Saturday, April 13, 2013

Space news for Apophis Day

Happy Apophis Day, which I declared as a holiday on this blog last year.
There is an event in the more distant future that fits one of the themes of this blog, disasters with a science fiction flavor, perfectly--the first of two close approaches of the asteroid Apophis, which is predicted to happen on Friday, April 13, 2029. The second pass of the asteroid will also happen on April 13th of 2036. So, today's date, April 13th, will be day of the year when both approaches of Apophis happen. I christen it Apophis Day!
Here is the first of two entries to mark Apophis Day, a compendium of space news originally posted in Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (BRAIN Initiative) on Daily Kos.

For the lead story, I present an article from that bears directly on countering the threat posed by Apophis and other Near Earth Objects.

Asteroid-Capture Mission, Senator Says
by Mike Wall, Senior Writer
Date: 05 April 2013 Time: 05:16 PM ET
NASA will likely get $100 million next year to jump-start an audacious program to drag an asteroid into orbit around the moon for research and exploration purposes, U.S. Senator Bill Nelson says.

The $100 million will probably be part of President Barack Obama's federal budget request for 2014, which is expected to be released next week, Nelson (D-FL) said. The money is intended to get the ball rolling on the asteroid-retrieval project, which also aims to send astronauts out to the captured space rock in 2021.

"This is part of what will be a much broader program," Nelson said Friday (April 5), during a visit to Orlando. "The plan combines the science of mining an asteroid, along with developing ways to deflect one, along with providing a place to develop ways we can go to Mars."
Just to summarize, the goal is to send humans to explore an asteroid.  Instead of the mission going to the asteroid belt, an asteroid is brought close enough to Earth for the available technology.  I'd call it cheating, except that it's so clever.

More space and astronomy news over the jump.

NASA Television on YouTube: First Light for AMS on This Week @ NASA...

Researchers have published the first findings of the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS), a particle physics detector on the International Space Station that searches for various types of unusual cosmic matter. Scientists hope that by measuring cosmic rays, AMS will provide new data about the formation of the Universe, antimatter, and evidence of the mysterious dark matter believed to make up most of the Universe. Also, MATERIALS IN SPACE, OBSERVING EARTH, FARTHEST SUPERNOVA YET, BLOWING IN THE WIND, EARTH MONTH 2013 and more!
About that lead story... via LiveScience: Dark Matter Possibly Found by $2 Billion Space Station Experiment
Tia Ghose, Staff Writer
Date: 03 April 2013 Time: 11:12 AM ET
A massive particle detector mounted on the International Space Station may have detected elusive dark matter at last, scientists announced today (April 3).

The detector, the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS), measures cosmic-ray particles in space. After detecting billions of these particles over a year and a half, the experiment recorded a signal that may be the result of dark matter, the hidden substance that makes up more than 80 percent of all matter in the universe.

AMS found about 400,000 positrons, the antimatter partner particles of electrons. The energies of these positrons suggest they might have been created when particles of dark matter collided and destroyed each other.
And now, the rest of the space news from the edge of the Solar System to the surface of the Earth. on YouTube: 40th Anniversary Of Pioneer 11 Launch To Outer Solar System | Video

On April 5th, 1973 the Pioneer 11 spacecraft was launched from Cape Canaveral on what was originally a back up mission for the Pioneer 10. Eventually NASA made an ambitious mid-mission change to Pioneer 11's trajectory, sending it to Saturn & beyond.
For more details, read 40 Years Later, NASA's Pioneer 11 Probe's Solar System Legacy Lives On at on YouTube: Saturn's Rings And Pan-STARRS Visible To Stargazers This April | Video

Saturn's tilt will make this April one of the best for stargazers to view the planet's magnificent rings since 2006. Star clusters, the comet Pan-STARRS , and Jupiter will also be visible in the nights sky. Ingredient for Life Common on Jupiter's Icy Moon Europa
by Tariq Malik, Managing Editor
Date: 05 April 2013 Time: 04:48 PM ET
A potential energy source for life appears to be common on Jupiter's icy moon Europa, a new study suggests.

An analysis of infrared observations of Europa revealed that hydrogen peroxide is abundant on the ice-covered Jovian moon. If the hydrogen peroxide finds a way beneath Europa's surface and mixes with the moon's liquid water ocean, it could be a vital energy source for any life that might exist there, scientists said.

"Life as we know it needs liquid water, elements like carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus and sulfur, and it needs some form of chemical or light energy to get the business of life done," study leader Kevin Hand, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., said in a statement. "Europa has the liquid water and elements, and we think that compounds like peroxide might be an important part of the energy requirement. The availability of oxidants like peroxide on Earth was a critical part of the rise of complex, multicellular life." via LiveScience: Volcanoes on Jupiter's Moon Io Are All Wrong, NASA Says
by Mike Wall, Senior Writer
Date: 05 April 2013 Time: 12:28 PM ET
The hundreds of volcanoes on Jupiter's moon Io aren't where they're supposed to be, scientists say.

Io's major volcanic activity is concentrated 30 to 60 degrees farther east than models of its internal heat profile predict, a recent study reports, suggesting that the exotic, volcanic Jupiter moon Io is even more mysterious than researchers had previously thought.

"The unexpected eastward offset of the volcano locations is a clue that something is missing in our understanding of Io," study lead author Christopher Hamilton, of the University of Maryland, said in a statement. "In a way, that's our most important result. Our understanding of tidal heat production and its relationship to surface volcanism is incomplete." Curiosity Rover Goes Solo on Mars for 1st Time Today
by Mike Wall, Senior Writer
Date: 04 April 2013 Time: 07:00 AM ET
NASA's Mars rover Curiosity will be on its own for the first time over the next four weeks, thanks to an unfavorable alignment of the Red Planet, Earth and the sun.

Curiosity's handlers don't plan to send any commands to the car-size robot from today (April 4) through May 1. The sun comes between Earth and the Red Planet during this time, in a formation known as a Mars solar conjunction.

"The [communications] moratorium is a precaution against possible interference by the sun corrupting a command sent to the rover," NASA officials wrote last week in a Curiosity rover mission update. via LiveScience: Sun's Magnetic 'Heartbeat' Revealed
by Elizabeth Howell, Contributor
Date: 04 April 2013 Time: 05:29 PM ET
A magnetic "solar heartbeat" beats deep in the sun's interior, generating energy that leads to solar flares and sunspots, according to new research.

A new supercomputer simulation, described in the April 4 edition of the journal Science, probes the sun's periodic magnetic field reversals. Every 40 years, according to the model, the sun's zonal magnetic field bands switch their orientation, or polarity.

That cycle is about four times longer than the 11-year sunspot cycle that governs the level of solar activity. Being able to model such a regular, long-term process is remarkable, the scientists said. NASA to Launch Planet-Hunting Probe, Neutron Star Experiment in 2017
by Mike Wall, Senior Writer
Date: 05 April 2013 Time: 06:31 PM ET
NASA has picked two new low-cost missions for launch in 2017: a planet-hunting satellite and an International Space Station experiment designed to probe the nature of exotic, super-dense neutron stars.

The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) and Neutron Star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) are the latest missions chosen under NASA's Astrophysics Explorer Program, which caps costs at $200 million for satellites and $55 million for space station experiments, officials announced Friday (April 5).

The TESS spacecraft will use an array of wide-field cameras to scan nearby stars for exoplanets, with a focus on Earth-size worlds in their stars' habitable zones — that just-right range of distances where liquid water could exist. Astronaut Celebrates Easter in Space (Easter Eggs, Included)
by Tariq Malik, Managing Editor
Date: 31 March 2013 Time: 09:55 AM ET
Children around the world aren't the only ones having an Easter egg hunt today. Astronauts in space will get Easter treats, too.

Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, who commands the International Space Station, made sure that the Easter Bunny would make a special trip to the orbital lab today (March 31) just in time for an Easter celebration in space.

"Good Morning, Earth! A fine Easter Sunday morning to you from the crew of the International Space Station," Hadfield wrote in a post on Twitter, where he is chronicling his mission under the name @Cmdr_Hadfield. Astronaut Catches Alien on Space Station in April Fools' Prank
by Miriam Kramer, Staff Writer
Date: 01 April 2013 Time: 05:27 PM ET
When an alien parked a flying saucer at the International Space Station to say hello, astronaut Chris Hadfield turned to Twitter to report the earthshaking news. And if that sounds too good to be true … that's because it is. Hadfield, it turns out, is a prankster.

Hadfield had a ball with April Fools' Day in space today (April 1), with the UFO stunt just one of his pranks. Earlier, the Canadian astronaut used his Twitter handle @Cmdr_Hadfield to post a photo of himself with space "grenades" he found on the station. It turns out, there were just harmless air sampling devices.

Over the course of seven hours, Hadfield wrote five posts on Twitter slowly revealing his elaborate April Fools' Day joke. via OurAmazingPlanet: Earth From Space to Star in 3D Film by Disney, IMAX
by Robert Z. Pearlman, Editor - Apr 02, 2013 11:12 AM ET
IMAX, the large-format film company, has announced it will again launch moviegoers into outer space, this time in a 3D feature to be produced with The Walt Disney Studios.

The still-to-be-titled film will be the eighth time IMAX has pointed its cameras and screens toward space in a movie led by filmmaker Toni Myers. According to the company, the production will use "high-resolution photography and videography to offer breathtaking, illuminating views of our home planet from space" to explore the changes that have occurred on Earth in just the past several decades.

Targeted for a 2015 release and made in cooperation with NASA, the film will focus on humankind's future on – and off – the planet, "increasing our understanding of the solar system," while also virtually traveling light-years to other star systems to ponder the possibilities of Goldilocks, the term planetary scientists give to planets that fall inside a star's habitable zone, like the Earth. Virgin Galactic's Private SpaceShipTwo Soars in Test Flight
by Leonard David,’s Space Insider Columnist
Date: 05 April 2013 Time: 11:57 AM ET
A private spaceship soared through the California sky on Wednesday (April 3) in a flight test meant to pave the way for future passenger trips to space.

Virgin Galactic's suborbital space plane SpaceShipTwo was released at high altitude from its mothership, the WhiteKnightTwo, and glided to the ground in what's called a drop test.

The suborbital SpaceShipTwo touched down at the Mojave Air and Space Port, following a milestone that moves the craft closer to its first hot-engine flight using its hybrid rocket motor.
There are already customers for that first flight, as HollyScoop reports in Tom Cruise To Pay $200,000 To Fly Into Space.

Tom Cruise, the Scientologist, believes there is life on other planets and he wants to check it out for himself. The 50 year-old star is interested in Virgin Galactic's planned commercial space missions.
For more details, read Does Tom Cruise Want to be 'Top Gun' in Space? (Video) at

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