Category: Spacecraft

Brief Encounter With Pluto

Brief Encounter With Pluto

A brief encounter with Pluto.  On July 14 2015,  the New Horizons Spacecraft flew past our most distant planet, Pluto.  A truly historic moment in space travel.

Pluto is an a staggering 4.67 million miles (7.5 billion kilometres) from our home planet  earth.

Light & the signals from  New Horizons speeding to us  at  186,000(approx 3000 kms) per second  take over four hours to reach earth!

Here are some of the amazing photos…

pluto-charonPluto and it’s major moon Charon

pluto-mountain-range Close up of Pluto’s ice plain & mountainsPluto-REX-v3 near fly by of Pluto

 

Pluto was regarded as the most distant planet in our solar system after its discovery in 1930 at the Percival Lowell observatory. Urbain Le Verrier in the 1840s, using celestial  mechanics produced by Isaac Newton,   predicted the position of the then-undiscovered planet Neptune  after he had  analysed perturbations in the orbit of Uranus. Further observations of Neptune in the late 19th century made  astronomers speculate that Uranus’ orbit was being disturbed by another planet besides Neptune. In 1906,  a wealthy Bostonian Percival Lowell who had  founded the Lowell  Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona later becoming famous for early detailed observations of Mars. From the observatory  Lowell began an extensive project in search of what was causing the perturbation, a possible ninth planet, which he termed ” Planet X“.

A young astronomer/researcher at the observatory,  Clyde Tombaugh  had the task  to systematically image the night sky in pairs of photographs taken two weeks apart, then examine each pair and determine whether any objects had shifted position. He  used a blink comparator,  a viewing apparatus used by astronomers to find differences between two wide field  photographs  of the night sky taken through optical telescopes. The blink comparator permitted rapidly switching from viewing one photograph to viewing the other, “blinking” back and forth between the two taken of the same area of the sky at different times. This allowed the user to easily spot objects in the night sky that had changed position.  On 23 January 1930, using the comparator on two photo plates, Clyde discovered the illusive planet X. As discoverer  the Lowell observatory could name this new planet  but as the discovery was world-wide news , suggested names were submitted.

A 11 year old English schoolgirl Venetia Burney from Oxford proposed the  name Pluto. She  was interested in classical mythology as well as astronomy and thought that the god of the underworld was an appropriate name for such a remote, dark and cold world.  This name was submitted to  Lowell. The object was officially named on March 24, 1930 Each member of the Lowell Observatory was allowed to vote on a short-list of three: Minerva (which was already the name for an asteroid), Cronus  and Pluto. Pluto received every vote.  The name was announced on May 1, 1930.Upon the announcement, Venetia received  five pounds (£5) (£234 as of 2012), as a reward. The choice of name was partly inspired by the fact that the first two letters of Pluto are the initials of Percival Lowell, and Pluto’s astronomical symbol (♇) is a monogram constructed from the letters ‘PL’.

Science history books have been recently amended with Pluto being ( I think unfairly) downgraded  to a minor planet and  just one member of the Kuiper Belt objects, a  field containing  primordial  debris  that are remnants from the creation of the solar system. The Kuiper Belt circles the outer solar system. This debris varies in size and  as telescope power improved,  objects as large as Pluto have been discovered within the belt and the  question of Pluto being classed as proper planet has been raised by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) .  This meant instead of the 9 planets in our solar system, we have now only the 8 ones being Mercury, Venus Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Neptune, Uranus and Saturn.

In 2002, the KBO 5000 Quaor was discovered, with a diameter then thought to be roughly 1280 kilometres, about half that of Pluto. In 2004, the discoverers of 90377 Sedna placed an upper limit of 1800 km on its diameter, nearer to Pluto’s diameter of 2320 km,  although Sedna’s diameter was revised downward to less than 1600 km by 2007. , it was argued, Pluto should be reclassified as one of the Kuiper belt objects. On July 29, 2005, the discovery of a new trans-Neptunian object named Eris was found  be approximately the same size as Pluto. This was the largest object discovered in the Solar System since Neptune’s giant moon Triton in 1846. Its discoverers and the press initially called it the tenth planet , although there was no official consensus at the time on whether to call it a planet.  Others in the astronomical community considered the discovery the strongest argument for reclassifying Pluto as a minor planet. The debate on Pluto’s came to a head in 2006 with an IAU resolution that created an official definition for the term “planet”. According to this resolution, there are three main conditions for an object to be considered a ‘planet’:

  1. The object must be in orbit around the Sun.
  2. The object must be massive enough to be a sphere by its own gravitational force. More specifically, its own gravity should pull it into a shape of hydrostatic equilibrium (the condition in fluid mechanics where a volume of a fluid is at rest or at constant velocity. This occurs when compression due to gravity y is balanced by a pressure gradient force] e.g.  the pressure gradient force prevents gravity from collapsing the Earth;s atmosphere into a thin, dense shell, while gravity prevents the pressure gradient force from diffusing the atmosphere into space).
  3. It must have cleared the neighbourhood  around its orbit, that there are no comparable objects within the planet’s orbit.

Pluto fails to meet the third condition, since its mass is only 0.07 times that of the mass of the other objects in its orbit (Earth’s mass, by contrast, is 1.7 million times the remaining mass in its own orbit Controversy still rages at Pluto’s demotion to minor planet and reclassified in the new dwarf planet  Plutoid category of trans-Neptunian objects. In 2006, NASA launched the New Horizons spacecraft to visit Pluto, it is now past  halfway between Earth and Pluto, on approach for a dramatic flight past the icy planet and its moons in July 2015. Fittingly,  the spacecraft contains ashes from the cremated remains of Clyde Tombaugh who passed away in 1997.

Photo plates used in the blink comparator  showing an object  shown
with a pointer (Planet X) that moved over six nights against the  background of more fixed stars  and confirmed as a new planet later named Pluto.


Pluto and its moons: Hubble Space Telescope.

NewHorizonsspacecraftenroutetoPlutowithsevenonboardinstruments-

Ralph: Visible and infrared imager/spectrometer; provides color, composition and thermal maps.

 

Alice: Ultraviolet imaging spectrometer; analyzes composition and structure of Pluto’s atmosphere and looks for atmospheres around Charon and Kuiper Belt Objects (KBOs).

 

REX: (Radio Science EXperiment) Measures atmospheric composition and temperature; passive radiometer.

 

LORRI: (Long Range Reconnaissance Imager) telescopic camera; obtains encounter data at long distances, maps Pluto’s far side and provides high resolution geologic data.

 

SWAP: (Solar Wind Around Pluto) Solar wind and plasma spectrometer; measures atmospheric “escape rate” and observes Pluto’s interaction with solar wind.

 

PEPSSI: (Pluto Energetic Particle Spectrometer Science Investigation) Energetic particle spectrometer; measures the composition and density of plasma (ions) escaping from Pluto’s atmosphere.

 

SDC: (Student Dust Counter) Built and operated by students; measures the space dust peppering New Horizons during its voyage across the solar system.

New Horizons is powered a single radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG), which transforms the heat from the natural radioactive decay of plutonium dioxide into electricity. The compact, rugged General Purpose Heat Source  developed and provided by the U.S. Department of Energy, carries approximately 11 kilograms (24 pounds) of plutonium dioxide fuel. It provides about 200 watts of power.

Assembly of New Horizons

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mission to Mars

Mission to Mars

I am really chuffed about this.  Although it is only my name that is apparently bound for Mars, I find that deliriously exciting. LOL

I think they are actually putting up a mission, a one way ticket, sadly, to go up to Mars.  Some people have already shown interest.

I don’t think I would for so many reasons, which are (not in order) I have such a terrible travel sickness.  I don’t think I could make it in one piece, alive to Mars.  I would also miss my family and friends.  The thought of never seeing them again is just too much to bear.  Even the adventure of a lifetime is not enough incentive to leave the family.

 

Planet-hunter Plato the choice

With the exciting prospect of many new planets out side of our own home solar system  being found, we need more probes to zero in extra solar  planets (exoplanets) that orbit their parent sun in the habitable zone (also known as the Goldilocks Zone-not too hot, not too cold) where liquid water may exists  and being the main precursor  to life.

The BBC science news reports:

A telescope to find thousands of planets beyond our Solar System is the hot favourite for selection as Europe’s next medium-class science mission.

Known as Plato, the concept was chosen by an expert panel as the standout candidate in a competition run by the European Space Agency (Esa).

Impression of Plato concept by Thales Alenia Space

  • Design calls for a suite of 34 telescopes to be mounted on one satellite
  • Mission should confirm and characterise hundreds of rocky worlds
  • Would have the sensitivity also to detect the planets’ moons and rings
  • Intricate measurements of the host stars would yield key information
  • To launch from French Guiana on a Soyuz rocket in 2023/2024
  • Plato would be stationed 1.5m km from Earth on its “nightside”

 

The Paris-based organisation’s Science Policy Committee will now have the final say at its meeting in February.

If given the go-ahead, Plato would probably not launch until 2024.

The name of the mission is an acronym that stands for PLAnetary Transits and Oscillations of stars.

It is not really one telescope but rather a suite of 34 telescopes mounted on a single satellite.

The intention is for Plato to sweep about half the sky, to investigate some of its brightest and nearest stars.

It would monitor these stars for the tell-tale tiny dips in light that occur when planets move across their faces.

Critically, Plato would be tuned to seek out rocky worlds orbiting in the “habitable zone” – the region around a star where water can keep a liquid state.

A fundamental part of its quest would be to perform an intricate study of the host stars themselves, using their pulsations to probe their structure and properties.

Such observations, referred to as astroseismology, would provide key, complementary information for the proper characterisation of the rocky worlds.

Although, other missions have pursued this kind of science before, Plato is described as a major leap forward in capability.

The hope is that it could find really promising targets for follow-up by the big ground-based telescopes due to come online in the next decade.

These facilities, which will have primary mirrors measuring tens of metres in diameter, should be able to examine the atmospheres of distant worlds for possible life signatures.

The James Webb Space Telescope, the successor to Hubble, due for launch at the end of this decade, would likely still be working in 2024/2025 and could also pursue Plato’s discoveries.

Artist's impression of an exoplanetThe goal is to find planets like the Earth, not just in terms of their size but in their potential for habitability

Plato has spent the past two years in an assessment process that has pitted it against four other concepts.

All were vying for the third medium-class launch opportunity to be offered under Esa’s so-called Cosmic Vision programme, which defines the organisation’s space science priorities.

“Medium class” means a cost to the agency of no more than about 600m euros (£490m; $820m), although following the practice of previous missions this does not include the budget for instruments.

These are usually provided directly by Esa’s national member agencies and mean the final price tag can approach one billion euros.

All the competitors were invited to make a final presentation to representatives of the scientific community, industry, and national member agencies on 21 January. This was followed by closed-session discussions by two working groups, which rated the quality of the missions.

Exoplanets

Artist's impression of an exoplanet
  • Planets beyond our Solar System are often given the term ‘exoplanet’
  • More than 1,000 have been detected to date using several techniques
  • But many of these worlds are large planets believed to resemble Jupiter or Neptune
  • Many gas giants have been found to be orbiting very close to their stars
  • It has prompted new ideas to describe the formation and evolution of solar systems

Their recommendations were then passed to Esa’s top space science advisory committee (SSAC) to make an evaluation.

It proposed that Plato be carried forward as the mission of choice, and this preference has now been sent on by Esa’s executive to the SPC. The committee has the prerogative of “selection” at its 19 February gathering, and could still reject Plato – but this would be a major surprise.

The final green light is known as “adoption” in Esa-speak. This is unlikely to happen until 2015, after member states have made firm commitments on their participation and an industrial team to build the satellite has been identified.

One big industrial contribution from the UK seems assured. This would be the camera detector at the base of the telescope suite.

Supplied by e2v in Chelmsford, the array of more than 130 charge-coupled devices would be 0.9 square metres in area.

This would make it the largest camera system ever flown in space, and twice the size of the array e2v produced for Esa’s recently launched Gaia telescope.

The first two medium-class missions to be selected under Esa’s Cosmic Vision programme in 2011 were Solar Orbiter, a space telescope to study the Sun, to launch in 2017; and Euclid, a telescope to investigate “dark energy”, to fly in 2020.

The American space agency (Nasa) plans a similar mission to Plato calledTess (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite) in 2017, but the specifications mean that its rocky worlds will probably be in closer orbits around lower-mass stars than the discoveries made by the European project. In other words, the Plato planets are more likely to be in the habitable zones of more Sun-like stars.

Mining Asteroids A New Venture

Asteroid Mining Asteroids A New Venture

 

Mining for minerals, precious stones and metals from our small planet earth has been undertaken by humans since around 4000 BC, when our stone age ancestors mined stone such as flint to make axes and tools. Since then we have plundered our planet for any mineral that could be used for fuel, manufacturing for most of what we use today including ever increasing demands electronic goods, smartphones, tablets computers  and jewellery.

Our earth has only a finite amount of these resources in terms of  minerals and metals which are  becoming scarcer and harder to mine, alternative sources are now being looked at beyond our pale blue dot of a planet!

Asteroids which orbit our sun and sometimes wander close (not too close we hope) to earth are thought to contain an abundance of the stuff we need.

With more nations and private enterprises now launching  space craft and looking to develop  fast evolving space related technology, instead of visiting these heavenly bodies to  map, take amazing  photos and get the odd sample, these new space industries want to mine asteroids. Instead of the famous Californian Gold Rush of the mid 1800s and misquote  “There’s gold in them thar hills”.   We may say there is gold and more in them space rocks.

The BBC reported that a new venture is joining the effort to extract mineral resources on asteroids.

The announcement of plans by Deep Space Industries to exploit the rare metals present in the space rocks turns asteroid mining into a two-horse race.

The other venture, Planetary Resources, went public with its proposals last year.

Advocates of asteroid mining hope it could turn into a trillion-dollar business, but some scientists are highly sceptical of the idea.

Deep Space Industries wants to send a fleet of asteroid-prospecting spacecraft out into the Solar System to hunt for resources.

These spacecraft, which the company has dubbed “Fireflies”, would use low-cost CubeSat components and benefit from discounted delivery to space by ride-sharing on the launch of larger communications satellites.

The Fireflies would have a mass of about 55 lb (25 kg) and be launched for the first time in 2015 on journeys of two to six months.

The company then wants to launch bigger spacecraft – which it calls “Dragonflies” – for round-trip visits that bring back samples.

These expeditions would take two to four years, depending on the target, and would return 60 to 150 lbs of material from target asteroids.

Arkyd Planetary Resources was the first firm to announce asteroid mining proposals

“Using resources harvested in space is the only way to afford permanent space development,” said the company’s chief executive David Gump.

“More than 900 new asteroids that pass near Earth are discovered every year. They can be like the Iron Range of Minnesota was for the Detroit car industry last century – a key resource located near where it was needed. In this case, metals and fuel from asteroids can expand the in-space industries of this century.”

Asteroids could yield precious minerals such as gold, platinum and rare-Earth metals. But some are also thought to harbour water ice, which could be used as a raw material for the manufacture of rocket propellant or even breathable air.

The other firm in the mining race, Planetary Resources, has backing from several billionaire investors, including Google’s Larry Page and Eric Schmidt, software executive Charles Simonyi and film maker James Cameron.

That company wants to start by launching orbiting telescopes that would identify suitable asteroid targets for mineral exploitation.

However, some scientists struggle to see how cost-effective asteroid mining could be, even with the high value of gold and platinum.

Also what percentage of asteroids would contain material worth mining?

They point out that an upcoming Nasa mission to return just 60g (two ounces) of material from an asteroid will cost about $1bn.

Science & Space Highlights 2013

Space isn’t remote at all. It’s only an hour’s drive away if your car could go straight upwards.
– Sir Fred Hoyle

Science & Space Highlights 2013

My favourite daily newspaper (excellent as it is free too 🙂 ) is The Metro which I read on weekdays on my early morning commute to work.  Ben Gilliland produces an interesting , humorous & easy to understand updates and topics in the science world. Here are the highlights of 2013.

IT IS the start of a new year; 2013 is behind us and all eyes are looking towards the year ahead. It is a time to cast out the old and welcome in the new. But before we push 2013 into our collective wheelie bins to fester with turkey bones, congealed gravy and unrealised dreams, let us take one final look at the year on whose shoulders 2014 will stand. Like one of those chocolate selection boxes that are ubiquitous to the festive season, 2013 was a year packed with tasty morsels of sciencey goodness. We have reviewed the pictorial insert and (avoiding the whisky liqueur centres) selected a few of our favourites… [*The decision to run with a 2013 retrospective was in no way influenced by the author’s desire for two weeks off during the Christmas period. The fact that this piece could be prepared in advance is entirely coincidental]

  Thanks to Nasa’s Kepler space observatory, 2013 was a bumper year for exoplanets. On January 2, a study by astronomers at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) revealed that the Milky Way contains at least one planet for every star – meaning that our galaxy is home to at least 100-400 billion exoplanets (although there is likely to be many more). Just five days later, another report, from astronomers at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, estimated that there are ‘at least 17 billion’ Earth-sized exoplanets in the Milky Way. On November 4, a study from the University of California (also based on Kepler data) reported that there could be as many as 40 billion Earth-sized planets orbiting within the ‘habitable zone’ of their host stars (the region around a star where conditions make the existence of liquid water possible). Of that number, the report estimated that as many as 11billion may be orbiting Sun-like stars – with the nearest such planet located just 12 light-years away.

Launched in 2009 along with the Herschel space telescope, the European Space Agency’s Planck cosmology probe was designed to map the Universe’s first light – the radiation after-glow of the Big Bang. On March 21, the mission’s all-sky map of this a Space was released. The exquisitely-detailed map revealed the tiny temperature variations that were present when the Universe was just 380,000 years old. Although they vary by less than a hundred millionth of a degree, these fluctuations in the density and temperature of the young Universe would form the seeds of the stars and galaxies that inhabit the cosmos today. Planck’s results confirmed many aspects of ‘Big Bang’ theory – including so-called ‘cosmic inflation’ (a period of exponential expansion thought to have occurred in the first fraction of a second of the Universe’s existence). It revealed the Universe to be slightly older than previously though (by about 80million years) and that it contains a little less of the mysterious dark energy (68.3%) thought to be driving the expansion of the cosmos and a little more of the ninja-like dark matter (26.8%) that interacts with the cosmos through gravity alone and a little more of the ordinary matter (4.9%) that makes up you, me and the stars and planets.
Farewell Planck

On October 3, after more than four years of sky mapping, the last of Planck’s instruments ran out the helium coolant they needed to operate. Six days later, the craft was moved out its operating position and placed into a ‘graveyard orbit’ around the Sun. Finally, on October 21, Planck was given the command to power down for good.

On April 29, another iconic ESA spacecraft, the Herschel Space Observatory, exhausted the last of its 2,300-litre supply of liquid helium coolant – marking the end of more than three years of stunning observations. Designed to see the Universe in the dust-piercing far-infrared part of the electromagnetic spectrum, Herschel gave us stunning images of the intricate networks of gas and dust from which stars are born. It identified star-forming regions in the most distant galaxies – revealing that, even in the early Universe, stars were formed at prodigious rates. In all, Herschel made over 35,000 scientific observations and collected more that 25,000 hours-worth of science data.


If you’ve been following the progress of Nasa’s veteran space probe, Voyager 1, you may have noticed that it seems to have ‘left the Solar System’ more than once. In September, Nasa announced that, on August 25, the craft had at last (for certain this time) become the first man-made object to leave the Solar System behind and pass into interstellar space. Launched in 1977 for a ‘grand tour’ of the planets, Voyager 1 covered an astonishing 19 billion km (about 121 Astronomical Units, or AU) of space before it passed beyond the reach of the solar wind and departed the Solar System. Of course, another definition would put the edge of the Solar System at the point where the Sun’s gravitational influence ends – a distance of about 63,200 AU – meaning Voyager won’t truly leave for another 17,000 years or so. If mankind is ever going to colonise Mars, we’ll need a steady supply of water.

On September 26, Nasa announced that their Curiosity rover had detected ‘abundant, easily accessible’ water in the Martian soil. The robotic explorer had found that the red surface of Mars contains about two per cent water by weight – meaning that future colonists could (in theory) extract about a litre of water from every cubic foot of Martian dirt. Then, in December, a study of images taken by Nasa‘s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter was released that hinted that there might still be liquid water flowing near the Red Planet’s equator. The images showed dark lines, called ‘recurring slope lineae’, which might be formed when water ice at high altitudes melted during the Martian summer and flowed down hill.

The Sun powers our existence here on Earth through the energy released by nuclear fusion in its core and it has long been a dream that we will one day recreate this process here on Earth. On October 7, scientists at the National Ignition Facility in California announced that they had taken a significant step towards that dream. Using a technique called ‘Inertial Confinement Fusion’, they zapped a tiny pellet of hydrogen fuel with the combined might of 192 laser beams – heating it 100 million degrees and initiating fusion. Significantly, for the first time, the reaction liberated more energy than was needed to initiate it. The amount of energy was tiny, but it showed that cheap, clean, fusion energy might one day be a reality.

Neutrinos are virtually massless particles that flood the cosmos, but have no electric charge so pass through the Universe (and through stars, planet and you) oblivious to, and unaffected by their surroundings. On November 22, scientists at the IceCube Neutrino Observatory, an ice-entombed telescope in Antarctica, said they had detected high-energy neutrinos from beyond the Solar System for the first time. The neutrino’s ability to pass through space unsullied by their surroundings means that, unlike the electromagnetic radiation most telescopes look for, none of the information they carry is lost or corrupted. The discovery has been hailed by astronomers as opening up a ‘new era of astronomy’.

A mission that could revolutionise our knowledge about our home galaxy was launched on December 19. One of the most ambitious space-charting missions ever conceived, ESA’s Gaia space craft will map the precise location, composition, brightness and age of a billion stars. It’s near-billion pixel camera (the most powerful ever flown into space) will create an ultra-precise 3D map of our corner of the Milky Way. By pinpointing the position and motions of the stars, the map can be used to chart how the Milky Way is evolving (by fast-forwarding their motions) and how it first evolved (by rewinding them).

Kepler Space Telescope finds ‘most Earth-like’ worlds to date

As astronomy is a keen interest of mine,  I found this interesting article from BBC Science news. With the vastness  of our Milky Way Galaxy containing approx a thousand billion stars, other planets exist around many stars, the search for possible earth-like planes gathers pace and more candidates are beinbg found. Whether these planets hold life or even intelligent life awaits future discovery.

 

Artist's impression of Kepler-62 systemArtist’s impression: The outermost pair are the smallest exoplanets yet found in a host star’s habitable zone
By Jonathan AmosScience correspondent, BBC News
The search for a far-off twin of Earth has turned up two of the most intriguing candidates yet.

Scientists say these new worlds are the right size and distance from their parent star, so that you might expect to find liquid water on their surface.

It is impossible to know for sure. Being 1,200 light-years away, they are beyond detailed inspection by current telescope technology.

But researchers tell Science magazine, they are an exciting discovery.

“They are the best candidates found to date for habitable planets,” stated Bill Borucki, who leads the team working on the US space agency Nasa’s orbiting Kepler telescope.

The prolific observatory has so far confirmed the existence of more than 100 new worlds beyond our Solar System since its launch in 2009.

The two now being highlighted were actually found in a group of five planets circling a star that is slightly smaller, cooler and older than our own Sun. Called Kepler-62, this star is located in the Constellation Lyra.

 The two planets go by the names Kepler-62e and Kepler-62f

Its two outermost worlds go by the names Kepler-62e and Kepler-62f.

They are what one might term “super-Earths” because their dimensions are somewhat larger than our home planet – about one-and-a-half-times the Earth’s diameter.

Nonetheless, their size, the researchers say, still suggests that they are either rocky, like Earth, or composed mostly of ice. Certainly, they would appear to be too small to be gaseous worlds, like a Neptune or a Jupiter.

Many assumptions

Planets 62e and 62f also happen to sit a sufficient distance from their host star that they receive a very tolerable amount of energy. They are neither too hot, nor too cold; a region of space around a star sometimes referred to as the “Goldilocks Zone”.

Kepler Mission

An illustration of Kepler
  • Launched in 2009, the Kepler space telescope is on a mission to find Earth-like worlds orbiting distant stars
  • It works by detecting periodic variations in the brightness of stars caused by orbiting exoplanets passing in front of them
  • In January 2013, astronomers used Kepler’s data to estimate that there are at least 17 billion Earth-sized exoplanets in the Milky Way Galaxy

Given the right kind of atmosphere, it is therefore reasonable to speculate, says the team, that they might be able to sustain water in a liquid state – a generally accepted precondition for life.

“Statements about a planet’s habitability always depend on assumptions,” said Lisa Kaltenegger, an expert on the likely atmospheres of “exoplanets” and a member of the discovery group.

“Let us assume that the planets Kepler-62e and -62f are indeed rocky, as their radius would indicate. Let us further assume that they have water and their atmospheric composition is similar to that of Earth, dominated by nitrogen, and containing water and carbon dioxide,” the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg researcher went on.

“In that case, both planets could have liquid water on their surface: Kepler-62f gets less radiation energy from its host star than the Earth from the Sun and therefore needs more greenhouse gases, for Instance more carbon dioxide, than Earth to remain unfrozen.

“Kepler-62e is closer to its star, and needs an increased cloud cover – sufficient to reflect some of the star’s radiation – to allow for liquid water on its surface.”

Key signatures

None of this can be confirmed – not with today’s technology. But with future telescopes, scientists say it may be possible to see past the blinding glare of the parent star to pick out just the faint light passing through a small world’s atmosphere or even reflected off its surface.

This would permit the detection of chemical signatures associated with specific atmospheric gases and perhaps even some surface processes. Researchers have spoken in the past of trying to detect a marker for chlorophyll, the pigment in plants that plays a critical role in photosynthesis.

Dr Suzanne Aigrain is a lecturer in astrophysics at the University of Oxford.

She said ground-based experiments and space missions planned in the next few years would give more detailed information on distant planets like those announced by the Kepler team.

Astronomers would like to pin down the masses of the planets (information difficult to acquire with Kepler), as well as getting that data on atmospheric composition.

Dr Aigrain told BBC News: “What we do next is we try to find more systems like these; we try to measure the frequency of these systems; and we try to characterise individual systems and individual planets in more detail.

“That involves measuring their masses and their radii, and if possible getting an idea of what’s in their atmospheres. But this is a very challenging task.”

Kepler meanwhile will just keep counting planets beyond our Solar System.

It is equipped with the largest camera ever launched into space. It senses the presence of planets by looking for a tiny “shadowing” effect when one of them passes in front of its parent star.

Planets graphic

The Moon

Supermoon by PH Morton

The Moon

At the start of one of my all time favourite movies and novel, a sci-fi masterpiece, 2001 A Space Odyssey, the scene is the dawn of man, approximately 3 million years ago when apes where evolving into primitive humans (hominids) One  family group of hominids is settling down for the night. One the man-apes looks up to the starry night sky and beholds a large bright shining object, he is fascinated by it. He is the first of his kind to do so. Since that time we could be so real, humans have been intrigued and enthralled by our close celestial sibling we call the moon.

Astronomically speaking the moon is on our door step, its distance being 363,104 km (225,622 miles) from earth. The moon is believed to have been created approx 4.5 billion years ago. At this time it is believed that a Mars size object collided with the primitive earth, resulting in an enormous and massive ejection of material from earth that later formed the moon. The diameter of the Moon is 3,474 km. ( 2,159 miles). It is approximately a 1/4 size of the earth, which in ratio makes the earth – like moon combination the largest in the solar system. The moon is the fifth largest satellite in the solar system.

The Moon is actually moving away from the earth  spinning away  at the rate of 3.78cm (1.48in) per year. Without the Moon, the Earth could slow down enough to become unstable, but this would take billions of years for any effect to be noticed.

533257_590992367609785_244881891_nSince early humans did gaze up and look at the moon, it has become the source of folklore, mysticism, pagan worship. It

khalil

 

 

China and its Space Mission

China launches longest-ever manned space mission

AFPBy Sebastien Berger | AFP – 2 hours 59 minutes ago

 

The Shenzhou-10 on its launch pad in Jiuquan, in the Gobi desert, on June 3, 2013. The Shenzhou-10 -- the name means "Divine Vessel" -- was due to lift off at 0938 GMT

AFP/AFP/File – The Shenzhou-10 on its launch pad in Jiuquan, in the Gobi desert, on June 3, 2013. The Shenzhou-10 — the name means “Divine Vessel” — was due to lift off at 0938 GMT

 

Graphic fact file on China's space launch set for Tuesday
Graphic fact file on China’s space launch set for Tuesday

 

China began its longest manned space mission yet Tuesday with the launch of the Shenzhou-10, state television showed, as the country steps up an ambitious exploration programme symbolising its growing power.

The rocket ascended above the Jiuquan space centre in the Gobi Desert exactly on time at 0938 GMT, trailing a vast column of flame.

The three astronauts on board — who include Wang Yaping, 33, China’s second woman in space — saluted cameras mounted inside their capsule.

A few minutes after launch the boosters detached from the rockets, and a little later the solar panels of the Shenzhou-10 — the name means “Divine Vessel” — were deployed, to applause from mission control.

“The vessel is already in orbit,” said Zhang Youxia, the manned space programme’s chief commander. “I now announce the launch was a great success.”

The crew are due to spend 15 days in orbit, in a mission that is a crucial step towards China’s goal of building a full space station capable of housing astronauts for extended periods.

Crew member of the Shenzhou-10, Wang Yaping, during a press conference on June 10, 2013. She is China's second woman astronaut

Crew member of the Shenzhou-10, Wang Yaping, during a press conference on June 10, 2013. She is China’s second woman astronaut

President Xi Jinping, fresh from a summit with US President Barack Obama, was on hand to watch the departure.

Beijing sees the multi-billion-dollar space programme as a marker of its rising global stature and mounting technical expertise, as well as the ruling Communist Party’s success in turning around the fortunes of the once poverty-stricken nation.

The project is heavily promoted to the domestic audience, and state broadcaster CCTV began continuous coverage several hours before the launch.

Xi told the trio he had come to see them off on behalf of the Communist Party, the government, the military and “all the nationalities and people of the entire nation”.

“You make all the Chinese people feel proud. Your mission is both glorious and sacred,” he added.

Mission commander Nie Haisheng responded: “We will certainly obey orders, comply with commands, be steady and calm, work with utmost care and perfectly complete the Shenzhou-10 mission.”

State-run newspapers gave the mission blanket coverage, with stories and pictures of the astronauts on almost every front page.

Astronaut Wang will teach lessons to schoolchildren via video link from space, officials said.

“We are all students in facing the vast universe. We are looking forward to joining our young friends to learn and explore the mystical and beautiful universe,” she told a press conference on Monday.

In a profile of Wang, the official Xinhua news agency said she trained as a transport pilot in the air force and has 1,600 hours of flying experience, including dispelling clouds for the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

Crew members of the Shenzhou-10 attend a press conference in Jiuquan, northwest China, on June 10, 2013. The three astronauts are scheduled to spend 15 days in space

Crew members of the Shenzhou-10 attend a press conference in Jiuquan, northwest China, on June 10, 2013. The three astronauts are scheduled to spend 15 days in space

She is a major in the military and a member of the Communist Party.

“The experience of doing farm work since an early age has made her strong, and the habit of long-distance running tempered her will,” Xinhua said.

It quoted her as saying that during parachute exercises in the air force: “We girls all cried while singing an inspiring song ‘A Hero Never Dies’ on our way back after the training.”

The third crew member, senior colonel Zhang Xiaoguang, has previously tried for selection for space missions but was not picked, Xinhua said.

“If success is part of our life, so are setbacks. If those who had never failed are winners, so are those who always keep on trying,” it quoted him as saying.

The Shenzhou-10 will dock with the Tiangong-1 — “Heavenly Palace” — space laboratory, and the crew will transfer into it and carry out medical and space technology experiments.

China first sent a human into space only in 2003 and its capabilities still lag behind the US and Russia. But its programme is highly ambitious and includes plans to land a man on the moon and build a station orbiting Earth by 2020.

At the same time the US, long the leader in the field, has scaled back some of its projects, such as retiring its space shuttle fleet.

Independent space analyst Morris Jones, who is based in Sydney, Australia, told AFP it was “a very smooth and clean launch”.

“My expectation is that they will continue to grow their programme at a steady pace, so it will get larger in the next decade and they will probably mount a serious challenge to the Americans and everyone else in space.”

 

Astronaut Ends Space Mission With Bowie Classic

His version is actually quite good.  Very atmospheric 😉
Love it!

I supposed Cmdr Hatfield has the most reason to be singing.  5 months in space is no laughing matter.  Activities are constricted.

Congratulations Cmdr Hatfield

Welcome back to Earth!!!
Everyone wants to sing nowadays. Must practice so I can post something too. hehehe

JXXX
………………………………………

Sky NewsSky News – 2 hours 45 minutes ago

Astronaut Ends Space Mission With Bowie Classic

Press Association – Sun, May 12, 2013

On the eve of his return to Earth after nearly five months on board the International Space Station, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield has recorded his own version of David Bowie’s Space Oddity.

The Canadian commander, who has been described by Twitter followers as the “coolest guy in outer space”, has posted a five-minute clip on YouTube in which he performs the 1969 classic.

It shows the 53-year-old singing with unexpected dulcet tones and strumming his guitar while floating in the cabin of the space station.

Produced with the help of staff at the Canadian Space Agency and others, the cover features a piano intro and modified lyrics that reference the Soyuz capsule that is due to return Hadfield to Kazakhstan today.

Cmdr Hadfield starts singing: “Ground control to Major Tom … Ground control to Major Tom … Lock your Soyuz hatch and put your helmet on.”

When he gets to the words “and I’m floating in a most peculiar way” he can be seen floating in mid-air in zero gravity while breathtaking views of Earth are visible from the space station’s windows.

Cmdr Hadfield, who already has a dedicated Twitter following of more than 770,000, has attracted global adoration for his musical stint – as well as praise from Bowie himself, who tweeted “Hallo Spaceboy”.

Cmdr Hadfield became the first Canadian to command the ISS in March. He is handing the reins of the expedition to fellow astronaut Pavel Vinogradov of Russia.

During his time on the mission, Hadfield and his team had to make a rare, hastily planned spacewalk to fix a serious ammonia leak.

At the time, Cmdr Hadfield tweeted from inside: “Gloved fingers crossed”. Half an hour later he wrote: “No leaks!”.

John Glenn

1962: US spaceman orbits Earth
news.bbc.co.uk

The first American to orbit the Earth has landed safely in the Atlantic Ocean.

John Glenn

John Glenn

Marine Lieutenant John Glenn, 40, travelled about 81,000 miles (more than 130,000km) as he circled the globe three times at more than 17,000 mph (27,000kph).

Lieutenant Glenn controlled nearly two of the orbits himself after reporting “minor difficulties” with the automatic altitude control system as he completed the third circuit – the maximum anticipated.

Messages from the astronaut were transmitted by radio stations across the United States and United Kingdom and his progress was monitored by 18 ground stations around the world.

As he re-entered the atmosphere after his four-hour and 56-minute journey Lieutenant Glenn said: “Boy, that was a real fireball.”

His spacecraft, Friendship Seven, landed at 2040 GMT 240 miles north-west of Puerto Rico, where it was picked up by the US destroyer Noa.

Altogether, 24 American ships were ready to pick up the astronaut and his craft from various locations across the globe.

We are really proud of you

President Kennedy

John Glenn became an overnight celebrity. He was promoted to the rank of colonel in 1964.He went into politics and was a democrat senator for Ohio – his home state – for 24 years.

He campaigned on space and defence issues in particular.

It was his interest in space medicine that led him to persuade Nasa to send him into space at the age of 77 in November 1998.

He completed the nine-day mission on the space shuttle with another six astronauts to become the oldest man in space.

Over 250,000 people – including President Clinton – gathered at the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida to watch the launch.

The capsule was launched from the flaming Atlas rocket at 1447 GMT from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

President Kennedy followed the mission on television and telephoned the astronaut afterwards.

“We are really proud of you. You did a wonderful job,” he said.

The Queen and British Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, also cabled their congratulations.

Technical problems had delayed the mission 10 times – a total of 61 days.

The US has spent over £142m on the man-in-space programme so far and Nasa has planned another three manned orbital flights this year.

The US Earth orbit took place 10 months and 10 days after Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space, making one circulation of the globe.

Yuri Gagarin

Yuri Gagarin

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