Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Space and astronomy news: A bake sale for NASA

In last Saturday's This week in science: Chasing dreams and nightmares on Daily Kos, DarkSyde included links to three stories about space. The top story was about a Bake Sale for NASA. Yes, really. Here's an updated report on the event from Nature.

NASA scientists fight budget cuts with cupcakes
Planetary researchers bake cakes and shine shoes to raise awareness of declining budget.
Amber Dance
11 June 2012
It has come to this: planetary scientists across the United States hawked baked goods to the public on Saturday in an effort to drum up awareness of their field’s dwindling financial support. They were protesting plans in US President Barack Obama's 2013 budget request to cut 21% from NASA's planetary-science budget, and 38% from its Mars projects.

“The planetary programme is one of the shining examples of NASA at its best,” says Alan Stern, vice-president of research and development in the space science and engineering division at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, who coordinated the nationwide Planetary Exploration Car Wash and Bake Sale. “We’re not asking for a raise, but we sure would prefer not to have such a steep cut.”

One site where scientists are becoming agitated is NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, where many Mars missions are built and managed. As the lab held its annual open house on Saturday, planetary scientists from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena and the University of California, Los Angeles enticed visiting space fans to stop outside the entrance for cupcakes and learn about the budget plight.
The planetary scientists weren't the only ones whose ox was gored. The deep-space people had an X-Ray observing satellite cancelled for going over budget. Read the comments; they're quite bitter. While last week's installment of space and astronomy news, had good news about crew vehicles, which indicates that the U.S. still has a future in near-Earth manned spaceflight, the cutting back of exploratory missions is a sign that our society is still facing what I consider to be the quintessential tragic science fiction sign of societal decline, loss of spaceflight. Sigh. At least Dream Chaser looks like a go.

The rest of the space and astronomy stories from Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (Global Tipping Point edition) on Daily Kos are over the jump.

NASA Television on YouTube: A Last in our Lifetime event on This Week @NASA

NASA Television helped observe the last transit of Venus we'll see here on Earth until 2117 by showcasing live-streaming Websites the world over, including observations made by scientists in central Australia, by the NASA Edge team, stationed atop the Mauna Kea Observatory in Hawaii, by scientists at NASA Headquarters and other NASA Centers around the country. Also, development of technologies to enable exploration of extreme environments such as those found on Venus, The Voyage of Space Shuttle Enterprise concludes in New York, Girl Scouts Rock at NASA Headquarters, Development of inflatable spacecraft and the NASA family mourns the passing of Ray Bradbury, one of our era's greatest and most noted science fiction/fantasy writers.
Montana State University also has pictures of the event in Hundreds gather to watch transit of Venus.

NASA Television on YouTube: ScienceCasts: Andromeda vs. the Milky Way: Astronomers Predict a Titanic Collision

Astronomers no longer have any doubt: Our Milky Way Galaxy will have a head-on collision with Andromeda. Fortunately, they say, Earth will survive when the two great star systems meet 4 billions years from now.

University of California: Telescope eyes hot regions of black holes, supernovas
June 6, 2012
BERKELEY — NASA is scheduled to launch an orbiting X-ray satellite on Wednesday (June 13) that will open a new window on the universe, allowing scientists to probe the roiling edges of black holes, the turbulent outflow from exploding stars, and the smallest, most frequent flares on the sun.

The Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, is the first orbiting satellite to produce sharp images of high-energy X-rays produced by explosive events and extreme objects such as black holes and neutron stars.

"We believe most, if not, all galaxies have a massive black hole at their center, but a lot of these are hidden from the view of optical and normal X-ray telescopes by gas and dust," said Steve Boggs, University of California, Berkeley, professor of physics and a co-investigator for the NuSTAR mission. "This thwarts our ability to understand the nature of a majority of the black holes that are feeding from their host galaxy. By using high-energy X-rays, the properties of these black holes will be revealed."
Science News: Some newfound planets are something else
Re-evaluation suggests one-third of hot giant orbs are misclassified
By Nadia Drake
Web edition : Thursday, June 7th, 2012
When the Kepler spacecraft finds a giant planet closely orbiting a star, there’s a one in three chance that it’s not really a planet at all.

At least, that’s the case according to a new study that put some of Kepler’s thousands of candidate planets to the test using a complementary method for discovering celestial objects in stellar orbits. The results, posted June 5 on arXiv.org, suggest that 35 percent of candidate giants snuggled close to bright stars are impostors, known in the planet-hunting business as false-positives.

“Estimating the Kepler false-positive rate is one of the most burning questions in this field,” says astronomer Jean-Michel D├ęsert of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, who has performed similar calculations for smaller planets.

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