October, the force will be with them. Stowed on-board the orbiter, in addition to a new module for the international space station, will be the original prop lightsaber used by actor Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker in the 1977 film "Star Wars". The laser-like Jedi weapon is being flown to the orbiting outpost and back in honor of the 30th anniversary of director George Lucas' franchise. Before it can make its trip to orbit though, the lightsaber will first fly to Houston, Texas, home of NASA's Johnson Space Center, by way of Southwest Airlines and a Star Wars-studded send off from Oakland International Airport in California on Tuesday.

More: collectSPACE - NASA shuttle to launch Luke's lightsaber

Rovers get back to work

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

After six weeks of hunkering down during raging dust storms that limited solar power, both of NASA's Mars Exploration Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, have resumed driving. Opportunity advanced 13.38 meters (44 feet) toward the edge of Victoria Crater on Aug. 21. Mission controllers were taking advantage of gradual clearing of dust from the sky while also taking precautions against buildup of dust settling onto the rover.

No new storms have been lifting dust into the air near either solar-powered rover in the past two weeks. Skies are gradually brightening above both Spirit and Opportunity. "The clearing could take months," said rover Project Scientist Bruce Banerdt. "There is a lot of very fine material suspended high in the atmosphere." As that material does settle out of the air, the powdery dust is accumulating on surfaces such as the rovers' solar panels and instruments. More dust on the solar panels lessens the panels' capacity for converting sunlight to electricity, even while more sunlight is getting through the clearer atmosphere.

More: NASA - Rovers Resume Driving

Three New Names Approved for Use on Europa

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The names Arran Chaos, Narberth Chaos, and Rathmore Chaos have been approved for use on Europa. See the page containing Europa nomenclature in the Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature for more information.

Name approved for Saturn's satellite S/2007 S 4

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The name Anthe has been approved for Saturn XLIX. Anthe is one of the Alkyonides, the seven beautiful daughters of the Giant Alkyoneos. Anthe orbits in the region between Methone and Pallene, named for two other Alkyonides. Please visit the Planet and Satellite Names and Discoverers page in the Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature for more information.

Flagstaff Festival of Science: September 21-30, 2007

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Dig Science in the southern Utah desert, the Martian north pole and under the ice in Antarctica. Get ready to uncover a world of mystery and discovery! Join us for the 2007 Flagstaff Festival of Science!

Lead scientist in the excavation of the therizinosaur skeleton and Festival keynote presenter Dr. David Gillette is scheduled to kick off the free 10-day event with Therizinosaur -- Mystery of the Sickle Claw Dinosaur at 7 p.m., Friday, Sept. 21 in Ardrey Auditorium at Northern Arizona University. When the therizinosaur (thair-uh-zi’-na-sore) skeleton was found in the southern Utah desert, scientists were stumped. The puzzling discovery of this odd, eight-foot-tall gangly dinosaur and how it became lost in an unfriendly sea will set the stage for the 2007 Flagstaff Festival of Science when scientists explore Dino Might.

In addition to several talks by USGS scientists throughout the 10-day festival, there will be talks, open houses, star parties, and tours at Lowell Observatory, Naval Observatory, as NAU Campus Observatory, as well as many other events related to astronomy, space science, engineering, archaeology, weather, ecology, and much, much more!

Just a few of the other USGS and space science related events during the Festival of Science include:

Saturday, Sept. 22
Science in the Park
10 a.m. – 2 p.m. Wheeler Park
Perform mock heart surgery, spot an avalanche before it happens, get on board with the Phoenix Mars Mission and uncover the secrets of the Sinagua. This hands-on adventure will have you digging for fossils, understanding conditions in space and exploring sustainable living. From tree roots that dig into the earth to tree rings that dig into the past, people of all ages will Dig Science at Wheeler Park!

Mountain Campus Science and Engineering Day
1 – 4 p.m., NAU Wettaw Building, #88
Attend an exciting chemistry magic show, handle favorite ugly bugs, experience mini Baja and electric cars, see bizarre life forms in plants, view through an electron microscope and solar telescope, make balloon and Alka-Seltzer rockets, have body composition tests performed and operate a seismograph. Don’t miss the tsunamis, earthquakes and aquifers in stereo through the three-dimensional Geo-Wall.

Tuesday, Sept. 25
Phoenix Mars Scout Mission
Carla Bitter, UofA
7 p.m. Museum of Northern Arizona
Launched last month, the Phoenix Mars Scout Mission lander is on its way to the Martian north pole. Find out what signatures of life scientists hope to uncover when a robotic arm digs into the arctic soil!

Wednesday, Sept. 26
Titan’s Methane Monsoon
Dr. Henry Roe, Lowell Observatory
7 p.m. Museum of Northern Arizona
Saturn’s moon, Titan, has been fascinating astronomers with its dry riverbeds, giant ice mountains, drifting methane clouds and liquid methane lakes. Hear from one man who watches Titan almost nightly to gauge the bizarre atmosphere and its impact on this moon’s surface.

Thursday, Sept. 27
Checking in with Mars Rovers
Dr. Ken Herkenhoff, USGS
5 p.m., Lowell Observatory
They have far exceeded their expected lifetimes! Spirit and Opportunity, the hard-working robotic field geologists, keep on going. Hear about their discoveries of ancient water activity on the red planet.

Friday, Sept. 28
Wondrous Worlds
Dr. Paul Geissler, USGS
4 p.m. Lowell Observatory
Just light years away, elements in the universe are putting on a magnificent show! Experience it through the lens of the Hubble telescope.

Sunday, Sept. 30
Meteor Crater Open House
8 a.m. – 5p.m., I-40 east to Exit 233
A hole lotta science goin’ on at this enormous crater! See for yourself with a guided tour along a portion of the rim, or crash meteorites in an interactive display! If you are 12 years old or older, join in a rare opportunity to hike the entire rim. Make your reservation for this special whole-rim hike, 800-289-5898.

For more information and the complete calendar of events, visit the 2007 Flagstaff Festival of Science website.

Google the Heavens!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

hubble orion picture
Screenshot of detailed description of the Hubble Orion Nebula Image in Sky in Google Earth. Image credit: NASA, ESA, Digitized Sky Survey Consortium, and the STScI-Google Partnership.

Exploding stars and faraway galaxies are now just a mouse click away through Sky in Google Earth. The program is modeled after Google Earth, which allows you to tour our planet. With Sky in Google Earth, you can travel across the vastness of the night sky, making tour stops at all the popular Hubble images. Though these celestial objects are far away from Earth, you can reach them in a few seconds with Sky in Google Earth. This new, free, downloadable browser is produced by Google through a partnership with the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, the science operations center for the Hubble Space Telescope.

Google: Sky in Google Earth Information and free download

NASA: Hubble Teams With Google to Bring the Cosmos Down to Earth

STScI Hubble: Hubble Teams With Google to Bring the Cosmos Down to Earth

STScI Hubble: Gallery

Mars Close Encounter?

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Earth and Mars are converging, and right now the distance between the two planets is shrinking at a rate of 22,000 mph. Ultimately, this will lead to a close approach in late December 2007 when Mars will outshine every star in the night sky. Contrary to rumor, though, Mars is never going to outshine the Moon.

For more information, see the article NASA: Hurtling Towards Mars

Shuttle Endeavour Comes Home

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Endeavour landing on runway 15 at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, August 21, 2007
Endeavour landing on runway 15 at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, August 21, 2007. Image credit: NASA/George Shelton
The space shuttle Endeavour and its crew are home after completing a 13-day mission. Endeavour's STS-118 mission successfully added another truss segment, a new gyroscope and external spare parts platform to the International Space Station. Endeavour's Commander Scott Kelly, Pilot Charlie Hobaugh and mission specialists Tracy Caldwell, Rick Mastracchio, Barbara R. Morgan, Alvin Drew and Canadian Space Agency astronaut Dave Williams landed at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Tuesday at 12:32 p.m. EDT.

Williams, Mastracchio and station flight engineer Clayton Anderson, with the help of their crewmates, made four spacewalks to accomplish the construction tasks. The spacewalkers also completed work in preparation for upcoming assembly missions, such as relocating an equipment cart and installing support equipment and communication upgrades. During the mission, a new system that enables docked shuttles to draw electrical power from the station to extend visits to the outpost was activated successfully. Because the system worked, two additional days were added to Endeavour's mission.

Although managers addressed several issues with Endeavour's heat shield, including a small gouge in the protective tile on the orbiter's belly, inspections in orbit revealed no critical damage. Endeavour's thermal protection system was declared safe for re-entry on Monday. The orbiter will be processed immediately for its next flight, targeted for February 2008.

NASA: Shuttle Endeavour Crew Returns Home After Successful Mission

NASA: Space Shuttle News Site currently features high resolution images from STS-118 tile damage and landing

NPR: Space Shuttle Endeavour Lands in Florida

Lunar Eclipse, 28 August 2007

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

A total eclipse of the Moon will occur during the early morning of Tuesday, August 28, 2007. The event is widely visible from the United States and Canada as well as South America, the Pacific Ocean, western Asia and Australia. In Arizona (GMT-7), the eclipse will begin around 1:51AM, reach totality around 3:37AM, and end around 5:24AM.

NASA: August 2007 Total Lunar Eclipse Information and Schedule

NASA: 2007 Lunar Eclipses

Two New Names Approved for Martian Features

Monday, August 20, 2007

The names Marikh Vallis and Moroz have been approved for a valley and a crater on Mars. Marikh is the Malaysian word for Mars, and Moroz is named for Vasily Moroz, a Russian planetary scientist. See the listings in the Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature for more information.