Saturday, September 28, 2013

Voyager confirmed in interstellar space and other space news

It's been a while since I've posted a comprehensive digest of a week's space and astronomy news.  Now seems like a good time to resume for the time being, as I have a major story to post plus a full week's worth of material from NASA,, and Discovery News to supplement it.

First, a story that I've covered at least four times to date, Voyager leaving the Solar System and entering interstellar space.  NASA Television on YouTube confirms that the probe has finally done so in Voyager in Interstellar Space! On This Week at NASA.

During a press briefing at NASA headquarters, scientists announced that the Voyager 1 spacecraft has officially left our solar bubble and has reached interstellar space. The Voyager Interstellar Mission (VIM) seeks to extend NASA's exploration of the solar system beyond the outer planets -- to the outer limits of the Sun's sphere of influence, and possibly beyond. Voyager 1 and its twin Voyager 2 were launched 16 days apart in 1977. Also, Off the Earth, For the Earth, Comings and Goings, Flight Of Cygnus, Rockets 2 Racecars, InSight Landing Sites and more!
Follow over the jump for news included in Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (LADEE launched) arranged from interstellar space to Earth orbit. The Drake Equation Revisited: Interview with Planet Hunter Sara Seager
By Devin Powell, Astrobiology Magazine
September 04, 2013 06:18pm ET
Planet hunters keep finding distant worlds that bear a resemblance to Earth. Some of the thousands of exoplanet candidates discovered to date have similar sizes or temperatures. Others possess rocky surfaces and support atmospheres. But no world has yet provided an unambiguous sign of the characteristic that still sets our pale blue dot apart: the presence of life.

That may be about to change, says exoplanet expert Sara Seager of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. Upcoming NASA missions such as the Transiting Exoplanet Satellite Survey (TESS) and the James Webb Space Telescope, both due to launch around 2018, should be able to find and characterize Earth-like planets orbiting small stars.

Spotting signs of life on those planets will be possible because of progress in detecting not only planets, but their atmospheres as well. When a planet passes in front of its host star, atmospheric gases reveal their presence by absorbing some of the starlight. Oxygen, water vapor or other gases that do not belong on dead worlds could very well provide the first evidence of life elsewhere. Mystery Alignment of Dying Stars Puzzles Scientists
by Mike Wall, Senior Writer
September 04, 2013 09:01am ET
Dying stars that are among the most beautiful objects in the universe tend to line up across the night sky, and astronomers aren't sure why.

These "cosmic butterflies" — actually a certain type of planetary nebula — all have their own formation histories, and they don't interact with each other. But something is apparently making them dance in step, scientists using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope and the European Southern Observatory's New Technology Telescope (NTT) have discovered.

"This really is a surprising find and, if it holds true, a very important one,"study lead author Bryan Rees, of the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom, said in a statement. "Many of these ghostly butterflies appear to have their long axes aligned along the plane of our galaxy. By using images from both Hubble and the NTT we could get a really good view of these objects, so we could study them in great detail." Brown Dwarfs: Strange 'Failed Stars' Only as Hot As Your Oven
by Charles Q. Choi, Contributor
September 05, 2013 02:09pm ET
The best look yet at mysterious brown dwarfs, strange cosmic oddities that blur the lines between stars and planets, has revealed just how large and cold they really are, scientists say. In fact, the weird "failed stars" only get as hot as your kitchen oven.

The new discovery may shed light on the formation and evolution of distant alien worlds, researchers added.

Starlike bodies known as brown dwarfs are often billed as failed stars because they are larger than planets, but too small to trigger nuclear fusion and ignite into the brilliance of a full-fledged star. Monster Saturn Storm Dredged Up Icy Water from the Deeps
by Elizabeth Howell, Contributor
September 04, 2013 05:38pm ET
A colossal storm that raged on Saturn in 2010 and 2011 churned water ice up from deep within the ringed planet's thick atmosphere, a new study reports.

NASA's Cassini spacecraft detected the ice crystals from its perch orbiting Saturn. It's the first time water has ever been spotted on the planet, some 400 years after Saturn and its rings were first glimpsed through a telescope.

While water is not a new discovery to a gas giant — Jupiter also has water ice in its atmosphere, for example — the discovery shows just how powerful Saturn storms can be, researchers said.
NASA/JPL: Eclipse at Mars Casts Shadow Around Mars Rover Curiosity

When the Martian moon Phobos passed in front of the sun, from the perspective of NASA's Mars rover Curiosity, the rover recorded the eclipse in the sky as well as the shadow darkening the ground. NASA Studying 4 Landing Site Options for 2016 Mars Mission
by Tariq Malik, Managing Editor
September 04, 2013 04:14pm ET
NASA is weighing candidate landing sites for its next mission to the surface of Mars, a three-legged probe that will study the Red Planet's core in 2016.

The space agency has four potential landing sites in mind for the new InSight Mars lander. The spacecraft is slated to launch in March 2016 and land on the Red Planet six months later.

"We picked four sites that look safest," geologist Matt Golombek of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., said in a statement. "They have mostly smooth terrain, few rocks and very little slope." NASA Fixes Moon Probe Glitch After Amazing Friday Night Launch
by Tariq Malik, Managing Editor
September 07, 2013 03:07pm ET
Engineers have fixed a technical glitch on NASA's newest robotic moon explorer, bringing the spacecraft back up to full health one day after a spectacular nighttime launch Friday that wowed spectators up and down the U.S. East Coast.

NASA's LADEE moon probe launch into space Friday night (Sept. 6) in a flawless liftoff from the agency's Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va. An Orbital Sciences Corp. Minotaur V rocket, making its debut flight, launched the lunar probe.

But just hours after the 11:27 p.m. EDT (0327 GMT) liftoff, NASA officials reported that the spacecraft's reaction wheels — which spin to position and stabilize LADEE in space without using precious thruster fuel — unexpectedly shut down.
Discovery News: NASA Brings WiFi To Space

Need fast internet? Go to space! That's right-- Nasa is about to launch super fast, laser-powered wifi off planet. Trace explains what the speedy connection will be used for.
And that's it for the news for this week.  It may be a while before I post another digest like this, as my editorial emphasis will be on campuses on the campaign trail for the next two months.  It turns out that most of the instititions in jurisdictions having elections this year don't produce a lot of space research, other than the University of Colorado, which I think I'm done with for the year.

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