Arsenic and old Universe – Two news updates, both of which are pretty interesting. 1) The arsenic-utilizing bacterium is still in the news… Last week, a paper made the rounds on various sites that Roger Penrose and a collaborator had found circular patterns in the cosmic background radiation that might point to clues about what happened before the Big Bang. –Phil Plait / Bad Astronomy
Sneak Attacks from the Sun – Our Sun can be a menace when it sends out powerful solar blasts of radiation towards the Earth. Astronomers keenly watch the Sun to learn more about what powers these solar eruptions, in hopes of being able to predict them. New research shows that one-third of the Sun’s blasts are “sneak attacks” that may occur without warning. –Center for Astrophysics
A team of NASA-funded researchers find there may be different criteria by which we search for life elsewhere in the universe. Also, shuttle Discovery gets a new target launch date; SOFIA flies its first science mission; NASA's Small Business Awards, and an alternative fuels pilot program. Plus, Scott Kelly's geography trivia from space, and the anniversary of Gemini 7.
10 Years of SOHO - (Dec. 1995 - Dec 2005) - Courtesy of SOHO consortium. SOHO is a project of international cooperation between ESA and NASA.
NASA's Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy (or SOFIA) completed its first science flight on Dec. 1, demonstrating the airborne observatory's ability to make observations not possible from ground-based telescopes. Five more flights are planned over the coming months in the observatory's Short Science series.
Solar Observation Mission Celebrates 15 Years – On December 2, 1995, the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory or SOHO was launched into space from Cape Canaveral aboard an Atlas IIAS rocket. The joint ESA/NASA project began its work observing the sun at a time when the term “solar weather” was almost never used. –NASA
NASA Aids in Characterizing Super-Earth Atmosphere – A team of astronomers, including two NASA Sagan Fellows, has made the first characterizations of a super-Earth’s atmosphere, by using a ground-based telescope. A super-Earth is a planet up to three times the size of Earth and weighing up to 10 times as much. The findings, reported in the Dec. 2 issue of the journal Nature, are a significant milestone toward eventually being able to probe the atmospheres of Earth-like planets for signs of life. –NASA / JPL
Red Dwarf Discovery Changes Everything! – Its often said that the number of grains of sand on Earth equals the number of stars in the Universe. Well it looks like a recent study by astronomers working at the Keck Observatory in Hawaii have found that its more like three times the number of grains of sand on Earth! Working with some of the most sophisticated equipment available, astronomers from Yale University have been counting the number of dim red dwarf stars in nearby galaxies which has led to a dramatic rethink of the number of stars in the Universe. -Mark Thompson / Universe Today
Secret Mini Space Shuttle Could Land on Friday – The US Air Force announced that the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle, a miniature, unmanned space shuttle could return to Earth as soon as this Friday, December 3. It has been in Earth orbit for about nine months on a classified mission for the military. It will land at Vandenberg Air Force Base in Los Angeles sometime between Friday and Monday, Air Force officials said in a statement. –Nancy Atkinson / Universe Today
What’s up in the solar system in December 2010 – The year is racing to a close — I can’t believe December is here already! This month will see Japan’s Akatsuki join Venus Express at Venus; that happens on December 6 at 23:49 UT (December 7, Japan time). Cassini will perform a second of a pair of 50-kilometer Enceladus flybys (the first happened early today). Opportunity should, if she keeps up her current pace, arrive within spitting distance of Santa Maria crater. And, closer to home, there’ll be a total lunar eclipse over the night of December 20-21. –Emily Lakdawalla / Planetary Society
NASA Offers Space Shuttle Tiles To Schools And Universities – As the Space Shuttle Program nears retirement, NASA is looking for ways to preserve the program’s history and inspire the next generation of space explorers, scientists and engineers. Beginning Wednesday, NASA is offering 7,000 shuttle heat shield tiles to schools and universities that want to share technology and a piece of space history with their students. –NASA
Celestron’s Capture the Universe 2010 Astrophoto winners! – Last month, Discover Magazine and Celestron telescopes partnered for the second annual Capture the Universe astrophotography contest. Astronomers submitted about a hundred images made using Celestron optics for the contest, and I was chosen to pick my favorite two; a third was picked as Viewers’ Choice by the members of the Celestron website. All of the photos submitted are available at the CelestronImages site. –Phil Plait / Bad Astronomy
This coronal mass ejection -- observed by SOHO's EIT 195 instrument on April 7, 1997 -- was the first visual image of such an ejection headed for Earth. It appeared as the lead story on the national news. Credit: SOHO/ESA/NASA
Discovery launch scrubbed again due to LH2 leak – Nov 5, 2010 – The launch of Space Shuttle Discovery has been officially scrubbed at 12:11 UTC due to a leak of Liquid Hydrogen at the Ground Umbilical Carrier Plate (GUCP) detected during the tanking process. Leaks at the GUCP delayed launches for STS-119 and STS-127.
Hartley 2’s jets – It was a very happy set of scientists, engineers, managers, and administrators who filled the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Von Karman auditorium this afternoon to do the postgame show on Deep Impact’s flyby of Hartley 2. –Emily Lakdawalla / The Planetary Society
NASA Mission Successfully Flies by Comet Hartley 2 – NASA’s EPOXI mission successfully flew by comet Hartley 2 and the spacecraft has begun returning images. Hartley 2 is the fifth comet nucleus visited by a spacecraft. Scientists and mission controllers are currently viewing never-before-seen images of Hartley 2 appearing on their computer terminal screens. –NASA/JPL
At 10:21 UTC on 04/05/2010 one of the final four Space Shuttle missions lifted off for Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Space Shuttle Discovery and her crew of 7 will be bringing Leonardo to the International Space Station for a two week and three EVA stay.
Sun now through Lasco C3
Hartley 2 from up close
Ground Umbilical Carrier Plate
Gallery Pick of the Day
Animation of Deep Impact close-approach images - About an hour after its closest approach of Hartley 2, Deep Impact downlinked five precious images taken during the nearest part of its flyby. The top two images were taken 82 and 16 seconds before closest approach, and the bottom three 18, 57, and 117 seconds after closest approach (image times are 13:58:07, 13:59:13, 13:59:47, 14:00:26, and 14:01:26 UTC on November 4, 2010). They show a very active comet with numerous jets. Credit: NASA / JPL / UMD / animation by Emily Lakdawalla
Confirmed Exoplanets Could Reach 500 by the End of This Month – If it seems like a new extrasolar planet is discovered every week these days, that’s because there is. In fact, the rate is actually faster than one per week – 70 have been discovered thus far this year alone, bringing the overall tally of confirmed exoplanets at 494. At that pace we very well might hit exoplanet number 500 before the end of this month. -Clay Dillow / PopSci
SOHO sheds new light on solar flares – After detailed analysis of data from the SOHO and GOES spacecraft, a team of European scientists has been able to shed new light on the role of solar flares in the total output of radiation from our nearest star. Their surprising conclusion is that X-rays account for only about 1 per cent of the total energy emitted by these explosive events. –ESA SOHO
The six-member crew of the next space shuttle mission, STS-133, arrived at NASA's Kennedy Space Center on Oct. 12 to participate in a full launch dress rehearsal, known as the Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test, and related training. The test provides an opportunity for the crew and ground teams to participate in various simulated countdown activities, including equipment familiarization and emergency exit training. Shuttle Discovery's crew members are Commander Steve Lindsey, Pilot Eric Boe and Mission Specialists Alvin Drew, Michael Barratt, Tim Kopra and Nicole Stott. Discovery is targeted to launch Nov. 1 on its final scheduled flight. - Credit: NASA TV
ISS View of the Southwestern USA
Crew of STS-133 arrives at KSC
NGC7000 + IC 5070 in Ha/sG/OIII
Gallery Pick of the Day
Olympus Mons stands 27 kilometres high above the mean surface of Mars, being the tallest known volcano and mountain in the Solar System. It is about three times taller than Earth's Mt. Everest.
Additional Shuttle Mission Almost Guaranteed – For some time now there have been rumors and speculation that there will be an additional flight added to the two currently remaining on the shuttle manifest. With the passage of the Senate 2010 NASA Authorization Act (S. 3729) the mission which would be STS-135 – is now all but a certainty. -Jason Rhian / Universe Today