Sunday, August 5, 2012

More Curiosity than you can shake a stick at and other space and astronomy news

To make up for last week's short, sweet, and late news, I'm posting a full-length edition as soon as I can. That's mostly because the big story of the week just past is the landing of Curiosity on Mars, which is happening in less than 24 hours. That makes for a short shelf life for most of the space and astronomy stories I included in Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (PECASE, President's Birthday, and Curiosity edition) on Daily Kos tonight.

I'll begin with This Week @ NASA, which features the lead story prominently, along with introducing most of the other major U.S. space stories of the week.

NASA Television on YouTube: Curiosity's Landing on This Week @NASA

The much-anticipated landing of the Mars Science Laboratory with Curiosity, the Red Planet's next resident rover, is this Monday, at 1:31 a.m. Eastern. Having been configured by the MSL flight team for entry, descent and landing the spacecraft is on final approach for its targeted touchdown in Gale Crater. Coverage of Curiosity's landing begins Sunday at 11:30 p.m. Eastern on all three NASA TV channels,, AND, Xbox 360. Also, engineers at the Johnson Space Center have conducted test firings of the Project Morpheus Lander, the quickest trip ever to the International Space Station of an unpiloted Russian Progress resupply ship , Marking History at Kennedy Space Center's Shuttle Landing Facility and more!
More videos over the jump.

First, Shatner vs. Wheaton. NASA Television has the two actors from Star Trek perform the same narration. It's up to the viewers to determine whether Admiral Kirk or Ensign Crusher does the better job. Ready?

Shatner Hosts Curiosity's "Grand Entrance" to Mars

Actor William Shatner narrates this thrilling video about NASA's Curiosity rover, from its entry and descent through the Martian atmosphere to its landing and exploration of the Red Planet in NASA's hardest planetary science mission to date.

Wheaton Guides Curiosity's Fans to Red Planet

Actor and writer Wil Wheaton hosts this compelling video showcasing the "Grand Entrance" of NASA's Curiosity rover at Mars in the most difficult planetary science mission in history.

As if that wasn't enough, University of Michigan Engineering on YouTube has their own take on the "7 minutes of terror" video.

"7 minutes of terror" during landing of Mars Science Lab

This video provides a quick overview of the Mars Science Laboratory mission, including the "7 minutes of terror" that NASA coined to describe the unprecedented landing plan designed for the mission.

Michigan Engineering faculty, staff and students have played a role in the NASA mission, which will set the Curiosity rover on a carefully selected site called Gale Crater.
That's not all. The University of Tennessee has two researchers associated with the mission.

Two UT Scientists to Begin Searching for Clues of Life of Mars

NASA's Curiosity rover is scheduled to land on Mars Sunday, Aug. 5. The work will then begin for two UT professors searching for potentially habitable environments on the red planet. Linda Kah and Jeffrey Moersch, associate professors in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, are an integral part of the NASA team working on the rover. The Curiosity rover is looking for clues to whether the Martian surface has ever had an environment capable of evolving, or potentially sustaining life.
For the accompanying press release, click on Two UT Scientists to Begin Searching for Potential Habitats for Life on Mars.

For a more technical discussion, ReelNASA has an interview with one of the mission scientists in ISS Update: Mars Science Laboratory -- 07.31.12.

ISS Update commentator Pat Ryan interviews Dr. Doug Archer of the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) Science Team about the MSL mission, the Curiosity Rover and the SAM instrument.
Curiosity, the car-size, one-ton rover is bound for arrival on Mars at 1:31 a.m., EDT on Monday, Aug. 6. The landing will mark the beginning of a two-year prime mission to investigate one of the most intriguing places on Mars.

Archer discusses SAM, which will analyze samples of material collected and delivered by the rover's arm. It includes a gas chromatograph, a mass spectrometer, and a tunable laser spectrometer with combined capabilities to identify a wide range of organic (carbon-containing) compounds and determine the ratios of different isotopes of key elements. Isotope ratios are clues to understanding the history of Mars' atmosphere and water.
I may be done with Curiosity, but I'm not done with Mars. Mars food, anyone?

ReelNASA on YouTube: ISS Update: Food Technology on a Mission to Mars -- 08.01.12

ISS Update commentator Pat Ryan interviews Michele Perchonok, Advanced Food Technology Program Scientist, about developing food for a human crew on a mission to Mars.
Now, onto NASA selecting the private manned spaceflight vehicles. Count this as evidence that NASA isn't ready to act out the great science fiction tragedy of losing spacefight capabilities.

NASA Televison on YouTube: NASA Chooses Next-Gen Companies for Human Spaceflight

At a briefing from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden announces new agreements with three American commercial companies, Sierra Nevada, SpaceX and Boeing, to design and develop the next generation of U.S. human spaceflight capabilities, enabling a launch of astronauts from U.S. soil in the next five years.
One last video, going from space to space dust being the source for an unusual type of cloud.

Science at NASA on YouTube: ScienceCasts: Meteor Smoke Makes Strange Clouds

A key ingredient of Earth's strangest clouds does not come from Earth. New data from NASA's AIM spacecraft proves that "meteor smoke" is essential to the formation of noctilucent clouds.
Finally, a non-video story from the University of Michigan.

Scientists 'hear a star scream as it gets devoured' by a lurking supermassive black hole
Written by Nicole Casal Moore
Published on Aug 03, 2012
ANN ARBOR, Mich.—Astrophysicists have detected, for the first time, the oscillating signal that heralds the last gasps of a star falling victim to a previously dormant supermassive black hole.

Led by researchers at the University of Michigan, the team documented the event with the Suzaku and XMM-Newton orbiting X-ray telescopes. These instruments picked up semi-regular blips in the light from a numerically-named galaxy 3.9 billion light years away in the northern constellation Draco the dragon.

The blips, scientifically known as "quasiperiodic oscillations," occurred steadily every 200 seconds, but occasionally disappeared. Such signals have often been detected at smaller black holes and they're believed to emanate from material about to be sucked in, explained Rubens Reis, an Einstein Postdoctoral Fellow at U-M and first author of a paper on the work published this week in Science Express.
"A Star Scream?" Pardon my geekiness, but I get other mental images than the one intended by the writer when I read this phrase.

And that's it for the week just finished.