Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Space and astronomy news: First female taikonaut

This week's news opens with the lead story from Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (First female Taikonaut edition) on Daily Kos, which is from World News Australia.

China sends first woman into space
16 Jun 2012, 9:37 pm
China has launched its most ambitious space mission yet, with the Shenzhou 9 capsule lifting off as scheduled and on its way to an orbiting module.

China has launched its most ambitious space mission yet, carrying its first female astronaut and two male colleagues in an attempt to dock with an orbiting module and work on board for more than a week.

The Shenzhou 9 capsule lifted off as scheduled at 6.37pm on Saturday (2037 AEDT) from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre on the edge of the Gobi Desert. All systems functioned normally and, just over 10 minutes later, it opened its solar panels and entered orbit.

Female astronaut Liu Yang, 33, and two male crew members - veteran astronaut Jing Haipeng and newcomer Liu Wang - are to dock the spacecraft with a prototype space lab launched last year in a key step toward building a permanent space station.
The Chinese, at least, are not interested in acting out the tragic science fiction plot of losing the ability to travel to space as a sign of a declining technological civilization. Too bad the idea of competing with the Chinese doesn't seem to inspire Americans the way competing with the Soviets 50 years ago did.

More news over the jump.

NASA Television on YouTube: Bolden's Two Stops at SpaceX on This Week @NASA
Published on Jun 16, 2012

NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden pays congratulatory visits to the facilities Space Exploration Technologies in Texas and California following the company's teams for the successful round-trip of the company's Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station. Dragon demonstrated its ability to maneuver and berth to the ISS, then make its safe return to Earth. Also, Garver opens robotics challenge; chasing dreams at Langley; record-breaking engine test; networking for the future; new site for Curiosity; NuSTAR makes orbit; and more.

NASA Television on YouTube: ScienceCasts: Why Won't the Supernova Explode?
Published on Jun 15, 2012

A question has been troubling astronomers: Why won't the supernova explode? Although real stars blow up, the best computer models of dying stars do not result in much of a bang. NASA has launched a new observatory named "NuSTAR" to seek out the missing physics of exploding stars.
Two diaries on Daily Kos also summarized the week's news in science and space.

This week in science: Toons in space
By DarkSyde

Sci-Tech For Saturday - A Selected Round-Up from the Week
by xaxnar

Now, specific news items from the most distant to the surface of the Earth, along with a punchline.

World News Australia: Space knot riddle puzzles experts
13 June 2012
Space knots may be the result of imperfections in the structure of the cooling universe and should be identifiable by studying the Cosmic Microwave Background.

A knotty problem that affects our view of the universe is confounding cosmologists.

Theories of the primordial universe predict the existence of knots in the fabric of space known as "cosmic textures".

They should be identifiable by studying the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB), the faint afterglow of the Big Bang. But the first full search by scientists has revealed no sign of the space knots.
University of Arizona: Astronomers Pinpoint Elusive Galaxy – and Find it is Not Alone
By Daniel Stolte, University Communications, and Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, Heidelberg, Germany, University Communications
June 15, 2012
An international team of astronomers has for the first time determined the distance of the galaxy HDF850.1. The discovery challenges and expands our understanding of how galaxies are born and develop over time.

An international team of astronomers has managed for the first time to determine the distance of the galaxy HDF850.1, well-known among astronomers as being one of the most productive star-forming galaxies in the observable universe.

The galaxy is at a distance of 12.5 billion light years. Hence, we see it as it was 12.5 billion years ago, when the universe was less than 10 percent of its current age.

Even more of a surprise, HDF850.1 turns out to be part of a group of around a dozen protogalaxies that formed within the first billion years of cosmic history – only one of two such primordial clusters known to date. The work is published in the journal Nature.
Discovery News: Voyager 1 About to Become Interstellar Emissary?
Analysis by Ian O'Neill
Fri Jun 15, 2012
NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft may be getting its first taste of interstellar waters beyond our sun's familiar shores and, like the pioneers that first took to the oceans to explore seas unknown, the 34-year-old robotic spacecraft is about to make history as the first man-made object to venture beyond the known horizon.

This historic announcement was made on Thursday by the team keeping a careful eye on Voyager 1's particle detectors who noticed an uptick in interstellar cosmic ray counts in recent years. That can mean only one thing: the mission is beginning to leave the outermost regions of the heliosphere -- the farthest extent of the sun's influence.
Nature: Tropical lakes on Saturn moon could expand options for life
Subsurface source of liquid methane may be replenishing equatorial lakes on Titan.
Maggie McKee
13 June 2012 Corrected: 14 June 2012
Nestling among the dunes in the dry equatorial region of Saturn's moon Titan is what appears to be a hydrocarbon lake. The observation, by the Cassini spacecraft, suggests that oases of liquid methane — which might be a crucible for life — lie beneath the moon's surface. The work is published today in Nature1.

Besides Earth, Titan is the only solid object in the Solar System to circulate liquids in a cycle of rain and evaporation, although on Titan the process is driven by methane rather than water.

This cycle is expected to form liquid bodies near the moon's poles, but not at its dune-covered equator, where Cassini measurements show that humidity levels are low and little rain falls to the surface. "The equatorial belt is like a desert on Earth, where evaporation trumps precipitation," says astrobiologist Jonathan Lunine of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.
Discovery News: Mars Rover Now Aiming for Sweet Spot
Analysis by Irene Klotz
Tue Jun 12, 2012
NASA mission managers are tweaking the landing target for the new Mars rover, which is on track to touch down shortly after 1:30 a.m. EDT on Aug. 6.

Mars Science Laboratory is headed to a large crater that has a 3-mile-high mound of what appears to be layers of sediment inside. Scientists aren't sure how the mound, recently named Mount Sharp, formed, but they believe it is what is left over from debris that once filled the 96-mile-wide pit, known as Gale Crater.

With confidence growing that the rover, nicknamed Curiosity, is on track for a precision landing, NASA decided to aim to for a smaller spot, which would lop off months of driving time if successful. The new zone also is closer to the Mount Sharp's central peak which has more high-priority science targets.
Discovery News: Secret Military Mini-Shuttle Lands in California
Analysis by Irene Klotz
Sat Jun 16, 2012
The military's classified mini-space shuttle landed itself just after dawn on Saturday at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California after 469 days in orbit, the Air Force said in a statement.

The Orbital Test Vehicle-2, or OTV-2, touched down at 5:48 a.m. PDT (8:48 a.m. EDT), ending the second mission of the Air Force's unmanned small spaceplane, also known as the X-37B.

"With the retirement of the space shuttle fleet, the X-37B OTV program brings a singular capability to space technology development," Tom McIntyre, X-37B program manager, said in a statement.

"The return capability allows the Air Force to test new technologies without the same risk commitment faced by other programs. We're proud of the entire team's successful efforts to bring this mission to an outstanding conclusion," he said.
Arizona Daily Star: UA veggie garden for space readied for an earthly trek
Mark Armao For The Arizona Daily Star
June 12, 2012 12:00 am
A greenhouse designed for extraterrestrial use is taking a more terrestrial trip this summer.

Someday, the University of Arizona's Lunar Greenhouse will provide a life-support system for astronauts on prospective missions to the moon, Mars and beyond. But before it gets to the moon, the Lunar Greenhouse is hitting the road.

Designed by a team at the University of Arizona Controlled Environment Agriculture Center, the greenhouse is being exhibited at the San Diego County Fair, followed by a stopover at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago.

"This is for rocket technology, but it's not rocket science," said Lane Patterson, lab manager and researcher for the project.
Arizona Daily Star: 100 days of science: Observatory now one of world's largest
Tom Beal Arizona Daily Star
June 11, 2012 12:00 am
The Arizona Daily Star's Centennial salute to science in Arizona runs all summer. Each day, for 100 days, we'll record a milestone in the state's scientific history.

The original small dome on the University of Arizona campus, built with a donation from Oracle resident Lavinia Steward, was dedicated in 1923. It housed a 36-inch reflecting telescope - at the time, one of the largest in the world.

The observatory's first director was A.E. Douglass, who came to teach physics and founded an astronomy program at the University of Arizona after parting ways with Percival Lowell in Flagstaff.

The telescope was moved to Kitt Peak in 1963.
Daily Kos: Starry Nights In the Desert
by Desert Scientist

And now, the punchline.

Discovery News: NASA Astronauts Brought Playmates to the Moon
Analysis by Amy Shira Teitel
Fri Jun 15, 2012
When NASA sent its Apollo astronauts to the moon, it sent them with "cheat sheets" -- wrist checklists attached to their suits that outlined the main stages of surface activities for each extravehicular activity (EVA).

But like all flight hardware, crews didn't train with their real checklists; they trained with a copy and only signed off on the unassembled flight version. Assembling the checklist fell to the backup crew, and also gave them a great opportunity to sneak practical jokes into the mission.

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