Saturday, July 21, 2012

Space and astronomy news: Discovery of Pluto's fifth moon

I've been delaying this report for the past week because it was pretty incomplete, consisting only of what NASA and universities on the campaign trail posted, plus whatever I need to fill otherwise empty categories (the Science Daily article about carbonaceous chondrite meteorites supplying Earth's water was originally posted under Geology) for Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (Bastille Day edition). I'll post all of those stories below the fold, as none of those were the top astronomy story of last week. Instead, that honor belongs to the discovery of another moon of Pluto, which I missed in my Daily Kos digest. on YouTube: Pluto Has 5th Moon - Hubble Space Telescope Discovers | Video

Astronomers have discovered an irregular shaped moon, between 6 and 15 miles across, circling the infamous dwarf planet on an orbit 59,000 miles in diameter.
Discovery News: Pluto Now Has Five (Yes, Five) Moons
Analysis by Ian O'Neill
Wed Jul 11, 2012 12:39 PM ET
Pluto's neighborhood is getting crowded.

According to new observations by the Hubble Space Telescope, the dwarf planet isn't only accompanied by the moons Charon, Nix, Hydra and the not-so-glamorously-named "P4," it also has a fifth satellite, nicknamed, unsurprisingly, "P5."
The continuing discoveries of small moons around Pluto is causing some concern for scientists with NASA's New Horizons mission that, in 2015, will make a flyby of the little world.
Discovery News has more discussion about this discovery, including How Pluto Got Its Moons and Not a Dwarf: Is Pluto a Binary Planet? Since both of these were posted this week, not last, I'll recycle them for the next report.

More over the jump.

NASATelevision on YouTube: Soyuz Crew Primed for Launch on This Week @ NASA

At the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, Expedition 32/33 Soyuz Commander Yuri Malenchenko, NASA Flight Engineer Suni Williams and Flight Engineer Aki Hoshide of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency participated in a variety of activities in preparation for their launch to the International Space Station. Meanwhile, onboard the ISS, the other three members of Expedition 32, Commander Gennady Padalka, NASA astronaut Joe Acaba and Cosmonaut Sergei Revin -- continue their daily activities as they await the Soyuz crew and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's HTV-3 transfer vehicle scheduled to arrive there later this month. Also, when the Curiosity rover sets off from its landing site near Gale Crater to explore the Martian surface, it might encounter some sand dunes. Project engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory have prepared for that possibility by putting a test rover through the paces here on Earth, the Cassini spacecraft has spotted signs that a change of seasons may be coming on Saturn's largest moon Titan, Deputy Administrator Lori Garver participates in a workshop focused on Innovation in Manufacturing, Celebrating Telstar I, Inspiring Inquisitive Minds and more!
DarkSyde on Daily Kos also has a good summary of this week's space and astronomy stories in This week in science: summer of storms. Despite the title, the post is really about last week's big solar storms, not terrestrial weather, which is why it didn't show up in Heat wave and climate change news for the week of Bastille Day.

NASA Television on YouTube: ScienceCasts: The First Extraterrestrial Marathon

More than 8 years after landing on the Red Planet, Mars rover Opportunity is still running. Indeed, mission planners say the tireless robot is poised to complete a full marathon--the first ever long-distance race on an alien planet.
University of Georgia: Study in Nature sheds new light on planet formation
July 4, 2012
Athens, Ga. - A study published in the July 5 edition of the journal Nature is challenging scientists' understanding of planet formation, suggesting that planets might form much faster than previously thought or, alternatively, that stars harboring planets could be far more numerous.

The study—a collaboration between scientists at the University of Georgia; the University of California, San Diego; the University of California, Los Angeles; California State Polytechnic University and the Australian National University—began with a curious and unexpected finding: Within three years, the cloud of dust circling a young star in the Scorpius-Centaurus stellar nursery simply disappeared.

"The most commonly accepted time scale for the removal of this much dust is in the hundreds of thousands of years, sometimes millions," said study co-author Inseok Song, assistant professor of physics and astronomy in the UGA Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. "What we saw was far more rapid and has never been observed or even predicted. It tells us that we have a lot more to learn about planet formation."
Technically, this should have been in Space and astronomy news for the week of July 4th, but I didn't see it early enough. C'est la vie.

Carnegie Institution via ScienceDaily: Solar System Ice: Source of Earth's Water
ScienceDaily (July 12, 2012) — Scientists have long believed that comets and, or a type of very primitive meteorite called carbonaceous chondrites were the sources of early Earth's volatile elements -- which include hydrogen, nitrogen, and carbon -- and possibly organic material, too. Understanding where these volatiles came from is crucial for determining the origins of both water and life on the planet. New research led by Carnegie's Conel Alexander focuses on frozen water that was distributed throughout much of the early Solar System, but probably not in the materials that aggregated to initially form Earth.

The evidence for this ice is now preserved in objects like comets and water-bearing carbonaceous chondrites. The team's findings contradict prevailing theories about the relationship between these two types of bodies and suggest that meteorites, and their parent asteroids, are the most-likely sources of Earth's water. Their work is published July 12 by Science Express.
Texas A&M: NASA Space Tech Program to sponsor nuclear engineering research
July 13, 2012
NASA’s Space Technology Program has selected 14 proposals on commercial reusable suborbital launch vehicles for development and demonstration. Each idea was innovative in its own way, and one of these 14 proposals, "Demonstration of Variable Radiator,” was that of Dr. Richard “Cable” Kurwitz, lecturer in the Department of Nuclear Engineering at Texas A&M University.

Kurwitz, associate research engineer and director of the Interphase Transport Phenomena Laboratory, is to develop a variable thermal energy rejection technology for spacecraft. The technology modulates portions of the spacecraft radiator to control spacecraft temperature during different phases of the mission. Variable heat rejection is considered an enabling technology for future NASA mission. The technology utilizes expertise gathered from over 20 years of reduced gravity research and technology development within the laboratory.
The submitted proposals offer unique approaches and solutions to high-priority technology needs recently identified in the National Research Council’s Space Technology Roadmaps and Priorities report. Each report seeks to further advance and enable technology development for NASA’s current and future missions in exploration, science and space operations.
And that's all for last week. Time to move on to this week's news.

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