Monthly Archives September 2013

NASA Space Telescopes Find Patchy Clouds on Exotic World

Partially Cloudy Skies on Kepler-7b

Astronomers using data from NASA’s Kepler and Spitzer space telescopes have created the first cloud map of a planet beyond our solar system, a sizzling, Jupiter-like world known as Kepler-7b.

The planet is marked by high clouds in the west and clear skies in the east. Previous studies from Spitzer have resulted in temperature maps of planets orbiting other stars, but this is the first look at cloud structures on a distant world.

“By observing this planet with Spitzer and Kepler for more than three years, we were able to produce a very low-resolution ‘map’ of this giant, gaseous planet,” said Brice-Olivier Demory of Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. Demory is lead author of a paper accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal Letters...

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NASA’s Cassini Spacecraft Finds Ingredient of Household Plastic in Space

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has detected propylene, a chemical used to make food-storage containers, car bumpers and other consumer products, on Saturn’s moon Titan.

This is the first definitive detection of the plastic ingredient on any moon or planet, other than Earth.

A small amount of propylene was identified in Titan’s lower atmosphere by Cassini’s Composite Infrared Spectrometer (CIRS). This instrument measures the infrared light, or heat radiation, emitted from Saturn and its moons in much the same way our hands feel the warmth of a fire.

Propylene is the first molecule to be discovered on Titan using CIRS. By isolating the same signal at various altitudes within the lower atmosphere, researchers identified the chemical with a high degree of confidence...

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NASA Partner Orbital Sciences Completes First Flight to Space Station as Astronauts Capture Cygnus Spacecraft

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) used a robotic arm to capture and attach a Cygnus cargo resupply spacecraft Sunday, marking several spaceflight firsts for NASA and its partner, Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va.

The station’s Expedition 37 crew reported the spacecraft — loaded with about 1,300 pounds (589 kilograms) of cargo — berthed at 8:44 a.m. EDT, following an 11-day journey to the orbiting laboratory.

Orbital’s Cygnus was launched on the company’s Antares rocket on Sept. 18 from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport Pad-0A at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. This was the first flight of a spacecraft to the space station from the state.

The maiden flight of Cygnus included a number of systems tests prior to rendezvous with the station...

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VIDEO: Epsilon-1 / HISAKI Quick Review

JAXA launched the first Epsilon Launch Vehicle (Epsilon-1) with the Spectroscopic Planet Observatory for Recognition of Interaction of Atmosphere (SPRINT-A) onboard at 14:00 on September 14 (Sat.), 2013 (Japan Standard Time, JST) from the Uchinouora Space Center.

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Cygnus In-Orbit Update

On Monday, September 23, 2013, Orbital and NASA together decided to postpone the approach, rendezvous, grapple and berthing operations of the Cygnus cargo logistics spacecraft with the International Space Station until after the upcoming Soyuz crew operations are complete. The Soyuz crew is due to arrive at the ISS very late on Wednesday, September 25. The earliest possible date for the next Cygnus approach and rendezvous with the ISS would be Saturday, September 28. An exact schedule will be determined following the successful completion of Soyuz operations.

Over the past 24 hours, the Orbital team developed and tested a software fix for the data format mismatch that necessitated a postponement of the first rendezvous operation that was scheduled for the early morning of September 22...

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NASA’s Hubble and Chandra Find Evidence for Densest Nearby Galaxy

M60-UCD1

Astronomers using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and Chandra X-ray Observatory and telescopes on the ground may have found the most crowded galaxy in our part of the universe.

The ultra-compact dwarf galaxy, known as M60-UCD1, is packed with an extraordinary number of stars and may be the densest galaxy near Earth. It is providing astronomers with clues to its intriguing past and its role in the galactic evolutionary chain.

M60-UCD1, estimated to be about 10 billion years old, is near the massive elliptical galaxy NGC 4649, also called M60, about 54 million light years from Earth. It is the most luminous known galaxy of its type and one of the most massive, weighing 200 million times more than our sun, based on observations with the W.M. Keck Observatory 10-meter telescope in Hawaii.

What m...

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NASA Curiosity Rover Detects No Methane on Mars

Westward View from Curiosity on Sol 347

Data from NASA’s Curiosity rover has revealed the Martian environment lacks methane. This is a surprise to researchers because previous data reported by U.S. and international scientists indicated positive detections.

The roving laboratory performed extensive tests to search for traces of Martian methane. Whether the Martian atmosphere contains traces of the gas has been a question of high interest for years because methane could be a potential sign of life, although it also can be produced without biology.

“This important result will help direct our efforts to examine the possibility of life on Mars,” said Michael Meyer, NASA’s lead scientist for Mars exploration...

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ESA’s Cluster satellites in closet-ever ‘dance in space’

Artist's impression of the Cluster constellation

Since 2000, the four identical satellites of the Cluster quartet have been probing Earth’s magnetosphere in three dimensions. This week, two of them made their closest-ever approach, just 4 km, enabling valuable data to be acquired with unprecedented detail.

In an orbital reconfiguration that will help to maintain the mission’s life span, two of the four satellites achieved their closest-ever separation on 19 September, closing to within just 4 km of each other as they orbited at up to 23 000 km/h high above Earth.

“We’re optimising the Cluster formation so that the separation between Cluster 1 and the duo of Cluster 3 and 4 – which are on almost identical orbits – is kept below 100 km when the formation crosses Earth’s magnetic equator,” says Detlef Sieg, working on Cluster flight d...

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NASA’s Deep Space Comet Hunter Mission Comes to an End

Deep Impact

After almost 9 years in space that included an unprecedented July 4th impact and subsequent flyby of a comet, an additional comet flyby, and the return of approximately 500,000 images of celestial objects, NASA’s Deep Impact mission has ended.

The project team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif., has reluctantly pronounced the mission at an end after being unable to communicate with the spacecraft for over a month. The last communication with the probe was Aug. 8. Deep Impact was history’s most traveled comet research mission, going about 4.7 billion miles (7.58 billion kilometers).

“Deep Impact has been a fantastic, long-lasting spacecraft that has produced far more data than we had planned,” said Mike A’Hearn, the Deep Impact principal investigator at the Univer...

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Cygnus En Route for Sunday Rendezvous With Station

Cygnus

While the newest commercial cargo vehicle to join the International Space Station’s resupply fleet launched Wednesday morning on its demonstration flight, the Expedition 37 crew aboard the orbiting complex was hard at work with medical research, emergency simulation training and preparations for Sunday’s arrival of the new space freighter.

NASA commercial space partner Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va., launched its Cygnus cargo spacecraft aboard its Antares rocket at 10:58 a.m. EDT Wednesday from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport Pad-0A at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. At the time of launch, the space station was flying about 261 miles above the southern Indian Ocean...

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